perjantai 31. tammikuuta 2014

Day 33 - 33. päivä: Someone has to be the first customer

After a sweaty and exhausting one-and-half days’ trip from Arambol Beach to Krabi, Thailand (it included a lot of carrying our pack bags in +35 degrees, eating airplane food, not showering or sleeping, and naturally trying to explain yet another airport personnel we do not need a visa before arrival because we are Finns), we were not too happy to learn that our hotel booking had not gone through. The City House Hotel had already given all the rooms we had booked and paid online away for the night; the Chinese New Year has lead to every single hotel being full in the town this weekend.
However, the owner of the hotel informed us that he will find us another room for the night. We sat down, started chatting with people in the lobby, and after half an hour, the man came back and said he would take us to another hotel for the night.

Us: “What is it called?”
The man: “Oh, it’s not on the internet yet.”
Us: “Yeah, but what is the name of the place you’re taking us?”
The man: “Oh, it is so new it does not have a name yet.”
Us: “???”

So, we got on his car, and he drove us through the town to this kind of empty looking area with no street lights or buildings. However, right after I started suspecting that this would be our end, we arrived to this half dark but VERY nice looking hotel, which indeed had no name on the door. A young lady came downstairs to meet us, and took us upstairs through corridors which smelled of new wood and fresh paint, everything bright new, no stains on the walls, no holes in the carpet. Our room turned out to be a luxurious double room, with sheets, towels and furniture no one has ever used before. The Wi-Fi works like a miracle, and there are no other guests in the whole building! On top of everything, the manager of the City House Hotel said he’d pick us up tomorrow morning so we would not have to walk back to the town.

So, although Expedia failed us (for the first time, it is usually a very reliable online booking service), and failed the hotel, too (the manager said they always send him a fax, but this time it had not arrived, only our names showed up in the system after we had arrived), we got to experience yet again some super great service and absolutely honest people willing to do their best for good customer service. By the way, such people have not been a rarity ever since we left Finland over a month ago. It seems that for every asshole, there is ten really awesome people out there J

If only this place had a name so we could recommend it...

keskiviikko 29. tammikuuta 2014

Day 32 - 32. päivä: It's a short bus trip from Palolem Beach to Russia

We left Palolem Beach last week, went to Panjim and decided to go see Arambol Beach. You can imagine what a surprise it was to learn we had arrived to Russia instead. All the restaurants here have menus in Russian, and it seems that the language they greet you in is Russian. Frankly, it seems that knowing Russian would be more practical here than English. However, Russia does seem a lot like India in so many ways, that we have come into conclusion that a whole Indian beach has been moved to Southern Russia. Or maybe it has something to do with those 4 charter flights flying from Russia to Goa every day, and we, as a matter of a fact, are actually in Arambol, Goa. Oh, and what they sell here called as “Russian salad” is really good! You just have to be careful to avoid the most Russian part of the beach, the south end, not because of the people, but because the prices there are practically twice the prices at the north part of the beach.

Arambol has more services, than Palolem, but is also a lot more hectic. You can walk along the shore for 5 kilometres and nicely burn your skin and spot some banana hammocks (seriously, guy, WHY??!!). You can withdraw money at the exchange shops, and they only charge you 2 percent, without your bank ripping you off with service fees. You can get a manicure and pedicure for around 1000 rupees, and your laundry done for 5 rupees per item. Nearly all the restaurants have a free Wi-Fi, and the power blackouts are not as frequent as in Palolem. Pretty awesome.

We are staying in a place called Laughing Buddha, for 500 rupees per night. The place is run by a British man called John, and has really good service, live music on Mondays and a night guard. And it seems that no matter where you go, you will eventually run into other Finns. The walls of the huts being practically made of paper, such things as “privacy” or “Finnish as a secret language” can be said good-bye to, when one of the said Finns turns out to be your neighbour :D

Between Palolem and Arambol we stopped in Panjim for two nights. From there we took a bus to see Old Goa (20 rupees one way for two...). The city used to be the state capital while Portuguese were in charge of the area; from the 16th century to 1960’s. In Old Goa you can find, well... old stuff. Churches and a basilisk, catheters and museums are all located in a small area, which can be covered during a one-day trip if you’re into that kind f stuff.

We must (but do not really want to) recommend Wax de Goa, a small wax museum located close to the Gandhi Circle, across the street from Bom Jesus Basilica. The 60 rupees experience was, how to put it nicely, interesting. There were a couple of rooms filled with wax dolls, quality ranging from not terrible to why-did-you-even-bother. The “tour” lasted about 15 minutes. It was lead by a young woman, rushing through the four rooms of the exhibit, telling us about the dangers of drugs and abortion (“It’s a crime and a murder and should not happen in our society”), corruption and smoking, right next to installations of Adam and Eve, Gandhi, Marie Curie, Einstein, some US pop stars, and you-name-it. We were not given a chance to read the labels, while the lady covered most of the tour by a simple “Do you know who Mother Theresa was? Good. Let’s move to the next installation” phrase, and looked obviously bored. Every now and then she dutifully said “You can take photos”, and stood aside with a huge sigh, as if it was the rudest thing of us to actually take the pictures. It felt weird especially since we had paid an extra 20 rupees for the permission to photograph. The whole thing smelled like something targeted to school kids on a school trip. I hope they at least get a group discount or something. In the end of the tour the woman looked obviously irritated after we firmly refused to buy anything from the gift shop.

Very much doing nothing has happened since we finally arrived to Arambol Beach. We have mainly been experiencing the marvellous wonders of Mother Nature here. First of all, you know how dogs are supposed to be these stinky and needy creatures, and cats all beautiful and independent assholes? Well, somehow it has all been messed up at Goa; here the dogs make the most cute puppies, and don’t even posses that natural, doggy like smell, even though they’re wet from sea water all the time, whereas cats are just assholes. And sort of creepy, too. Crabs can behave very stupidly, like get lost, and bugs have shapes and sizes you did not know exist. Oh, and did you know that waves can basically eat your bikini?

Today we are flying from Goa to Bangkok, to spend the second month of our trip in Thailand. We could be expecting more beaches, warmth and cheap services, but based on our previous experiences during the trip, we are not; one can never know when a drop of mayonnaise comes between you and your plans...

perjantai 17. tammikuuta 2014

Day 19 - 19. päivä: A cow walks into a bar...

We have now been at Palolem beach for a bit over a week. We’ve got a little hut with a sea view, and we’re paying a “breathtaking” 700 rupees (less than 10 euros) per night for it. It is made of something that closely resembles cardboard and it comes with extra bugs, but we have a bar/restaurant right next to us (“room service” includes bringing beers (small Kingfisher 50 rupees) and sandwiches to our balcony), and it has a bathroom with an actual, working shower. It was very easy to get, as well; once we hopped off the taxi, there was immediately a man asking if we needed a hut, we said yes, and soon we had paid the rent for five nights, which we extended by another five.

Palolem beach is gorgeous. Naturally, you must have a ton of people constantly asking you if you need a taxi or a boat ride or shoes or an elephant or a castle, but unless you actually need something, you just say “Thanks, we already went there/ booked it for tomorrow with someone else” or “How much is it? Oh that’s cheap/expensive/outrageous, we’ll think about it.” But if you want, you may go see dolphins (we did for 800 rupees per two persons), take a taxi to a spice plantation (we did for 1600 per taxi and 400 ticket per person; shared the car with two other Finnish ladies), go canoeing (did not go yet, about 100 rupees per person per hour) or buy those hippie style Goa clothes for fixed or bargain price. You can also buy jewelry, for example rings (we did, price is a secret).

The beach has countless bars and restaurants, with just delicious food, and some with good food but sort of strange service. Salads are not that good, but nevertheless a vegetarian may find the place a little piece of heaven; same goes for a seafood lover. Local food is practically made of seafood and fire, but you can get pretty much any sort of food here (if by any you mean Asian or Western). Of course, having a cow or two or some puppies sharing the space with you comes with the deal J

If you’re looking for some luxury time, don’t worry; the beach has several hotels, houses and family guest houses, plus fancy but affordable restaurants and bars. Some you can even book online, but the best way is to just get here, look for someone with rooms, and just let them know what you need. Eventually you will find the exact bed chamber to best fit your royal needs; we were first offered a hut for 500 rupees, but I being a bit of a princess, insisted on getting one with a sea view. Two minutes later, we got one from the same guy.

So, next Monday we will have gathered our strength for ten days after what turned out to be a week of disgusting nausea and stomach cramps; next we will head to Northern Goa, spend a couple of days at Panjim, and then go see what the Northern beaches have to offer. And we will not eat any mayo sandwiches ever again. 

torstai 9. tammikuuta 2014

Day 11 - 11. päivä: Cream crackers and tomato soup

Finally at Goa! It's warm! Tomorrow we will go to Palolem beach to stay for a week! We have no hut there! But we will find one! Our stomachs are still very, very upset! We may not get to internet too much the next three weeks! We have mainly been eating different types of tomato soups since Sunday! An effective, but not advisable diet! Hooray! (No, we are not drunk, but very, very exhausted...)

maanantai 6. tammikuuta 2014

Day 8 - 8. päivä: How a bit of mayonnaise changed everything.

We left Delhi yesterday, happy to move on. How little did we know...

We got to the train station in time, thanks to this really awesome, fixed-price, no-tips-needed, taxi driver. He explained how he wants to promote the Indian tourism by actually helping foreigners instead of leaving them feeling scammed. The railway station was busy, but people were super helpful showing us the right platform. However, before getting on the train, we decided to grab a little breakfast at the railway station cafeteria. Yes, we were stupid enough to split a mayonnaise sandwich...

The train arrived to Agra only two hours late. Before that, we had been sharing a train car with an assemble of Indians; old grandmas and grandpas, families with children, elderly gentlemen with turbans, and modern looking young people speaking perfect English. When we got to Agra, we spotted a rickshaw with a very nice driver, Munnah. Munnah showed us a little notebook filled with messages from people all over the world, over several years, many from Finland, too. All the messages we could understand (my Japanese is not very good ;) ) pretty much had the same message: Munnah is a great guy, who can be trusted, and who's prices are very reasonable. In '09 messages the price for  a whole day rickshaw drive in Agra was 500 rupees, now it was 600. He got us to our hotel for 100 rupees, and we agreed on meeting him the next day for a whole-day tour including Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and shopping.

The plan changed only a few hours later, when I started vomiting. It changed even more when Ari started vomiting. In short, the next 12 hours we spent running to bathroom, Ari sleeping mainly on the floor due to its close distance to the toilet, and me curled up on the bed, our systems evacuating everything that had gone in in the past day. I kept on forcing down water only to vomit it seconds later. And we had planned a trip to Taj Mahal for today...

This morning we learned that Munnah could't make it, but had sent his friend Raj, instead. Raj also had a book of messages from foreigners, which reassured us that he's a good guy. However, when we told him we'd like to go straight back to the hotel after Taj Mahal without a shopping tour, he got really upset. Probably missed some extra income when we weren't buying stuff from his friends. But we felt obligatory paying him the full price, anyway, so he should be fine.

Things got interesting at Taj Mahal. We had to leave our hotel room key with Raj, since they are not allowed in (apparently people want to carve off stones from the mausoleum). The security check at the gate was more impressing than on an average airport. Feeling relatively okay, only wanting to die a little bit, we swore on going inside the mausoleum, taking a couple of pictures to prove we had been there, and leaving. However, before we got far, a whole bunch of Indian girls surrounded me wanting to take pictures. For a moment there, I felt like a movie start, and was able to squeeze off the first smile of the day on my face.

But it turned out that being so sick and at that point basically not eating for one and a half days had taken its toll. We found ourselves sitting down every twenty or so meters, trying to get enough energy to make it back. We saw the mausoleum, took the pictures, and started heading back to the West gate, where Raj would be waiting for us. However, Ari insisted us going to sit down in the park, catching our breath. And proposed to me. And I said yes. The mixture of pure agony due to the food poisoning and  feeling happier than ever have been our main thing today; celebrating will happen in Goa, once we get there :)

Raj was waiting for us outside, gave us our key, and took us back. Later, we decided to stay in Agra for one more day, ordered a taxi to Jaipur for Wednesday (around 3500-4000 rupees) and try and recover before Jaipur and Goa. Only a little bit of vomiting and diarrhea has happened tonight, and we have been able to finish  half a subway sandwich and five spoonfuls of vegetable rice together. And since we do not have to get up for the morning train, we are positive we will be okay. At least we are happily engaged now <3

lauantai 4. tammikuuta 2014

Day 6 - 6. päivä: Who needs to breathe fresh air anyway?

Tonight is our last night in Delhi. However, few days ago we were sure there would not be even the first one. Happened at the Abu Dhabi airport check-in counter:

Airport guy: "You are going to India?"
We: "Yes"
AG: "Where are your visas?"
We: "We will get them in Delhi, on arrival"
AG: "You cannot go to India without visas"
We: "We won't. We're getting on-arrival visas"
AG: "Have you been there before?"
We: "Yes"
AG: "Without visas?"
We: "No. We will get them on arrival at the Delhi airport. Finns can do it"
AG: "It is not possible. You will need visas"
We: "We will get them there. It is okay for Finnish citizens, and for a couple for other nationalities, too"
AG: "Nepalese can go to India without visas"
Emmi: "Too bad we're not Nepalese"
AG: "I will get someone"

One hour, several phone calls and few moments of desperation later:

AG's boss: "You are good to go, enjoy India!"

So, if you're a Finn, Japanese, or for example from Philippines feel safe to get a 30 day Indian tourist visa on arrival at the Delhi International airport. You'll need 60 USD (less than you'd pay in Finland), a passport photo, a return ticket from India, and some patience to fill in two forms. There is a separate on-arrival visa counter at the airport, without lines it took us about an hour to get the visas, plus we got into the country through the diplomat security line.

When we arrived to New Delhi railway station by the airport express train, the good old India hit us in the face and left no chance to escape; the smells, sounds and nearly oxygen free, smoke and dust filled air surrounded us from the second we stepped out the station exit. After traveling the whole day, we were desperate to get to the hotel as soon as possible. First challenge was to get there with our back-bags, in the dark and not realizing we were on the wrong side of the station.

Hotel Aura which is about 1 km from the New Delhi railway station, turned out to be a bit different than Sofitel in Abu Dhabi. No windows in our room, and hot water only after running the water for several minutes, and not always even then. Oh well, we have been enjoying the food and extremely cheap beer. And the service here is friendly and fast, so no harm done :)

The weather in Delhi is super depressing, barely +20 in sun and really cold at night, so not much sightseeing has happened, but we have kept ourselves busy in other ways. Yesterday we managed to book several train tickets. From New Delhi to Agra to Jaipur, altogether the tickets for two people were around 1200 rupees, about 15 euros. On top of that we paid almost the same for service at the ticket booking office. However, the service was smooth and the guy got us good tickets. The hotel booked us a taxi to the Nizzamundin railway station, which will be waiting for us tomorrow morning, for a relatively cheap price of 550 rupees, 6,9 EUR. We decided that to be a cheap enough for saving us all the trouble of getting at the station at six in the morning on our own.

In all this smog and noise, we are more than happy about slowly but surely heading towards Goa for three weeks <3

keskiviikko 1. tammikuuta 2014

Day 3 - 3. päivä: Inappropriate behaviour in a mosque

Happened so far: we started our trip quite fancy in the United Arab Emirates, staying in a five start hotel Sofitel in Abu Dhabi. Could not afford their breakfast services, but gym and private beach were complimentary. So, how is a five start gym like?

Me: "I don't wanna do six push ups. I've got asthma!"
Ari: "Fine, you'll be doing seven!"
Me: "FU!"

So, basically just like anytime we exercise together at home.

The new year's eve was spent seeing a movie in a VIP Vox Movies theater (The new Hobbit 3D, of course) at the Marina Mall. Goddammit, it seems the more money you have, the louder your Nokia tune plays. Multiply that by a dozen, and you know how it was like trying to concentrate on watching the movie with all the locals. We also tried Indian fast food, only affordable food at the mall. No upset stomachs afterwards. Besides a movie theater and fancy restaurants, the mall also had a ton of toy stores, where little sheikhs could do their toy shopping with their servants, which Ari witnessed with his own eyes.

It is winter here, so naturally the beach today was not very packed. It is also relatively cold (that being hot as hell, around 25 degrees), so the tourist season is not at it's peak. After a few hours grilling myself, we longer are whiter than two sheets of printing paper.

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was something totally awesome. Built in 2007, the gorgeous white building with it's towers and world record interiors is something everyone visiting United Arab Emirates should see. However, remember to check what you are wearing before going. My wrists were exposed and a guard sent me through a garage to some mysterious basement to get a veil. I could not get one because I had left my ID with Ari, who was waiting upstairs, and the outfits were not handed out without a proof of identity. Being a smart girl, I later went to the mosque pass another guard, and had no problem. Around that time I was told by Ari he had heard something tearing while getting to the mosque earlier. We looked into the situation, and learned the sound had come from his jeans. The inner seam, to be exact. Apparently blue and white checked boxers are no problem to the local authorities, since we heard no word from them about it.

So, tomorrow we will head to the cold New Delhi (15+ degrees...), and once we get there, we will do some jeans shopping!