Walking the snowy streets of Quebec

Sleeping in the Chateau bed was like sleep on a cloud. So soft!

We woke to soft skies and a little bit of sun. After last nights snow it was good news.

We didn’t organise breakfast at hotel. We just can’t keep up eating three meals a day. So it was off for a walk and a quest to find coffee. It was cool and breezy so we walked up and down the streets admiring the beautiful buildings. The French Canadians know how to do special ironwork.m

We found cafe Paillard. It seems the owner has had restaurants in Quebec for many years. This included three MaDonalds ( are they really restaurants!) He sold them, retiring to travel, got bored so started a cafe bakery after seeing great cafes in Paris. Well this one is huge and does have wonderful croissants and coffee and hot chocolate in bowls you could swim in.

We walked some more feeling the cool breeze picking up!

Then it was time to meet for the ‘Old Quebec Food Tour. The Chic Shack was the meeting place and Sam our guide. We did the usual introductions and we are the only Australians along with Canadians and Americans and one lone Englishman who was married to an American.

We started the food tour with Poutine. What is Poutine? It originated in Quebec and rumour has it it occurred after someone dropped a more formal meal of potatoes on the floor – grabbed it up and poured gravy over it. Anyway it was a delicious mix of chunky potatoes in a rich gravy with cheese curds and topped with pink pickled onion. It’s a real comfort food and was delicious!

We set off the the promenade outside our hotel and Sam gave us a history lesson on Champlain, the founder. And lots about the battle between the French and English. And pointed out a long sled ride !

We followed Sam along Rue St Louis and the group personalities started to show. The chatters, loners, the one who answers all the questions and those who are happy to bond. We rather liked the English man and his wife. He played rugby and now coaches in the US.

Next stop was La Buche. Quebec is still more French than the French. So this Québécois style restaurant is a local a very French treat.

Sam organised us onto a long table and we were served a cube of Salmon with a maple sauce. Unusual combination but strangely it worked!

Then we had a local version of Shepherds pie called Chinese Pie. Beef braised in red wine with corn mash and fruit ketchup. It screamed Comfort Food!

Then a small cup of pea soup. Yellow peas with bacon, fried peas & glazed carrots. Warming. Remember it’s cold outside.

To truly finish us off we each were given a quick lesson on making our own maple taffy.

Back on the streets and it was getting colder. We heard more history of this beautiful Unesco city and viewed a clock presented to the locals by the Swiss. Modern and precise it cost the Govt a lot to house it in a weather proof container.

We talked about the houses, the snow and what a long cold winter they have had.

We went past the Morrin House and ended up down the hill and back to bakery we had visited this morning.

I spotted some wonderful carvings on the stairs we walked down and marvelled at the snow almost covering them.

Back in Paillard everyone ate a croissant and I was given a gluten free macaroon. Not a bad substitute.

We did a little detour to a lovely small deli style place Chez Boulay – Comptoir Boreal for a cream fudge. Just a bite sized piece!

Then our final stop. A lovely bistro. Belobe Bistro. This very smart little restaurant has it own smoking room for its ham , bacon etc. They served us mac n cheese. Always a crowd pleaser. It looked creamy and yum with larger smoked bacon on the top.

I couldn’t eat it. Too much gluten. I had a smoked beef and pickle sandwich. We warmed up especially with the glass of red wine.

Walking back to the hotel we called into the Anglican Cathedral as they were preparing for a small concert. They are trying to become Quebec’s version of London’s music church St Martin’s in the Field.

We sloshed through some snow at the back of the church taking a short cut to the hotel. Not a good idea! Wet boots.

Taking a break before a later afternoon trip to the Military museum.

Sightseeing is pretty exhausting!

New York City Never Disappoints!

We arrived back into NYC in good time dropping Rob & Jordan at their apartment block.

We didn’t offer to go up with them. Their 90 odd stairs put us off! We continued on to our hotel. John is a member of the Marriott and had booked us all in for the night.

Leaving our bags we headed off for a Sunday afternoon stroll through Soho. It was slightly drizzling but not enough to worry us as we walked along window shopping. Some great windows.

One amazing shop we stepped into was called Paracelso. Run by a little old woman with theatrical make up including a blue mono brow it was amazing.

I asked could I take her photo and she said ‘only if you buy something!’

We browsed picking up some of the unusual clothes. She said she had them all made – but labels had been cut out. There were clothes all over the shop. Randomly flung over hooks and chairs draped here and there!

What an eclectic collection.

We walked on checking out the street art, the spring plantings and the other strollers. Mostly young – this is a fairly young trendy demographic in this area.

By now it was time to head over to the East Village for dinner. A quick Uber ride gave us time to go into the bar next door to the restaurant. Slightly seedy and empty the barman really didn’t want to serve us! He was too busy fixing lights and the juke box. I could have suggested he also mop the sticky floor.

We ordered beers and cocktails and settled onto the bar stools waiting for Rob& Jordan who were riding city bikes over.

The restaurant Root & Bone is a Southern style place. It was clean and friendly and a great menu which included shrimp and grits and fried chicken, ribs and a great devilled egg.

I had a simple grilled chicken with faro risotto. It was delicious.

It was too early to head back to the hotel so we left the kids to cycle back to their apartment ready for work tomorrow and we headed out to Marie’s Crisis Bar.

John and Lisa found it last week and what a find. That’s if you enjoy singing ‘Show Tunes’ with a bunch of talented strangers. It was hilarious and so much fun. The pianist sits in an enclosed area with a bar with stools around it. Everyone else just stands around the small floor space and just joins in. The tunes are all from musicals and it’s amazing how everyone just knows the words.

There we were dining the words to Oklahoma, South Pacific, Hair , Cabaret just to make a few. I bet you’re all starting to hum along right now!

We met a few people – some of whom have sung in musicals.

We dragged ourselves away and walked home but not before dropping into a speakeasy.

Well it used to be – back when alcohol was banned so went ‘underground ‘ . It was behind an unmarked door, a dark bar found after climbing down steep stairs. A jazz trio played and we had one last drink before bed.

What a night in the Big Apple.

John & Lisa are so much fun. Aren’t we lucky to have such great in laws.

And so to bed in the city that never sleeps.

Sunday Stroll in Sag Harbor

A beautiful sleep always restores you and Sag Harbor https://www.sagharborinn.com

is a beautiful quiet place to stay.

We had dinner last night at Lulu’s a rather smart restaurant run by Italians. http://www.lulusagharbor.com/index.php

I was still a little full from my chicken salad at lunch – it maybe from the beer at Montauk brewery.

Do you ever get to the stage in holidays where you just can’t decide what to eat when you are always in restaurants? Well it’s day two and I already feel that way! I’ll have to get over that. We’ve got three weeks of eating out! I have to pace myself.

So the girls – Jordan, Lisa and I ordered a few plates to share. Octopus with a touch of pork belly , burrata and grilled artichokes. Followed by a small shared pizza it was perfect.

We took a lovely Sunday morning stroll around the streets of Sag Harbor. It was clear weather and so quiet. The houses are lovely. Such distinctive Hamptons style.

The gardens have wrapped their shrubs to protect them from winter frosts. It looks like they have their pjs on!

There are many impressive buildings and churches in this lovely town.

I popped into the Catholic Church as the congregation were arriving. They were so well dressed! It’s Palm Sunday.

We continued down the street past the old clock and the Spring flowers.

We decided on a Mexican place for brunch and had a short wait for a table so sat in the large garden.

Estia. It’s a great place for brunch. http://estias.com/sagharbor/breakfast/

They had the best omelettes!

We seem to do a lot of eating !

This afternoon it’s back to New York.

Wandering the Hamptons

A slow start was in order after our 20+ hours of travel from Australia to New York!

Our hotel is just great. great.https://www.sagharborinn.com

Beautiful beds and large rooms overlooking the marina it is peaceful this time of year.

We sat in the comfortable breakfast lounge and planned the day.

It was raining but if it didn’t put off the runners passing our hotel in a fun run it shouldn’t worry us!

Our view from the bedroom!

We decided to go to the Main St for coffee then head off for the half hour drive to Montauk to visit the Lighthouse.

The Main Street is a mixture of pretty businesses and shops. The flowers have been planted for Spring but the weather’s still cool and rainy.

The marinas are still empty waiting for the season to start, so the town is quiet which suits us.

We got back into the van and headed off through East Hampton to Montauk.

We visited the lighthouse which was shrouded in fog, taking the rocky path near the water to get the best views.

Moving on we went to the Marina which must be so lovely in season but is super quiet now.

Feeling thirsty we stopped at the Montauk Brewery. This was most crowded place we’ve been so far.

The beer is good and their marketing spot on.

I had the watermelon ale. A touch of sweetness to take away the bitter taste. A great aperitif for lunch to follow.

Driving through the still foggy streets I loved seeing the washed grey shingled houses. And the lobster shacks like the one featured in the TV series The Affair

The signs were catchy…..

And the beaches quiet and dreamy.

Back in Sag Harbour I couldn’t help think how different it would be in Summer.

Back to our hotel for a little R&R before dinner. The jet lag has just about gone.

Tiles and Touring around Chettinad.

The next day started again with yoga – only two of us this time. Then breakfast followed by a 4 hour tour with Sarah. She works at the hotel for the few months of busy tourist visits. She takes guided tours of organises her own tours.

She’s American but grew up in the area, the child of missionaries. So she has a very good understanding of the life and people of the area of Chettinad.

Our first stop was a tile making business. It’s amazing to see how they make tiles in a rather primitive way. A technique from Italy. We had a demonstration. It involves putting a glass square in a frame then dropping in colour, making the pattern then putting sand and concrete over the top compressing it then turning it out. I was given a go at creating a design! Such fun.

This area was a big trading centre many years ago 1850-1950. Men left Chettinad for a few years to set up trading. They were traders and money lenders. This was how to make money in those days. When they returned they came with teak from Burma, enamel from Indonesia, woven mats and many other goods you see in the houses of the area.

As they returned rich they built mansions. The front door was used by the men for business. The back door women, children, the produce. There are around 4-5 courtyards in each house. When banks opened it changed Indian society. Rich money lenders lost a source of money making.

Most houses are now derelict. The owners – the men and the families are living overseas and only return for weddings and family occasions. A few have been turned into boutique hotels. The Bangala Hotel was first used as a men’s club.

We visited several of the mansion homes of the area.

Read about the area here: https://www.google.com.au/amp/s/www.cntraveller.in/story/looking-grand-mansions-chettinad/amp/

The first was Lakshmi House. We met one of the owners a men sitting at the house entrance. It was preparing for a wedding.

The people looking after the house were old and quietly dignified.

When we visit historic houses in other countries we see the furnishings as well here the mansions are empty. The people don’t have beds , tables and chairs.

Then the Kanadukathan Palace.

This sits in a small village which was obviously a centre for rich traders as there are a number of empty mansions. It has a large water reserve which is fenced to stop people and animals using it and it is the towns water source. People come with their water containers and fill them for home use.

We couldn’t go into the Palace but visited Mrs Meyappans fathers house. Once beautiful it was now neglected.

Last stop was a mansion which like the Bangala has been turned into a hotel. It’s lovely but we were pleased we were staying at the Bangala.

Back through the dry countryside to our hotel for coffee and fruit by the pool. No real lunch as we wanted to enjoy our 3 course dinner.

Another walk through the bustling village to the antique markets. They were in a particularly dusty street that was all dug up and hard to walk.

The antique traders weren’t interested in bargaining much. We tried hard to get better prices. But they stubbornly wouldn’t move much on price. Considering there were so many shops and so much for sale it was surprising.

Before dinner we enjoyed an aperitif on our verandah before our Indian fusion meal. Mrs Meyyappan the owner designs all the menus and the food is great. https://www.cntraveller.in/story/restaurant-bangala-karaikudi-chennai-28-top-restaurant-awards-2018-list/#s-cust0

Tonight we enjoyed Spinach & Broccoli soup, crab cake with spiced chutney and tangy cucumber salad , chicken stew with coconut rice and an egg hopper ( a delicious rice pancake like shape with an egg in the bottom – found also in Sri Lanka). Ending with bread pudding dressed with marmalade served with homemade vanilla ice cream. A delicious dinner for the equivalent of $A19 !

We’ll be sad to leave this gracious hotel and Mrs Meyappan who at 83 still has such presence. She is there every day with her diamond earrings twinkling as brightly as her smile – having a chat to all the guests.

Tomorrow Madurai and a visit to the Ghandi museum.

Good Morning Yogis from Chettinad,India

We’ve been having a few restful days in the Bangala Hotel. I don’t think we realised how tired we were.

I started the day with yoga beside the pool. Our instructor was a very kind, softly spoken man who was gentle with us – especially my knee.

He would show us the movement and whispered ‘listen’. We’d then do it and he’d finish with ‘reeelax’.

Following this we had a swim and breakfast on the terrace.

We decided to walk through the village. The hotel owner Mrs Meyappan offered to let us visit her house not too far from here.

The hotel is very special. Read this article about the owner 83 year old Meenakshi Meyappan.

https://food.ndtv.com/food-drinks/83-year-old-meenakshi-meyappan-serves-fantastic-chettinad-food-at-a-palatial-home-1758033

Walking in these villages is dusty and rocky and constant beeping from cars and bikes doesn’t make it all that pleasant but there is plenty to see.

We found the ATM to restock our rupees and looked into various businesses. They are very poor looking but Interesting.

The afternoon was spent swimming, resting and have a massage. Completely relaxing.

Mrs Meyappan house.

Hot footing it around the Temples of Tamil Nadu

We explored this fascinating village hotel before having a delightful breakfast in the large courtyard.

Then it was back onto the bus to what is known as the ‘most important’ Temple of Southern India.

It’s in Thanjavur.

We were to see both the Palace and the Temple. The Thanjavur Marathra Palace built in 1534 is occupied by the Bhonsle family. In fact we saw the Prince arriving home.

We crossed a moat to enter what is known as the Big Fort.

We met a new guide and proceeded to the Bibliotheca. It’s a small but very famous Library with some wonderful illustrated manuscripts.

Next stop was the Museum containing countless statues of Shiva. Along with his wife Parvarti and many of the other Gods / disciples.

The Palace is more a fort. No grand rooms but we climbed to a terrace for great views and some Islamic style architecture.

Then we needed a break. Our guide promised us a sit down coffee place and clean toilets. Naturally it was a shop where we were bombarded with special offer things to buy. We fell for the old guides trick! But it was airconditioned and had ok toilets!

By now it was midday and hot when we arrived at the Temple. Bad mistake when you have to walk big distances over hot matting and hot stones. We yelped and jumped and were a little glad to finish and head to our hotel.

It’s in a small place called Karaikkudi. The hotel, a former old mansion is a step back in time. And has a great swimming pool. We were greeted by George the manager, hit the pool, enjoyed our lovely rooms, met the 83 year old lady who owns the house, dressed up for drinks on the terrace and enjoyed a 3 course meal.

Then retired to bed.

Tomorrow will get a catch up day. We’ve been super busy since we arrived in India so here we are for 3 nights.

The Bangala Hotel a hotel designer by famous Sri Lankan Geoffrey Bawa.

Check it out.

http://www.thebangala.com

Tomorrow is a quiet day with a village walk, banana leaf lunch , swims and massage. Yes. Heaven

Farewell Pondicherry as we go to Temple towns.

Leaving Pondy is a little sad but exciting. Another adventure awaits.

We have a new driver and this time also a guide. Although on talking to him it turns out he’s a computer programmer working for his father’s travel company on the weekend! He’s with us because the bus driver doesn’t speak English.

We set off through the country side heading for Swamimalai. It’s in the Temple area and we’ll be seeing some temples on the way.

First stop was Chidambarum and we met our guide a very petite gentleman with gentle slow speaking English and very bad teeth.

There are 4 temples of various sizes and they are preparing for a festival. So arches are being prepared with newspaper to then be painted in a very colourful style.

We’re finding the removal of shoes for these huge structures rather wearing on our feet. There are quite long distances to walk. There is some matting which can be very dirty and then the stones which are hot and hard. I’m hopping a bit!

The Temple grounds had people sitting everywhere enjoying a picnic Indian style with tiffin boxes laden with delicious food.

It was Moms Day Out with mothers and their children from a town an hour away enjoying time together at the Temple. I got talking to one lovely lady. Her English was very good and it turns out she’s a Doctor. A gynaecologist! And was so friendly and chatty about her life and family.

We soon left there and continued further into the countryside through lots of villages and saw what I think is fairly authentic village life.

Arriving at our hotel was a treat. It was actually a small village which has been turned into a hotel. It’s called the Indecco http://www.indecohotels.com/swamimalai.html

Check it out. It’s so lovely. Steve Borgia the owner has spent a lot of money restoring it. It has a farm, several housing blocks all furnished in wonderful antiques. The pool is beautiful. At first we thought it looked a little slimy! But that was explained. It was meant to look like a village waterhole. It’s elegant and serene.

We were treated to an arrival foot massage! Heaven after walking barefoot through the temples.

We went the main village to see the bronze casters. A really Interesting process. We walked through the workshop are were able to see the various stages of production.

Google bronze casting Swamimalai. The business we went to is called :

Shri Rajan Industries (Statues/Bronze Castings Manufacturers/Panchalogam Statue Manufacturers)

Linda was very keen to own a statue. She particularly wanted Shiva as the dancer. Natajara. As a thank you from us for planning this very special trip, we decided to buy one for her as a gift. This meant visiting the sales area but no one was there to show and discuss pricing. A lovely young man rode up on his bike. His family owned a temple and he was picking up a commissioned statue. He guided us to a local family home where they have a small workshop.

Such a special experience. Linda spoke to them and found one she liked.

Meanwhile the children from the little street we were in all gathered and wanted to chat. They were delightful.

Finally the statue was polished and delivered to us and we drove off with everyone in the street waving.

Back to the hotel for a drink and a dance show and to bed.

We had a very late lunch when we arrived so couldn’t eat a thing.

Pondicherry: a delight

Our night was peaceful and breakfast on the terrace was wonderful. We had a choice of Indian or continental. Most chose Indian which was presented with a large dosa in a rolled cigar shape.

The Intach Heritage centre was our target today. They offer walks through the French Quarter pointing out the architectural history. But first the Grand Bazaar. Each city has it markets and Pondy has a great one. Walking from the smelly fish through the fragrant herbs and spices to the floral flowers was a treat for the senses.

A quick shoe stop. The girls spied a shop with comfortable looking sandals and with a days walking in mind made a quick purchase.

Arriving at the Intach Centre we sat waiting for our guide and became part of the prayer ceremony. There was a peaceful feeling about the place which starts at the door when you leave your shoes.

This is a custom observed in many shops and always in the temples. It can be a hazard though. In one shop I kicked my toe on the door and have a very red swollen toe.

Our guide Ashok Panda arrived. He was a serene gentleman in his 50s. He was very erect , fine features and was well spoken- if somewhat quiet.

He spoke to us as we had gathered around a table in the courtyard- a feature of the Tamil house.

He planned our day and we set off.

As it happened we walked down the street we had used last night to get to the beach.

We paused at another hotel the Dune Mansion Calve Boutique Hotel and Ashok told us the heritage centre he worked for had done the restoration, as they had done for our hotel the Anantha. He said the Government us encouraging restoration of the Tamil houses and French style villas. The problem is the owners then maintaining the restoration.

We stopped for coffee in a hotel by the beach and Ashok got carried away telling us another Government- it’s structure and it’s corruption.

Continuing on we paused in the garden and observed the way locals and visitors used the green space. School groups were there enjoying the space – something they don’t often experience in their very crowded country.

French villas are a feature of this lovely residential area though many have been turned into smart boutique hotels. Tourism is important in this area. Our next stop was Villa Rosa and the Coramandel Cafe. Quite beautiful. We decided it would be a great spot for a drink this afternoon.

By now it was lunch time and Ashok took us to a local vegetarian cafe. He suggested the platter. A large tray with 10 different pots of sauces, chutney and vegetable dishes to dip your rice or naan into. I also ordered a Marsala dosa. Washed down with a lassi or pomegranate juice it was quite filling and delicious.

After lunch we separated. Some returned to the hotel Di went off exploring and Marlene, Shelley and I walked and walking taking in the sights , shops and the Cathedral. An oasis in this busy duty free city.

At 5 we met at the Coramandel cafe for drinks but when Marilyn and Linda didn’t arrive we worried until we heard they had attended a puja in the Sri Vedapureeswarara Temple. Quite an honour.

Drinks for us turned into dinner at the Villa Shanti and we missed the dancing at the Lycee Français. Whoops!

Home to bed by tuk tuk with a limoncello nightcap. Tomorrow is spent on the move Chidaburam for the 12th C Temple then Swamimalai.

Mahabalipuram: Traditions continue

Breakfast in a new place is always a treat. Indian breakfast is a whole different experience. Don’t expect a western breakfast ( well maybe in 5 star generic hotels ).

My plate contained a little rice cake called Idli, a rice donut , little accompaniments if coriander, tomato sambal and

And a rice congee. All delicious.

Kandan our driver picked us up at 8 and we set off for the 1.5 drive to Kanchipuram.

The drive through the countryside was wonderful. Past stone sculpture businesses, local markets fresh chicken shops and saries everywhere brightening the rather dusty and sadly dirty villages.

Kancheepuram is an ancient town of important Hindi temples. We visited this huge three thousand year old temple with many other Hindi people. We appeared to be the only westerners.

We started with a toilet stop and had the privilege of paying 20c each to wade through water to a communal trough. A bonding experience for a group of sheltered woman. But for us not a problem!

Then into the courtyard with our guide to remove shoes. We paid a lovely girl 100 rupee to mind our shoes.

We walked over coloured designs on the floor which our guide told us were new – ready for the festival to be held in the temple in three weeks.

The long corridor opened onto a courtyard with the famous mango tree. This tree from one 3.5 thousand years ago was famed as the place where Shiva married Kasakshi.

Nearby a wedding was taking place.

Everyone loves a wedding and an Indian one in a temple was joyful to watch. They invited us to take photos and even wanted to be in one with us.

The bride and groom were beautiful.

Continuing along the corridor we came to an altar where a Hindi priest gave us all a blessing.

We recovered our shoes and set off for another temple nearby. This one does not have the religious standing of the last one so is not part of the Hindi pilgrimage.

It was strangely quiet until we heard drumming outside. Lots of drumming.

It was a local funeral. The street was roped off. We were told it was an elderly man and following the drumming there would be drinking. So we were to stay away.

Starting back to Mahabalipuram we couldn’t resist stopping at one of the stone carving places one of many along the way. Like many local craft industries it looks a little overwhelming to see so many things together. Individually they would look lovely in a garden at home but collectively they are too much.

We asked to stop at a silk and Sari shop. There are many in this area – it’s famous for it and judging by the variety of Sari in the street they all do well.

We had a chat about the production then went to the buying floor.

It was quite a scene. Men sitting with their women looking at bolts of fabric in the most stunning colours.

We decided scarves were a better buy for us so had the scarf show!

Back on the bus

Another supermarket stop, getting lost in the aisles looking at products. I bought a few packets for the pantry. Others bought aurtheic soaps and shampoo.

Back at the hotel by 3.30 we had a refreshing swim along with chai tea.

Before we knew it it was G&T time.

Dinner was down by the water at the Santana restaurant. Choices included mint and lemon prawns, fish in carrots sauce, crispy calamari and my selection prawn biryanis. Delicious.

The walk home involved a little shopping. How can you not shop. Inviting goods: floaty tops and dresses, scarves, earrings , rings, pendants beads, bags. I bought a floral dress for $20! Marlene bought the same one!

And a stop at the shop across from our hotel to pick up a few things they made for us. The men on the machines were sewing away. Today we saw a mobile tailor shop. A sewing machine mounted on a little cart being pulled along by bike. So practical.

A full day. We haven’t wasted a minute. Tomorrow Pondicherry or Pondy as the locals call it.