Ep. 2 – Northern India

Hello!

Welcome to the second episode of our world trip where we spent the last 2 weeks in Northern India! Again, so shaky, soz, we’re working on it.

Thanks so much if you’ve been following along so far, hope you enjoy seeing what we’ve been up to! Remember to watch in 1080p.

Sophie & Dave

Varanasi & Kochi – India

Hello!

We got yet another train from Agra, across Northern India, to Varanasi. The train ended up being 4 hours late so our total travel time was around 16 hours and we arrived to utter chaos. Varanasi was so much busier than anything we’d seen in Rajasthan, even Dehli! We discovered that there were local elections going on the day we arrived and lots of streets had been closed off. Our tuk-tuk driver dropped us off about 2km from the hostel so we had to walk with our backpacks, through the chaos and closed streets under the mid-day sun. I think a march, demonstration or protest can be a little scary and overwhelming anywhere in the world, it’s why I’ve avoided quite a few that I would have liked to attend, even in London. When it’s in a foreign country, in a foreign language, on a topic that you’re completely ignorant about, it’s quite terrifying. We had absolutely no idea what anyone was saying, and we couldn’t even gage if it was peaceful or not. We saw lots of policemen with what looked like baseball bats rather than batons and also lots of normal people just casually walking around with shotguns slung over their shoulders.

Varanasi itself is the Holy city; a place where Indian families come to cremate their dead and scatter their ashes in the river Ganges. I naively thought a holy city would mean I would feel more comfortable and safe; completely the opposite. The harassment was nearly as bad as Dehli and again, it drove me mad.

There are of course some positives to Varanasi too. We were astounded by the landscape, maybe cityscape is a better word. The city side of the Ganges is crammed full of tower block buildings. Crammed to the point that you can only get around through narrow streets that even tuk-tuks can’t fit in to (you wouldn’t believe how many times we got lost in these little meandering streets). It is an immense concrete jungle all the way up to the river’s bank, but then, you look across the river, and it is completely flat. There is nothing there; untouched, pristine. It’s very surreal. We got a boat to the other side one evening at sunset, it seemed even more utopian from the water and the flat side.

You see everything on the banks of the Ganges; it’s where people burn bodies, go to the Ghats, wash themselves, wash their clothes, hang laundry, sell their goods, have performances and my personal highlight, where water buffalo go for a dip. Though it is a very common tourist practice to watch a burning body, we decided against it. We did however watch an Agni Pooja. A ceremony, that at the time we had no clue what it was about and which we later learnt was to worship the god of fire. There were thousands of people watching this ceremony, half on land, and half in boats on the river.

On the morning we were due to leave Varanasi, I woke up to horrific food poisoning (I mean I went to the toilet 16 times in about 2 hours). Fun fact, we were in an 8 bed dorm at this point, 2 bathrooms shared between 16 people, I’ll just leave it there… I was extremely weak with a high fever and was struggling to keep my eyes open. Dave had to carry both our backpacks and I just stumbled after him. I should have been in bed with a cold flannel over my head but oh no, instead, we had to get an hour long tuk-tuk ride to the airport (no taxis to be found), a 2 hour flight to Mumbai, a 2 hour layover, another 2 hour flight to Kochi and finally an hour drive to the accommodation. I think I boarded both planes wrapped in my silk liner sleeping bag I was shivering so much. Safe to say, it was my least favourite journey. But we made it to Kochi! We’ve seen it spelt various ways, Cochin is the colonial name given by the British. It is in the Southern state of Kerala which is also known as “God’s own Country”. Kochi is beautiful and reminds us a lot of our trip to Barbados a few years ago. There are palm trees and coconuts galore. It is so much more relaxed and less chaotic. I haven’t been stared down or harassed and we’ve barely had any tuk-tuk drivers hassling us! It honestly feels like a different country to Northern India. Unfortunately, we haven’t been out much to enjoy it. The day after we arrived, Dave too got gastroenteritis, probably from me, (soz Dave). I’ve been ill for 3 full days now and I’m only just starting to recover, Dave’s on day 2 so a bit behind. We’ve both been so tired and weak that we’ve just slept most of the time and occasionally ventured out for food or water or to watch the sun set over the ocean. We’ve had some nice gentle strolls along the beach and the lanes (where I’ve been shat on by birds not once, but twice). We found a cafe that feels as though it could have been transported straight from Shoreditch, East London (a welcome break though, I thoroughly enjoyed my pretentious avocado and poached egg on toast, in full A/C whilst listening to The Cranberries).

Tomorrow, we get a bus onwards to Munnar. We have about a week and a half left here in the South and we plan to visit 5 more places!

 

Udaipur & Agra – India

Hello!

After another 7 hour train from Jaipur, we arrived in Udaipur. Despite arriving nearly an hour early to the train station, they didn’t show our platform until 15 mins before departure. Indian train stations and trains are HUGE (i.e 1 million carriages), so we actually cut it really fine! Note to selves; try and ask for the platform rather than relying on the information boards.

Our hostel (Zostel), is by far the nicest we’ve stayed in yet! They have a beautiful roof terrace restaurant (cheap) that overlooks Lake Pichola. Udaipur is by far the most beautiful, clean and pleasant city we’ve visited so far. Even the tuk-tuk drivers are nicer and give you local prices rather than trying to make you pay 5 times more because you’re a tourist.

We visited the Udaipur City Palace. Though ranked number one on tripadvisor, we weren’t blown away by it. Undeniably it had some beautiful stained glass windows, mirror rooms and some interesting historic paintings, but we both weren’t feeling 100% so maybe that’s why we didn’t enjoy it as much. Having said that, the trip was worth it just for the fact that we discovered that the lake we’re staying next to is actually man-made! (we realise this is probably common knowledge to anyone who has ever googled or knows anything about Udaipur, we just haven’t been researching places before arriving really. In fact, Udaipur is actually also known as the City of Lakes [D’oh!]). Anyway, lake Pichola was made in 1362 and is one of 8 man-made lakes in Udaipur! Mental! We’ve been treating Udaipur as our relax and re-charge place. We’ve basically just been pottering around or sitting by the lake and drinking Masala Chai… no complaints.

After a lot of faff, we managed to book our 12 hour over-night train to Agra. This time we had first class. It is essentially the same as economy, just with 2 storey rather than 3 storey bunks. The crucial difference is the curtains next to your seat/bunk which meant we were actually able to get some sleep. All hunky dory, UNTIL, we missed our train stop. Agra has about 5 stations, there are no intercoms or anything on the trains so you’re just expected to know when to get off…When you pull in to a platform you have to keep an eye out to see a small, near illegible sign. So anyway, we thought that we’d be able to tell it was Agra City (i.e hoping it would be busier/better sign posted). We didn’t see the sign, kept checking our watches to see we were past our expected arrival time (but we just thought the train must be running late). Eventually, we went to ask the train conductor who said, yes, you’ve missed it; next station is Dholpur. So we got off at Dholpur, a place we’d never even heard of, with the smallest train station we’d seen. We gormlessly looked around to see that the next train back to Agra was in 4 hours time. We’d also been told that a taxi would have cost about 2000 rupees (only £18 but still, no). Then these two random guys came up to us and asked if we were lost; we explained we missed Agra city, they then said they would help us. The hardest part of travelling so far is without a doubt, knowing who to trust. We’ve had a mix of people being honest and just genuinely so kind and some with ulterior motives, whether its getting us in to their shops or getting commission from us etc. We were skeptical of these two blokes, but we didn’t really have a choice but to trust them (no wifi, small town, no map etc). They negotiated with a tuk tuk driver to take us to the bus station and they followed behind on their motorbikes (again, we were a little bit dubious). The tuk tuk driver tried to short change us when we arrived but the 2 guys stepped in and demanded he give us back the extra 10 rupees. They then spoke to the bus driver and told us exactly how much to pay (61 rupees) and when to get off. Turns out, they were just two of the nicest people ever and we would have been completely lost without them. Sometimes the kindness of strangers is really inspiring. So we got on this extremely questionable bus for an hour and a half back to Agra. Honestly, the bus looked like it had been pulled from a scrap heap; about 90% of the chair covers were torn/missing, the remnants of a once blue frame were poking out from a thick layer of grime. We were laughing on the bus saying that our photos and videos make it look like our travels so far are only magical. The reality is that some of the places we’ve been in are just too dodgy to get the camera out haha.

The next day, we got up early and met our guide for the Taj Mahal at 6.15am. We wanted to go as soon as it opened at sunrise to beat the tourist rush. The queues are separated by gender and then further by tourist vs Indian. I was very chuffed to be put in to the Indian queue and got through in 5 minutes (unfortunately had already paid for the tourist ticket). I had to wait for a further 20 minutes for Dave to get through. The Taj Mahal is like nothing we’ve ever seen and is genuinely so beautiful. The intricacies and detail of the precious stones in the marble is unreal when you get up close and unsurprising that it took 22 years to build.

We’ve got another day in Agra tomorrow and then another overnight train to Varanassi.

Thanks for reading!

Sophie & Dave

Dehli & Jaipur – India

Hello from India!

We arrived in Dehli and managed to get through the airport after about 2 hours. Dehli was…interesting. I’m in 2 minds; on the one hand, it was cleaner, less busy, less begging and more greenery than we anticipated. On the other hand, it was full of seedy men and that part made it near unbearable for me. Everyone warns you about the poverty, the mistreatment of animals, the beggars etc..but no one warned me about the sexual harassment. For every step I took in Dehli, all the men in the vicinity stared at me. Men would make kissing sounds, someone even grabbed my arse as we walked through old Dehli. There was another more vulgar experience on the metro too. So all of that made it really difficult for me as I don’t have the language to argue back. You may also be wondering where Dave was in all of this; right next to me. It was honestly everywhere we turned so neither of us could keep up with it. Dehli is also so densely populated that by the time you turn around, the person who grabbed you is 20 people further back laughing. Also, not that it should matter, but let me paint you a picture of what I looked like; baggy trousers, high neck t-shirt, glasses, hair in a knot, no make up, quite spotty.

Right, dodgy part over, let’s move on to more positive things. In Dehli, we visited the Lotus temple, really modern architecture with beautiful surrounding greenery (we’d know because we got lost trying to find the entrance and walked round the park for an hour).

One evening we went to the Red Fort for their sound and light show,  it was…weird. It was also only 72p each and at least we got to actually go in the fort. The story was about Mughal history and part of the English colonisation.

We did a walking tour with our hostel of Old Dehli where we went through all the spice, clothes, silver, flower and shoe markets. We would have been totally lost without the guide and he knew good little passage ways to sneak up tall buildings and look over old Dehli and the oldest Mosque in India; Fatehpuri Masjid.

On our last day in Dehli, we went to the largest Mosque in India; Jama Masjid. Like the fort, it’s built with red sandstone, a signature of Shah Jahan (who also built the Taj Mahal – not red…). We then got the train 6 hours to Jaipur. Getting a train ticket from Dehli station was an absolute shambles. If it wasn’t for our hostel being absolutely clear about where to go and sticking to our guns, we would have been mugged off completely. Even security guards were corrupt and trying to send you to a different ticket office rather than the Tourist bureau where they have special train quotas but at the same cost as locals. The train was okay once we actually got on, we were in economy because there was no first class left. It was a bit of a squeeze and not particularly comfortable but hey, it was only £5 each.

We much prefer the pink city, Jaipur. We went to the City Palace and we had a great guide who showed us around. Though you couldn’t take pictures, the 17th century clothes from Sawai Madho Singh were MASSIVE, he was meant to be 250kg, and 6’7″ft tall and 3’11” ft wide. Our favourite part was undoubtedly the 4 gates inside the courtyard; Pitam Niwas Chowk. Each gate represents one of the four seasons (see some snaps below).

We’ve also been to the giant observatory; Jantar Mantar. Though we didn’t get a guide, the structures were insane and it had some of the biggest sun dials in the world. We then went to the Hawa Mahal (the Palace of Wind). It’s an incredible building with a honeycomb structure and it’s full of tiny windows. Our favourite of the 5 storeys was the one with colourful stained glass windows where multicoloured light dances across the floor.

All of those places, we walked to. The streets are full of random cows, pigs, dogs and even camels; you’ve also got a million tuk-tuks. We did get a tuk-tuk to the Amber Fort and back. The fort is huge and surprisingly had a beautiful temple within. I sort of expected to walk around seeing just battlements and staggered walls but there was so much more. The best bit was the Sheesh Mahal, or the Mirror Palace; archways covered in silver and mirrors.

Anyway, we have just arrived in Udaipur! We’ll be here for a few days, then another train to Agra. Then more trains, but we’ll tell you that later.

Thanks for reading!
Sophie & Dave

PS – vital information, neither of us have had dodgy tummies yet! woo!

 

 

 

Ep. 1 – Egypt

Hello!

We managed to upload the video just before we left Cairo but didn’t have time to post it although now we’ve got a 4 hour lay over in Dubai and the wifi is decent!

Anyway, here is our first little film of what we did in Egypt (we are well aware it is not Oscar-worthy but it can only get better right?). Also, prep yourself for a little bit of camera shaking, and by a little bit, we mean from start to finish haha.

Watch in 1080p!

Thanks for reading and watching if you do!

Sophie & Dave

Aswan & Luxor – Egypt

Hello!

We got an uber at 4.30am to the airport in Cairo and took an hour flight south to Aswan. We stayed for two nights in the Nubian village; a small, colourful place that Dave said looked like a nursery. We were shattered when we arrived so had a chilled day taking a felucca (traditional sailing boat) 2 hours up the Nile to the Aswan botanical garden island (only accessed by boat). We  became avid bird watchers and saw pelicans and incredible Nile Kingfishers (who fly like hummingbirds)! The botanical garden was beautiful and peaceful and we enjoyed strolling through to meet our captain on the other side to take us back to the village. The next day we went to the Aswan high dam and saw the vastness of Lake Nasser. We visited the Tower of Syene and then later took a boat to Philae island where we walked round Philae temple. Aswan was sort of our relaxing couple of days where we spent time just sitting drinking tea or Limoon bel nana (lemonde with mint).

After our short stay in Aswan, we took a train 3 hours north to Luxor. Luxor is divided in to the East bank and the West Bank. The East is the lively part with shops, restaurants, museums and the 2 main temples. The West is very rural, mostly just farm land and then the mountains where you find the Valley of the Kings and Queens. We stayed on the West, it was quite a shock coming from Cairo (where we saw about 1 tree the whole week) to Luxor which was covered in lush greenery. We stayed in a little hotel where we were the only guests! We spent one day on the East bank where we mainly visited the two massive and impressive Karnak and Luxor temples.  We also visited Luxor museum which, to our surprise, we really enjoyed. The descriptions on all the artefacts were brilliant and detailed, and we even saw a mummy (seriously grim but also insanely cool). Back at the hotel, we spent much of our 3 days chatting to the hotel’s neighbour; Efie. A 77-year old, originally Swiss woman who moved to Luxor 15 years ago. She was bonkers and fabulous in equal measure and told us so many incredible stories including recently marrying a very weak 20 year old village boy to save him from being sent to the army (she divorced him a few months later). She was just generally an awesome lady, she even showed us round her house. Oh, and did I mention she recently decided to tattoo her lip line green?

Back to cultural things… on the West Bank we went to the Valley of the Kings where there are 64 tombs, we visited Ramses IV, Ramses IX and Merenptah. Ramses IV was the most spectacular with vibrant colourings on the walls still intact throughout the tomb. We then drove on, past Howard Carter’s house, and past many archeologists still at work! We went to the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The Queen is depicted with the features of a man (beard, large body) to show how powerful she was, as strong as the Kings.

We also went to Valley of the Queens where there are over 25 tombs but most are unknown who they belong to. The most famous tomb in the valley is that of Nefertiti but the entrance fee was £50 each so we didn’t go. We went to three different tombs instead where their colour was even better preserved that what we’d seen in the King’s Valley. It’s genuinely mind blowing that these tombs are over 3000 years old.

Our final temple was Habu temple where all the hieroglyphics and images are etched deeper in to the stone than usual, apparently because Ramses III feared the temple would be destroyed and the stones re-used.

So, that is the end of Egypt! We do have a little video of our time here. Our plan is to have a video for each of our twenty countries that we can make in to a film and watch back 20 years in the future! Stay tuned to see if the wifi prevails long enough to let us upload it… We are off to India later tonight for the next month!

Thanks for reading,

Sophie (entirely) & Dave

Cairo, Egypt

Hello!

We made it to Cairo. We are staying with my Egyptian friend, Morouge. We’ve known each other for 12 years and went to school together in Switzerland. If you look up the definition of ‘Hospitality’ in the dictionary, it literally says ‘Morouge and her family’. Her apartment is lovely and is really central. She isn’t allowing us to use public transport (to be fair, we’ve seen the buses and they look terrifying). In Cairo, we’ve been using taxis or Ubers. Even for short distances because the roads are absolutely mental and we haven’t seen much in the way of well, pavements… The last Uber we took to go to the Egyptian museum, (about 15 mins drive) cost 12 Egyptian Pounds = 50p. Also, no cars seem to have seat belts, about 50% of drivers seem to use head lights and about 10% seem to indicate.

We are pretty much the only tourists we’ve seen so far. I’ve been told that I can pass for Egyptian loads but Dave sticks out like a sore thumb and is still waiting for this compliment. We went to Cairo Tower on the first day, (Egypt’s Eiffel Tower equivalent but inspired by a lotus design-wise). It gave us the perspective of how massive Cairo actually is. We picked a great day to go up as well given there wasn’t too much smog over the city and we were even able to see the pyramids in the distance.

We made a minor error when we went to the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities thinking that we would be able to get enough info from reading the signs rather than getting a tour guide. Turns out, erm no. Most signs read something along the lines of “carved limestone” or “papyrus paper”. It was still really interesting to see everything though, especially Tutankhamun and the artefacts found in his tomb. Later that evening we went out for dinner with a group of Morouge’s friends who were all lovely and very welcoming. We enjoyed chatting with them and seeing how different our lives were even though we’re all similar ages. Another night, we also went bar hopping with Morouge’s friends in downtown Cairo.

Our hands-down favourite part so far was visiting the Pyramids of Giza! Morouge took us on Saturday. (Egyptian weekends are Friday and Saturday, Sunday is their Monday). Morouge also organised a tour guide for us who was amazing. It’s inconceivable how huge they are until you actually go there. The base step/layer alone was only a little bit shorter than us. The whole experience was fascinating, who knew there are actually 9 pyramids on the Giza plateau, 3 main ones and 6 smaller ones adjacent. Dave and Morouge actually climbed down inside a mini one (however the small slanty tunnel was not for me). We rode camels too (in a legit camel zone where we ensured the camels were not mistreated and Morouge had a chat with the owner who said the only stick he uses on his camels is lipstick when he gives them kisses). Neither of us had been close to a camel before and again, we were in awe of how big they are; in my head, they were like big horses, but no, definitely bigger.

One evening we went to Khan el-Khalili, a market place/sook. It was so colourful, loud and busy.  We went for a lovely dinner there too. We’ve been trying as much as possible to eat proper Egyptian food. It mostly consists of carbs, so no complaints at all.

Enough for now. Our next post will be about us further South in Aswan and Luxor. Our wifi is fairly limited but we’ve managed to post the odd photo on Instagram, its @travelflavel.

Thanks for reading!

Sophie (mostly) & Dave

Travelflavel Route

The Route

Hello and welcome to our first blog post on Travelflavel (don’t ask about the domain name). We’ll be documenting our travels over the next year on here.

For our first post; The Route. A route that we actually haven’t planned in depth… Of course we have ideas of things we want to do, places we want to see etc but it’s all very top-line leaving plenty of room for us to wing it (check back in a few months to see if this was a good or terrible plan). We’ve booked the key flights through STA travel and bought their blue ticket which enables us to change the flight dates without incurring the admin fees. So, here are the countries we’ll be visiting and the rough dates we’ll be there (South East Asia and South America will mostly be overland travel hence the really vague dates).

  1. Egypt (Feb 6th – Feb 20th)
  2. India (Feb 20th – March 20th)
  3. Myanmar (March 20th – 4th April)
  4. Cambodia (April/May)
  5. Vietnam (April/May)
  6. Laos (April/May)
  7. Thailand (April/May)
  8. Singapore (May 29th- 1st June)
  9. Australia (fly in to Cairns and make our way round the East coast – 1st June – 6th July)
  10. Fiji (6th July – 17th July)
  11. New Zealand (17th July – 16th August)
  12. Chile (16th August)
  13. Argentina (August/September)
  14. Paraguay (September/October)
  15. Brazil (October)
  16. Bolivia (October/November)
  17. Ecuador (November/December)
  18. Peru (December/January)
  19. Colombia (January)
  20. USA (specifically a few days in Miami and a couple of weeks in West Virginia – 18th January – 5th February)

A combined 20 vaccinations later (seriously), we’ll be visiting 20 countries in 364 days with 2 back packs. First stop, Egypt! We’ll let you know how we get on.

Sophie & Dave