No, travelling didn’t solve my problems. I (almost) did.

The internet is full of bloggers and websites telling you how quitting your job, selling your possessions and travelling will fix all your problems. Most of the various social media personas brag about their successful career switch or their amazing lives as digital nomads obviously accompanied by beautiful pictures of tropical beaches, cocktails in bikinis and incredible palmed sunsets. It’s easy to slip in the trap of thinking that life on the road or away from home is easier.

Last year, when I quit my corporate job in London, I was also guilty of that or maybe I was just naive enough to think that my uncontrollable anxiety, broken heart, memories of violence, control issues, insomnia, addiction to tobacco, episodes of depression and many other things, will magically disappear from my life as soon as I set foot on that plane that was taking me away from my normal life and comfort zone. Eleven months have passed and among many other little things I’ve learnt on the road, I also acknowledged that despite travelling is an enlightening experience, it cannot solve your personal issues. My big and small troubles have not  suddenly disappeared, they didn’t solve themselves once I arrived in the Emirates, nor when I was doing sun salutations in India or catching sunset waves here in Australia. No, if I’m honest to myself and you, travel has in fact amplified them.

Why do we think that travelling has a soothing power? 

If you have nothing inside you, you will never find anything outside. It’s useless wandering and looking in the world for what you can’t find in yourself. Tiziano Terzani.

Travels and migrations have always been part of the human history, the desire to leave the known for the unknown has characterised the human species since ancient times and the most amazing minds of the past and the present have shared important thoughts on this subject. I am no-one and my purpose is far from adding something new to the topic, but to share what I’ve learnt in my almost-year-long adventure so that you can make a conscious decision if you choose to travel long-term.

The ways we move today have radically changed: we no longer take dangerous long boat trips to reach the shores of another country, no longer we need to cross deserts with camels and our own legs to find a suitable spot to settle, neither we have to sustain months-long train journeys to see a relative; we are now able to cross continents in a matter of hours, but the spiritual and personal purpose is still exactly the same: we were and are old and new peregrines, we aim to conquer even a small patch of land that hasn’t been discovered yet, we are searching for good fortune or hunting for something deeper that will change us, we are all anxious to leave a mark on this planet, to make memories and to be remembered. Some of us leave with a set return date in mind or a plane ticket booked; others, like me, leave, without knowing when or if they will be back. For some, the exact purpose of travelling is coming back, for others is just about going, leaving. Some travels to return home and tell their tales of what they have done and seen, counting countries as they were boxes to tick on a ridiculous seen-it-all list. Others are driven by the need of nomadism, of being free of the usual existence.

But I believe there is something that unites all who travel. We all travel to see new things, meet new people, learn a new language but deep down, we travel to become better people, a better version of ourselves, a self which we love and respect more. We travel to see if we there is a solution for that issue, to recover from our broken hearts, to lose weight, to forget someone and to become healthier.

Why do we leave our homes hoping to come back as better people? 

And there are new kinds of nomads, not people who are at home everywhere, but who are at home nowhere. I was one of them.
― Robyn Davidson

Seneca didn’t think so as he wrote: “Why are you surprised, as it it were a novelty, that after such long travel and so many changes of scene you have not been able to shake off the gloom and heaviness of your mind?”  and Socrates put it even better when he remarked: “Why do you wonder that globe-trotting does not help you, seeing that you always take yourself with you?”

They were both probably right. The only person that is truly, constantly travelling with us, is ourselves. Your problems will follow you wherever you will go, they won’t stay behind, because they belong to you and you are the only person who can indeed make them disappear. As Seneca continued:

“You need a change of soul rather than a change of climate. Thought you may cross vast spaces of sea, and though as our Vergil remarks “Lands and cities are left astern”, your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel”.

I need a career change. Travel will tell me what to do with my life. 

Most people decide to leave their jobs and travel, thinking that away from home they will have some sort of illumination that will make them millionaires or they will come across an idea that they never thought of and finally find the purpose of their life. My friends, it doesn’t work that way and if you trust me a little bit, do not your leave your job if you are looking for a career change but have no idea of what you want to do with your life. Invest in a short sabbatical if you can where you can start thinking about a new career, meet people, share ideas and stories, but don’t expect travel to give you the answers to the questions hanging on your head. Sure, you will meet loads of people with different backgrounds, jobs and lifestyles, you will learn from them and be inspired sometimes. But unless you leave with a rough idea of what you want to do or you’re going to end up right back where you left. Jobs and ideas aren’t just going to pop up in front of your eyes while you are admiring a sunset in Bali or drinking caipirinha in Rio. They only happen with an effort on your part. Personally, even before leaving my corporate job, I had already set my own business up with a rough plan ahead. I had very little knowledge of starting a freelance job, but I used all my spare time asking around, reading online from people who had done it before me, I designed a website, wrote countless pitch, approached thousands of companies even before booking my plane.  I was not sure about the future, I had no idea if it would be sustainable and that’s why I saved every single penny of my London life as soon as I took the decision to leave three years ago.

I have no money. Travelling is cheap. 

Whatever you do, don’t try and escape from your pain, but be with it. Because the attempt to escape from pain creates more pain. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.

That is partially true. There are countries in the world where a Western average monthly salary is what a normal Southern Asian person would earn in a year. There are other places like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, US, Europe where your money will last much less. If you are deep in debt and are trying to escape it or leave behind a bad spending habit, travelling – once again – won’t fix your issue. At the contrary, travelling in a poor country will make you feel richer than you are and you will end up spending more than you think, because “It’s so cheap!” What you need to do is try to fix your financial habits and problems at home, before leaving and setting a very clear budget and spending target at your disposal.

YAY! Travelling will turn me into a healthy person

So many people, including myself, think that leaving home will put them in the position to eat fresh mangos and drink papaya juice every day in between a run, a surf and yoga session. The truth is that while you are travelling, alone or with friends, time becomes very limited. Yes, exactly like at home. While I was able to run my 5K in Sydney every other day, I dropped my newly acquired healthy lifestyle on my first longish trip across the Australian outback. There was no way for me to run across the desert in +40degrees temperatures or to squeeze time on a already planned schedule with other 16 people. I’ve given running up in April and I haven’t been back on my yoga mat since June. Exercise and healthy habits, I learnt, are easier to acquire and maintain when you have a routine in place, when your time doesn’t depend on other people and when you can be flexible with your schedule.

Even if I have been very bad with the fitness side of things, I’ve finally learnt to eat slowly and appreciate what’s on my plate without thinking about what’s next or ready to leave, exactly as I appreciate the present moment without making plans for later, tomorrow or next year. I briefly managed to stay away from cigarettes too, but fell into the trap again when I faced a few professional challenges back in May. My addiction remains my weakest point and where my willing power constantly fails me. I am still working on it and I hope one day, I will be in the position to update this paragraph with positive news 🙂 I’ve been literally on the road since April non-stop, I’ve eaten more tuna cans and tin food in the past four months than my entire life and I’ve realised that eating healthy and exercising are both very difficult to do on a regular basis while traveling (which for me does not mean a couple of weeks on a resort, but the type of trips I do). All in all, in the past 11 months, I broke all my walking and hiking records instead, I’ve climbed more mountains and surfed more waves than ever. I feel healthier and lighter than ever and even my skin seems to say so.

The truth is that fit people at home will be fit people on the move and if you wish to be healthier, start a routine at home that you can take with you wherever you go. Once again, don’t expect travel to make you healthy.

I want to be a digital nomad and work from the beach. Oh dear!

Starting an online business while being based in a cheap destination is a very smart idea indeed. Having to face a lower cost of living is also very handy when you are starting off. But what are you starting? Do you have an idea? I have met countless people asking me to hire them because my job seems too cool to be true. So many backpackers and travellers think that what I do is to sit on a beach while I write (have you ever tried?), or make millions with my photography. I’m not complaining, but it’s not so easy.

You need to have an idea in mind of what you want to do. Possibly, you need to start you new adventure while back home in the safety of your job so that you can test the waters and possibly adjust your plans.

I’ve also learnt that to run a baby business you need to give it time and attention constantly. It is certainly impossible to do while travelling and that’s why I’ve decided to postpone or even refuse some jobs because this trip for me is more about my personal growth than my newly-born business.

I want to forget the past

Past

When you know yourself you are empowered. When you accept yourself you are invincible.

I hear you. Some of us have scars and memories that are hard and painful to dig out from the memory box. Some of us have a void inside that seems to never fill.  As a victim of violence, I know how you feel and how strong you think that moving away can heal your wounds. But it’s not true, I am sorry, I’ve run away for ten years and only now I know that I was only running away from myself. Travel can help you a lot on the surface, but it won’t help your under-the-skin scars. You need to start an healing process alone – or with a specialist – to really solve your issue for good. But the main step is to admit to have a problem. To yourself. No one else. Once you’ve done that, you are half way through and you will really be able to go on with your life. Travelling, as mentioned, has amplified some issues since sometimes you put yourself in situations where you don’t want to be, or where just being outside your comfort zone can make you feel extremely unsafe. But you will learn to feel better. You will feel stronger every day out there.

Travel is the best thing that can happen in your life. But it’s not a solution to your problems. Everything depends on your attitude. If you leave home expecting life and yourself to be totally different just by going you are going to be deeply disappointed. If you choose to travel to dedicate precious time, so hard to find in our normal lives to yourself, then, you might be on the right path for a better life, a better you.

Eleven months later, working on myself with the clear goal to become a better version of myself I learnt many things. I learnt that I can’t do everything by myself, I learnt that asking for help is not a weakness, I know now that if there is something bothering me, I need to let the steam out before I explode. I learnt to control my emotions, I learnt that whatever people think of me does not affect me because it’s none of my business. I learnt to appreciate those still, lazy moments of calm, because I’m no longer afraid to stop and think, in fact I cherish those moments with jealousy and look forward to them in excitement. I’m learning to accept people who are totally different to me (except lazy individuals who will never have a place in my life!), but I’ve come to terms with people who have a different lifestyle to mine. I no longer judge myself or others based on appearances or the job they do. I’m trying hard to stop comparing myself to others. I try to feel equal and no longer less than others today.

So, did travel made me a better person? 

Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart. Haruki Murakami.

Partially yes, but certainly not because I was chasing sunsets in india, or waves in Australia, I managed to solve my problem, because it was the first time in my life when I HAD THE TIME to do it. I made the time to face my issues. I decided to pick them, one by one and lie them on the table and carefully analyse before proceeding to come to terms with each of them. It sounds easy now, but it wasn’t. It was a slow, painful, scary process; it has been difficult, depressing at time, very often frustrating. But this was for me the only way for moving on, the only way to really travel within me and let go.  It was also the first time where I accepted that no, I am far from being perfect, but it’s ok, I love myself very much anyway. It’s the first time I want to spend time with myself, without feeling lonely or sad, I actually love the time I have for myself, I crave it after weeks with strangers or new friends. I need it. Because the time with myself are the ones when I grow. I learnt to think since I’ve been away. To elaborate my thinking and loving each part and bit of myself. To get lost in my thoughts and travel within them, a sort of Inception but while day-dreaming and I discovered the power of thoughts all over again. I’ve dug deep into my past and forgave (some) people who hurt me, I apologised to others I’ve hurt, I’ve picked memories I thought I  had lost long time ago and decided to nourish them like little plans in the garden of my memory. I decided to love myself and to love others, I recovered from my broken heart and prepared myself to love again, to welcome a new person in my life with open arms, with no prejudice, no expectations, no constrictions, but just love and acceptance.

You can still enjoy travelling lightly if that’s what you want without getting lost in some dark tunnels of your mind, but remember that turning your back to your issues or crazily skipping from country to country hoping that they will just disappear, won’t do you good, but quite the opposite.

{ l i g h t and w a t e r } @passionpassport #calmversation

A post shared by s a b r i n a ANDREA s a c h s (@the_storyteller) on

I know I am not perfect and I will never be.
I accept this and I love myself even more for it. 

 

Goa, what’s the fuss all about?

I tried to resist going to Goa, though most of my friends had told me how much they loved it. I imagined an Indian beach town between Rimini(click the hyperlink to understand the metaphor) and Ibiza (I don’t think Ibiza needs presentations or hyperlinks 🙂 ). Basically, I was expecting a large, wide beach packed with tourists, a place with little personality, culture and/or heritage and westerns self-appointed gurus immersed in a drug-dance-party marathon.
Oh, and I was so right. The sand beaches were covered by western (and Russian) women in bikini (or topless) and muscly, middle-aged men with tiny, little dogs; there were more dreadlocks here than in Jamaica and tattoos were a must too: 9 out 10 had at least one. The OM sign being the most frequent among all, I would say 2 out of 3 of the westerns had one somewhere on their body. Yeah, I know, ridiculous, right? Oh, and what about the constructed rough, pretentious messy, fake hippy look? Not sure why, but most of the backpackers/travellers and even expats seem to suddenly undergo a brainwash about appearance while on the road. Especially in holy/hippie places like Goa, Varanasi, Varkala and others, people seemed to think that dirty meant cool. Nah, I can tell you boy, it doesn’t work that way. Never mind, I’m writing a separate blogpost about the travellers’ look and attitude abroad, because it’s too funny to ignore, stay tuned.

Going back to Goa, I was just saying, I wanted to avoid Goa’s touristy vibe at all costs, but it became a “mandatory” stop after 10 hrs train journey from Hampi  on my way to my final stop in India, Mumbai.
I was going to stay there only for the exact amount of time to review two clients’ hotel ( see the DREAM section below) so 3 nights in total before catching a plane, but my curiosity was too strong and I really wanted to understand what the fuss was all about. So, I quickly changed my mind, changed a few details of my last weeks in India and the next thing I knew it was that I ended up spending 10 days in Goa even pushing my flight to Australia forward and squeezing my stay in Mumbai of a couple of days.
Yeah, you guessed it right… I understood what the fuss was about Goa.
Check my CREED guide below to find out, yourself.

Goa, India’s smallest state (yes, it’s a state, not just a city!) is probably the most famous, at least in the UK and among my English friends. The state is typically split into North and South, with Dabolim airport and Vasco da Gama train station being a divider between the two. This time, I explored extensively the Northern part and I left the South (yeah, you guessed right again, I will be back…), for next time.  If you also have limited time in Goa, you will be faced with the tough decision between north and south as distances can be quite big.

But there aren’t only the beaches in Goa. There is the vibe. There is the extraordinary natural beauty of the jungle reaching up to the coast, the awkward presence of a sweet lake among lush green hills, there is the variety of restaurants, the yoga lessons before the sun rises and that same massive orange ball that dives into the ocean right in front of you every evening, like a show you should never miss while by the ocean. There is also the Portuguese heritage, like in Bombay and Kochi, Goa was a main commercial centre of business for them and of course they left their clear mark all around, from the architecture to the food, from the language to the religion. Exactly like in Kochi with Portugueses or Kolkata with the British, there is a kind of halo of past participle, and the one in Goa is particularly strong as the Portuguese only left the capital in 1961 after 400 years of colonisation.

COFFEE

Lamuella

Israeli-run boutique with a lovely café at the back that serves over-priced but delicious mainly avocado-based dishes and other snacks. Espresso, one of the best in India, is dark, strong and made of beans imported from Kerala.  Some clothes are lovely, but with western price tags if not higher and considering the cost of manufacturing in India/Asia the products are not worth the money. It’s surely tailored to not-well informed Western clients or the ones who only come to Goa and haven’t had the opportunity to compare prices in the rest of India.

Babu Huts
Sea facing café and restaurant with excellent juices and real espresso. Staff here is super friendly and will go the extra mile to make you happy. Also a perfect budget accommodation choice (see below in the dream section).

READ

Most of the hotel and resorts have a few bookshelves of books left behind by other travellers. However, if you find yourself in need of a specific title, head to:

Broadway Book Center

Address:  Ashirwad Building, 18th June Road, Next To Rizvi Tower, Panaji

Literati

Address: E/1-282, Calangute -Candolim Road, Near Snip Salon, Gauravaddo, Calangute

A History of Goa, by Rev. J A J Da Costa

 

 

EXPLORE

Beach Life

(In the North) Anjuna and Vagator were until recently the preserve of the hippies and party people, but these days you’re just as likely to rub shoulders with independent, more affluent groups of young domestic tourists and foreign backpackers. The cooler, more in-the-know crowd of global travellers and neo-hippies have migrated north to Pernem’s beaches of Morjim, Asvem and Mandrem. Here the vibe is relaxed and low-key in the day, with more exclusive boutique resorts to hang out in, and cool clubs to party in during the night. Arambol is its own little world; the beach might not be much to look at but the beach-life is varied and retains traces of the hippy days of old.

Bike Ride

Nothing really beats the wind on burnt cheeks and through the hair as a bicycle or for the wilder one a scooter ride through paddy fields, hills and coconut groves. If you leave the chilled beach life (see section above), you will see that Goa has so many unspoilt and (almost) unknown areas. Even if you have no plans or direction, rent your favourite two wheeler and go for a ride. It will make you feel free like when you were back at 16 and it was so cool to ride without a helmet. (I did in fact ask for one, but I was told there were none, erm… Alright.

Three on a bike? Yeah, at least! Watch the video! 😛

Old City

If you are in Goa for the beach life, a day in the old city will be enough. To get an understanding of the Portuguese influence here, take a walk around and make sure to visit the Menezes-Braganza House and the Figueiredo Mansion (where the food is also excellent). There are plenty of churches and cathedrals in this part of the city and when you will be done with that make sure to head to the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas to see how the bygone age and one of the most delightful areas to stroll in Goa.

Asanas, Chakra and other ways to clean the Mind 

Similarly to the other holy cities I visited in India, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Varkala etc, Goa has a huge yoga culture that dates back a few centuries melted with a wave of disillusioned westerns who plant their tends and life here to teach yoga at exorbitant prices. Personally, all the lessons I attended in India where run and organised by local, Indian people. Why on earth would I go to the other side of the world to participate to a lesson tought by americans, Australian, English as I used to in London? Nope, I didn’t fall into the trap and carefully selected lessons that were run by locals  (and at local prices),

Beyond yoga, pilates, chakra release and meditation in Go, there is all sort of real or fakish spiritual activities you can think of. I’m not judging, but do some research before booking your appointments and ask around as charlatans are as numbered as the waves of the ocean. Or just pick another activity for your stay; kite-surfing being a cool one.

Saturday Night Market – Arpora

Held every year, between December and May, the Saturday night market is a better version of the market in the day, a smaller version of Chandni Chowk in Delhi with thousands of different things you can find including pashminas, baggy trousers and cheap hippie clothes and jewellery. With a variety of street food options and bars it can be a good option for an alternative Saturday.

EAT

La Plage 

Even before setting foot to Goa or India, people told me about La Plage. It might be I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to food, but I wasn’t amazed by it. Don’t get me wrong, the French cuisine twisted with an Indian/Asian influence was good and very tasty, but it wasn’t a Michelin kind of menu or nothing extremely innovative either, or worth the overpriced menu. Worth a try for sure.
Ph. Credits: Krishin Jethwani

Sublime

Opened three years ago in Morjim, like La Plage, Sublime is also considered one of the best restaurants in Goa. Run by Chef Christopher Saleem brings his international experience to a delicate, playful and flavourful menu in a real fusion of global ingredients and technique. Beautiful setting and interesting live show, but once again I wasn’t impressed by the menu nor the meal (both considering the reputation and the prices). Worth a try for sure, but if you miss it, you haven’t missed much. Oh, staff service was really poor, polite, but not trained and it was quite surprising considering we were almost in high season!
Ph. Credits: Happy Trips

L’Amore

Despite the Italian name, this isn’t an Italian restaurant or at least among the very large menu, Italian pizza and dishes aren’t their best. Go for some Indian classics and you will find yourself coming back here night after night. Ph Credits: Tripadvisor

DREAM

Yab Yum, Ashwem, North Goa. Part of Tripzuki Network

I had heard of Tripzuki through some friends who had mentioned they had the coolest accommodation in India. I had a look online and I was impressed by the number and diverse accommodation they have in their portfolio. Tripzuki, a young, hip start-up provides travellers in India with local expertise, advice and inspiration, underpinned by a gorgeous collection of unique, well-run, ‘boutique’ hotels, all of which are directly bookable via their website.

Set in a coconut jungle just off one of the best and most tranquil beaches in North Goa, this intimate, eco-friendly boutique resort is the perfect place if you wish to enjoy the vibe in peace.

The hobbit-like, long-haired, eco-conscious 14 huts are itself a great attraction of the Yub Yum, in fact when I moved there I quickly extended by stay by a couple of nights.

One of the things I loved the most there, was the fact I had no need to wear shoes or flip flops, in fact these where forgotten by my hut for the entire stay: the lovely sandy path takes you from the entrance gate to the beach, the restaurant and the reception. Even to go to the nearby restaurants /café you can forget your sandals and just enjoy being bare foot for a while, especially at night when the sand is enjoyable cold.

Yab Yum isn’t a luxury resort, but it’s the perfect place if you are looking for peace, privacy and a very good vibe.

On top of the huts there are also 5 cottages (with A/C) by the beach, but personally I turned down one of them to try the adventure of being in a hairy beach-hut. Oh! If there is one thing I like to spoil myself with when travelling is breakfast in bed or in my bedroom. So, when I found out that at Yab Yum, a rich and generous breakfast is served just outside your dome, every morning, well, I knew it was going to be looove!

Gallery

Kerala: Was I Dreaming?

This is the world. Half of it is lit by the sun and the other half remains in darkness. It is the same with life. There is good and bad and it’s our duty to remain in the light, be good.

― Anita Nair

I already wrote about the unexpected side of India, but now I want to tell you more about Kerala, possibly the greenest, modern, diverse, culturally rich and interesting Indian state (in my opinion of course!)

Kerala, also appropriately called God’s Own Country*, is that strip of land in the western tip of the subcontinent, sitting between the Arabic Sea on the west and the state of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the east. It was love at first sight between Kerala and I. Not only the lush green all around. Not only the remote white beaches, the peaceful backwaters, the hill stations, the meaningful cocktail of churches, synagogues and mosques. Not only the vertiginous and violent waterfalls. Did I mention the delicious pannu, idli,and dosas? Oh! Gosh, the tapioca! And what about the tea plantations and the towels men use as skirts everywhere? Everything about Kerala is just perfect. Kerala and I are meant for each other. This is going to be a lifelong love relationship.

It’s true, I’m seriously thinking to move to India next year and Kerala is surely on top of my list. The nature is just lushly breathtaking, the green is the greenest and even if you would spend an entire life here, you wouldn’t be able to count all its different shades. There is everything in Kerala: a few nice cities, the hills, the rivers, the woods and the sea. Maybe I loved it so much because it reminds me of home.

Kochi is a peculiar, heritage city that forms the largest urban area in Kerala. It’s composed of many little islands and less-knows parts, of which Ernakulum is the main (modern) town. Fort Cochin instead is only the tiny, but beautiful tip of Cochin island and where the most interesting things are. If you are in a rush, you can see most things in Fort Kochi in a couple of days, but if you are travelling slowly and have no place to be, one or even two weeks are well-spent here, just walking around, browsing the little alleys, visiting all the cafes and talking to the locals is never a waste of time.
In fact, many western have put seasonal or permanent roots here: some for the low cost of living, others for the yoga or Ayurveda retreats, some others just because it’s beautiful. I might be one of the next ones to do the same soon….

COFFEE

#ButFirstCoffee was never as appropriate during my trip as here: Kochi was heaven for my espresso- deprived soul and taste buds, and here is where I spent my days sipping coffee at each and every café I could find. Yeah, I had troubles sleeping that week, but….it was worth it!!

Vasco Home Stay

Great place for a Keralan breakfast. Cute family service and staff. Upstairs is the well-known guesthouse that goes with the same name. Try the Keralan breakfast here, you won’t be disappointed!
No wi-fi (even though the website says the opposite, maybe only available in the guesthouse).
Address: on the corner of Rose Street and Bastion Street, Fort Cochin

 

TeaPot Cafe

A super-cute cafe that serves some delicious cakes and light bites. I was worried coffee wasn’t going to be a safe choice here, but I was wrong, as it was quite good. They obviously have a large selection of teas too. This is a great place to hang out with your friends in the afternoon or simply come with a book and enjoy the peace. Do not come with your laptop or with the intention to work from here as there is no wi-fi.
Address: Peter Celli Street, Fort Cochin

Kashi Art Gallery

This stunning café is part of an art gallery that had a brilliant photography (what a coincidence!!) show, when I visited! J Great snack and cakes’ options, with good moka coffee (they call it espresso), sandwiches and salads. Great place to hang out and meet other westerns, not many locals where there when I visited, I guess because the prices were higher than average. (no wifi)

Burgher Street, Fort Kochi 682001, Kerala, India

 

French Toast

I’ve personally awarded French Toast “THE best cappuccino of India” prize. Not only the froth was of the perfect consistency, but temperature, size and appearance were also top-notch. 4.5 out 5 stars for this cute little café in mailand Kochi, it only needs wi-fi to earn that half point to perfection.

 

READ

OY’S Cafe & Studio
Lovely little café with loads of books for exchange and to buy. Breakfast was rich and delicious. Service a bit slow, but within Indian standards. Address: 1-390 Burgher Street, Fort Kochi 682001, Kochi, Kerala

Idioms Bookseller

A beautiful little bookshop, just next to Vasco where you can find loads of books about India. There are volumes in English, Spanish, Italian, French and many other languages. I had to stop myself at three books, but I would have carried on to 20 probably. They offer a very useful service of packaging and sending to Europe, US and other parts of the world in collaboration with the nearby post office. Unfortunately, the price of delivery has gone up in the last few years, but it is still more convenient than dragging your books for weeks if you, like me, are travelling for a long time.

Books

God Small Things
The God of Small Things is nominally the story of young twins Rahel and Estha and the rest of their family, but the book feels like a million stories spinning out indefinitely; it is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry. The God of Small Things is at once exotic and familiar to the Western reader, written in an English that’s completely new and invigorated by the Asian Indian influences of culture and language. (from Amazon review)

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Mistress by Anita Nair
The love affair between a traveller and a Keralan woman, all at the rhytm of the ancient art of Kathakali

EXPLORE

Just Wander
No, this ain’t a name of a place, but my best suggestion for Fort Cochin (and any other destination as a matter of fact). To be honest, here, you won’t even need a map as it’s impossible to get lost, but just take a walk around and take it all in. Stop in the café and restaurant mentioned above, bring a book, meet locals and expats, this is the best way to really get the vibe of the city.

Mattancherry, Jew Town and the Synagogue
Long time ago, there was large community of Jews here, along the Christian, Muslims and Hindu. Probably the reason why I loved Cochin so much is because it looked to me as the most successful and most beautiful Indian example of peaceful religious cohabitation (maybe I am wrong or not well-informed enough, but this was my impression as a foreigner). This is where Jews set of their trading and commerce and all around the area was the main spice market in the whole state. Make sure to visit the Synagogue at least for its beautiful, hand-painted tiles as the building isn’t particularly worth of notice. Upon entering, you will be addressed to a small “history room”, it’s interesting and it won’t take too long.

Backwaters
While in Cochin, you must arrange a trip to the backwaters. This is one of the best things I’ve done in my three-month travel in India, so I can’t recommend it enough. You will find plenty of tourist offices or agencies offering a day-trip, I personally would recommend the one organized by Happy Camper (see the Dream section below for details). In the backwaters you will be able to enjoy the life of Keralan villages, those little houses tucked away in the jungle and the beautiful Indian women in their colourful saris doing their laundry on the stones on the shore. While you are there, on the boat, enjoy the peace, the slow moving of the boat and life. Don’t fret and leave your switched off phone in your pocket. Everything on this trip was so perfect and so amazing that I actually wandered if it was staged. Where those people outside their little huts actors in fact? Were those gorgeous kids trained to smile so innocently and warmly? I have no answer, but I have a tip for you. Bring pens. Every single kid you will encounter on the way will shout at you for pens. I had about 15 in my backpack back in my room, so I was gutted I didn’t bring them along. (PS: this is a tip that’s pretty much valid anywhere in India, children ask for pens to bring to school. No, not in Delhi or other big cities, but surely in the remote villages if you are going to visit any, so bring some. It will make you feel wonderful.)

Saint Francis Church
This is a very simple but nice white Christian church by the beach in Fort Cochin. A few centuries ago, the Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama, was buried here. The signs inside can be confusing, as it would appear his remains are still there, when this is not true. Saint Francis Church also became famous as the story says it is the oldest church in India as it was built in 1503.

Santa Cruz Basilica
If St Francis Church is a minimalist church, Santa Cruz is quite the opposite, it its impressive grandeur. It is in fact a pretty young church. Built by the Portuguese in 1506, it was spared by the Dutch who destroyed many Catholic buildings during the take-over but anyway,  it was destroyed by the British later on…. Bishop D. João Gomes Ferreira commissioned a new building in 1887 and it was consecrated in 1905. It was only consecrated a proclaimed one of the eight Basilicas in India by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

Kathakali
Indulge on a show of this impressive, different and mesmerising form of art. You need to go there before the start to see how the make-up of the actors (only male) is made. Make-up, facial expression and live music is what makes this 300 years old art form still a hugely acclaimed show for both locals and tourists.

Chinese fishing nets
On top of every Kochi must-see, top-10, top-5 lists you will find a mention of these fishing nets. Personally, I was far from impressed by them. Not only they weren’t particularly interesting or photogenic, but they were also too commercial to my taste. Fishermen have turned into models who jump to your throat offering to pose with a smelly fish in their hands (for money of course!). I refused several times, took a couple of boring sunset shots and moved on. I tried to get a different perspective of them, but I still struggled as the backdrop seemed very industrial and not particularly beautiful.

Note, the smaller fishing nets that you will see on the Cochin backwaters are far more authentic even if smaller.

EAT

In Kerala, you must leave all your culinary fears and prejudices behind and try ALL the food you can. For breakfast, go with a puttu, which is a funny-looking roll of coconut flour and steamed rice which is quite dry on its own, but delicious with chickpea or vegetable curry. While you are in this region, if you, like me, LOVE coconut, you will just die with pleasure as it’s their main ingredient.

Seagull

Food here is not remarkable, but not bad either. It has a nice view over the river and it’s one of the few places that serves alcohol in the city. We had fresh grilled fish, which was good but not outstanding.

Dal Roti

With a strong Mughal influence as well as Iranian, Dal Roti serves the cuisine of the heartland India, the States of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The restaurant itself is nothing special and its decors is quite insignificant, but its cuisine is mouthwatering and out of this world to be franc. There was always a good number of Indians here and that normally is a sign of authenticity in the food. We went back here three or maybe four times J Must try Kati Roll and one of their Thalis.

Oceanos

Try the fish “Varutharachathu”, it’s the most favourite fish recipe in any Keralan home. It’s basically made of white fish cooked with roasted coconut paste and coconut milk. The grilled tuna with rice and yoghurt sauce was also very nice. Make sure to keep room for desert: honey fig with yoghurt pannacotta and cashew marzipan with chocolate sauce. (No licensed for alcohol).

Tibetan Chef’s Restaurant

Lovely little restaurant where you eat sitting on the floor around low tables surrounded by meaningful quotes by the Dalai Lama. Service is fast and extremely friendly. Food is fresh, tasty and original. Obviously go for the vegetable fried momo to start your adventure among Tibetan delicacies.

Upstairs – Bastion Lane, Fort Cochin

A small Italian-inspired restaurant in front the Santa Cruz basilica. The owner and manager is a cool guy who spoke a little Italian and told me about his time as a sous-chef in Turin, Italy. He said, he brought back all original recipes and decided to open this restaurant. Starting from the name, which isn’t appropriately an Italian name, I think he can upgrade his game a bit. The pizza was very similar to the ones at Pizza Hut or at least I guess so as I never entered one in my life. Spaghetti were overcooked but the sauce, oh the sauce! was (almost) like my mum makes it. The guy imports gorgonzola, prosciutto crudo and many other delicatessen from Italy, so it’s well worth a visit, but there is (lots of) room for improvement.

DREAM

If I didn’t know that San Francisco was were the “airbnb movement” started, I would have thought that Kerala and Cochin in particular, were was it all began. In fact, in this region there are plenty on option to try and taste homestays (exactly as in the airbnb model)!

We spent some time in Kochin, so we had the time to taste and try different levels and options.

LUX – Old Harbour Hotel

A fabulous 300 year-old building, built in Dutch style with Portugues influence, it was once used as a residential home for employees of English tea-broking firms, before being left unused for some time and then turned into a monument. It is only recently it was turned into a stunning hotel. The change and restoration kept great attention to most of its original details and features like the beautiful façade.

COMFORTABLE – The Pod Homestay

A delightful, simple, extremely clean, A/C homestay in the centre of the fort run by a wonderful couple. She is Japanese and he’s Indian, they have a daughter and they all live downstairs with his parents. We celebrated Diwali with them with fireworks on the rooftop. This is why homestay is better than hotels (#justsaying!)

BUDGET – Happy camper

A very cool hostel right at the center of the main roundabout in Fort Cochin. Beds in dormitories go for Rs500 which considering that some cheap double room go for as little as Rs800 make it look like an akward option or at least only very convenient for the solo traveller. (Note: hostels aren’t very popular in India yet, it’s an up-and-coming slice of the hospitality sector that is growing fast, but perhaps, not fast enough)

Explore More 

Munnar and the Surroundings 

As mentioned above, a trip to Kerala wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the tea plantation. So, make sure to arrange your trip there. Ideally, arrange this trip on your own if you have plenty of time in your hands or just arrange it at one of the various kiosk you will find in the fort.

Whatever you decide, make sure to visit/see the followings:

  • Eco point on Mattupetty Lake
  • Attukkad Waterfalls
  • Tea museum, a visit here is necessary to understand the area and also how tea ended up in India.
  • Top station (on the walk up, make sure to stop and taste some of the traditional fruits of Kerala especially the tomato of Munnar: a perfect blend of tomato and a strawberry. Then get some passion fruits, guava and maybe some carrots too.)

Top Tip: Don’t stay in Munnar but in one of the beautiful homestay in the middle of the tea plantations.

Varkala & The Coast
To finish off your visit to Kerala, nothing is better than a few days filled with Ayurveda massages and yoga lessons at sunrise and some fresh fish by the seaside in Varkala. Its dramatic red cliff and the surrounding lush green coconut forest make it the perfect holiday spot for local and international tourists as well as a permanent magnet of expact who settle here to train as yoga teacher or Ayurveda practitioners.

While in Varkala, don’t miss your opportunity to have some gorgeous avocado-based dishes and great coffee at Coffee Temple!

Footnotes

* God’s Own Country: as the Kerala Affairs Office explains “According to Hindu mythology, Mahavishnu’s sixth incarnation Parasurama fought back the advancing seas. He threw his axe (paraśu) from Konkan to Kanyakumari and the sea gave way, giving rise to present day Kerala. In recent years the phrase has been adopted as a slogan by the tourism department of the Kerala state government in India as people started to explore more places outside the traditional tourist spots.” (http://www.keralaaffairs.com/gods-own-country-kerala/)

** C(offee)R(ead)E(xplore)E(at)D(ream): everything you need to know in one simple CREED 😉