India Part Two – Exploring Fort Cochin

A beautiful Ambassador car. Very like a Morris Oxford. All curves and nostalgia.

On our first morning in Fort Cochin, at Coconut Grove Homestay, we were presented with a delicious breakfast of fresh pineapple juice, masala omelettes; spicy and tasty; toast and chai.  Despite being full from last night’s feast we still managed to eat everything up.

The lovely Mr T.

Promptly at 1000hrs, we met up with Mr. T as arranged.  He was to take us to all the main sights around Fort Cochin in his auto-rickshaw.

He joked about the free air conditioning as we sped through the narrow streets and weaved in and out of traffic, pedestrians and pot holes.

During the day we visited temples, shrines and palaces.  We had a stop at a government shop where Sue succumbed and bought a beautiful Kashmiri carpet.

 

 

 

 

 

After that we were in need of a caffeine fix so stopped in a local coffee shop for a very sweet coffee and a basic lesson in Malayalam, the Keralan language, from the charming Mr T.

Next stop, was the laundry or ‘dobi’ business.  Here clothes, bed and table linen is washed by hand, by the dobi wallahs, in the traditional method.  There are cubicles where the washing takes place.  It is then hung out to dry on rows and rows of washing lines without the aid of pegs.  The edges are tucked into the twisted coconut sisal lines.

 

On our way out I noticed a hut where a man was ironing a huge pile of clothes.  He was using a very old hot box style of iron.  It was filled with burning coconut shell charcoals and was very hot.  I couldn’t resist having a go.  The iron was incredibly heavy but slid over the clothes brilliantly.  My ‘boss’ sprinkled water onto the clothes and they came out sharply creased and smart.  It was very hot work and I much appreciated the patience with which my attempts were met.

Sacks of ginger awaiting transportation.
Nutmeg, star anice, ginger….you name it…they have it!

After a lunch of vegetable pakora, chickpea curry and rice we set off again.  We passed old Portuguese style buildings, ram-shackled spice warehouses and wharfs where spices from the Malabar region of Kerala were transported around the rest of the world in times gone by.

Sue was encouraged to take a turn of sifting the pieces of ginger in order to grade them for size.  She and one of the women from the co-operative each took a hold of a handle on a large tray with a mesh in the bottom.  The ginger pieces were placed on the mesh and the tray was shaken vigorously from side to side to loosen the smaller pieces and then the remaining pieces were thrown in another pile.  This was physically demanding work.  Outside, in the courtyard, women were bent double over the drying ginger and sifting by hand in the blazing sun.  Elsewhere, there where blankets of black, white and brown peppercorn covering the courtyard, giving off a nose ticking aroma as they dried

 

in the sun.

The gorgeous women of the spice market cooperative who were so friendly.
Just a few peppercorns!

We bought some of the spices and herbs on sale in the higgledy-piggledy old warehouse.

Soon, we were off again, zooming through the streets marvelling at what we saw left and right.

We arrived at the water front where the Chinese fishing nets are deployed; hanging suspended above the water like gossamer witches hats.  The product of their canti-levered workings was being sold on nearby stalls.  We saw the amazing canoes and dug outs along the shoreline.  

We arrived back in the late afternoon and settled with Mr T (INR 800 – about £8).  What a fantastic day!  We totally agreed with the street art down near the waterfront.

KOCHIN IS NOT A CITY, IT’S A FEELING!!

Trip to India – Part One

Back in October 2017, my great friend Sue Lowrey, asked me if I’d like to join her for a trip to Kerala, South West India, in the Spring.  I gave the matter grave consideration for all of two seconds and accepted with alacrity!  It would be about thirty-five years since either of us  last visited India.

Consulting well-travelled friends and neighbours, we soon had a few ideas of what to see and do.

We flew in to Cochin International Airport less fresh after twenty four hours travelling than the brand-new, cleaned and painted terminal building, which was very swanky.  It came complete with comfortable armchairs in which to recline whilst the immigration wallahs filled in forms, snapped photographs and took our digital fingerprints.   Better not misbehave in India.

First question;

‘Have you been to India before, Maam’?

Hmmmm, surely it was so long ago as to no longer matter.

‘No!’ came my unswerving reply!  The least complicated choice of response.

Within minutes we were reunited with our compact less than ten kilogram bags and whisked off in a comfortable taxi towards Fort Cochi and our homely bed and breakfast, Coconut Grove Homestay. 

 

En route we saw something of the size of the city, crammed with traffic, sail-like billboards and buildings of every conceivable size, shape and design.  There was even a procession of bands and brightly decorated wagons to welcome us.  It reminded me very much of Bangkok.

After a brief rest and our first welcome cup of hot and sweet masala chai, we ventured out of the tranquility of the lush garden and walked around the neighbourhood.    Within seconds, we happened upon wide, open park areas, huge canopied Portuguese ‘rain trees’, sign posts proclaiming this as God’s Own Country, egg yellow auto rickshaws, traditional terracotta roof- tiled houses and fiercely fought cricket matches.  Overall, there was peaceful and calm ambiance compared to the chaos of Ernakulam, the modern part of the city of Cochin.

With homing beacon instincts, we soon found the main shopping area of Princes Street.  Here our olfactory nerves were piqued by fragrant oil perfumes, pungent leather work and powerful drains. At every turn we saw astonishing sights including; colourful powder paints, libraries of folded saris and unusual musical instruments of dubious tunefulness.

By 1800hrs we were straight in to our first experience – a Keralan cookery lesson at the Flavour Cooking School on Queiros Street.

 

We were welcomed to the home of Meera and her family.  All the ingredients for the five dishes we were to cook were laid out ready. Meera gave us comprehensive recipe sheets. She explained what to do and answered all our questions.  Later in the evening her husband arrived home and took charge of teaching us how to make chapattis.   We were intrigued to know more and soon we had a lesson in how to prepare puri, parottas and parathas.

Needless to say, it was all delicious.  Although we elected to cook vegetarian dishes, the Keralans are renowned for eating almost everything.  Due to the range of religious communities in Kerala there is a wide range of meats not available in other regions of India.  Its proximity to the sea also means that there is an incredible array of sea food, too.

Full as eggs, we found our way back and slept like babies.

 

 

Next:  India Part Two – Exploring Cochin.

 

Keira starts her studies in The Netherlands.

At the end of January, after almost two months working at the wonderful  Fountaine Inn, Linton, in The Yorkshire Dales National Park (where food is served all day, every day!), Keira set off to Leiden University in The Netherlands to do an MA in Literary Studies.  She has a flat share in The Hague and can commute by bicycle and train to and from Leiden with relative ease.

Happily, I was able to tag along with her for a few days to help her settle in but mainly in order to build her flat pack wardrobe and desk!!!

The sluicegate house – with a slight drunken lean.

We were able to spend a lovely day sightseeing in Amsterdam.  It was a great day despite rather wet weather.

 

 

The main square in Amsterdam

 

 

 

 

We walked absolutely miles and, in a particularly torrential downpour, found ourselves in a Cheese Museum

where we  must have eaten a kilo of cheese from their tasting board.  Who knew that Gouda could have so many variations?  My favourite was a mature cheese flavoured with roasted cumin seeds.

After a sobering visit to the Anne Frank Museum we returned to Den Hague, eating some delicious fast food falafel en route.

 

On the Tuesday, Keira attended her orientation in Leiden whilst I completed the flat pack job.  I joined her in the afternoon for the Mayor’s welcome speech to all four hundred plus international students starting at the half way stage of the academic year.  He was very amusing.  The student body seems very well organised.  There were lots of offers of support and assistance, discounts and social events that made me wish I was starting my studies again.

A pretty windmill and bridge with the reflection of the moon in the water.

We were taken on a tour of Leiden which is just so pretty;  with its arching bridges over the many canal cuttings criss-crossing the town and its beautiful windmills slicing the sky and making wonderful silouettes.

On my last evening, we tried out a well known Surinamese restaurant in the centre of The Hague.  The food was an interesting mix of Asian and Indonesian, Caribbean and European.  There were some items that we had never tasted like casava chips; we had a veritable feast for a few Euros.

I returned to the UK in time to take over from Erin who had come up North to look after Ian post hernia operation.  He is recovering nicely thanks to her ministrations.  Keira is enjoying her course and life in The Netherlands.

Our Dutch girl

Next:  Sarah heads back to India after a gap of 35 years.

 

Two months in ‘The Shire’. –

After winterising Linea (Bavaria 430 Lagoon) and leaving her safely tucked up in the Porto Turistico di Marina di Ragusa, Sicily, for a second safe winter; we set off for Longridge and caught up with June, Ian’s mum, and the rest of his family, which was lovely.

We arrived back in Linton, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, a few days later, excited to see Keira freshly returned from a job in France; and already living and working at the Fountaine Inn, Linton.   We were soon to see Erin, too, as she was to travel up from London the following week.

We hit the ground running with a spate of socials and sessions.

 

Bryn and Jill fro ‘Fly the Coop’ who we managed to meet up with.

Soon, like everyone else, we were in full swing for Christmas.  Inevitably this involved more trips to the Fountaine Inn, Linton; and eating lots of food.

 

 

We did manage to fit in a good few walks when the weather was bright (and sometimes when it wasn’t!)  It was just lovely to be back in the Dale and experiencing village life again.

 

 

 

 

 

Erin had very little time off from her new job as Assistant Manager of the Miller and Carter Steakhouse in Worcester Park London, so she drove up north after her late shift had finished on Christmas Eve and arrived at 0200hrs in the morning!  A flying visit as she had to head back down south on Boxing Day morning.

We had a wonderful day on Christmas day culminating in an evening of hilarity at the Vyvyan’s.

We enjoyed a hearty walk and refreshments with the Heanes, Hodgsons and Plumbs in between Christmas and New Year but I was unable to muster the strength (due to being proper poorly) to join them all for the annual Inn at Whitewell walk from Chipping.

As predicted, time was flying on and we still had so much to do and so many people to see.

Happily, we were able to do a little farm, dog and house sitting which made a nice change.  Also, Ian was able to catch up and support his beloved Wharfedale Rugby Club.

I enjoyed going to the gym occasionally in a vague attempt to lose some of the weight I had piled on after a summer on the boat eating far too much feta cheese!

All in all, it was the most marvellous visit home, with added poignancy, since we haven’t been back for any length of time for almost two years.  We miss ‘The Shire’, our family and friends very much.

Remember, we would LOVE to welcome you to the boat during the summer if you fancy a bit of camping on water!  Please just ask and we will try to coordinate.

Next Time:  Keira heads off to Holland!