Monday, March 27, 2017

Sunny Sydney (in parts)

Sydney, for the purpose of trying to cover a fair bit, was split up into two distinct bits on our trip. The sight -seeing bit and and beach bum bit. (This seems to be a recurring theme in this trip of ours. covering the same place in parts. We find it seems to work better, especially if you plan on driving or seeing multiple cities in a trip)
You know you're in Oz when...
For the first part we were staying at the YHA Rocks - its an award winning hotel with a stunning view of the Sydney Harbour.
wine tasting at the rooftop of the YHA
The hostel is built on top of the 'Big Dig Site'. Its the area of a large Urban archaeological dig, of settlements from around the late 18th Century. Fascinated Pickwick no end.
rooms overlooking the dig

what a fantastic way to combine the old with the new
Apart from the unique site, we could just walk across to Circular quay and the Sydney Harbour bridge.
see those tiny blue dots? Not so much dots as people. Climbing. 

Child 2 clearly in agreement with the posters

stairs to the top
I must confess, I went a bit mad clicking the Opera House from the Bridge, The bridge from the Opera House and both of them from the boat.

We happened to be there on Memorial Day
We skipped the walk over the bridge, however, seeing as we had one very tiny, angry little adventurer who would be furious at being left out. Again.
Circular Quay is the quieter, more serene cousin of Darling Quay. It somehow gives you more time to relax and soak in the atmosphere.
This strange Aussie White Ibis that decided to follow us in McDonalds
The birds along with happy and grumpy.
We decided to buy tickets for the Merlin Attractions, which is a great buy, especially if you have children. Sea-Life, Animal Kingdom and Madam Tussaud's are, in fact right next to each other in Darling Quay.
The Saw fish. Not to be confused with the saw shark

moon jellyfish

or, 'you've had too many 'shrooms' 
My favourite of the three was Sea -Life, especially the underwater tunnels, where we could spot the Sharks, Rays and Dugongs swimming above us.
the underwater tunnels

 Madam Tussaud's here is also far more interactive than the one in London (maybe because its also smaller?) making it totally fun for the kids (the rock and roll section in particular).
the awesome threesome

child 1 not only beats daddy, but records the 3rd fastest time! 

child 2 fulfilling her fantasy of being a rock star
 As for the Animal Kingdom, the Koalas aren't to be missed for anything, but it also showcased a lot of other indigenous Australian species.
cuddly Koalas

and gorgeous butterflies
The Tasmanian Devils (who, despite their fierce reputations we caught napping),
catching a few zs
the inland Taipans (to whom we attempted to speak in parseltongue)
possibly wondering just how thick  that glass is
or even the Quolls.
We made it to the top of the Sydney Sky tower - which, granted wasn't as tall as the Top of the Rock, but made up for with startlingly clear weather, as far as the eye could see.
The harbour

this postbox atop the sky tower. 
We also decided to visit the Taronga Zoo (of the Steve Irwin fame) and Manly Sea Life. Yes, it might look like an overdose of wildlife, but really, it didn't seem that much to us, or the kids.
look at that yellow wattle!

one of the largest birds at the bird show- the Condor

that's Rollo. I think. 

the birdshow - a favourite for the children

The colourful fruit dove

and the wood pigeon

And I can't get over how camouflaged this little guy is...

The peacock still beats them hollow when it comes to strutting his stuff.

a happy little wallaby

oh, yeah! :)
The trip to Manly is just a short ferry ride away, like Taronga. I'd strongly advise you not to fall for the 'combined ferry and attractions ticket' like we did. State run ferries are quite frequent and can be used to travel to all these places at far cheaper prices. When at Manly, its also a good idea to spend a few hours relaxing at the beach - just swimming , or kayaking or surfing if you're the more active sorts.
Be sure to catch the shark show at Sealife Manly if you can. Fascinating show. 
The fascination with all creatures big and small should always be encouraged, I believe and that can only come when our children learn to fall in love with every living thing on God's good earth. (although I still have a few reservations on mosquitoes and roaches.)
All in all, Sydney had a lot to offer for everyone, no matter what sort of holiday you might be seeking. And guess what - we we're not even done yet!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Konkan Coast

The last weekend, being a rather long-ish one, we decided to pack our bags and take a break from the non-stop action that is Mumbai. Our destination? The famed Ratnagiri coastline.
After about 9 hours, a couple of breaks and many motion sickness tablets later, we arrived at our Resort - well, more of a homestay, actually, the Oceano Pearl.
This is situated a bit further along the coast, at Ganeshgule, the lesser known cousin of Ganpatipule.
our lovely weekend pad
I wish I could tell you that we stayed at this marvellous treehouse at the property. Sadly, its not for families with young children
Oceano Pearl has many things going for it - its rustic ambience, the fantastic location, just minutes from the beach, nestled in farmland and greenery throughout; but primarily, its biggest USP, by far would be the absolute lack of cellphone signals this far out into the coast.
The little sit -out in the front for those who want to keep an eye on the comings and goings
This means I spotted far more people willing to make eye contact and wanting to hold a conversation, Child 1 and Baa-lamb included.
Plenty of green and no towers in sight
Both kids were thoroughly chuffed that the stretch of beach adjoining the property was deserted. The evening was thus spent watching the sunset, releasing tiny starfish back into the sea and spotting scuttling sandcrabs.
Deserted. Except for my 3 and an odd cow.

sandcrabs were being chased...

starfish were being admired...

sunset was being enjoyed.

What? We really love sunsets.
Dinner, at the resort (there isn't anything around for miles, so, unless you want to traipse into town for a meal, this is your best bet) was a homely affair. If you are planning to order here, though, I suggest you order at least an hour in advance as the food is freshly prepared and made to order.
The following morning, we set off after breakfast to Ganpatipule.
This flautist, outside the temple playing the tune from 'Hero'. Blast from the Past!

The temple exit, facing the sea
The Ganpatipule temple by the sea, had one of the most picturesque locations as far as temples go. Situated on the shores of the beach, the sea was quite some distance away, but we were told that once a year, the waves wash right upto the sanctum sanctorum.

There's also a rather large Mooshika guarding the entrance. Legend has it that anything whispered into the ear of said Mooshika comes true.
Child 2, whispering secrets into a willing ear
For child 2, what was also truly legendary were the laddoos that were being sold at the temple. They were consumed in copious amounts, thus energising us for our next stop - the Ratnadurg fort and the Bhagwati temple situated within.
The Bhagwati Temple
The husband casually informed me that the fort was supposed to be haunted. But in the bright light of day with the sun mercilessly beating down on us, the place looked quite benign.
Views from the fort

I do wish when restoring or maintaining a fort, people wouldn't casually slap paint on the stones in an effort to spruce it up, but that apart, the fort itself was pretty impressive. placed atop the cliff with spectacular views of the sea as well as the surrounding land.
Painted walls. Really, now. 
The Marathas clearly knew their stuff.
For my Mumbai friends. I know you're repeating this in your heads :)
We'd taken the scenic route to and from the fort, along the coast and could see the Aarey as well as the Vaarey beach (I promise you I am not making these names up). The waters were crystal clear and there wasn't a soul to be spotted on the white sand below.
clear blue seas

Serious urges to run across those white sands

Look! Not a soul in sight!
The only thing stopping us from racing down to the beach was the lack of shade and rising mercury levels. Beaches in India especially in the summer months are best enjoyed before 10 am or after 4pm.
a sea of Fishing nets being folded away for the day

We stopped in Ratnagiri for lunch and decided to drop into Thiba palace.
Thiba Palace
The palace was built by the British for the erstwhile king of Burma in exile, and is currently being restored by the ASI.
restoration under way

The central courtyard
I can't wait to see the palace restored to its former glory complete with a Burma teak staircases and the 100 year old stone structures. It also houses several sculptures from the 10th and 12th Century, which were rather worn, but still beautiful. I really enjoyed the eclectic collection of statues and works from the region.
a terra cotta capital from the region housed at the palace
Our evening was spent once more playing at our 'private beach' and making 'sun-hearts'.
Mum, dad and sunhearts

The sun dawned bright and early the next morning on sundry birds, flowers and holi celebrations.
A Bird on a wire...

A Solitary heron...

an early sandpiper...
...and other colourful, unidentified species.
Yes, this being the Holi weekend, the kids were looking rather furlorn at the prospect of missing out on the celebrations at our apartment, and so, colours and giggles were the order of the day.
The evening saw us visiting another fort nearby - Purnagad.
its almost like a gateway to another world

This one isn't under the purview of the ASI and not particularly well kept, but still, so brilliant to look at, you can see why the Marathas were such a formidable force. A short ride later we were back at the beach at Bhandardara. Not our cup of tea- more commercial, and a bit more crowded. The kids, however, did spot a flying monkey :)
We had to leave early the next day to make it back at a decent time to Mumbai, but Umesh, our intrepid driver and guide during this trip suggested we visit Marleshwar on our drive back.
the Sahyadris
This temple is situated in a cave high up in the hills of the Sahyadris, and although there's a short climb to get to it, the view makes it worthwhile.
tucked away within the mountain range

Yup, the temple is through that tine doorway. And yes, we were warned that we might be visited by the odd snake.
The rest of the trip was uneventful, except for another couple of pitstops (Zunka Bhakars included)
this cheeky lady and her baby who we all fell in love with...
and a few more anti- vomiting pills later, we made it back home, tired, yet thoroughly refreshed, and a bit more in love with India.
A view of the village celebrations through our windscreen