How about some travel writing: Mumbai, India

Some travel writing by me. Re-posted from https://www.casualodyssey.com/.

A Moment in Mumbai

Feb 18-20, 2019

Happy to leave the Udaipur hotel, but burning with a fever that made me both dizzy and bleary, I climbed aboard a comfortable, air-conditioned bus for a 5-hour ride to Ahmedabad. Through some flawed planning by the G Adventures tour designers, we were driving there just to take a train to Mumbai. Surely, there is a train that goes from Udaipur to Mumbai? But I digress. Five minutes into our bus ride, Allison discovered that her credit card number had been stolen. In the airport. In TORONTO. Damn untrustworthy Canadians. The person who had taken it had similar taste to Allison, trying to rack up purchases from Hudson’s Bay and Aritzia, but luckily the Rogers MasterCard algorithms were at work and none of those purchases were approved. Crisis averted!

We stopped at a truck stop three hours into the ride, piecing together a lunch meal out of Pizza Pringles, ice cream, and Snickers. Back on the bus, I had the new experience of noticing the exact moment when my fever broke. Thank goodness. I immediately felt more human than blob. Our auto-rickshaw ride through Ahmedabad was toxic and thrice as long as it was supposed to be as the driver took us to the wrong station or something. Allison and I wrapped our scarves over our mouths and tried not to consume too much diesel and dust until we found our people again.

Our overnight train experience from Ahmedabad to Mumbai was somewhat less enjoyable than our previous train journeys. We were in the third-tier a/c sleeper car, and it has the following downgrades from the second-tier:

  • Beds stacked by three instead of by two
  • No curtains separating the sleeping area from the hallway
  • No personal light or pouch to place items for easy accessibility

Our tour group was scattered across two cars. In my section, our group had all of the middle and upper bunks while locals had the three bottom bunks. I climbed right to the top to get organized while Allison and Ellen – a fellow tour member from Alaska (so basically another Canadian) – tried to figure out the appropriate time to ask the older Indian couple to move so they could turn the seats into beds.

Sleep came fairly easily for me; I was still ill and my body just wanted to shut down. Allison and Ellen’s sleep, however, was constantly interrupted by the man on the bottom bunk — whether it was his shockingly loud gastrointestinal eruptions, his constant scratching at an empty paper bag, or his irrational shutting off of the section’s overhead fan.

Nine hours later we arrived in Mumbai, and as our group shambled groggily off the train and through the station, we heard similar tales of sleepless woe from nearly everyone. Hot, tired, dirty, and (in about half the group) sick, we piled into cabs to get to our hotel, the Hotel Fortune. Unfortunately (see what I did there?) our rooms wouldn’t be ready for several hours, so we ditched our bags, and tour guide Ajay took us to a breakfast spot on Marine Drive. The restaurant was hilariously named “Pizza by the Bay,” and I tried not to be the most pathetic of a miserable group as I watched all 16 other people get their food (and in many cases, finish it) before mine appeared. Eventually, I had a superior hot chocolate and a confusing French Toast which calmed my grumpiness.

There was an optional activity on offer: a four-hour driving tour of Mumbai’s most significant sites. However, after five hours on the bus from Udaipur to Ahmedabad, one polluted hour (kind of lost) in a tuktuk in Ahmedabad, nine hours on the train to Mumbai, 40 minutes in a cab to the hotel (+5 to the restaurant), the absolute last thing I wanted to do was get back in a vehicle for four hours. I couldn’t believe when the whole group (minus us) wanted to participate.

Instead, Allison and I walked Marine Drive and met several of the street dogs (that had tags and names like “Tiger,” “John,” and “Patch”) before going to a fancy spa. We were put in individual rooms that each had its own (beautiful, needed) shower, vanity, and massage table. We each got Balinese massages, which were slightly more intimate than the average (prudish?) Canadian spa massage. Then we got facials that removed the 12 or 15 layers of Indian travel dust on our skin. It was a shame to again put on our dirty clothes we’d been wearing for the last day, but at least we were relaxed.

The spa was steps away from the tourist-clogged harbourfront where we grabbed the obligatory photos of the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal Palace, and I read aloud the details of each structure from the ripped out Mumbai pages of my Lonely Planet India guidebook (in Udaipur, I’d removed the sections on Mumbai, Goa, and Munnar so I could leave the hulking tome behind). We checked into our hotel and both took a much-needed nap before dinner.

Dinner was a special occasion. We’d made reservations at Ziya, a high-end restaurant whose chef/owner, Vineet Bhatia is the first Michelin-starred chef in India. In December, I’d seen him and Ziya featured on the Netflix cooking show The Final Table (which I recommend), and the idea was born to splurge on a night out in Mumbai. Allison and I had each brought one “nice” dress, and I suppose we looked good since as soon as we stepped out the hotel doors, I was mistaken for a prostitute and solicited for a whopping 35 rupees (about 70 cents). I turned him down.

Ziya is one of the restaurants in The Oberoi Mumbai, and when we walked through security into an unmarked, circular marble atrium, we already felt out of place. Walking into the lobby proper one floor above was entering a world of wealth heretofore unseen on our India travels. But who cares about the lobby? When we found Ziya, we were shown to a table by the window with a view of Back Bay. The restaurant is decorated simply, cream with accents of gold. Actual gold. Our cutlery was made of gold. There’s a glassed-in area between the kitchen and the dining room where you can watch the chefs plate each dish. There were pink orchids(?) on our table, and soon also two bottles of Perrier (for those who want water, but are fancy) and a bottle of a red blend from the Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection. Vijay Amritraj was apparently the first and only decent tennis player from India, and also the first (and only?) decent winemaker from India. The wine was excellent.

Ziya made waves in India’s culinary landscape by taking traditional Indian dishes (which are served basically the same way all over the country, with maybe an oil or vegetable or other ingredient substitution between different states or regions), and putting a modern, haute cuisine spin on them. This is done constantly in Canada and other nations across the world, where chefs are experimenting with cultural fusions and new techniques and presentations, but it’s an oddity in India.

The menu (like all Indian menus, in my experience) is large and varied. It seems crazy that they can do 50 different dishes well, but they’re a top rated restaurant for a reason. It’s a tapas-style format, so Allison and I took turns ordering, and we let one of our supremely attentive servers suggest a final dish.

Before we received our first chosen dish, we were given an appetizer of four different flavours of poppadoms with three different chutneys. The chutneys were spicy garlic, mint, and beet, and sat starkly cream, green, and pink against our black sideplates.

Next, they brought us an amuse-bouche (also complimentary) of a breaded pea ball (I could’ve eaten my weight in these) and cold pomegranate juice.

The first dish we’d ordered was the chilli garlic cauliflower with cashew cauliflower purée and black quinoa, which was a light and delicious start to the meal. This was followed by the crab kofta with Kerala white crab chutney and Mumbai cheese toast batons. The presentation of this dish was beautiful. Each kofta (small fried dumpling) sat in a depression of an egg carton-like dish, with two of the spots taken up with ceramic cracked eggs filled with chutney. This ended up being my favourite dish of the night, and the cheese toast was a yummy, salty wonder.

They brought out the lamb gucci korma with truffle oil, the chicken bhuna with salli potatoes, and the saffron-sesame naan we had ordered all together, with an extra serving of their warm roti. The lamb was Allison’s pick of the night.

Though we’d eaten a huge meal already, my booking had come with an offer for a free dessert, so we happily perused the menu again and eventually settled on the dessert our server recommended: the chocolate chikki delice with Himalayan salted caramel kulfi (ice cream). This ran a very close second for favourite dish of the evening with both of us.

It was a shame to leave the opulent Oberoi, but we slept well in our budget hotel, happy with our indulgences in Mumbai.

The next morning we took a plane to Goa, which I only mention because the Mumbai airport might be the prettiest airport in the world, and I’d happily be stuck there for a few hours of delay (but the plane was on time).

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How about some travel writing: Jaipur, India

Some travel writing by me. Re-posted from https://www.casualodyssey.com/.

Tours, textiles, and tender flesh

Feb 10, 2019

We left Agra by air conditioned bus in the morning, reaching Jaipur roughly 5 hours later. We checked in to the easy-to-remember Jaipur Inn, a family-run hotel with a rooftop patio that feels safe and homey. Our first order of business was to stock the mini fridge (such luxury!) in the room. With some brief instructions, we forged a path to the liquor store – or, more accurately, alcohol stall – and bought a number of large Kingfisher Premiums. Kingfisher is an Indian beer that tastes vaguely like a Keith’s and is available pretty much everywhere. It’s inferior to the summer-fresh Bira Blonde that Allison and I sampled in Delhi, but cheap and convenient. Our sojourn had the added benefit of giving us our first look at camels! Definitely had made it to Rajasthan. Once we made our triumphant return, a few of our tourmates followed in our trailblazing footsteps to obtain their own beers.

Until our cabs arrived to shuttle us to our evening activity, we relaxed on the hotel rooftop and cheered on the half-dozen brave tourists who were taking a Bollywood dance class. (Later encouraging me to download the song Aankh Marey for my eclectic running playlist.)

We had a special experience touring the Amer Fort (or Amber Fort, or Amber Palace) at night, with a knowledgeable local professor as guide. The first structures were built on the site in the 11th century, but the majority of the palace was constructed and improved during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Fort is nicely lit at night (excepting a few tacky colour-cycling LED fixtures), and so empty that it felt like we had the entire site to ourselves. You pay a premium for the night tickets (though I’m not sure how much exactly, as the visit was included in our tour cost), but it’s worth it to avoid the crowds. (After visiting the Taj Mahal at peak time, it was a relief to see this site at a quieter moment.)

The palace is separated into four sections, each built of yellow and pink sandstone.

The highlight is the third courtyard, which was the private chamber of the maharajas. Here, the Sukh Niwas (Hall of Pleasure) sits opposite the stunning and opulent Sheesh Mahal (Mirror Palace), with a lush garden between. The reflections off mirrors and coloured glass set into every inch of wall and ceiling in the Sheesh Mahal create a twinkly starlight that’s amazing to see. It’s fairly hard to convey the intricate gaudiness of the building (which legend says was built so the queen could always see starlight, but may have just been a hall of private audience), but perhaps the photos will help.

 

 

 

 

 

After the Fort we drove to a passable buffet restaurant, and the most memorable aspect was the arrival of the bride and groom at the wedding next door.

There were two more weddings on the same street as our hotel, which made it hard to get to sleep at first, what with the marching band and fireworks outside our door, but eventually the celebrations just became the din of white noise.

Feb 11, 2019

Allison and I were in the lobby at 5:40 a.m. to hop aboard the van for our sunrise balloon ride. Because the ballooning company has 5 or 6 take off and landing positions within the vicinity of Jaipur, we weren’t exactly sure where the van full of French tourists and us were headed, and we drove 45 minutes into rural India before pulling up to a field where two colourful balloons were being inflated. It was only 8 degrees C at that hour, and Allison and I had put on basically all of our clothes to stave off the morning chill. Luckily, once we were in the basket, the heat from the flames our balloonist, Arturo, released to get and keep us aloft made us toasty enough. It was a calm and pretty flight (or should I say float?), and the locals emerged from their houses to wave and call to us as we invaded the airspace above their fields and homes. I couldn’t help but think that western farmers would not be as excited by our aerial surveillance.

Kids chased after the balloon as we started our landing after about an hour in the air, and by the time we had smoothly touched down, all of the immediate locals had gathered around to watch the balloon deflate and us disembark.

Back at the hotel, we reconnected with our group for an activity described by G Adventures as an “Orientation Walk,” but as it featured 18 of us briskly trailing our guide down busy market streets in single file, disorientation was actually the result. We stopped for mediocre but free masala chai at a sweets shop where Allison and I decided to break from the group for a while to visit some markets and shops Allison had researched. One of the ladies on the tour, Nelly, an IT consultant from Paris, chose to hang with us for the afternoon as well. We quickly discovered that despite Allison’s experience and my enthusiasm, Nelly could out-haggle us both. It was fun and instructive to watch her get her chosen pants for less than a quarter of the original quoted price.

We did some damage at the three legit textile shops we sought out. Three scarves, two bedding sets, two robes, a tablecloth and some other odds and ends all found their way back to the hotel in our packs.

In the evening we went to the Raj Mandir Cinema – a 1100 seat movie theatre that opened in the 1970s and persists as a symbol of Jaipur. We were in the first balcony, second row, centre seats (which if my preferences at the Centennial Concert Hall matter at all, are the best seats in the whole place). The feature film on offer was the brand-new Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi. Brief synopsis: around 1857, the bad-ass, feminist queen Lakshmi Bai is a leader in the rebellion against British rule. Based loosely on real events. The film was in Hindi, without English subtitles, but due to the hunger for soap opera-style storytelling in Bollywood, and the simple premise (British bad; Lakshmi good), we followed reasonably well. We also benefited from the cartoonishly evil British characters occasionally speaking in English, like the line “tonight we will eat tender flesh” when they’ve stolen a calf from some of villagers (don’t worry, Lakshmi saves the baby cow and then dances with the villagers, then later basically cuts every British person in India in half.) It was cool to see that the film was shot at the Amer Fort we had just visited.

There were a lot of impassioned speeches in the middle third of the long film, which were lost on us, and made things a bit boring, but overall Kangana Ranaut in the lead role was fierce and lovely. Also, while we found the Matrix-style, physics-bending combat scenes comical, the audience members seemed to love seeing the bad guys get hacked up in creative ways. Though we started to feel off balance when people around us actually cheered at the death of every English-speaking character, it did give us the experience of being “othered” for once. I asked one of the male Brits what he thought of the film afterwards, and he fairly observed that since the British colonists really were the bad guys, it’s hard to act offended about how they’re portrayed.

Then back to the hotel to ready for our journey to Tordi Sagar.

How about some travel writing: Hampi, India

Some travel writing by me. Re-posted from https://www.casualodyssey.com/.

The Hampiest Place on Earth

Feb 4, 2019

Good morning Hospet! Not-so-fresh off the train we found Ramesh and his auto-rickshaw (which, according to the back decal, was named Suzie) to take us to the “ferry crossing” at Hampi.

We were staying across the river from Hampi Bazaar in a little town called Virupapur Gaddi. This is where most visitors to Hampi stay, and there is a community of roughly identical guesthouses with roughly identical restaurant menus and an infinite number of guys trying to rent you a scooter. The river, currently about the width of Winnipeg’s Red River, doesn’t have a bridge, so there is a group of enterprising young men with a couple of motor boats that charge tourists to cross. Three days before we arrived, the crossing was 20 rupees. For us, 50 each for one way (roughly $1 CAD). Not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but a lot for a 30 second boat ride. Plus, the boat would only operate when 12 or 15 people were crossing, which meant we always had to wait. Basically, these guys have a nice racket going.

We had booked a room at Sai Plaza Guesthouse. The location is great, very close to the ferry crossing, and the restaurant has an amazing view of Hampi’s ruins (and of the temple elephant, Lakshmi, getting her 90 minute bath every morning). We lounged in the restaurant, listening to what can most easily be described as Indian spa music, until our room was ready. Our accommodations were basic – a modest two room structure – with hot water only at a certain time of day. The bed had a baby pink mosquito net, which made it look like a child’s faerie princess fort, and outside there was a little patio with a hammock.

In the afternoon, we crossed the river to start exploring.

First thing to say about Hampi: the landscape is unique (and those readers who’ve met me know I don’t use that word lightly). Piles of boulders as tall as mountains dot the area, with bright green sugar cane paddies, palms, and figs growing in the low areas between. It’s a strange mix of arid, rocky expanses and verdant tropics. And the way the boulders sit, precariously piled in unlikely towers, makes it tempting to believe they were placed by the gods (or by their monkey army, as the story goes).

Second thing to say about Hampi: it’s huge. 3700 monuments in 36 sq km. In our 3 days in the area, we could only come close to biting off a slice of the Hampi (Banofee) pie.

Third thing to say about Hampi: it’s shockingly uncommercial. Don’t misunderstand: there are a host of people waiting to sell you jewelry and coconut milk, sunglasses and saris, auto-rickshaw tours and anything you’d like to eat, but when it comes to the World Heritage Site itself, it’s remarkably open. You can walk where you want, visit still-active temples with monks at prayer, or clamber over the crumbling ruins of temples from the 10th century. You can touch everything, photograph anything. Only three sites charge you for access, and in the rare places where there is security at work, the only time we heard them warn off anyone is when two middle-aged European tourists attempted to climb up on a large statue of the sacred bull calf, Nandi.

When we crossed the river on our first day, we wandered up past Virupaksha Temple (notable for the golden-coloured, intricately carved, 50m-high gateway tower) to the temples of Hemakuta Hill. While most of the structures in Hampi date back to the 13th to 16th centuries, Hemakuta Hill features some of the oldest ruins on the site, stretching back to the 9th century. The site is rock structures built on natural rock slabs surrounded by piles of boulders, so mid-afternoon, the 35 degree sun is unforgiving. A couple hours was enough for our uncovered parts to get a burn.

Not knowing much about the site except what my Lonely Planet Guide had to say about Hemakuta (“Hemakuta Hill has a few early ruins” — thanks LP, we cottoned on to that using our senses), we were lucky to find a couple signposts that explained the significance of the site. Signs like these were inconsistently present at the rest of the monuments and temples in Hampi, but when they existed, there was almost always an English version to read.

Without a route to follow, we eventually found a garbage-strewn trail to a temple sunk into the trees (a rarity here) where a huge number of monkeys played together. Then by accident, we found a back way into Virupaksha Temple and explored it for free (though we wouldn’t have balked at the teeny admission of 2 rupees, or 52 if you have a camera). It made us sad to see Lakshmi working as mostly a backdrop for selfies, but the temple itself was vibrant with devotees and lively with monkeys.

We crossed the river again (are you hearing the cash register cha-ching?), and grabbed an auto-rickshaw down a bumpy road to the highway, on our way to see the Monkey Temple at sunset. Something Allison heard, but I did not, when we were told about the temple: it’s up. 575 cut stone steps up, to be exact. Tease me if you must, but this Prairie girl’s legs are not really conditioned for a lot of up. Anyway, winded, we climbed to the hilltop Monkey Temple and the spot a which the god Hanuman (in monkey form) was reportedly born for the sunset view, leaving before the sun actually set so we could see our way down.

In the evenings, all the restaurants in Virupapur Gaddi show movies (of wildly variable quality and content, though Disney seems to be particularly popular), so we chose the restaurant that was showing Toy Story 3. After Allison gave the owners some IT support, we settled down with our first drinks of the trip (“do you have any local beers?” “Budweiser” “okay”), and Allison somehow did not cry at any of the three tear-inducing scenes in that excellent movie (you know exactly what scenes I’m talking about, don’t you, readers!).

Feb 5, 2019

We met Ramesh on the Hampi side of the river after waiting 30 minutes for the boat to take us across (all the operators apparently need to eat breakfast together). Allison had arranged for him to take us around the major Hampi sites, and I’ll mention it here once, though it deserves to be said a bunch, it’s a total game changer to have pretty consistent internet access on a trip like this. Being able to “What’s app” message tour guides, drivers, and hotels, navigate using Google maps, and look up things we can’t figure out on our own is such a simplifier.

Anyway, Ramesh, whose English was very good, took us to two off-the-beaten-track stops to start the day. The first was the Bhojana shalaa, a site featuring long, low rock dining tables with cut-outs carved into the rock to act as plates and bowls. This was made, he explained, so poor families in the Vijayanagar Empire could host celebrations like weddings and not worry about having enough dishes for all of the guests.

The second stop was beyond the typical Hampi exploration, a temple on Rama’s meditation site called Malyavanta Raghunatha. There were orange-clad Hindu monks practicing their devotions while Ramesh took us through a couple of the site’s buildings. Most notably, he showed us a social hall that used to be decorated with diamonds and where genius architects created pillars of stone that ring like timpani when played and where everywhere there are bas reliefs of gods and animals and nature and Kama sutra. This temple has a nice lookout point from which we could see the high Monkey Temple we’d climbed the previous day.

Ramesh dropped us at the parking lot for the Vittala Temple, and we made the kilometre walk down an open sand road to the proper start of the site. A ticket to Vittala costs 300 rupees each, but gets you same-day admission to the Archeological Museum and the Zenana Enclosure as well. The main temple here also has the musical pillars we saw at Malyavanta Raghunatha, but here they are off limits to tourists. One of the greatest attractions is the ornate stone chariot in the courtyard (apparently the wheels were once able to turn).

The Archeological Museum is worth a look for the pre- and post-excavation photos of the Royal Centre, the room-sized model of all of Hampi, and the collection of unearthed gold coins. Also, good for a break from the mid-day sun.

We had a lunch of Thali (Allison) and Chicken Tikka (me) – essential to keep up our energy – and then we were off to the Royal Centre. We started with the Queen’s Bath, an Islamic-style building, with an enormous, now empty, pool within. The pool holds 15 cubic meters of water, which they scented with jasmine for her baths. This building was for the Queen’s exclusive use, and even the King had to ask permission to enter.

Next we saw the recently excavated Royal Enclosure, including the Mahanavani-diiba, a 12m high stage platform with great views and intricate carvings. The elephant carver was really working overtime on this whole area, as dozens and dozens of elephants line every wall. Also here is a stepped pool called the Pushkarani, which looks like someone buried a hollow pyramid upside down in the earth, and the Hazarama Temple which has some beautiful black granite carved pillars transported from the southernmost reaches of India when the Empire had stretched across the country.

Our second-last stop of the day was the Zenana Enclosure, where the Queen’s mansion, the Lotus Mahal sits. This site is green and grassy, as if ready for a queen to return at any moment, and the Lotus Mahal’s scalloped doorways are gorgeous from every angle. A few steps away is the shockingly well preserved Elephant Stables, where Allison and I made echo-y elephant noises to stay true to the building’s history.

Exhausted after all the ruins and temples, we opted to look out over the Nobleman’s Quarters, the King’s Palace, and the Mint, rather than walk through.

Back at the hotel, the movie of the evening was The Lion King, and we stayed up our latest yet… 10 p.m.!

Feb 6, 2019

We rented some mostly functional, one-speed bicycles and rode out of Virupapur Gaddi with some vague directions to “the lake.” After only one missed turn and more hills than I had hoped for, we made it. The lake was nice enough, but with no beach area, so we sat on some rocks for a couple hours, while a goat herd eventually found it‘s way to and around us. After a (more downhill, but equally as bumpy) ride back, we enjoyed the view from the Sai Plaza restaurant for a couple hours before saying goodbye to Hampi, travelling to Hospet, and getting on the overnight train to Delhi.

How about some travel writing: Mysore, India

How about some travel writing? Recently I got back from India, where I was traveling for a month with my sis. We blogged it on her site: https://www.casualodyssey.com, but I’m going to re-publish the articles I wrote here. Enjoy!

Two new additions to the zoo

Feb 2, 2019

We woke up in Mysore to the incongruous sound of the Muslim Fajr (“dawn”) prayer mixed with a chorus of howling street dogs. Well rested and hopeful, we checked on the status of our bags and learned that only one had made the trip from Frankfurt. Honeybee (my yellow and black bag) would be delivered to us in the afternoon, which at least allowed us to look forward to fresh clothing. Butch (Allison’s bag) would be on the next overnight flight. Or so we were told. Maybe we’d be travelling one city ahead of Butch for the next four weeks, it chasing us across the country at Lufthansa’s expense.

We walked the few blocks to the Sri Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, and I got used to stepping into oncoming traffic to cross the road. Zoos are polarizing, but Mysore‘s zoo is recognized as among the best in the world and we were impressed with the size, all rescued and rehabilitated animals, and its no plastic policy.

It was Saturday, so the zoo was busy with families. I lived my childhood dreams and saw a blue macaw, and I especially adored the funny, tank-like rhinos. Allison was charmed by the statuesque Saurus cranes and the marmosets, which she dubbed “the bulldogs of monkeys.” The animals were surprisingly active for mid-day, excepting the lions, white tiger, and hyenas who were napping or nowhere to be seen. Most active were the elephants, who were feeling… romantic.

The amorous elephants were a popular photo, but a bunch of locals were just as interested in taking a selfie with the newest additions to the zoo: the two blond-haired, blue-eyed Canadian women wandering freely. The attention (and strangers just passing their children to Allison to hold for photos) made us feel part celebrity, part exhibit, but was ultimately harmless and something we’ve since learned will happen wherever we go.

Signs at the zoo explained that “Watching Animals Calmly gain’s Peacefulness” and “Animals are true Friends than Humans” alongside some others that illustrated the graphic results of sticking body parts into the animal cages (plus, the signs said, eating us might make the animals sick). A couple hours in, ice cream was a necessity, though we had to finish our treats before rounding the corner because the monkeys (local and loose) would take our cones.

In the evening (after Honeybee was successfully delivered!), we took my first-ever auto-rickshaw ride to Mysore Palace. We were surprised to see mostly Indian visitors at this busy tourist stop, and once we figured out how to deposit our shoes behind the counter, we joined the crowd to walk through this gaudy early-20th century building. Beautiful tile work, ornate pillars, carved teak doors, and chairs made entirely of glass were the highlights of the palace. This location was the seat of the Wadiyar dynasty which ruled over the Kingdom of Mysore for nearly 200 years. The old palace was gutted by fire in 1897.

Busy day completed, we went back to our (air-conditioned!) room and hoped for good news on Butch in the morning.

Feb 3, 2019

The Devaraja Market was a wonderful photo op filled with flowers, veggies, and spices. Not much for us to actually buy, but still worth the look. Google Maps led us on a roundabout journey through alleyways overflowing with bananas.

The afternoon saw us relaxing in the common room of The Mansion, waiting for Butch to arrive, and counting down the hours until our overnight train to Hospet, outside of Hampi. By 2 p.m. Butch was in our hands and our train travel plans could stay on track.

Fully bagged and ready to say goodbye to Mysore, we navigated the train station without too much trouble. Once we found our proper car (thanks to the kind porter who checked our tickets and pointed us to the air-conditioned car), I had my first ever overnight train ride. Allison, for whom Asian train travel was old hat, was thrilled that everything seemed to work on the train. I was mostly thankful for a western-style toilet. Allison kindly gave up her bottom bunk so an older couple didn’t have to climb to an upper, and eventually, we slept.

Exploring audio books on foot: part one

I originally decided to try out audio books for running and road trips. With the latter, I found even the most compelling story made me sleepy. When driving from Calgary to Winnipeg in one go (1325 km or about 13 hours with food breaks), I need peppy, bouncy, soulless pop music from the 90’s and 00’s to keep me alert and able. Slight clarification: it’s a completely different experience if me or my road trip mate are reading aloud. Perhaps I’m just wired to pay more attention to someone I can see. Anyhow…

runner with headphonesListening to an audio book while running took some experimentation. I began by downloading books I thought would be inspiring (Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall), energizing (Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing), diverting (Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling), and comforting (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen). Some of these were favourites and some of these were new, but with every attempt I came closer to finding the type of book I knew would be effective in keeping me going over the building mileage in my marathon training.

Obviously Born to Run was going to be a good one. I’d read the paper version twice, but I think I enjoyed the story in my ear even more as I ran the tree-lined streets of my neighborhood, pushing beyond my easy pace and playing with my running form as Fred Sanders (the narrator) explained how my body was made for this motion. Unfortunately, I can’t just listen to that book again and again. It’s only 11 hours… which sounds like a lot but isn’t when you’re averaging 25-30 miles a week. I’ve since downloaded Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running but haven’t taken it out on the roads or trails yet. I feel like it’s going to be atmospheric, and I think I’m waiting for the winter to experience Murakami’s phrasing in my mind.

Mindy Kaling’s Why Not Me, even shorter at a paltry 5 hours, was a joy. I’ve come to think all memoirs/autobiographies/essays by comedians should be experienced as audio books. I’m sure it’s funny on paper, but funnier when Mindy Kaling is telling you her stories with her own timing, cadence, and inflections. The same goes for Amy Poehler’s Yes Please!, which has the added secret value of guest narrators like Patrick Stewart and Seth Meyers and moments of laughter and improvisation that you won’t find in the bound version. This category of badass-successful-feminist-female comedians definitely works for me. I get to feel powerful and feminine, entertained and empowered, and it’s the right amount of diversion and lightness for 3-6 mile recovery runs. Right now, Caitlin Moran is making me laugh and wince as she develops her first adult feelings about – of all people – Chevy Chase, and tries to find the right names for her “bathing suit areas” in How To Be A Woman. Her stories are embarrassing, not for their content, but for their familiarity.

I’m also trying to enjoy Cheryl Strayed’s Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, but aside from the interest I have in the actual journey, and the appreciation I have of her story-worthy, atypical life, I don’t like her. I wish she’d hurry up and get her shit together. It’s not entertaining to me to listen to her cheat on her husband and do a lot of heroin. It’s physically painful to me to imagine not thinking about the weight of a hiking pack… or attempting to pack it… prior to embarking on this massive expedition. She’s an incomprehensible mix of determination and complete lack of foresight. But I think I could get over that if they’d chosen a different narrator. I’m sorry Bernadette Dunne. You are totally great at your job. I have no problem with you or your style at all. BUT you sound like you’re in your 50s, and Cheryl at the time of this journey was in her 20s. It’s distracting.

— To be continued —

Fringe Fest — a real journey of story

This is my favourite time of the year for the city. People have deluded themselves into forgetting the annual eight months of winter in the bright blissful Prairie heat of July. It’s sunny and verdant and vibrant everywhere, and in the city’s core the streets fill up with tents and buskers, food carts and performances.

Downtown is at its best right now, because the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre festival is on. 180 performances in 12 days at 32 different venues… it makes for a colourful, active, and entertaining vibe all over the city, but shines brightest in the three square kilometers surrounding Portage and Main.

Fringe

I’ll be spending a significant chunk of my free time taking in Fringe shows (I have 13 scheduled… the first, Burning Hearts, in less than two hours), and I think I’ve targeted a good cross-section of genres to explore this year. The one I’m most looking forward to? How to Talk to Human Beings (watch the epic and informative trailer).

I’ll be posting updates/reviews if I feel like it.

What?

I’m being honest.

 

S.E. Lund

 

P.S. If you’re curious, my second-most favourite time for the city is the second week of February.

A picture is worth 140 characters

JT got a smartphone last week. His first. For the last seven years he’s been using one of those old brick phones (it slides!) — specifically the Samsung Messager (SCH-r450), seen below.   samsung messager “The Brick,” as we affectionately called it, was a source of pride and conversation for JT and a source of amusement for me. I loved to watch people’s faces when they noticed it — especially in the last two to three years.  It was a good phone, and my husband – so practical, so… economical – found it hard to justify replacing it. I actually agreed with him. The Brick was hardy. You could chuck it full-force against a wall and it would still be pristine. It had a battery life of at least a week on a full charge (even in year seven). It had a full keyboard for texting. It received and made calls. He has an iPod for music, and who needs the internet, anyway? Data is expensive and besides, as he pointed out, everyone around him has a smartphone if he has a webmergency (read: if he needs to check his fantasy football).

But last week he took the plunge and got an iPhone 5S, and something unexpected happened. I learned that we communicate very differently.

I’m going to be real with you, folks. I’m in communications so I have an obligatory Instagram account, but anyone who follows me will know that it’s not my favourite medium. My nine photos will back that up. Pictures are powerful and impactful (let’s exclude selfies here), but I like words. Twitter is my platform of choice.

Apparently JT is an entirely different beast. Now that he has a camera better than 1mp on his phone, an extraordinary number of his texts have been photos.  I don’t think he’d ever commit to Twitter, but Instagram is probably right up his alley. Hell, he even makes me understand why Snapchat is appealing to people.

I suppose my point is, technology allows us to tell the stories of our daily lives in new, innovative ways that not even we could have predicted would be appealing to us. Massive creative freedom.