Sunday, 13 November 2016

Memories of Panjim

We flew out to Goa over the Diwali-Bhai Duj break. But unlike my previous holidays to the state, instead of enjoying the sun and sand, we decided to explore the historical part of the lovely Latin quarters in the heart of Panjim.

We stayed at the hundred and fifty year old Panjim Inn. Also part of the same property is the Panjim Poussada and Panjim Peoples. Panjim Inn is a beautiful heritage hotel located in the Fontainhas neighborhood. We booked through tripzuki and got a room in the new wing of the hotel. When I first entered I was a tad bit disappointed with the size of the room. But then I overcame that soon enough and began to admire the two large four poster beds that take up most of the space. Of course, given how sturdy these beds are it is unlikely it is part of the antique furniture that this hotel is otherwise famous for. The beautiful wardrobe with the floral inlay and antique style dresser in the corner adds to the quaint feeling of having stepped into a different era. But it is the red and grey mosaic floor and the Portuguese style windows that really take the cake. Our little first floor balcony overlooked the narrow road where traffic is rather heavy. But we weren't bothered by the noise since we were outdoors most of the time. Right across the road flows the Rua de Querem - a once lovely canal, that now unfortunately carries a lot of the locality's rubbish.

Across the hotel is the Gitanjali Art gallery where Maria (an artist herself and, incidentally also a part of the family that owns the Panjim Inn) curates art exhibitions. She was nice enough to introduce us to works by a few interesting artists. She has also beautifully arranged the Panjim Pousada courtyard - with its red floor, tulsi plant in the centre, the four headed Ganesh and exquisite paintings all around such that it exudes a sense of calm and exquisite elegance. The Pousada, also across the Panjim Inn was originally owned by a family of oil pressers (Ghanekars). The Hindu elements of the architecture of this building complement the portuguese style of the Panjim Inn.

The Panjim Inn has a small restaurant called the Verandah. This is a quiet open air restuarant located in the old wing of the hotel. While the Goan section of the menu is rather limited, the staff was nice enough to whip up a few traditional dishes on request - a cafreal and xacuti - dishes too Goan for them to not be able to accede!

Other than the Verandah, we ate at the Desbue - a beautiful restaurant serving continental fare right next to the Panjim Inn. The food is excellent (although they don't seem to have a liquor license) and very reasonably priced. Another day we visited the Saraya Ecostay where we met up with a few friends for lunch. True to its name, the food here is vegetarian, organic and extremely wholesome and the fare comprises of soups, salads and pizzas. But the best food we ate was at the legendary Mum's Kitchen, next to the Miriam beach that serves authentic Goan cuisine - a little pricey by Panjim standards, but worth every penny

Fontainhas and the adjoining Sao Tome neighborhoods are now heritage sites - which means that the locals were forced to stop demolishing the lovely old buildings and erecting ugly apartment complexes - the bane of modern India (which has ruined another adjoining and primarily Hindu area - the Mala neighborhood). One day AB and I explored the locality on our own and marvelled at the beautiful houses, the Immaculate Conception Church, the Maruti temple and the beautiful fort of Adil Shah and the winding lanes of the Latin quarters.

On the second day we took a heritage walk through this area with Ana (part of a group called 'Make It Happen'). Ana happens to have been a teacher for close to four decades and with the enthusiasm of a school teacher helping students explore and discover, took us around this locality. What makes her tour  special is her personal connection with the place. Turns out, her husband's family lives in Fontainhas and after marriage she also lived there for several years. As a result, as she took us around the neighbourhood, several people  paused to say hello or exchange pleasantries with her.  Ana could also tell us about most of the families that occupied the homes that AB and I had been admiring the previous day.

Only in Goa have I seen such vibrant colours on houses that shout joie de vivre. Ana also pointed out the windows of the old homes that still had mother of pearl shutters. One can only imagine the beautiful sunlight that would filter into cool dark rooms through these lovely shells in a bygone era.

The tour ended with us stopping at the residence of Chico, a troubadour and an old friend of Ana's who showed us his antique furniture and curios and then sang a few Konkanese and Portuguese songs for us.

The thing about Goans is that singing and dancing comes naturally to them - go to any restaurant that has a live band that the locals frequent to understand what I mean. So AB and I decided to take all four left feet between us to the Sylvia and Jason Dance Academy for a few lessons in ballroom dancing. Sylvia is a wonderful teacher who patiently took us through the basics of cha cha cha, fox trot and waltz.

And finally to complete the Goan experience, we hired a scooty for our stay there. A very pregnant me clung on to a nervous AB on the first day as we wound our way around Panjim. But by the next day we were naturals - I navigated and AB confidently weaved us in and out of traffic as we went to and fro our dance classes and to meet friends.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Let's catch up and let me tell you about Cornwall ;)

Each time I open the page to blog it is with a much has happened between now and the last time I blogged. There is no real excuse other than procrastination. Well most of the time. Yet now, I am well and truly busy. Each minute of my day is accounted for. I never knew I was capable of this level of efficiency.

To summarize - after I came back from UK I was busy applying for jobs, preparing for interviews (oh so many rounds of them) and well...just chewing my nails between the interviews. Net the end of a gruelling 3 weeks I landed a job. And less than a month after my return from UK I joined my new job at a law firm. Ahhhh...the perks of being in a big firm. In the new firm I have to heat my own lunch, get my own coffee and fill my bottle at the water cooler on my own. But on the other hand there is a valet who parks my car and brings it around for me in the evening, an in-house salon and clinic, a paid service to run errands etc. Yet, I missed the friendly cosy atmosphere of my previous firm. Here my team has a lot of work, people come early, work non-stop for hours with a ten minute break to grab lunch and then on till about 9 PM. I am easing into this schedule - and I have impressed myself with the quantity of work I get done each day. I can actually put in more than 8 hours of billable work each day (while in my old job I stayed in office for about 12 hours - I could only put in about 5 hours of billable work!!)


Before all that becomes a distant memory I need to record my trip to Cornwall. I did not go to visit the beaches - though they are lovely. I had imagined that part of the world through my childhood as I browsed through dusty books in the club library, as I day dreamed about the blue-green of the sea and loneliness of the meadows.

I booked a bus ride from London to the quiet sea town of Penzance. I was quite taken aback when at 6 PM, in broad daylight, there was not a soul in sight in town. Apart from the local Co-operative all shops were closed. I had been told google maps was not entirely accurate in this part of the country. So I relied on a print out of the route to the YHA that I had the foresight to carry with me-since now I found that there was not a soul in sight. The YHA was on the other end of town and the road took me through deserted neighborhoods and across a motorway and through a glade.

Making my way through town 

Quite an eerie road for a first time traveller
After checking in, I decided to take a walk about town. There really was not much to see. And well I felt lonely. Solo travel is hot. But not in a place like this with nothing to do. After wandering around town I headed back to the YHA where I chilled in the lovely lounge. There were quite a few people sitting there watching the match. No one so much as glanced at each other or exchanged a smile. All quite putting off I thought. I helped myself to one of the books kept on the shelves and flipped through it till I fell sleepy enough to crash.
The next day was better. At breakfast I shared a table with these two gentlemen who had been travelling around Cornwall for the previous 12 days. They happily gave me their maps and told me places to visit. I then packed my backpack and headed to the town centre to take a bus to Land’s End. I walked to the bus stop where a bus came by every hour. That’s when this cute boy approached me and requested if I would hold a poster with him for a video he was making to propose to his girlfriend in China. I happily acquiesced and we got a lady who was also standing at the stop to take a picture. 

I wonder how his proposal came along ;)

The three of us got talking and turned out we all were tourists who had stayed the night before in different hostels in Penzance. The girl – Jay – and the boy Quinping Deng were headed to Porthcurno. Jay and I chatted about her blog and her travels. Deng told me that he intended to walk from Porthcurno to Land’s End. I decided to join him – since it sounded so much more adventurous that simply taking a bus. But first to Porthcurno…the local open top bus was a delight. It took us through the green lush green country on that sunny morning. 

The bus ride from Penzance

Jay, Deng and I walked toward Minack theatre all the time exclaiming about the beautiful environs. Porthcurnno was absolutely beautiful – with its clear green waters and blooming flowers. 

Jay in the corner - too bad I do not have a better picture of the two of us - although  I distinctly recall posing for several!!

Note the shadows on the sea bed

Walking toward Minack Theatre

The beach at Porthcurno

Porthcurno was absolutely lovely – with its clear green waters and blooming flowers. I decided to skip Minack Theatre and instead Deng and I headed out on the walking trail to Land’s End. It was a sunny day and soon became fairly hot. Our phones did not have any signal. My backpack was rather heavy and soon I realised I was rather overdressed for the day. But for an impromptu walking trek of almost 3 hours, I managed fine. And the sights and sounds were exquisite. The green of the cliffs and the blue of the waters beneath were bright in the May sun. The trail was lonely and the grandeur of the beauty around me made my heart full. There were secluded beaches for the more adventurous tourists to enjoy. And I kicked myself for not having carried swimwear. Of course Deng asked almost everyone we met to pose with him for his video and I dutifully clicked his photos. We chatted about this and that – exchanged pleasantries with other travellers and drank in the sights around us hungrily. It was one of the most perfect days of my life.

Yup - quite over-dressed

The trail along the cliffs

I am glad I decided to walk to Land’s End because once I reached there I saw there was not much to see – just a commercial monstrosity in the midst of all the beauty. I had a train to catch from Penzance to St. Austell that evening. I dutifully reached the Land’s End bus stop to take the bus back to Penzance. As luck would have it, I narrowly missed the 3 PM bus and the 4 PM bus broke down. By the time I headed out of Land’s End it was almost 4:45 PM. And the next train to St. Austell was now at 7 PM. 

The train ride to St. Austell took about 30 minutes. By now I was used to the loneliness of Cornish towns. I called the landlady at the bed and breakfast I would stay for the night for directions and made my way to the establishment. I had this beautiful room - all pink and white which offered a view of the sea in the horizon.

So pink and white and pretty!

I had been enthralled by Rebecca as a teenager. I had my heart set on visiting some of the sights and sounds that had served as a muse for Daphne Du Maurier. St. Austell was my base for this. I started out early next morning into the picturesque town of Fowey. None of the houses where Du Maurier lived are open to public. So after gazing for a while at the last home that she resided in, and where now her son lives, from across the river I decided I needed more. 

Ferryside House

I had not travelled this far to just gaze at that house. I had been told Menabilly Estate, which is Manderly in the book is not open to the public. I nevertheless, decided to take a walk as far as possible around the estate. Another hot summer day, this time a walk on a narrow road leading out of Fowey towards Par, which really was not meant for amblers like me. I politely turned down offers for a ride - partly because I was not quite sure where exactly I was headed. I let google maps guide me towards Menabilly. The countryside around me was lush green and the sky a bright blue. As I approached Menabilly I realised that there was not much I could see of the estate. I propped myself on the side of the road and simply gazed out at the sea across the green fields that I presume was the view that Du Marier had as she wrote. I can only imagine what Manderly is. But the surroundings were beautiful in their abundance and colour.

A lovely summer day in the countryside

It was almost noon by now and I decided to head back to Fowey. I was hungry and wanted some good food before taking the bus back to St. Austell. While the walk from Fowey to Mennabilly had been pleasant enough, by now it was really hot. Plus, as I mentioned, that road is not really meant for walking. I decided to wait for the bus. Except, after 20 minutes there was no sign of any bus. That’s when I spotted this ruddy old man crossing me in a car who gestured to ask if I needed a lift. For once, I decided, what the heck, and nodded yes. He slowed down and I hopped in. This man looked like he was in his 50s. He was sweating and quite red from the heat. We amiably chatted on. Turns out he used to deliver the newspaper to Du Maurier’s home as a boy. He lived in London for 20 years and had now returned to live a quiet retired life in Fowey. Ten minutes later we approached Fowey and I realised that he had taken a turn opposite to what the bus had in the morning. That’s when I began to panic. I do not think I have ever felt this scared in my life. A sick feeling developed at the pit of my stomach and I began to hurt between my legs. I noticed that the route we had taken was a lonely road with old houses set back from the road on either side. Suddenly the bright sunny day looked gloomy and eerie as the trees closed in above the road. In the next two minutes I had gloomy thoughts of my remains being found years later after the missing persons file had been closed on me dumped in the backyard of one of the houses we were crossing. I felt sorry for AB and my family. All the time I focused on keeping up my pratter with my ride, wondering when exactly I could make a break for it.

Ohhhh….the relief when the car stopped at the harbour. Like he had promised, the gentleman really did take me to Fowey and to a part of town from where the ferry to St. Austell leaves hourly. I felt guilty for having attributed my unkind motives on him. But most of all – I felt relief. I waves. I breathed in deeply and continued to a hearty lunch.

The view from the Fowey bus stand
After the adventures of the morning, I roamed around Fowey, enjoyed a boat ride on the river and then took the bus back to St. Austell. I met up with an old friend in St. Austell that evening and we browsed through the streets of the town that took all of 5 minutes!