Category Archives: Travel Tips

Recapping November… and Monkey(bread)ing around

Blimey, what a month. As I mentioned, briefly, in passing (ALL THE TIME) I turned 40 in November and as that’s apparently quite the milestone, I decided to drag out the celebrations for the better part of the month.

The actual day, my wino and I went to breakfast at the Delaunay (amazing), saw Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy which moved me to tears in parts, utterly emotional and beautiful and then had a mildly crappy afternoon tea because we’re old and needed a sugar hit. And then dinner with my family that evening which was also simply super (although mediocre food, didn’t expect much more from the local curry house).

My birthday gift from the husband was a trip to Berlin so we went the following weekend and stuffed our faces with German cakes and weinerschnitzel and saurkraut and stuff. Had the best time at the Photography Museum at the Frank Horvat exhib, love his stuff and went to a few other galleries and mostly just pootled around the city really. Don’t go to the zoo, it’s absolutely horrible and I totally cried at the sad lions and camels. Tinged a little bit with sadness – an old friend moved there  a few years ago and I was hoping to catch up with him and his partner but wasn’t to be the case as his partner sadly lost his battle with cancer the week before we arrived. Nic’s been bravely and beautifully blogging at his struggles with dealing with his loss here – please go read it, it’s an honest, heart wrenching and sad read (love you Nic).

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Then back to London town, to start a new job (which is awesome and huge and I think may keep me away from blogging for a bit just whilst I get my head into it) and to celebrate with a bunch of my very best family and friends.

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We’d booked out lunch at one of our favourite restaurants in Queen’s Park – the lovely Caldo. It’s a tapas place and wine bar (and my husband does some of the list so he knows them well). Sorted out a set menu and awaited the hoards to arrive – and boy did they. There were friends from all aspects of my life – school, university, work, drinking in bars, family friends, family members, all told I haven’t felt so loved since probably my wedding day. I always think it’s amazing that some of those people have been in my life for the whole of it, the experiences we’ve shared together could fill books.  It was a lovely day, there were shots done, a cake by a baker (Fondant Fox) whose creations I’d been drooling over on Instagram for a while and whilst her cakes clearly look amazing, they also TASTE amazing, which is possibly the most important thing. And then there was the afterparty. And from that I don’t remember much, but I do know that my fridge was stuffed full of fizz, a tequila station was set up in the kitchen and I had enough Doritos to feed 500 peple before we went to lunch but the next morning the fridge was empty and there were Doritos all over the floor. Lord knows what happened to the tequila. Never saw the bottle again, think it ran away. Took me the better part of a week to recover – won’t be doing that again for a while… Although I tried, the following weekend when my GBFF treated me to an amazing Twin Peaks themed dinner/immersive theatre thing (which I’ll blog separately), I had to follow a bus and a Spice Girl around in a pee yellow car for a day and I have been hanging out with X Factor stars. All told, November has been quite spectacularly full on and, frankly, awesome.

Last weekend was the first weekend we’d had at home since October and the last till Christmas so I decided to get baking – and I’ve been wanting to make Monkeybread for quite some time. For those of you who don’t know, Monkeybread is (probably) an American thing, it’s effectively enriched, sweet dough balls, rolled in cinnamon, sugar and butter and baked. What on earth about that is not to like? I’ve been avoiding my bundt tin since last Christmas when I didn’t grease it enough and an impressive cake I should have made (spiced cranberry) got stuck in it so I had to slice it to take to a party. Not ideal. So I decided to bundt the shit out of my monkeybread to break the fear. And I’m glad I did. It looked GREAT and tasted even better.

Couple of changes I made to the recipe. I have a sweet tooth but I don’t think it compares to most American recipes I’ve seen – sometimes even I get unnerved by the levels of sweetness in a recipe. So I decided to use a traditional white bread dough to make the monkeybread and hope that the sweetness of the cinnamon, sugar, butter would be enough – and it most definitely was. If you do want to go all out, a brioche style bread would probably work quite well – I had no milk in the house so couldn’t do that. Next time, I’m going to experiment with savoury flavours -I think herbed bread and cheese would be amazing. But here’s my recipe, enjoy!

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Monkeybread 

For the dough:

  • 400g strong white bread flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1 tsp fast acting yeast
  • 1 tsp fine salt
  • 300ml warm water
  • Oil for kneading

For the cinnamon sugar

  • 100g butter melted and slightly cooled
  • 200g light muscovado sugar
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1 tsp mixed spice
  • Pinch of salt

Put the flour into a bowl and add the salt and yeast, making sure these two ingredients don’t touch. Add the warm water and bring the dough together to a sticky shaggy mess. Scrape any dough from your fingers and then cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 30 mins. After that time, turn the dough onto a lightly oiled and dusted board, and knead. Use whatever method you’re most comfortable with – I use Dan Lepard’s, it’s easy to follow and usually comes out with a great bread. Knead for about 5 mins, return to the bowl, leave covered for 15 mins, then repeat this process twice more.

After the last knead, put the oven on a low-medium heat (around gas mark 4 or 170C) to preheat and make your cinnamon sugar – simply mix the sugar and spices and salt together in a bowl. Grease a 25cm bundt tin.

Turn the dough out onto a board and start rolling small dough balls – you want to get at least 30 small balls (golf ball sized). Dip and roll each ball into the melted butter and then dust them in the bowl of spiced sugar and then placed them into the bundt tin. 30 balls comes up about half way up the tin – don’t worry about this, once all the sugar coated balls are in you need to leave it for its final prove so it’ll fill up.

The final prove takes around 30-45 mins (the doughballs should spring back when you poke them!), then put the tin into the oven to bake for one  hour.

Let the monkeybread cool in the tin for 15 mins, then turn it onto a serving platter and give the base of the tin a good whack, it’ll release and leave it ready for serving. It’s a lovely indulgent breakfast cake but equally good when still warm with ice cream. Enjoy!

 

 

Lovely Loutolim and Casa Susegad

I’ve mentioned it a few times but it deserves a post all of its very own so here’s week two in Goa and our stay at Casa Susegad. 

The entrance to Casa Susegad

Beautiful ornate entry

The wino and I require very different things from our holidays – whilst he’s happy to lie on a beach or by a pool for a solid fourteen days, moving only to dip in the pool or go to sleep, I get a little bored of this after… well, usually a good 12 hours. So we agreed that week one would be beachside and week two would encompass a little more culture. What I hadn’t put into this equation was how much Goa would make me into a gigantic beach bum and as such, I was quite happy to sleep and hang out on the beach and not do much else.

We’d booked our week at Casa Susegad based on the lovely i-escape review and amazing Trip Advisor comments and thought it would give us a different pace of life from Jamboree Creek and Mandrem.

And that it did. We got a car from Mandrem to Loutolim – it’s about an hour and a half away but the vibe couldn’t be more different. It’s in a little village where there’s nothing apart from monkeys in trees and a Friday market. When you’ve been in a place where it was rare to see an Indian face and even rarer to see anyone over the age of 40, it was nice to be somewhere that felt more removed from the tourist trail.

You’re greeted by lots of dogs (and Carol and Norman, the owners) and whilst I won’t pretend to remember all their names, my two favourites (ie the ones who paid me the most attention) were Basil and Lisa – just lovely friendly dogs that hung out with the guests all day long. Don’t fall for their food begging though!

The balcao

There are only five rooms at Casa Susegad but the house itself is palatial. All the rooms are situated around the pool, with the bar close by too. We were in the pink quartz room – and very pink it was as you can see below. The floor tiles were gorgeous too – discovered when the work was being done to the house and left in their original state. Loved them.


The terrace Glorious floor Pink room

Next door to our room were the turquoise room and the sunshine room. Norman and Carol live in private quarters in the main part of the house and in the opposite wing is a full size snooker table and a large dining room, as well as a lounge where you can escape the heat and read or watch TV. We shared a terrace with our turquoise neighbours and got to know them really well – fabulous fellas.

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Having spent most of the previous week just speaking to the wino, it took a couple of hours to get used to the openness at Casa Susegad – because the rooms surround the pool, you get used to speaking to your neighbours and having drinks with them and then sitting around the dining table to eat with them. And we loved this – it was so friendly, the owners are delightful and had old friends staying (who I mentioned before) so it felt very much like you were staying with friends. I wonder if I can say ‘friend’ another time in this sentence? Terrible grammar!

The pool is bordered by jungle – literally. You can see all manner of beautiful birds and families of monkeys jump across the roof to steal figs from the tree in the front garden. I’m sure there are creepy crawlies and snakes in them there woods but we didn’t see anything so I’m going to pretend they weren’t there. Oh, apart from a flying beetle that was the size of a small bird. That wasn’t terrifying at all.

The pool

Dinners at Casa Susegad are full three course affairs, with food whims taken in the morning and cooked up by Joanita to please all the guests. Admittedly, we hadn’t realised how little there was to do in Loutolim so whilst the meals are lovely and worth every penny, it’s best to budget as though you’re going to eat there every night as there aren’t many nearby places to enjoy a more cost effective meal. It’s great sitting around the gigantic dinner table, getting to know your fellow guests and shooting the breeze. Dinners can either be served on your terrace or in the main dining room – we mostly opted for the terrace it was slightly less formal but both are lovely experiences.

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Norman and Carole know the region really well so can happily help you plan days out and arrange drivers and recommend places to eat. With our turquoise room neighbours, we went to Margao for a day of exploring including a fantastic lunch at Longuhino’s. And as previously mentioned, Helen took me out for a day to Panjim which included lunch at Hotel Vineet, the home of the Goan revolution. The nearest beach is 20 mins drive away and worth it for a day out, it’s beautiful and the food at Zeebops is amazing.

Latin Quarter, Panjim Panjim Church DSC_0517

I’d happily go back to Casa Susegad – it’s a great location for chilling out, reading by the pool and enjoying some delicious cocktails and dinners. The staff are super friendly and on hand to help with anything you need. It’s also a small hop skip and a jump to the airport so even if you don’t want to spend a whole week in the jungle village, consider spending a couple of nights there before you fly, it’ll leave you feeling ever so zen. Particularly if you indulge in one of the massages, so very good.

And that’s my last Goa post. Sorry for being so indulgent but there was so much to share. Cannot wait for our next trip!

Chowing down in Goa

Finding an ‘authentic’ Goan meal is probably much the same as trying to find authentic tapas on the Costa del whatever – because the economy is so dependent on tourism, the beach side shacks and hotel restaurants are simply catering for the tourist trade, so feature chips, burgers and Russian salads extensively. And I’m not complaining too much – there isn’t actually anything better than a plate of salty chips and a Kingfisher whilst sitting by the pool. However, after a few days, all I wanted was a well spiced (ie not watered down for the tourists) curry or just something a bit different. And maybe a menu that wasn’t just in English and Russian.

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So we spent a lot of time looking at Trip Advisor for the best restaurants in Mandrem – and found that the place across the road from Jamboree Creek was voted sixth best in the area – and given that we’re hugely lazy, 6th best was OK by us.

Rotisserie at Fritchy

So when you look at Fritchy on Trip Advisor, the dishes look a bit like this.

http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g1010240-d5966356-Reviews-Frichty-Mandrem_Goa.html
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Restaurant_Review-g1010240-d5966356-Reviews-Frichty-Mandrem_Goa.html

When we arrived, however, there was one gigantic table stretched out across an open courtyard with a chalkwritten menu that suggested that there was only one thing on offer – rotisserie chicken with roasted corn and bread. And booze, obviously.

I love nothing more than a simply spiced roasted chicken so we decided to stay. Long story short, the owners decided to try something new and this new Fritchy had only opened three days prior to our visit. And my god, it was good – really simple, well cooked, lovely bread and even a passable Indian wine (Sula, should you be looking for a wine when you’re in India). And to be honest, whilst the fancy pants fine dining experience would have been nice, this felt more in keeping with our Goan vibe – much more chilled, a great way to meet new people on the shared dining table.

You have to get there early as once the chickens are cooked and sold, that’s it. The owner/chef was only making three a day because of the quiet season so if you’re there after 7.30ish, you may not get fed.

It’s also incredibly good value – at 600rupees per chicken dinner with booze on top of that, you’re eating out for less than £4 per head.

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A sublime dinner at Sublime

Having missed out on fine dining at Fritchy (in favour of roast chicken- no great loss), we asked Priyanka for her recommendations of places to eat locally. What we were actually looking for was beach shack type authentic Goan cuisine of curries and fish and stuff, but we were convinced by her to try out Sublime in nearby Morjim – a fusion restaurant combining the best of Goa, France, Japan and lord knows where else but all deliciously tasty. Given that the final bill came to about £20 per head, including a lot of cocktails and three courses, it was fantastic value for money. If you’re in North Goa, it’s definitely worth a trip there – we arrived too late to see sunset but imagine it would be glorious from one of the beach tables. The restaurant itself is small – probably only 40 covers but beautifully decorated with a boat hanging from the centre of the room (by way of lighting I think!) and what looks like a raised platform with a mattress and mosquito nets where you could have an intimate cocktail or two with a loved one. My memory is rubbish but the one thing you have to try is the Paan Martini – my god, that cocktail. I dream about that cocktail. Also the ginger battered calamari starter was insanely good and the banana leaf fish. And according to the wino, the prawn starter with risotto was amazing but clearly I couldn’t try that. We shared a dessert platter which is basically three of the four desserts, full size, to share. Mon dieu. Delicious.

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The End of the World

We finally got our beach side authentic vibe on Mandrem beach at The End of the World. The wino ordered prawns, I had chicken xacuti, both were fabulous and best eaten watching the sunset whilst enjoying a beer. However, this was the place that had removed the fish eyes when they brought out the plate from which to entice you to choose, so I’m not sure how fresh they were. However, the chicken xacuti was amazing and would have been a trip highlight, if we hadn’t had better at Casa Susegad, made by the lovely Joanita.

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Zeebop at Urtoda beach

Our final beachside lunch was at Zeebops at Urtoda beach. Recommended by the lovely chaps at Casa Susegad, Zeebops was probably the best seafood we had all trip – beautifully cooked fish that the four of us shared, a lovely quiet beach and great company – as well as a sighting of Bollywood star, Karina Kapoor, having a photoshoot on the beach that day. Lovely.

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Fun with hawkers and other top Goan shopping tips

Whilst it’s only been a fortnight since we got home, it feels like a lifetime ago already. Don’t you hate that? When you’re away, you promise yourself that you’ll keep that holiday chill and not let the small shit get you down then a mere 14 days later, you’re freaking out about… well, stuff.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last two weeks arranging the lovely things we bought around our home and I thought that my Goan shopping experiences may be useful to other people so here are some top tips.

The Markets….

Also known as the haven for a lot of tourist tat and a significant amount of MC Hammer trousers in elephant prints

We arrived after our long journey on a Thursday afternoon and were still finding our feet by Saturday so we missed Arpora night market which everyone raves about. Mostly because I hear it’s like shopping at a nightclub in the 1990s, lots of music, drumming, people wearing too much tie dye and looking slightly beatific. Not gutted we missed it as we went to Anjuna Market on Wednesday instead which is basically the same but you go in the day time so rather than dancing to crazy beats, you sweat and sweat and sweat and still end up buying a lot of MC Hammer pants.

The wino wouldn't let me bring one of these home
The wino wouldn’t let me bring one of these home

Anjuna

Because what you really want to buy in 36C heat is thick woollen socks.
Because what you really want to buy in 36C heat is thick woollen socks.


Anjuna

Anjuna Market is a lot of fun. Honestly. I generally hate big crowds and being forced to visit a “lovely shop that sells bangles, even big sizes for you lady”, but as the season has been so quiet due to the collapsing Russian economy, the crowds weren’t that bad so you could simply drift around and not make eye contact with anyone so you don’t get hassled. Amusingly, the ladies hawking their wares have picked up amazing British accents so they go from speaking in Hindi to each other to sounding like traders at Billingsgate Market. “A’righ’ love, come and check out my stall, lovely fings for you and your fella”. They could also hawk in Russian, which shows how dependent on tourism from there Goa has become.

Ice cream trucks at Anjuna

Kids MC hammer pant suit

One of my absolute favourite moments at the market was when a woman, trying to hawk her wares said “alright love, where are you from?” to which I replied, “Sri Lanka” (having bored of telling people London) to which she replied, “oooh, it’s cold there, innit”. So whilst it’s incredibly impressive that they can hawk in many languages, don’t go off script unless you want them to look at you like you’ve lost your mind when you laugh for a good 15 minutes after that.

We made it out of Anjuna after a couple of hours with only three shirts (wino) and one shirt and two pairs of hippy dippy pants (me). Everything is much of the same on every stall but worth looking out for Shoop Doop, which has great shirts in a variety of styles in interesting fabrics. The guy who runs it also has a shop in Ashvem so if you don’t make it to Anjuna, find him there.

You’ll need to get your bargaining hat on though – my MC Hammer trousers started at 700 rupees – I walked away with two pairs for 200.

My elephant print trousers
I am not putting my face to these trousers. But these are the trousers in their natural habitat. If you see me wearing them in London, please feel free to judge me.

Much more interesting and, I guess authentic, is Mapusa Market. This is on every day and is a local market (for local people) but with some tourist tat thrown in for good measure. Mapusa (pronounced Mapsa) is where you can find amazing spices, vegetables, fruit, homewares and all sorts of other things that you never knew you needed. And piles of clothing sky high. It was amazing to watch women making flower garlands from gigantic bags of heads of carnations and roses and other flowers I didn’t recognise. Mr Wino was at the height of his holiday illness so couldn’t smell anything but the scents and aromas – oh my. you go from overpowering dried fish to beautiful fresh flowers to pungent spices and herbs within a few steps. Utterly incredible.

Bangles at Mapusa Making garlands at Mapusa Dried fish at Mapusa market Flower garlands at Mapusa

These bottles were for sale. We couldn't work out why anyone would buy them, any ideas?
These bottles were for sale. We couldn’t work out why anyone would buy them, any ideas?

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Other shopping experiences

During our stay at Casa Susegad, we met the lovely Helen and Colin, friends of the owners and part-time locals, spending a significant portion of the year in Goa and the rest in the UK. Helen has a shop in the UK and spends a lot of her time in India sourcing products to sell there (and the proceeds from which goes back to projects in India). As such, if you ever need a shopping tour guide, she’s your woman. We spent a day out in Panjim visiting many beautiful independent retailers and I spent a small fortune in Fab India on cushions and blankets and lovely trinkets. If Helen’s in residence at Casa Susegad, ask her for her tips.

Fab India

For me, Fab India was my stand out shop – it’s laid out beautifully with homewares, clothing and furniture that’s beautifully curated.I had my heart set on bringing home a Rajasthani blanket – I brought one in Kerala seven years ago but two house moves and getting a cat in that period of time has left it looking a little threadbare. The husband and I had agreed that no mirrorwork or embroidery would enter our suitcase (mostly because my 1990s clubbing flashbacks would be constant and never ending should I have that sort of thing in my house) and all we wanted were those simple printed cotton thin duvets. Helen recommended Fab India so off we went – and I somehow came home with four blankets, five cushion covers and a table cloth. Well done Vinnie. That was fun packing, let me tell you. Blankets do not crush down easily. FYI, looking on Fab India site, they ship internationally. Do not tell the wino.

Another newish Panjim shop worth a visit is White Brick Wall – this sells modern clothing with an Indian twist, as well as homewares.  I fell in love with the jumpsuit with the tuk tuk print, but sadly not in my size. Although, to be fair, the owner said she’d get it made for me in my size but I didn’t have time to do that. Sad.

And if you get a chance the paper shop, Chimanlals, is gorgeous if you’re a stationery fiend like me.

To end on a foodie tip, in Loutolim there’s a bakery called Jila, voted the best bakery in the whole of India by the Times of India. If you decide to stroll down there from the town or from Casa Susegad, take water – it’s a good 30 minute walk. You’ll get lost, you’ll pass a dilapidated house that’s been taken over by monkeys, locals under umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat wil laugh at the the tourists, you’ll think you’re never going to find it and indeed, you’ll walk right on by till you reach what feels like a motorway. And then, if you’re like me, you’ll blame the husband for getting you lost and you’ll have a little argument so you turn back to tackle the long walk home… and there’s the sign. On a house. That looks like a house, not a bakery. So you ring the bell, and you’re taken into the lounge and you are brought a plate of cakes for you to choose from. And it makes the long trek so worth while and you forget about the heat and you elegantly fight over who gets the last mouthful of eclair*.

Jila bakery Loutolim

Clearly, I did not take a photo of the cakes themselves because I was too busy a) drooling and b) scoffing. Sorry.

*Me, obviously.

Private beaches and hammocks by the pool…

In the week we’ve been home, it’s snowed and I have been struck down with a terrible virus from which I may never recover. Well, OK, I’ve got flu and I’ll be fine in a couple of days I’m sure but right now I’m feeling utterly sorry for myself and the warm sandy beaches of Goa seem like a lifetime ago.

I’m hoping, however, that writing about it and looking over photos will bring back the warmth to my bones and a song in my heart. Or at least help stop the runny nose for a few minutes

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Because I love a good chronological timeline, I’m going to start with week one in North Goa.

The thing with Goa is that you can spend a lifetime looking at hotels on TripAdvisor and Hotels.com and i-escape and everywhere else and you can never be sure what you’re going to get. There’s a lot of truly awful looking places and lots of truly amazing looking places and a huge amount of places in between. So I set parameters…

  1. We’re not teenagers so Anjuna and the clubbing bits of Goa were no go(a)
  2. I wanted air conditioning (because I’m a big wimp)
  3. Marcel wanted a pool AND proximity to a beach (because he’s demanding)
  4. A maximum of one 1-star and two 2-star reviews on Trip Advisor (the three, four, five star reviews could be as many as possible)

So we looked. The hotel I loved the most was way out of budget.Turns out Brangelina stayed there. We are not Brangelina.

From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to Instagram to see if there were other nice places near Elsewhere. I searched for Mandrem + Pool and found two places that fit our needs – Lazy Dog and Jamboree Creek. And to be honest, because Jamboree Creek responded first, we booked it. And I’m so very glad we did.

The entrance to Jamboree CreekOur hut

Close up of outdoor shower

Jamboree Creek is equidistance between Ashvem and Mandrem beaches but far enough removed that you’re not disturbed by clubbing and traffic and other people. The hotel is made up of 11 thatched beach huts with incredible outdoor showers and cute little terraces. The rooms are basic but clean – don’t book here if you’re looking for ultimate luxury (for that, book Elsewhere and tell me how it is!) The creek is right at the end of the property, just past the pool. Turns out creeks are tidal (I’m guessing cleverer people than me already knew that) so whilst it’s interesting when the tide is out, it’s stunning when the tide is in – you can watch birds and fish and butterflies and all sorts of nature just being all nature-y and stuff (I’m not particularly outdoorsy, can you tell?)

The creek IMAG0996

There are hammocks and cushioned benches by the pool so you can while away hours, sipping on a hibiscus juice from the organic garden. So we did that a lot for our first couple of days, then we went to the beach.

jamboree creek pool hammock

Jamboree Creek shares a bridge to a private beach with Elsewhere so rather than having to negotiate busy roads and other people (ugh) we could walk to the bridge, cross the creek and arrive at a beautiful, quiet stretch of beach all to ourselves.

The beautiful bridge to the private beach Boats

We headed to Ashvem on our first trip which was a bit of a culture shock – banging techno or terrible trance which gave me significant flashbacks to my clubbing youth and had to leave after a very mediocre lunch (I’m not going to give up eating opportunities).

On our next visit to the beach, we headed right up towards Mandrem and this was a much more pleasant experience – we’d been recommended traditional Goan food at a beach shack called End of the World and whilst it didn’t end up being the best food we ate, it was definitely the best we’d eaten at that stage. I’ll do a whole separate post on the food in Goa because the thing we discovered is that food in Goa can be very hit and miss but when it’s good, it’s fantastic.

Sunset at Mandrem

This bridge was my nemesis. In that I fell off it into waist height water. It didn't come after me and try to kill me.
This bridge was my nemesis. In that I fell off it into waist height water. It didn’t come after me and try to kill me.

This was only the second season for Jamboree Creek but Priyanka (the owner who is only 25) and Vishnu (the manager) were both so incredibly helpful and good that it felt much more established. Couple of tiny niggles. It’s a lovely little boutique experience so we would have liked to see a menu that reflected that. Whilst the food was absolutely fine at Jamboree Creek, it would have been nice to see a little more flexibility, variety and local dishes – Russian salads are quite boring after a while. Our room had a TV and a four poster bed. Both great, but realised that when you lie back in bed, unless you’re both in the top most right hand corner, you can’t see the screen! But that’s about it – if you’re not a nature lover, you are very close to it (in that we had a lizard in our sink and a frog in our toilet on separate occasions) so it may not be the place for you. I am truly terrible with nature and insects and this was all fine for me.

Tiny frog in toilet Sink lizard

If you’re looking for a place that’s a little off the beaten track, with great service, a lovely pool and proximity to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world (probably), then go here. I’d happily go back. Please, someone, send me back. Now. Please?

Us

Introducing Goa

Given the year of monstrosities that was 2014, we decided that we needed to start 2015 with a bang – and so we agreed to escape grey January in London and head to sunnier climes. Initially we were talking about taking a month off, heading on a tour of the southern hemisphere, ending with being hobbits in NZ, but then reality kicked in and responsibilities reared their ugly heads so we agreed upon a 15 night tour of Goa. I know, hardship, right?

I’ve been to India a few times before – when I was a kid, we did the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur tour, my cousin lived in Bangalore for a bit, we’ve family and friends in Chennai (Madras) and I had a fantastic girls holiday to Kerala in 2007 (despite the gigantic cockroach inside my mosquito net on the first night that made me want to run back home screaming). We wanted heat, we wanted a chill out and so, making like we’re crusty hippies in the early 90s, we packed our backpacks with our finest tie dye (read: matching suitcases filled with subtle shades of white and grey linens) and off we went.

So, Goa. According to many people, it’s well past it’s heyday of the 1960s and the 1990s put paid to any semblance of culture, with dirty beaches and angry locals and bad tourists. And whilst I’m sure parts of Goa are like that, I literally spent weeks before departure researching where to go, where to stay, what to do and, most importantly, where to eat so we loved every bleeding minute of it (even the bit when we had a row in our less than soundproof hut in our first location that ended with the wino sleeping on a hammock by the pool! Again, poor us, fights in hotels, hammocks by pools. Tough break.)

The one thing I didn’t do, was really think about were the stopovers in Mumbai (on the way there) and Delhi (on the way back). Bejesus, hanging out in an airport for 8 hours (Mumbai) and 11 hours (Delhi) can really make you lose your will to live. Particularly if every time you try and walk outside to get some fresh air, there’s a machine gun armed security guard checking your tickets and passport.On the way back home through Delhi airport, we had to go through 12 different security checks before we got on the plane, from the entry into departures to actual boarding. And queues. So. Many. Queues. And Indians have a very different queuing sensibility to Brits.

That’s all I’m going to say about that. Although it’s probably worth noting that I did put on my best 1950s teacher voice on many occasions to explain ‘THE QUEUE STARTS HERE YOU KNOW’. Which I’m sure was hugely appreciated.

We’d planned a two location tour, the first week between Ashvem and Mandrem on our own private beach (sort of) and then our second week was slightly further inland and south in Loutolim.

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Overall, we loved our Indian experience. If you’re going, ignore all the haterz (innit) and do your research. Decide what you want from your trip and you’re sure to find it. Our only ‘must-haves’ were not too expensive but with a pool, not in clubland and near good food and beaches. And we found it.

Goa is like the rest of India – it’s busy. The traffic is insane, people drive like lunatics but it’s rare to see a car with a dent, going with the flow seem to work. Obviously, there are cows everywhere, monkeys can be spotted in the trees, goats on roundabouts and water buffalo in the fields. Oh, and frogs in toilets and lizards in sinks. It’s all good.

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The people are as nice as you could find anywhere –helpful, friendly, not put off by the rude tourists who appear in the peak of the season.

The food can be a bit hit and miss – and is probably worth a blog post all of its own. Our main issues in the North were trying to find a good Goan curry, more difficult than you’d expect. No problems finding chicken nuggets and burgers though. Not that we tried any of those though.

There’s some beautiful architecture but you have to go a little further inland to find it.

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So overall, don’t write off Goa – it’s an easy entry into experiencing India and will leave you wanting to see much more of this beautiful country.

More to come… I’ll try not to be too boring.

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