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Pangong Lake

Leh is a hot spot for starting epic treks and home stay experiences in an extremely remote part of the world. However we spent most of the time in one homestay in Leh itself, venturing only as far as our moped skills/bravey/gas would take us into the immediate surroundings, and eating a lot of momos with some friends back home who we quite literally walked into on the street. The 1 real excursion we did was to visit Pangong Lake, and this was one of the most incredible trips I have ever done!

Pangong Lake is incredibly large, very high up (4,250 ft) and otherworldly beautiful. It borders China and India, with one third of the lake in India, and the rest in Tibet (controlled by China). You drive for about 6 hours from Leh, which is an experience in itself and involves crossing one of the highest motor passes in the world (although on this trip we seemed to come across quite a few of these!). As you drive, the roads get rougher, the landscape bleaker, the temperature plummets, and the military presence increases.

I suffer altitude sickness very easily and classic me, actually fainted in the back of the car at one point. Excellent stuff. The driver had oxygen in the back ready for this kind of scenario, and we were with 2 South Koreans with an huge amount of medicine on them, and an Israeli doctor who all fussed over me a fair amount. The only place to stay are a variety of tent camps and the odd cheaper concrete bungalow. As a group we opted for a fairly nice tent camp with attached bathrooms. I spent a fair amount of time asleep wrapped up in the tent whilst Charlie skimmed stones, but did recover enough to spend a good amount of time staring at the lake and wandering a little way around its shores.

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When you are actually there, it does not look like a lake. You cannot see the end of it, (its 100kms long) and even if you did want to walk and walk, at some point you reach the Chinese border and can’t go any further anyway. The landscape around is utterly bare, making the blue all the more vivid.

Just watching the clouds and their reflections was mesmerising, and the air that high up (whether because I was so light headed or because it was so clean and crisp) makes everything look and feel incredible.

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We had dinner with everyone else staying in our camp – dal and rice – we were famished and seriously relieved when they brought out a huge slow cooker of food.

Full of hot food, we wrapped up under the many blankets provided in the tent, + our double sleeping bag we had brought with us in addition. Waking up the next morning and venturing outside was even better than our first impressions upon arrival. Cue lots more pictures and stone skimming. My memory is a little hazy, as its been a few years now, but at some point we all set off back to Leh, and I am fairly certain I slept the whole journey back.

To anyone in that part of the world, absolutely do this trip!

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4 Havana Nights

Over Easter 2015, we spent about 15 nights in Cuba, the first 4 of which were spent in Havana.

We arrived around 10pm. It took a very long time to get out of the airport. First impressions of our area were not so great, as it was very deserted and dark and we were hungry! However upon walking 5 mins we did find somewhere to get food and all was fine. As always, arriving after a long journey in the dark somewhere it always a little daunting but the next morning dawned bright and beautiful!

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11109437_10155390294115417_2603147004394787834_o.jpgWe stayed in Sarita rooms which was run by a lovely lady and was in Centro, which is the middle between the two main area of the Old Town and Vedado.

We could walk for 15 mins towards the sea to reach the Malecon, and 15 mins to our right took us towards the Old Town, and 15 mins to our right to Vedado. Not bad!

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g147271-d3725102-Reviews-Sarita_Rooms-Havana_Ciudad_de_la_Habana_Province_Cuba.html

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Looking along the Malecon

During our time in Havana, we had drinks and saw the cabaret at the Hotel Nacional, Sunday Rumba at Callejón de Hamel, and ate some pretty cool swedish-cuban fusion food. https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g147271-d2649552-Reviews-Casa_Miglis-Havana_Ciudad_de_la_Habana_Province_Cuba.html.

Apart from this we wandered round a lot, and failed to actually visit any museums, major gallerys or do any salsa dancing! However just walking around was enough and you never knew when a ramshackle set of buildings would suddenly give way to a renovated house/ art gallery, or when prime sea facing high rises would be broken up by an empty space and let you see straight to the more run down streets set back from the Malecon…10845847_10155390294805417_7284306010891555023_o

Here are a few photos more photos from my phone of our general wanderings

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This was next to us at lunch on day one

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Walking Centro – Vedado

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Obviously the general look and feel of the city was incredible and did feel a lot like a film set. Centro area was full of these grand tall houses, which were very derelict. I do remember thinking I thought I would  feel more ‘wow this looks totally different to anything else I have seen’, but I think having travelled to cities such as Jophur and Bundi in India where there are a lot of old colonial style builds with the same faded look, we found a sense of familiarity.

There are no ‘corner shops’ or anything in Cuba, but really small little shops where you can get a couple of things in each place, i.e one might sell tooth paste and shampoo, another will sell some beers and water, then separately there is a market place with veg etc. When we were there there was I believe 1 convenience story in the most touristy area where you could buy crisps and snacks etc.

What else do I remember looking back c 2 years later?

  • it was HOT and walking around in the middle of the day around the very large city was not always the best idea.
  • Mojitos are delicious, but in line with the above, not always the best idea at lunch time combined with lots of sweaty walking.
  • Bring snacks from home! There is no such thing as grabbing a bite to eat on the street unless you are bang in the tourist zone.
  • The old town was incredibly touristy (and this was around the same time as the announcement of improved relations with America had only just been made, so I imagine now it’s much more!)
  • Cubans were so keen to chat to us and stop us in the street for general conversations and to give us tips (although this did only happen outside of the main strips of packed touristy areas). To start with, we were a tad jaded from experiences in India and were tempted to shut down conversations/pretend we were from Slovakia and spoke no english BUT they genuinely wanted to chat and this was fab.
  • Taking out money is a faff and you have to be wearing smart clothes to get into a bank.

Even more pictures! I hope to come back and organise these better another time.

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Old Town

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Old Town

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Cars for hire

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Walking from Centro to Vedado

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Walking from Centro to Vedado

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vedado

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In the centre of tourist land

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on the way to Vedado

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Old Town

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Round the corner from Sarita rooms

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Looking up at Rumba

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Vedado

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Old Town

On our 4th morning, we got a cab to a sort of cab meeting point where we were told we could find other people to share a ride to our next destination with. It sounded dubious but was super smooth and far less hassle than the bus for about the same price. Till next time!

2014-2017

Hello again wordpress,

A couple of months ago my brother found the link to this blog and sent it to me again. I had pretty much forgotten about it (oops) and re-read the accounts of India whilst on the train from work (I have a job now and everything!). A few weeks ago, whilst bored at work, I enquired what a colleague was doing. He was working on a little side project, and suggested I had something on hold too to be more productive and get off Facebook when there was a lull in the office… I also just got back from an amazing trip to Sri Lanka which I had an urge to make a travel diary for my family about. Thus a few things conspired to make me think I should pick this ‘blog’ up again.

A lot has happened since summer 2014, including managing to fit in a lot of travelling despite a full time job.

Between the two of us in this time we have

  • Moved home for 2 years
  • Charlie used time off between further studying to spend 2 months in Israel working for ACRI, and 1 month in Tanzania with Project Raleigh
  • Moved in together in Stockwell (south London) 6 months ago
  • Post teenage and uni glandular fever – who gets this when they are 23 I ask you?!
  • Completed 1 law conversion course and started a training contract
  • Completed 1 grad scheme, gained a boring project management qualification, swapped teams and been promoted twice
  • Accidentally ended up working in technology!
  • Gained a godson

Travel wise together we have been to

  • Cuba (Easter 2015)
  • Israel (Nov 2015)
  • Mexico and Guatemala (Dec – Jan 2015-16)
  • Skiing in Slovenia twice
  • Italy (July 2016)
  • Sri Lanka (Feb 2017)

In addition….

  • I went to Malawi Sept-Aug for 2 weeks with a friend leaving Charlie to finally be the one working whilst the other travelled.
  • As mentioned Charlie spent time in Tanzania and Israel too.

The nearly grownups url may not be good for much longer, as it’s beginning to feel like we may have almost made it.

Some accomplishments and general things we do since we moved into the flat

  • Paying council tax
  • Ironing
  • Sighing knowledgeably at all the ‘generation rent are screwed’ articles
  • Nailing down how to make a fry up in synch in minimum time
  • Watching all of SATC together
  • Attaching things to walls mostly properly
  • Cracking my mum’s bolognese recipe and generally loving cooking
  • Made home made pesticide to save our mint plants from mysterious white bugs
  • Dinner parties
  • Discovered many many new places we love to eat in London
  • Made huge amounts of food to freeze
  • Get ridiculously excited (maybe just me) about buying household things like glasses I like the shape of and easy zip duvet covers from Muji

To be fair, we did a lot of these whilst students, or at least I did in the good ol flat in Farringdon. It’s the combination of this AND paid jobs that feels new!

As with classic social media sharing, it’s easy to just talk about the glowy hurrah look what we’ve done stuff. In this time there has been a lot of rubbish stuff too of course. However on balance, it’s been an extremely good time for us, albeit less so for the rest of the world. We are absolutely the typical Londoners who only knew people who obviously though brexit was obviously madness and had a rude awakening post referendum. As for Trump, I could go browse for my favourite mocking memes of him but I don’t want to ruin my morning.

Perhaps I could now say something cringe and cliche like ‘In these times of division and mistrust, travelling is all the more important’, but we just love travelling and I don’t have any clever or new thoughts on politics.

I plan to gradually write up all the trips we have done since the last travel post, wish me luck!

Fabia.

Beach and ruins time begins

Bozcaada was the first beach day of our trip. It is an island recommended by lonely planet as a growing destination for a smart turkish sun seekers and wine enthusiasts. We got there after a hunt for the bus from
Canakkale to Giliki where we got a ferry across from. The town is tiny and mostly revolves around a square just behind the sea front. Everything is white and blue washed and everywhere you turned cute alley ways covered in vines with lilac covered tables spiralled off. After fish for lunch we got a bus to the best beach on the island whose name I cannot remember. It was lovely, with loungers to rent and despite being fairly busy, was very quiet. After a few hours lounging we headed back to the main town after a very amusing bus entry conversation along the lines of ‘bus goes to Bozcaada?’ ‘ yes this Bozcaada’ etc as we confused the name of the entire island with that of the town…
After some snacks and a glass of the famous wine which was delish but oh so strong after a month in India, we got the ferry back.

The buses in turkey really are great. The ferry was met each way by a bus to our destination. These little ‘dolmus’ buses are always spotless and have aircon sitting. Going back a bit, our bus from Istanbul had a waiter with a bow tie who handed out free snacks, wifi, and interactive mini TV screens. This six hour bus cost approx £15 so not dirt cheap but very very good compared to a similar distance and service in England!

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The next morning we wandered round the harbour in Canakkale to the huge wooden horse used in the film Troy. The old site of Troy lies half an hours drive away but is apparently not as good as other sites in Turkey so we lazily picked a beach day over a trip there. However we may have time to come back for it later!

So then to Permagon, which is the site of the remains of an ancient city complete with theatre hewn into the mountain side and looming pillars. It was pretty sweet.

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To escape the stifling afternoon heat we made our way, via another little dolmus, to the nearby beach town of Dikili. Like Bozcaada this busy beach front was wonderfully quiet still, and came with wandering food vendors seeking mussels and sweet corn, and beanbag seats for rent!

Today we are getting the bus to Seljuk – a town which has lots of its own attractions which are however overshadowed by its purpose as the main base for trips to Epheseus – the best persevered ancient city in Europe apparently! Hopefully it will make up for the nagging feeling that missing out troy, which is after all one of my favourite films!

Xx Fabia

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India to Istanbul

Hello from Istanbul!

…The Asian side to be exact. We arrived at our hostel (the well known hush moda which is fab) at 11 last night and promptly went to the first restaurant for some kebabs and lots of refreshing melon. We’ve had a lovely morning wandering around getting excited by how calm and full of ice creams the area is compared to our last few days of travelling and the ever hectic Delhi.

Our mission to get here started with a less than pleasant 16 hours bus from Manali to Delhi. Our homestay in Delhi was lovely and we had a much better experience of the city than we did last year. We were only there about 24 hours before we left for the airport, experiencing a final classically indian ridiculous traffic jam. We flew to Kazakhstan and from there to Istanbul. The flights were fine, all ran smoothly but each was 5 hours or so long (we were getting very confused about changing time zones etc) and we were zonked by the time we got to Istanbul.

We are leaving on a bus to Canakkale in a couple of hours and starting a loop of turkey returning back to Istanbul in two weeks to rent a flat with two of my flat mates from this year.

I can’t wait to see more of Istanbul when we do, but in the meantime, bring on the beach!

Here are some photos of our amble around the Asian side. So much food! After buying fresh orange juice, a magnum, and loads of cherries I am very very happy!

Xx Fabia.

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Floating in Srinagar Part 2.

We then spent a day and a night on a ‘house boat’ although this term scarcely does it justice. fitted out with chandeliers, ornate wooden carvings and bathtubs it was positively palatial in style and the prowd owner insisted we referred to it as such..

Me- ‘This is a lovely boat!’
Him- ‘No, no no…this is not a boat; this is a palace!’

We had stayed on a houseboat last year on the backwaters of Kerala, but the H.B Floating heaven ,quite literally, blew it out of the water. It even had a satellite TV which meant that I could watch/Fabia could endure the World Cup quarter final between France and Germany. The son of the owner excitablyWatched the game with us. I have to admit that I am surprised by the level of interest in football in India, seeing as the country only boasts one professional player in the whole world. Last summer on the beaches of goa I had a kick around with some mercurial teenage talents, but away from the south coast (and it’s legacy of French and Portuguese influence) the majority of balls have been of the cricket variety. Nevertheless it seems that an Indian interest in football is certainly growing. Earlier in the week I chatted with our aptly named taxi driver ‘Ronaldo’ over the merits of different players. His lack of English didn’t prove a problem as we would fire different players names at each other and gage the others reaction. ‘Messi’ and ‘di Maria’ both received enthusiastic noises although the same could not be said for any of the English players I named.. Football then truly is an international language.

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Floating in Srinagar Part 1.

We spent our first two days doing not much at all apart from some meandering around Dal lake (the big main one) and all the gardens. Having thus recovered fully from the journey there and the initial shock of just how unlike anything else the scenery is, we ticked a massive keen offbeat tourist box and went to the floating vegetable market on our third day. This entailed getting up at 3.30am and walking in the dark and rain from the home stay to lake Nigeen. This is a smaller lake which is connected to Dal through a myriad of waterways. (Such a guide book phrase that). We drifted off in the darkness on a shakira with the sounds of morning Ramadan prayers hitting from several directions.

Sadly the rain did not let off but this provided great entertainment as sellers fought to get spots under the occasional bridge. The shakira are fairly substantial canoe type boats with seating and a raised canopy. The boats the merchants were on were tiny little planks of wood in comparison with no shelter or seating. The mean sat cross legged at the end with their one oar bunched up incredibly small as they navigated their way.
The market was really great to watch and smelt amazing. All the merchants were joking away whilst weighing and measuring using simple rock weights and exchanging beans, coriander, mint…. And not falling out of their tiny thin vessels!

Another tourist shakira boat was nearly less fortunate. Packed full of Chinese tourists, one of whom was especially large, the whole thing nearly tipped over when the man in question leans right over the edge with an enormous camera to try get the perfect shot….

A man about 50 years old whose name we never actually got was our *oarsman*. He was so great, very calm but with a wry sense of humour. He also told us about his british girlfriend who lived with him for 6 months when he was 21. A Charlotte something who lived in Parsons Green! We had a good ponder over whether any of our friends’ mothers were the right name and age…

From him and several other Kashmiri people we spoke to we got a sense that they were not keen on the domestic Indian tourists. In his opinion, for example, they ruined lake Dal with noise and litter. And it’s true the littering and cavalier loud posturing we saw in a lot of cases seemed very disrespectful of this beautiful and also conflicted place. Perhaps those behaving in this way (although not all by any means do obviously!) see it as just another part of India whereas as international tourists we have a certain amount of awe and also trepidation about visiting what for us is so far flung and recently dangerous a place.

We are in Leh now but more to report on Srinagar to come!
Xxx Fabia

P.s for any concerned readers we found Srinagar to be incredibly safe and welcoming and the Kashmiri people have some of the most genuine smiles I have seen!

Arrival in Srinagar

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Hello!

Charlie here. I am writing this from our room in a lovely homestay in Srinagar. We are staying with a very nice Muslim family who are providing us with a delicious breakfast and dinner each day, which must take a impressive self-restraint as they are fasting for Rammadam!

However the 12hr trip from Jammu to our homestay was far less idyllic. The journey can be described in terms of a twisting mountain drive up to a ski resort, but replace snow with sand, wooden chalets with metal shacks and the Highway Code with utter roadside anarchy. Many times I attempted to escape from the chaos unfolding outside our window into a peaceful slumber. However this proved very difficult as, squished in next to the driver, I was periodically greeted by the thwacking of the gearstick into my legs.

Luckily regular signs which warned drivers that ‘After whiskey driving risky’, and ‘if married, divorce speed’ kept us chuckling for most of the journey.

Given that we had spent most of the previous day hunched up and sitting down, (and most of the day before that on a heavily delayed train from Amritsar)
we decided to go for long walk around lake Dal this morning. We spent around 2 hours skirting around admiring it’s beautiful silver mirrored surface which reflected both the imposing mountains which looked down onto it and the colourful local boats dotted along the water front. The walk and scenery gave me a good chance to practice with the canon dslr I bought in the airport. It still feels strange having moved from the 1980’s Minolta (which takes film) of some many past trips to a digital model. With the Minolta you had to be certain that each shot was ‘right’ before you pressed the shutter button as you didn’t want to waste the film. In contrast my new digital companion allows you to be far more ‘trigger happy’. At the same time I do miss the tactile satisfaction of rolling on the film reel after each shot. Anyway that is probably enough niche camera chat for now so back to our day… Throughout our walk around the lake we were engaged in a one-sided war of attrition with local hawkers who were offering (in the strongest sense of the word) paddle boats trips across the lake for varying prices. Hardened from our experiences in India last year we politely refused again and again yet as time passed and we grew increasing tired our defences were finally worn down. However the excursion proved to be far more relaxing and enjoyable than the hawkers methods of selling it. The scenery was beautiful (esp the water lillies) and our boat driver was nice, talkative and funny. A personal favourite was him joking, after having a go with my canon, that he was going to immediately quit his lake job and become a cameraman when we landed back at shore.

We are staying in Srinagar for a few
more days so are looking forward to spending more time on the lakeside and hopefully in a houseboat for one night!

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