Tag Archives: India

Do you remember….?

I wonder if you remember your first vacation? Or perhaps you were one of those poor kids dragged around Disney in a stroller not really understanding what the heck was going on. It always makes me chuckle how Disney is supposed to be the happiest place on earth – so why are all the kids crying?

I’m kidding. I have had some fun times at Disney and I do feel for little ones who have been out all day and desperately need a nap – but the rest of the family has to get the most value out of their day pass. They are not cheap!

So when you think back about your vacations (the good, the bad and the ugly) what memories stand out for you?

In Swaziland our vacations would often be a sailing vacation at a local lake. We would take the trailer and our sailing boat and go and have a weekend there – sometimes more. It seemed like no big deal to us then that we were sailing on a lake filled with crocodiles. It did help a lot when we capsized – we got that boat up damn quickly I can tell you!

So vacations can be good and they can be bad …. and then they can be just downright horrible. Like that little girl in the poem ….

There was a little girl
And she had a little curl
Right on the top of her head
And when she was good, she was very very good
and when she was bad, she was horrid

Now I have to really think – what was my worst vacation …. ever? Hmmm. Let’s just say I have had bad moments on vacation. On one of our trailer trips in South Africa we camped out at Cape Vidal.

Cape Vidal lies within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park World Heritage Site about 30 km north of the town of St Lucia. It is a three-hour drive from Durban. It is a real nature paradise with rich marine life and populations of elephant, rhino, buffalo, cocodile and hippo. The beach there is incredible. We used to take the 4 wheel drive and load up the picnic basket and drive along the beach to a remote spot where our small group would have lunch and swim. Completely deserted – absolute paradise.

So where’s the bad moment? Well the guys in our group decided that they were going to go crayfishing at night. Now the waves in this area wash up onto the rocks with tremendous force and these three guys, including my husband, headed out in the pitch black with baskets and long sticks. I could hear the waves crashing from our small caravan and I worried for hours before he returned home triumphant with tales of nearly being washed off the rocks – what the heck? There I was 6 months pregnant with two kids. Mind you – the crayfish were AMAZING. We had them cooked the next day over the fire. Yep…. I guess that holiday was pretty good.

I am lucky – I have visited so many amazing places around the world – each one becomes my favourite – Argentina, Japan, India, Egypt, Ireland, Morocco….

I can’t really find a holiday that I have hated. I just love to travel which is why at the moment I feel bad that I have had to cancel my travel arrangements along with everyone else. So my travel dreams are keeping me going. I can’t wait to get out there again and see new places and revisit some old favourites.

I have lots of memories to share and I am sure you do too. Take a look at my recent segment on Global TV with Jordan Witzel – we are sharing travel memories.


If you have a travel memory you would like to share on Global News send it to me at info@southtravel.ca. I would love to hear your best (or funniest) travel memories and see your photos.

In the meantime – stay safe!

All aboard the Choo Choo train

Train travel is so special – sometimes.  I can hear people groaning – the ones who travel the C Train every day downtown.  Well I am not really talking about that kind of train travel. I am talking about this kind of train travel.

The Jacobite  rail-rovos_1384939i

Now that’s what you call a train.

There is something very romantic about the clackety clack of the wheels and the sway of the train while the countryside goes rushing past.  It’s civilised.  Not like flying.  Hurtling through the air in a pressured metal tube squashed up against complete strangers who hog the armrest.  We all know that is not fun – it is a means to an end.

Train travel however is different.  It is mostly about enjoying the journey and seeing the scenery – except if you are on one of those super high speed trains.  I must confess it makes me rather nervous to think about it.  I have done the Eurostar under the English Channel – 300 km per hour!  A lot of this is under the sea of course going through a tunnel.  The countryside does flash by rather quickly but it is still an elegant way to travel.  Takes you from the heart of London to the heart of Paris in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Plus you get a proper seat and if you upgrade – enjoy a lovely lunch with wine.  Yes – that is the way to travel.

You might think that is fast – but it is not the fastest in the world.  Far from it!  The fastest train in the world is the Shanghai Maglev Train from Shanghai airport to a metro station on the outskirts of the city.  It takes just 7 minutes to do 30 kms and travels at a scary speed of 431 km per hour.

Now most of the train trips I have done in Europe have been fairly short – maybe a couple of hours.  Just enough time to enjoy a glass of wine and a snack.  However I do remember very long train journeys when I was a child in England.  My father was in the Royal Navy and so we had to travel around a lot – often from one end of England to the top of Scotland.  Those were long long journeys and when our train tickets arrived at the house in the envelope marked OHMS (On Her Majesty’s Service) they were not first class.  😦  And so we learned how to take our own lunch on the trains and how to sleep on uncomfortable seats.

However if you do decide to sleep on a train you can do it without breaking the bank.  It’s like being a kid again – you get a bunk bed!


Now – imagine – you can have that age old fight.  Which is better – top or bottom?  And why?

But if you are a serious train buff then there are some incredible journeys you can do by train.

Loch Fyne

Beautiful Scotland with some fabulous stops to Oban and Bute … castles and mountains.  This is definitely on my bucket list – beautiful countryside – a mix of ship and coach and then this incredible train


Or what about this – Switzerland – where the trains always run on time.

jungfrau express

I am not kidding.  I was in Switzerland and had a rather tight connection between two trains – about 7 minutes.  I found the Station Master and asked him what would happen if my train was late.  He looked at me as if I was a blithering idiot.  “Trains are not late in Switzerland” he said sternly.


And if you want something really different – how about a train journey in India – this is definitely my most favourite and having visited India once by coach tour it is top of my list.

India Palace on Wheels

And no – you won’t have to sit on the roof or hang off the side of the train (although I guess you could if you wanted to). Instead you will ride the rails in the lap of luxury on this beautiful heritage train.

palace on wheels bedroom

Palace on wheels lounge

Wow … I could totally do that.






Where did you get that accent?

Accents are really funny things.  Even a small country like England will have very different accents depending on whether you come from the South, close to London or up in the Midlands.

Canada is the same – especially with the Maritimes.  When I first came to Canada I kept asking people if they came from Ireland.  They were puzzled and replied “No – I come from Newfoundland.”  Well – they sounded very Irish to me!
newfie joke

Sometimes however accents can really surprise you.  I was strolling around the market in Jodhpur, India a couple of years ago.  Narrow lanes filled with people, noises, smells, shouting and yet somehow a harmony throughout the whole thing.

Jodphur market 2

Naturally being a group of North American tourists we were prime targets for wily salespeople and after a week or so in India we were all becoming a bit immune to this.  But then I was approached by a young girl with literally hundreds of bead necklaces offering a handful of these for a few rupees – next to nothing in our money.   She had such a sweet smile and although the other ladies in our group waved her away with a smile I weakened and looked at her beads.  They were rather pretty.  A lot like many of the African beads that would be sold in the markets of Swaziland where I had made my home before coming to Canada.  So therefore they were not a novelty to me. But she was persistent and kept smiling.

Then she starting speaking and I stopped in my tracks.  My goodness me – was that a tinge of Yorkshire accent that I was detecting?  Or could it be Manchester?  How very strange!

“Where are you from?” I asked – which was a bit of a stupid question seeing as she was selling beads in a market in Jodhpur dressed in a kurti.  Really Lesley – sometimes I wonder.

But she gave me a dimpled smile and said (with that characteristic Indian head bobble) “I come from right here in Jodhpur, Ma’am”.

But I wasn’t satisfied and wanted to dig further.  I asked her if she had ever been to England – no she hadn’t.  Perhaps she had an English teacher at school.  She had never been to school (broke my heart).  Eventually I asked her who had taught her to speak English as I thought this would give me a clue.

“Why, Ma’am,” she answered laughing “I learnt as a small child from speaking to the tourists”.  Well I never.  Bright as a button and never a day’s schooling.  What a shame.

I happily handed over a bunch of rupees and in return received 10 bead necklaces and then 2 extra because I was “so kind”.  I still wear them today and often think of this merry little girl and hope she is able to make a future for herself.  She deserves it.
jodphur bead girl

Tipping me over the edge

Tipping – how much is too much and how much is too little.  Is a tip expected?  In countries like Australia and New Zealand hardly anyone tips – it is just not expected.  Same thing in the Cook Islands.  So what’s a poor traveller to do and how much should you tip if at all?

According to the website http://www.thisismoney.co.uk a survey of British travellers showed that 70% of them didn’t research tipping customs for the destinations they were visiting.  This leads to over-tipping – which I guess is not a bad thing from the recipient’s point of view.  My philosophy has always been rather over-tip than under-tip.

The whole tipping thing though does sometimes get out of hand and a good example of this is the cruise line industry.

“There are exceptions, but most mainstream cruise lines pay the men and women who serve their passengers a low base wage (by Western standards). As such, on nearly all big-ship lines, crew members are dependent upon the generosity of travellers for a good portion of their income.” (except from Cruise Critic website).

Now that’s a shame.  But it is also frustrating for guests on these cruises.  For a whole week you have your waiter and bus boy all over you – BFF’s – and then on the last farewell dinner you give them The Envelope!  Next morning at breakfast it’s every man for himself as waiters are getting ready for the next wave of cruisers.  And I understand why they act like that – it is survival.

That’s why it is always surprising and charming when you try to tip someone and they refuse to take it saying that it is their pleasure to assist.  True story – happened to me on a Uniworld River Cruise.  Now they did tell us beforehand that tips are included but this girl had gone out of the way and I just wanted to show my appreciation.  As a traveller there is something really good about being on a trip where you are not taking advantage of other people and that everyone receives a living wage.

I have to admit -I am not very good at this whole tipping thing – probably because my dear husband takes care of all that side of things but I can be a bit of a dope sometimes.  In India last year we were at a fabric warehouse and had watched a demonstration of weaving just in the courtyard.  As everyone was choosing fabrics and shirts I needed the ladies and as this was a pretty smart facility I figured I should take advantage – after all in India you never know!  As I passed through the courtyard the weaving man was still there sitting in front of the loom.

So with a waggle of his head in true Indian fashion he signals me to come over and sit next to me.  Oh that’s sweet I think.  He starts showing me how to weave the wool and I did a couple of lines (or whatever you would call them).  I gave him and nice smile and said thank you and then of course he signalled that you wanted some money.  At the same time he put his finger to his lips to indicate that it would be a secret because clearly he wasn’t allowed to do that.  So of course I gave him some money – I was so embarrassed at being caught in this old trick that I didn’t even check how much.  So much for me – the seasoned traveller!  On the plus side however I hope it made his day and he could go home that night to his modest little hut and show his wife – “Hey look what I got from this stupid English lady today!” and his wife will clap her hands and jump up and down and tell him what a smart and clever husband she has.  Wish I could have been a fly on the wall!


Sometimes it’s hard to share

I am sure everyone who has travelled has encountered this situation.  You are out touring, maybe in a third world place, and you are met with big eyes and outstretched hands – usually a child’s.  It’s hard to say no to this but you should.

When I travelled to Vietnam and Cambodia our guide was extremely strict about not giving money or even candy to the kids who surrounded us at every stop.  She got very cross with one of our group who handed out one dollar bills and she said that this encouraged children to stay away from school and instead turn to begging on the streets.  Even worse than that was the fact that mothers with too little money and too many children might turn out the prettiest or the cutest onto the streets to beg.  It is one of the saddest parts of being a traveller.  You still have to smile at the ingenuity of these kids.  Stepping off a small boat somewhere in the Mekong Delta we were greeted by a small crowd of kids from one of the remote villages.

“Hello – how are you?  Hello Canada?  Very nice country!”

I found similar situations in India and there too our guide in Mumbai spoke sternly to the young women and children hanging around the tour buses.  As a busy guide in this huge city she knew many of them by sight.  I was surprised when she told me that not all of these people were homeless and that begging can be a profitable “job”.  She also was very upset at the practice of tourists bringing big bags of candies and handing these out left right and centre.  I could understand this concern.  Suddenly a kindly tourist is surrounded by a horde of excited children.  Eventually the candy runs out and yes – there are going to be some disappointed kids there – usually the smallest and the youngest.

So what to do if you want to share the wealth.

The first thing is to check the tour company you are booking with.  Many of them have initiatives where a donation for every booking goes to a registered charity in your country of destination.  For example when I did my tour with Insight Vacations to India there is an automatic donation of $5 per  passenger included in your total trip paid to the Indian Children’s Charity.  Now $5 may not sound like much but let me tell you – it buys a lot in India.  We could not believe that a short cab ride we took in Mumbai cost the equivalent of a dollar.

Secondly check that your tour company uses as many local guides as possible.  I read somewhere about a tour company that boasts about having North American guides so as to identify more easily with the guests.  What?  Why would you want a North American guide on your tour to India for example?   We learned so much from our lovely guide in Mumbai.  If you really want to experience a country let its own people show you around.  G.Adventures is another company that does this very well and also supports many local endeavours to support small business in the countries in which they operate.

Finally check the charities supporting the country you are visiting and make a donation there, find out if there is a school visit planned so that you can take books and pencils but find out first what they need most and lastly tip generously.  It doesn’t add up to much in Canadian dollars but in Rupees, or Vietnamese Dong or Cambodian Riel or Thai Bhat….

Well …. you do the math!


My personal Passage To India

imageAs I sit here on the last Day of my Insight Vacations tour in the lobby of the beautiful Taj Palace Lake hotel I just cannot quite believe what I have seen and experienced over the last ten days or so.  I had read lots about the culture shock, the traffic, the poverty…..and yes it was all there present and correct.  I had prepared myself for India with antibiotics, Imodium, Hand sanitizer, Disinfectant wipes…You name it I had it.  Now I consider myself to be a fairly experienced traveller and I have been to some exotic places in the world but the more I read about India the more I prepared myself for horrible toilets and piles of garbage everywhere.  What I was not prepared for were the people.  Indians are great tourists in their own country and as North Americans we were definitely in the minority at many of the forts, palaces and temples.  We were greeted with smiles and nods….almost a feeling of “we love our country and we are glad you love it too.  Welcome.”image

There are so many good reasons to visit India.  The culture and the history is fascinating.  Let’s not forget about the food.  Oh my goodness the food is incredible.  Under the guidance of our Insight Vacations tour leader Viren we were able to enjoy street food at several places we visited.  As a first timer to India I don’t think I would have ventured to do this on my own.

And what adventures with the traffic.  We were to,d by our guide that to navigate the city streets in India you need three things….a good horn good brakes and good luck.  Fortunately the traffic moves very slowly in the cities with tons of motorbikes carrying whole families.  I even saw one teenage girl on the back of a scooter driven by her mother with her younger sister wedged in between and she was doing her homework!  Then I remembered how many times I used to do my homework on the bus to school in England.  Maybe that was why I failed geometryimage And the shopping…..the shopping.  Irresistible.  Bartering is essential…something which I p ersonally hate to do.  My one short lived success Was the purchase of a highly decorated woven bag.  He asked for 1800 rupees ….I countered with an offer for 500.  He asked for 750 and I held firm.  Yay…I got my bag for 500 only to be offered two for 500 from another vendor.  Ah well…everyone has to make a buck.

next stop Mumbai……stay tuned

What to take – what to leave

Don’t you hate packing for a trip.  That is my worst!  I can spend hours, days and weeks researching what to see and the best way to get there.  After all I do that so often for clients that it is second nature to me now when I plan my own trip.  So all the tickets are here – check.  Hotel vouchers – check.  Travel insurance – you bethcha.  Now I have to pack.   Nooooo.  Hate it.  What to take and what to leave.

Ok – so let’s be rational about this.  Just start off by laying everything out on the bed that you think you might need and then you can go through a process of elimination – right?  Easy?


So let’s consider the destination.  Now my next big trip is to India so that will present some packing problems.   I start in Delhi and I am told that I should pack light comfortable clothing that is modest, covering arms and legs.   I wish I could say I would look as cool as Judy Dench

But somehow I don’t think that is going to happen.  I also don’t think I will get there and have a sari made.  That somehow jars.  Makes me think about my days in Swaziland when Peace Corps volunteers would arrive and get so carried away with the local culture that they would dress up in Swazi tribal wear which looks good on a Swazi but not really so much on someone from Ohio or wherever.
No seriously.

The big problem is the “What if’s”.  What if we end up going to a really lovely restaurant – shouldn’t I take some heels.  What if it is really cold when we go to the tiger reserve – should I take my down jacket.  What if it’s too hot.  What if it’s too cold.  I am driving myself crazy here.    So I thought I would do some research online as to the best packing practices.  BIG MISTAKE.  Oh my god.  People actually take photos of their luggage contents in case they lose something.   Believe it or not I found an essential packing list and this was one of the items together with a million other things.  By the time I get all of this in my bag I will be charged for overweight luggage.

I can do this however – I did a 2 week trip through Ireland once just with my carry-on bag.  It was really easy – I took black lulu-lemon with a couple of tshirts and basically wore the same stuff every day and when I got home I burnt everything in a sacrificial fire.  (Just kidding).