Hvar, Croatian Island Cruising with Katarina Lines.

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Meet our crew of Markan MV. They looked after us over the few days we were sailing around some of the most beautiful islands in the Adriatic. The wonderful thing about small ship cruising is that we had the opportunity to acquaint ourselves with the people who matter the most whilst onboard – the crew. For safety, service and of course divine food and beverages. Beware! They know how to party as well…


First stop from Split with Katarina Line’s Markan MV is the sun-drenched island of Hvar, Croatia. It’s the longest island in the Adriatic and one of the sunniest which makes it a favourite for locals and international travellers throughout the year.

Whether you’ve been to Hvar once, twice or several times, it has a plausible view one cannot become tired of, especially if you intend staying on to enjoy the relaxed atmosphere rather than a day trip over from the mainland.

Local guides are instrumental in delivering first-hand knowledge of their beloved island. A tour around allows us an insight into the day-to-day livelihood of past and present inhabitants, as well as some historical sights and activities for all ages.

And yes, there’s lots to see and do here and we have our running shoes on to either take in as much of the island in the allowable time frame, or simply enjoy a cuppa and admire what the cafe set come here for – a sedentary break from the ho-hum daily grind.

A quickie prayer? Many diverse cultural groups visit the local religious establishments in Hvar for some reflective time out, which is not only for the die hards, but tourists arrive in droves to marvel the many historical edifices which are dotted around the island.

The most impressive building in Hvar is definitely the Cathedral of St. Stephen (in the distance), standing on the eastern side of the town square, at the far end of the Pjaca, where two parts of the town meet.  Here at the plaza where visitors and locals congregate for their daily intake of a coffee extraction or cuisine with an abundance of fish-inspired dishes, freshly caught on the day for consumption by the ever-hungry visitors.


Hvar is best known for being a party island and don’t be a dummy when it comes to being a fashionista in Hvar. Make sure you are comfortable and wear garments geared up for sun-soaked activities along with a good sun screen. Australians know what it’s like to be burnt to a crisp after being out in the sun – even for a very short time, so slip, slop, slap as we say, with a zinc-like safe guard and drink lots of water, not just grog when out having a fun time.


See that fantastic castle on the hill? A trek up there will satisfy your kilojoule/calorie intake for the day.

It’s actually the Spanish Fortress, or its local name Španjola and was built in the early 16th century. It holds a rich historical collection and is built on a 2,000-year-old remains of an Illyrian fortress. Still, the most memorable part of the walk around its walls is the view expanding over the city of Hvar and Pakleni islands.


The hill overlooking the town of Hvar is a magnificent viewpoint. From this point, you can look down on the town itself, watch the comings and goings in the harbour and pretend it’s your dosage of meditation for the day.

Photo courtesy of Erik Drien, Norway.


Start walking and take your time as it’s a long hike up past the beautiful park and further on up the hill.

Oh Erik, you’re coming back? Have a rest mate – water, coffee or a beer? Oh ok, beer of course! You’re Norwegian right?

Photo courtesy of Erik Drien, Norway.


And when you do catch your breath, have a seat and relax in the quaint surrounds of Hvar, you won’t be disappointed with the local hospitality either. Plants are always friendly too.


Every budding sleuth, crime novelist, detective and TV police drama writer – pay homage.

Ivan Vučetić, born July 20, 1858, is one of the lesser-known native sons of a country that produced the likes of Nikola Tesla. Yet he is the father of modern dactyloscopy — the analysis and classification of fingerprints. Vučetić’s legacy is honored in Croatia primarily with a bust in Hvar’s eponymous city, his birthplace.

So off we go onto the next stop which will be Korcula Island. Think a nana nap is in order.

Love surprises and fresh fish arrived in a parcel which looked very much like a dumpling. But, this delicious and tasty portion of melt-in-your-mouth marvel is to be savoured and washed down with an excellent Croatian wine.

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Cruising the Croatia Coast from Split. Part One

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When you fly into Split in Croatia and you see the coastline from above, you instantly know the bucket-list cruise you’ve been wanting to do is about to become a reality. Resnik Airport being the international airport serves the city of Split 19 km away on the west side of Kaštela Bay.

Travelling by bus from the airport to the city centre costs about 40 Kunas (approximately A$8.50 one way per adult). It’s easy enough as the buses wait outside to the left after exiting the airport doors. Taxis are about 250 Kuna and private transfers are also available for about 35-45 Euro. Ensure you ask for the right bus in the direction you’re wanting to travel. The airport bus, (if that’s your choice) will take you directly to the main bus station in Split – which is next to the train station and right there at the port. Perfect if the first thing you intend to do is catch a ferry or bus to somewhere else.

It’s a small facility and the growing number of visitors each year has the authorities on notice to consider establishing a larger and more modern airport.

Now, meet my small luxury ship – MV Markan of which I’m going to share my trip over the next couple blog posts of this unforgettable voyage from Split to Dubrovnik – via some of the most scenic areas along the Dalmatian coastline. MV Markan was built in 2018 and is so shiny and new!

Various categories of small vessels including the MV Markan are bookable with Katarina Lines which happen to be the most well-known operator in Croatia. They can also organise land tours to coincide with the cruise options available.

Looking quite swish and comfy with a small number of cabins making the journey so much more intimate with other guests – knowing them much better than say an ocean liner. MV Marken has a maximum of 19 guests onboard whereby the service on offer is second to none.

MV Markan’s maiden voyage was in 2018. Some features include:
48.5 m length
8.8 m width
Sun deck 250 m2
7 to 9 crew members
19 guest cabins
9 VIP cabins with
Private balconies
2 double/twin
8 double/twin

Wifi being available throughout the ship makes it easy to connect with others, allowing them to be envious of your every port call along the way. Depending on the areas once out to sea, it may be a little touch and go on occasion. But that’s fine with me when you are wanting to disconnect for a while and simply enjoy the facilities, food and not to mention the views!

But, before we all head off for a marvellous expedition, it’s time to explore some more of Split with a city tour and a local guide – it’s always a must-do activity. Learning and understanding the history and architecture of this picturesque small city will have you surprised with just how much history is attached to its resume.

The promenade of Split is the main focal point when it comes to visitors wanting a sea view and seeking culinary delights to enhance that experience.

This view from the main thoroughfare and foreshore, the  main facade of the Palace’s intended use as the retirement residence of Diocletian, was built at the turn of the fourth century AD. Today it forms about half the old town and there’s numerous small boutique shops offering all kinds of goodies.

Anyway, you don’t always have to sit with hundreds of other tourists along the seaside, you can sometimes find a quaint family-owned business such as Kuharica (with their own Cook Book) who make traditional cuisine such as seafood and gnocchi. Here’s Lucy (Manager) and I inside the walls of the ‘palace’ and away from the hustle and bustle of the main-stream areas.

So many of the younger people particularly now in hospitality and tourism in Croatia speak superb fluent English … and  I’m truly grateful to them for their efforts. Lovely experiences such as being able to have a coffee here and a lively chat with Lucy divulging to me, what makes Split tick along as a destination.

Among the European cathedrals this one in Split finds its seat in the oldest building – the Mausoleum of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Inside the cathedral, at the end of the second millennium, the history reconciles ancient pagan Christian Medieval and modern heritage. Mausoleum of the Emperor – persecutor of Christians becomes a cathedral in the 7th century where altars with relics of St Domnius and St Anastasius, martyrs were executed in the nearby Solin take an honorary place.

The Cathedral today is primarily a place of liturgy, with a millennium long continuity, best reflected in the Sunday mass and the renewed splendor of the procession on the St Domnius’s day – the day of Split’s patron saint.
Source: Split Tourism Board.

Anyway, there’s another ‘religion’ happening in Croatia. Game of Thrones has just opened its new store in Split for all those cult followers to make haste and grab some souvenirs.

Dubrovnik was the main filming location in Croatia for the King’s Landing, a fictional city in Game of Thrones, the famous television series based on the series of fantasy novels “A Song of Ice and Fire” and distributed by HBO.

At one of the entrances to the Palace, don’t miss testing your luck of making your wishes come true by touching the big toe of the grandiose statue of the Gregory of Nin, the work of the great Croatian sculptor Ivan Meštrović.

The big toe of this towering monument to the Croatian national hero has been worn down from years of superstitious rubbing I’m told. Umm I assumed it was good luck.

Anyway, I’m just hanging around in the warmth of the beaut sunlight on the far side of the promenade waiting for our departure on MV Markan later on. I didn’t have anyone rubbing my toes for luck!

Next blog post, cruising from Split to Hvar, part two.

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Ladakh, North India

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Flying into Leh the Capital of Ladakh in the northern region of India is so spectacular and breath taking with terrific aerial views of the mountainous landscape. One of the main reasons to fly is that many of the roads are closed in the winter, also saving you a couple of days driving, therefore more time to enjoy in the surrounds of Ladakh.

There’s a plethora of airlines in India which fly to Leh from Delhi and it’s approximately 90 minutes flying time. When the weather is not ideal, you can expect delays and disruptions, ensure you go prepared and check your onward schedules/connections as they may be affected.

Ideally, include a side trip with the same carrier as your international ticket – this usually includes the same luggage allowance as a through fare and any delays should be re-accommodated by the ticketing airline.

Coming from Sydney, Air India with a stopover/transit in Delhi was ideal as this airline has the accessibility to fly into India’s International Terminals, even when travelling domestically within India – making a transfer onto other destinations seamless with a generous weight limit in economy class.

On the up side, driving allows you to acclimatise more easily to the higher altitudes of which you will encounter along the way.

After an early breakfast, we headed towards the Nubra Valley. The 140 kilometre trip takes  approximately 4 to 5 hours in a small tourist bus. Via Khardungla (18,380 feet), it’s best known as the Highest Motorable road in the World – perhaps not for the faint-hearted tourist, but it’s an experience you won’t regret… or forget.

This is the way to one of the most exciting and adventurous  destinations to visit in India.

We traversed the winding passage ways and it was comforting to come across an Oxygen Cafe-cum-Medical Centre which was opened by the Ladakh Rescue Centre in recent times.  It’s definitely a recommended stop en-route to recharge your batteries, toilet and cafe break. A great opportunity where you can exchange stories with other excited travellers.

The Nubra Valley which is not too far by distance from the Rescue Centre, is still some time away before our arrival there considering it’s an unsealed roadway. It’s obvious the roads are somewhat ‘one way’ in most parts and difficult to negotiate when passing oncoming vehicles – or worse – taking over!

No explanation needed … thanks Giovanni for keeping us on top of things!

Introducing you to the Nubra Valley.  A jaw-dropping spectacle of geographical magnificence.

Nubra is a tri-armed valley located to the north east of Ladakh Valley and Diskit is the capital which is about 150 kilometres north from Leh town. It’s a high-altitude cold desert with rare precipitation and scant vegetation. Needless to say, it’s quite a display of parched fascination.

If you’ve not seen a real live yak before, then understandably you might be just as frantic as us to secure a photo of this mammoth beast with the shag-pile coat.

Happy to have stayed at The Grand Dragon Ladakh, which is the only five-star property in this area boasting fabulous views of the mountains from almost every room.  A relaxed outdoor setting finished off each day of sightseeing with a few well-earned bevvies in hand.

Local markets are filled with fresh goodies with many seasonal vegetables available. All organic here.

Donkeys in the main tourist areas are immune to impatient drivers. After all, it’s been a hard day scouting for a bite to eat when there’s no one else to give you a hand out.

The way to the temples you ask? There’s no shortage of monasteries and temples in Ladakh, in fact I was starting to wonder if I was mistakenly in Tibet.

Thikse Gompa or Thikse Monastery is a gompa affiliated with the Gelug sect of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s located on top of a hill in Thiksey approximately 19 kilometres east of Leh.

The impressive complex has 12 stories and is built at an altitude of 3,600 metres (11,800 ft). A spiritual retreat with amazing natural surrounds and traditional Buddhist architecture.

Temples and monasteries are found in the most remote places like this one; perched up on a hill and many others which can be found are built on the side of a mountain.

Monks at the temples also take pleasure in spinning the prayer wheels.

A very international group we were and it’s always a treat when everyone’s a good sport.

Some Benefits of Travelling in a Tour Group
  • Someone to show you the way and given an in-depth commentary
  • Instant friends (well hopefully)
  • Safety if anything should go wrong
  • Combine a trip with friends/family and share costs
  • Reassurance for your family when away
  • Group discounts
  • See things you wouldn’t be able to usually

Looking through the window at the old Summer Palace, a 12 foot statue of Buddha oversees the valley.

At the end of the day, it was rewarding to have had the opportunity to visit one of the most interesting and humble destinations I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing – not just in India but on an international scale.  And yes, I’d return to Ladakh in a heartbeat!

Some good advice!

  • Information was correct at time of posting this blog and our visit took place at the end of September and early October, 2018. However, the weather can change overnight as seen in this photo of the Pass on our return.

Season (Months) Best Time and Way to Visit Leh (Ladakh) 1st April to Mid-May
  • Mid May to July. During this time, only the Srinagar-Leh highway opens up, this is just not the right occasion to visit
  • August to Mid-September
  • Mid-September to Mid-October
  • Mid October to Mid-November
  • Mid-November to March
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Mumbai, India

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Republic Day in India is the same date as Australia Day and I was a little astounded so many Indians actually knew this and wished me a happy day for my own country’s festivities.

Mumbai formerly known as Bombay is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra. It’s the most populous city in India with an estimated city population of 22 million – the whole population of Australia could almost fit into it …

A group of worshippers graciously allowed me a photo of their routine. Republic Day is a festivity of religion, food and happiness for a nation which is so diverse in its own culture and independence.

So here I am back in Mumbai and as you can see the pedestrian is saying his daily prayers for religious purposes, only I’m about to say a prayer to cross the road safely.

Mumbai’s traffic is still the same as my last visit in 2005.  New infrastructure is being implemented slowly; mostly overhead due to the fact the city was built on reclaimed land and is difficult to negotiate. With a view to improve transportation and communication, the Government of Maharashtra and the Railway Ministry – along with financial assistance from the World Bank – they took on the Mumbai Urban Transport Project.

Victoria Terminus is an area with a thriving market which attracts locals and international visitors by the bus and train load.

The Terminus is walking distance to CMTS which offers only a handful of local areas a train service.

Traditional Indian cuisine is offered to the masses at a fraction of restaurant prices and perhaps better quality and flavour. To date,  I’ve yet to be ill from street food – incredibly I’ve had ‘Delhi Belly’ from eating in top-class establishments.

One piece of advice I’d been given years ago and before travelling to India, was to start eating yoghurt and food produced by bacterial fermentation of milk prior to arriving. The bacteria used to make yogurt known as yogurt cultures, allows the fermentation of lactose by these bacteria which produces lactic acid, it then acts on milk protein to give its texture and characteristic tart flavour. It assists in settling a tummy which may not be used to spicy hot foods.

Sometimes it’s a difficult choice when there’s so much variety on hand and it’s a sensory overload of wafting exotic aromas, bright colours and sounds of excitement abound.

Haircut anyone? Handy to know you can head off to the market and come go home looking cleaned up, refreshed and ready to watch the cricket.

Take your pick – chicken, beef or whatever? Vegetarians move on please.

Nothing like a free food waste collector to call by. A win/win for everyone. Cows are considered sacred by Hindus in India and the favourite animal of Lord Krishna. They serve as a symbol of wealth, strength and abundance. But, people who want to protect these creatures have to deal with those who think cows are a nuisance.

Do I want a smooch? You better watch out you’re not the next one on the menu.

Time to go back to the hotel after a day’s outing which also included Linking Road and Kurla. Certainly don’t think I’ll take the train again; even with a dedicated carriage for ‘Ladies’ I’d already been dumped onto the platform from the avalanche of passengers trying to alight the train. Yeah, yeah I know, stupid tourists always in the way.

At Kurla Station in east Mumbai, the market was a myriad of stall holders and there’s no shortage of food and goods on sale. Obviously, plenty of tuk tuks to take me home – rates vary and always pays to be a decent kind of negotiator in India.

While waiting for my ride, thought it’d be great to have a chat with a Police Officer about the area, only to receive more kick-ass comments about India thrashing Australia in the cricket at home just recently.

Better do some work whilst in Mumbai and who better to cross paths with but my mate Firoz of Perth Aussie Tours in Western Australia.

Direct flights from Australia are from Sydney and Melbourne to Delhi with Air India (AI). Connections are generally seamless as it’s only Air India and Jet Airways which have flights arriving/deparing into the international terminals of Delhi (main hub of AI) and Mumbai. Both airlines have a myriad of domestic flights throughout the countrry. Air India also allow a generous 30 kg on an international ticket issued with connecting domestic flights.

Stay tuned for some more blog posts of Incredible India!

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Odisha, India

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If travelling from Australia, the International Airport in Calcutta is the nearest gateway for your connection onto the state of Odisha (also called Orissa) and is one of the 29 states of India.

Known as ‘The City of Temples’, Bhubaneswar is one of the most culturally effervescent cities in India – being the state capital of Odisha, it’s a sprawling metropolis that very ably preserves the balance between upholding olden values and cultural heritage on one hand and being able to conform to changing modern times on the other.

Bhubaneswar is home to some of the finest temples including the Lingaraja Temple and Mukteswar Temple. Nearby places of interest include the sacred pilgrimage town of Puri and the quiet ocean-side village of Gopalpur-on-Sea. Other tourist attractions include the State Museum, Bindu Sarovara and Nandan Kanan.


First stop after a quick and easy transfer from the airport (by Indian standards), our hotel of choice is the Mayfair Lagoon which is one of the best luxury hotels in Bhubaneswar and spread out across ten acres in the heart of the capital city of Odisha.

If you’re after authentic spicy food and don’t mind a kick starter at breakfast, then this hotel provides some of the best offerings – especially with all those dragon-breathing accompaniments!


Once on the way with our group, we realise the north-east area of India is not as well known as other states which makes it all the more interesting; to dig deep and find out what’s intriguing about the region and it’s point of difference.


One of our first stops is at a market place along the way. With smiley faces and willing models for the morning’s photos, it sets the mood for the remainder of the day – easy going and relaxed.


No shortage of fresh vegies and fruit – can’t imagine anything other than organic here.


Marsala chai? Yes please. Cost? About twenty cents.

One very happy fat cat …
Dhauli is a historical place associated with famous Kalinga War and Peace (3rdcentury BC). The great Mauran King Asoka had written here in his Edicts about the people of Kalinga with an elephant gure atop. In the year 1972 a Shatni Stupa – the reminiscence of Buddhism is constructed here to spread the message of peace and brotherhood.


Moving on, passing fields of buffalo, it’s great to be in a region without all the hustle and bustle of the bigger cities.


River Rushikulya originates at an elevation of about 1,000 metres from the Daringbadi hills of the Eastern Ghats range. The region from where the river originates, Daringbadi is called the ‘ Kashmir of Odisha ‘.

The basin is rich in mineral wealth with the major economic ones being clay, lime stone, manganese, sand talc, black sand and other grinding materials.


Puri: Jagannatha Temple is an important pilgrimage destination, built with the help of Tamil Chola King Kulothunga Chola. The present temple was rebuilt from the 10th century onwards on the site of an earlier temple.

This temple is famous for its annual Ratha Yatra, or chariot festival in which the three principal deities partake.

“Vidyapati was a Maithili poet and a Sanskrit writer. He dropped mustard seeds on the ground on the way to Jagannath. The seeds germinated after a few days, which enabled him to find the cave later on. On hearing from him, King Indradyumna proceeded immediately to Odra desha (Odisha) on a pilgrimage to see and worship the Deity. But the deity had disappeared. The king was disappointed. The Deity was hidden in sand. The king was determined not to return without having a darshan of the deity and observed fast unto death at Mount Neela. Then a celestial voice cried ‘thou shalt see him.’ Afterward, the king performed a horse sacrifice and built a magnificent temple for Vishnu.”
Source: Wikipedia


Heading towards the Sun Temple and as always – rain, hail or shine conveniently, there’s a market nearby to any major tourist site. Sacred cows take precedence in having the right or way and obviously not in any hurry for anyone.

Conceived as the cosmic chariot of the sun god Surya, this massive, breathtakingly splendid sculpture was constructed in the mid-13th century, probably by Odishan king Narashimhadev I to celebrate his military victory over the Muslims. Seven rearing horses (representing the days of the week) move this stone leviathan on 24 stone cartwheels (representing the hours of the day) around the base. The temple was positioned so that dawn light would illuminate the deul (temple sanctuary) interior and the presiding deity.


The Konark Sun Temple has been undergoing restoration for some time but, still worthy of a visit as it’s a world heritage monument known worldwide for its grandeur and intricate architectural  detail.


Train travel? Just like any other  state of India, Odisha too is very well linked with the means of rail with the incredible Indian Railway Network.  I’d recommend booking directly with a booking office or a travel agency due to the complexity of the Indian network.


Southeastern Odisha hugs the coast of the Bay of Bengal and is home to the state’s most visited spots. Great to see a sign advocating what none of us want to see near any waterway! Should be more notices like this one.

The nearby lonely virgin Beach Chandrabhaga is another attraction; calm, smooth waters makes it a family-friendly bathing area during the hot and steamy days.


Odisha has 485 kilometres (301 miles) of coastline along the Bay of Bengal on its east, from Balasore to Ganjam. Although, we were meant to sail off for a boat ride, you can tell by the smiley faces of the locals they were just as happy to meet with us – regardless of the inclement weather on the day.

Travel Agent Vivian who was part of our original group had the opportunity to visit some more remote areas of Odisha with many tribes who inhabit these regions. Colourful, inquisitive and interesting people who live a quiet but productive way of life whereby less is more in a materialistic world.
Photo: Courtesy of Vivian from Ruby Travel, Italy.

“Of all the states of India, Odisha (Orissa) has the largest number of tribes, as many as 62 that constitute an impressive 24 percent of the total population of the state. These tribes mainly inhabit the Eastern Ghats hill range that runs in the north-south direction. More than half of their population is concentrated in the three districts of Koraput (undivided), Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj.”
Source: Odisha Tourism
Photo: Courtesy of Vivian from Ruby Travel, Italy.


There’s a myriad of airlines flying into Calcutta with excellent connections onto Bhubaneswar (BBI). Book your domestic flight all the way through from Australia  to BBI via another hub and you’ll be allowed the same weight restrictions all the way –  however, must be issued on the same international ticket.

Odisha experiences four meteorological seasons: winter (January to February) being the best time to visit, pre-monsoon season (March to May), south-west monsoon (June to September) and north-east monsoon season (October–December).

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Darjeeling – West Bengal, India

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Tourism plays a major part in the economy of any country. But, before mass tourism becomes a problem, development needs to be carefully considered with thought-provoking concepts of how to solve it before any damage to the landscape becomes evident and problematic.

Before leaving Kalimpong for Darjeeling, we all appreciated the beauty and serenity of the Teesta River basin, while still in its infancy of being converted into a major tourist region.


On our way to Darjeeling, there certainly was no shortage of hair-pin bends. From Bagdogra, the road distance to Darjeeling hill town is 94 kms (if you take the national highway NH-55, also known as Hill Cart Road). It takes about 3.5 hours to reach Darjeeling by car on that route. However, the drivers from Bagdogra airport take a shorter route via Rohini or sometimes via Pankhabari if the Rohini road is closed for some reason. You save 30 minutes and a distance of 12 kms. These roads are quite narrow, steep and winding. But this is the stipulated route for pre-paid taxis from the airport unless you are part of a tour of which we are on this journey.


A stop along the way we basked in the natural beauty of the Gorumara National Park and with its super thick forestation, let’s hope it stays that way …


We visited a nursery with all kinds of plants and fauna. With a coffee in hand, it’s a delight to absorb all the love and care that goes into these beauties.


Travelling along Hill Cart Road, beautiful scenery is evident most of the way and make sure you give yourself plenty of time to have a break as there’ll be quite a few breath-taking excuses to take that precious photo.


Spices galore. Now you’ll be salivating for a taste test and bargain away for some more unusual goodies.

Darjeeling known as a hill town was originally set up as a sanitarium or health resort by the British in the mid 1800s. But over the years, it earned its name for its world famous aromatic tea. Then with the opening up of roads and the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway for tourism, it’s become a drawcard with travellers from all over the world.


Ghum Himalyan Railway being the highest heritage-listed station in the world is a must see – and to experience yourself!

Ghum is the highest altitude station on the Darjeeling Himalayan Rail track at 2,225.7 metres (7,407 ft). Here the toy train stops for 30 minutes where it’s possible to visit to the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Museum as well.


Affectionately known as the Toy Train, only few would let go an opportunity such as this whilst in Darjeeling; to ride on one of the world’s favourite and very cute trains. For me personally, it was the most pressing of all sites/attractions to visit and definitely on my to-do list. After all, this Toy Train has been accorded the UNESCO World Heritage status.

Operating on narrow gauge tracks since the 1880s, it provided an important transport link to various parts of the Darjeeling hills and lower plains, the train is still unmatched when it comes to occasioning the magnificent beauty of the mountains.


The Toy Train’s joy rides operate from the main Darjeeling Railway Station. It’s a 2-hour round trip from Darjeeling up to Ghum and back covering a total distance of 14 kms. There are several such round trips during the day starting in the morning. Number of rides per day depends on the demand during the month or season. The train stops for 10 minutes at the Batasia Loop.

At Batasia the train makes a loop around a wonderful manicured garden. The view of Darjeeling town and the snow peaks of Kanchenjunga from here are unparalleled. The War Memorial was built in honour of the Gorkha soldiers who sacrificed their lives and is located at the centre of the Garden.
Interestingly, the Gorkhas came from this region and were renown for their fighting ability and courage. “Better to die than be a coward” is the motto of the world-famous Nepalese Gorkha soldiers who are an integral part of the British Army. It’s said they still carry into battle their traditional weapon – an 18-inch long curved knife known as the kukri. Nowadays, the Gorkhas say say it’s used mainly for cooking!


Early in the morning and yes, long before sunrise we had to secure our spot at Tiger Hill, and yes, it was worth the wake-up call to enjoy the view of the colossal Kanchenjunga with many other snow-clad eastern Himalayan peaks which  can be seen from here.

Locals know there are many visitors who relish the smell of a good coffee, regardless of the alarm clock’s timing and there weren’t any shortage of offers – and cheap too.


Later in the day we had the chance to experience an original tea plantation in the near to Darjeeling.


The Ginger Tea House is an established Bed and Breakfast style stay giving guests first-hand experience of how a tea plantation operates, along with a tour of the  in-house operational aspects.


We were greeted with exquisite food and welcoming beverages for a delightful afternoon tea service.


So when it’s a National Holiday and your driver can’t pass by the students and workers dancing in the middle of the roadway of the plantation, what do you do?


Easy, you all jump out of the van,  join in with them and simply have fun!


The centre of Darjeeling is quite busy, but some of the most interesting heritage sites are high above with magnificent views sweeping back over the valley.


View of the Himalayan Mountains from the township which is a  gem and known for its youthful vibe combined with a colonial charm throughout the area.


Final resting place for Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. His historic ascent of Mt. Everest along with Edmund Hillary inspired and guided the country to set up the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute in Darjeeling. This is the first of its kind in India where the climbing legend served as Director of Field Training since its inception and a must-see.

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Kalimpong – West Bengal, India

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The nearest airport to Kalimpong is Bagdogra in Siliguri and it’s a quick flight from Calcutta. All major domestic airlines from various Indian cities offer good connectivity between Bagdogra and the rest of India. Direct flights to Bagdogra are available from Delhi, Calcutta and Guwahati.


Enroute to Kalimpong , we drove through the Teesta Barrage Project, where we witnessed one of the largest irrigation operations – not only in West Bengal, but also in the entire eastern region of India.


Travelling along the Teesta River’s banks showed very peaceful, yet captivating scenery – this is where some of us would’ve loved to have stepped out of the vehicle and happily walked for some time to admire the charming waterway’s tranquillity.

Kalimpong is well connected by road with Siliguri, Gangtok, Kolkata and Darjeeling and regular buses operate from these areas to the township. Two beautiful tourist places, Darjeeling and Gangtok are just 50 and 75 km away respectively.


River Teesta originates at Tso Lamo, Sikkim, it flows through West Bengal and then enters the Rangpur division in Bangladesh. It’s the fourth largest among 54 rivers shared by India and Bangladesh.


Upon arrival our Hotel the Silveroaks revealed a charisma reserved for the discerning travelling guest who is either on their way to Darjeeling, or returning as Kalimpong  (which by the way), is a reasonable stretch by road from Bagdogra Airport for our first overnight stay.


Next day, we started off in the thick of a small traffic jam with sacred cows always having the right of way. Lorries, motor bikes and any other mode of transport you can think of goes about its daily livelihood.


Kalimpong was earlier a subdivision of the Darjeeling district, but now it’s a separate district of West Bengal effective 14th Feb 2017 with an area of 1,056 square kilometers and inhabiting 49,403 people (as per 2011 census). All around, the mountain ranges are snow capped and include Deolo Hill with Sikkim and Bhutan being in the near.


How to reach Kalimpong by rail? The bordering rail line is New Jalpaiguri, which is almost 77 km away. This is an important railway station in the northern Bengal and also serves as a gateway to the remote northeastern India. You can easily take trains from different Indian cities to this region.


Jang Dong Palriffo Brang is a beautiful monastery which is located in the majestic hill station of Kalimpong. It’s the  ideal place for meditation and the Buddhist monks everyday offer prayers within for spiritually inclined people.

Model for this day was an unknown little doggie who was happy to sit and have his photo taken. A reminder that pets make the best mates.


Elisa who is our travelling companion from Spain, is testing out the prayer wheels. Luckily for us all, we travelled safely and had a great time in West Bengal.


A fitting memorial for the best-known Sherpa. Tenzing Norgay GM OSN, a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer from this region, He was one of the first two individuals known to reach the summit of Mount Everest in Nepal, which he accomplished with New Zealander Edmund Hillary on 29th May, 1953.

P.S. If you happen to ever be in Aoraki  Mt Cook, New Zealand there’s The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre of which a large part of the exhibition is a tribute to Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.


Outlook from the Monastery shows the mountain ranges stretching across West Bengal for all to enjoy its beauty and serenity outside of the larger cities of India.


Along the way to Darjeeling, we had the opportunity to enjoy a break at a lovely garden estate and flower nursery.


Not too long to go (and not as long as it might take this worker), we’ll arrive at our next stop of Darjeeling.

Might only be approximately a three-hour’s drive from Kalimpong, but it’s an extremely winding road one which will keep you seated.

For group booking enquiries, you can contact me directly through this website.

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Kolkata (Calcutta), West Bengal – India

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Tourism Minister Mr Gautam Deb for West Bengal and Mr Debjit Dutta (centre) who is the Chairman at the Indian Association of Tour Operators. It was undoubtedly a great honour and privilege to meet with them and understand more about the region and its massive growth as a tourist destination.

It’s been said, “Owing to the diversity in geographical contours from the Himalayas to the beaches of the Bay of Bengal, the state offers everything to a tourist.”

During the British Raj, until 1911 Calcutta was the capital of India. By the latter half of the 19th century, Shimla had become the summer capital and King George V proclaimed the transfer of the capital from Kolkata to Delhi at the climax of the 1911 Imperial Durbar on December 12, 1911. The buildings housing the Viceroy, government and parliament were inaugurated in early 1931.
Vidyasagar Setu, also known as the Second Hooghly Bridge is a toll bridge over the Hooghly River in West Bengal, India linking the cities of Kolkata and Howrah. With a total length of 823 metres, Vidyasagar Setu is the longest cable–stayed bridge in India.

In May 1972 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi laid the foundation stone of the Vidyasagar Setu, so named after the 19th-Century Bengali intellectual and reformer Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

Normal hussle and bussle of city life, but Kolkata has a somewhat different energy. Not much opens early in the morning and a delayed awakening occurs for the not so early risers. Suits me. Restaurants won’t really trade until noon and the street life comes alive with the smell of spices, marsala and burning coals readying for the day’s onslaught for all meat eaters to enjoy. Vegetarian dishes are easily found and a tiffin plate served thali style has been one my favourite for many years.

There’s something a little fishy going on here?

In India food cooked at home with care is considered to deliver not only healthy eating, but relatively cheap traditional and very tasty meals. Lunch is usually eaten thali-style, with a tantalising selection of regional delicacies that may include any combination of spicy vegetables, dhal, yoghurt, pickles, bread and pudding served on a large metal plate or a banana leaf.

There is one market that’s bustling with street food offerings in the morning and that’s Terreti Bazar, which is most popular with the locals and tourists as well.


Once, beautifully built rickshaws now serve as a reminder of how times have moved on. Recently, the use of human-powered rickshaws has been discouraged or outlawed in many countries due to concern for the welfare of workers and pulled rickshaws have been replaced mainly by cycle or auto rickshaws.

St. John’s Church, originally a cathedral was among the first public buildings erected by the East India Company after Kolkata (Calcutta) became the effective capital of British India.

Tall columns frame the church building on all sides and the entrance is through a stately portico. The floor is a rare hue of blue-grey marble, brought from Gaur and large windows allow the sunlight to filter through the coloured glass.

Nearby is the Second Rohilla War Memorial and the Black Hole of Calcutta Monument. Survivor from this atrocity was John Holwell who later became the Governor of Bengal and went on to build a memorial at the site.

I’m thinking Alexandre travelling with us, would actually like to hop on the train and wave us goodbye. Some of the world’s best train journeys can be found in India and I can’t wait to show some of them off …


Paddocks close to the city are filled with mostly goats and sheep hard at work doing the mowing.


How could you not love goats? They’re extremely loyal, funny characters and yes, their milk makes the best cheese and yoghurt.


When was the last time you visited a book bazaar like this?

College Street has a unique charm of its own and blanketed with makeshift book stalls constructed of bamboo,  canvas and sheets of tin on both sides of the road;  it’s a paradise for book lovers.


Join in the craze of being in College Street – it’s the epicentre of Kolkata’s literary crowd. A second home to the intellectuals, scholars, academicians, students and book lovers of Kolkata city and international visitors. Also colloquially known as ‘Boi Para’ (book-mart), it houses Kolkata’s most prestigious and renowned academic institutions such as the University Of Calcutta, Calcutta Medical College, Sanskrit College, Hare School and Hindu School.


Kali is the Hindu goddess (or Devi) of death, time and doomsday and is often associated with sexuality and violence, but is also considered a strong mother-figure and is symbolic of motherly-love. Here she’s being mass produced for upcoming festivities of which there is no shortage in West Bengal.


Additionally, there are quite a number of men’s outside toilets installed for them to use in Kolkata – as our mate Kevin was willing to model for me.


When you have the opportunity to inspect a hotel of distinction, without doubt they include some of the best-dressed personnel of any five-star hotel group. And here, I’d felt like royalty just by having my photo taken with one of the distinguished staff members!

And as we all know India and Australia encourage youngsters to be the best they can at cricket. Never know, there could be a rising star anywhere in the making.
Next stop the new district of Kalimpong and then onto Darjeeling.

For Australians wishing to travel to India please check my website for the correct E-visa link. www.travelgracefully.com.au under the Visalink tab for some handy hints.
http://www.travelgracefully.com.au/visalink/indian-e-visa-for-australians/
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Rama Residence Hotels in Bali – Indonesia

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Upon arrival at Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport, it’s always a relief to have a pick up and transfer organised prior. But better still, to see your name right up there is something special by staying at the Rama Residence Padma. This is when I can relax knowing I’m being looked after for my next week’s stay in Bali.

Denpasar is Indonesia’s third-busiest international airport and I’d recommend a pick up especially if travelling with a family.

Rama Residence Padma Hotel offers a new experience and a total of 38 rooms with complete facilities – in particular a handy kitchenette, comfy lounge and a heaven-sent dining area.

When travelling with a family, it’s not every night you’d want to eat out and this property is one whereby if you are seeking some solace from the busier surrounding areas and just simply eat in with the children.

Other facilities for guests include a roof-top swimming pool, laundry and a fitness centre in case you need to keep up that fitness regime.

For prices check out the website:  http://ramaresidencepadma.com/

The Asia Spices Restaurant is a partly open-air restaurant that serves various kinds of Asian Cuisine with the beautiful harmony of water which drops onto the fish pond and a nearby small green garden.

Here a typical Indonesian satay cannot be passed by without thinking how good its aroma captures your senses. It’s a tourist friendly restaurant with the typical Balinese hospitality you’d expect from a four-star property.

This delish Restaurant is the buzz place to be when in Padma especially if you’re after a fired up experience of spicy food like me. Having opened within the last couple of years, it’s fresh, still feels new and with its popularity is undoubtedly one to visit regardless of where else you might be staying.

Next stop is Rama Residences at Petitenget; this is a great value property without the nearby upmarket Seminyak price tag.

Although this part of the main-stream Balinese tourist precinct is lesser known than its counterparts of Legian/Padma and Kuta, it’s well priced and a quieter property. You’ll realise this once you’ve checked in and been escorted to your room. My tick of approval is the ability to turn off the air conditioner. These are cooler rooms without the need for it I found, especially if you prefer to go “a la natural” and, if like me you’ll flick it off and enjoy the reasons you’ve come over to Bali in Australia’s winter … to feel warm.

You’ll be met by Lord Ganesha on the way through and that feeling of Zen begins …

Pathway to the rooms show a more private and boutique property whereby there’s space at the front of each individual compartment to lounge around outside on spacious mattresses and deep-seated chairs – allowing you to relax after a hectic day.

The rooms here are spacious and comfortable with enough room for a whole family to fit into one bed! And, the bed is oh so soft … considering this is part of Asia whereby they’re known more so for firmer bedding; you’ve won me over here with your cushiness!

Again, this room type (being a one-bedroom suite) has kitchenette facilities which really is one of my favourite conveniences when travelling. The benefits of maybe paying a bit extra allows you to feel at home and yet be away from home; which in turn also help families with little ones feel they have an almost normal routine.

There’s plenty of storage space and the bathroom has a walk-in shower with an area bigger than my lounge room at home. Lovely bath products too …

Oh yeah, I told you before I love taking photos of doors? No shortage here.

Check out the prices here:  http://www.ramaresidencepetitenget.com/

Next up is Candidasa which is north-east of Denpasar’s airport and about a 1.5 to 2 hour journey depending of the traffic. Cost by taxi can be around A$20.00 one way.

Whether you want shopping, sightseeing, nature activities; such as rice-paddy trekking, cycling, diving, snorkelling and yoga, or just relaxing and daydreaming, they have it all here.

Is it worth the drive up? Sure is – the views are stunningly beautiful along the way. It’s much quieter within this region of Bali and the Rama Candidasa Resort and Spa offer a property which has a few variations of accommodation styles which would suit most budgets for the discerning traveller.

Afternoon tea is served by the poolside Monday to Friday for in-house guests and is a welcome treat after splashing around for a while.

On the foreshore is the freestanding Deluxe Cottage Ocean View style accommodation and trust me, you will not be any closer to the sea than this!

Comfy chairs and an outside table to relax by in the evening with your mates having a few bevvies is the way to go. Simply watch the sunset while vessels slowly cruise on by and that’s how you should be feeling too with a stay here.


GARPU is a lavish yet modest restaurant attached to the Resort and the staff here make you feel like you’re a rock star. And their smiles are a hearty indication of the service you’ll be receiving whilst dining there – either buffet breakfast, lunch or dinner facilities are available.

View from the restaurant in the evening, it’s definitely one place for having a peaceful and relaxing experience in Bali as well as being able to explore the magnificent underwater paradises such as Tulamben, Amed, Padang Bai and Blue Lagoon which are accessible.

Not a swimmer? Neither am I. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy kicking back my heels and simply enjoying the sound of waves and watching the day pass by … ho hum …

Check out the prices: http://www.ramacandidasahotel.com/


Well I suppose it’s time to take a walk and find a money changer … The township is not far away and most nights a market can be located along the way in the evenings.

The natural serenity here being set amongst mountains, rice fields and the ocean offers ultimate peace and tranquillity which can be realised once away from the hustle and bustle of the more touristy areas of Bali.


Well one of the best ways to make your way around Bali is with your bestie and childhood neighbour Kerrie and her special man Ian by hiring scooters. Candidasa is far more civilised than Kuta and surrounds and you’ll find some interesting places along the way when hooning around here – much quieter too.

*However, check your insurance policy before taking one and ensure you’re covered for the type/size of bike you’re taking out.


You might even find a street seller offering a hot Balinese coffee along the scenic escapement for a quick stop whilst en route to Ahmed.


Maginificent views whilst enjoying our cuppa and figured out that we we’ve not seen each other for over ten years. But then again, some people choose to live in Western Australia! I guess a trip to Bali on occasion is the way to catch up huh?


Another one of our stops included that of an orphanage whereby we were greeted by some of the loveliest youngsters we had the pleasure of meeting. We were impressed by their manners and engagement with us as foreigners.

If you have the opportunity to bring some educational items or clothes then I highly recommend you visit a similar organisation or school and help out if you can.

Well like most good things they must come to an end and it’ll be another year before we head back to Bali and enjoy the hospitality and smiley faces of the Balinese people.

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Tirana and Surrounds, Albania – Balkans

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Attending travel-related events overseas is always interesting, but to chat on National News in Tirana, Albania it truly was a rewarding experience to give your perspective on an up and coming region within Europe.

The Balkans has been an area some might not necessarily contemplate to visit, but for me, I’ve found it one of the fastest-growing destinations in Europe in terms of affordability, culture and a layered undercurrent of vitality and undisputed history.

New infrastructure is evident throughout and my speculation is that it’ll be one of the most sought after places tourism will extend its somewhat dormant arms to.

Albania is burgeoning ahead with a renewed energy, even though in many ways it still embraces the old, it’s incorporating some new ideals – such as wanting to become part of the European Union and talks have been established.

Australians do not require a visa to enter Albania. However, you may wish to check the Visalink tab on this website for any further updates before travelling there.


An open space in the city centre, you’ll find The Skanderbeg Square which is the main plaza and is home to the National Museum of History.

The Square is named after the Albanian national hero Gjergj Kastrioti Skënderbeu and is a total area is about 40,000 square metres giving relief to office workers for a place to lunch, meet friends or simply watch all those tourists passing by each day which seem to be growing exponentially in numbers.


The Resurrection Cathedral is situated in the centre of Tirana and it’s the third largest Orthodox church in Europe, officially opened in June, 2012. The peace of the church was savagely destroyed when the communists took over the government of the country in 1945.

It’s definitely worthy of a visit and you can marvel at the incredible structure with its restoration in recent times.

The Clock Tower of Tirana was built in 1822 and the stairwell has 90 steps which dizzily capture a spiral twist. It’s 35 metres (115 ft) tall and since the restoration in 2016, there’s been  9,833 visitors to the tower.


Much of the architecture around Tirana is a mixed fusion of styles – mostly relating to the past, but adapting to some contemporary ideals as well, it’s desperately shaking off its war-torn image and forging new concepts.


Who said any plumbing-like apparatus couldn’t be used as an artistic tool?


The House of Leaves Museum is a stark reminder that Albania’s freedom was only allowed in very recent times.

It’s the newest museum to open in Albania and probably the most intriguing; considered to be the equivalent of the Stasi headquarters of the former East Germany. The leaves have a double meaning: things hidden in woods, but also the leaves of books and files about its people.

At the time, the Albanian government tried to keep secret the news of the Italian ultimatum. While Radio Tirana persistently broadcast that nothing was happening, people became suspicious and the news of the Italian ultimatum was spread from unofficial sources.


The country experienced widespread social and political transformations in the communist era, as well as isolation from much of the international community. In the aftermath of the Revolutions of 1991, the Socialist Republic was dissolved and the fourth Republic of Albania was established.


Just outside the city and a day out to Dajti Mountain National Park, the gondola spans a kilometre, making it the longest in the Balkans and is more than 800 metres up the mountainside.

After hopping off the gondola ride at the top, you might be lucky enough and have the chance to say hello to a little fellow on the walk up towards the restaurant. Gotta love horses!


Once you’re at the top of the mountain and you’re seeking a culinary experience, then The Panorama Hotel has the restaurant for you, it serves traditional specialties and the views are amazing. Sit back, relax and marvel the scenery.

Traditional food presented buffet style will always allow you to make your own choices. If the mesmerising smell of excellent European gastronomy doesn’t take hold of you as you walk in the door, then you’ve probably headed in the wrong direction. Tasty and delicious – not to mention overly fulfilling … Next stop is diet!

And, once you’ve finished having that massive luncheon to discuss what’s happening on the tourist trail in Albania, a little sit down by the local waterway may be required to check out the book stall – which is always a simple way to have a chat, relax and enjoy the sunshine – even in April!

Surprisingly, English is well spoken as is Italian throughout the country.

Well now – an Australian two-dollar note which had been fazed out around the late 1980s. Having asked if I could buy the note, I was promptly told it was not on offer …

Good news though,  Australian currency is easily exchanged at almost all dealers, banks and hotels in Albania.


The most important attraction of the city is the Museum of the National Hero, Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg and is situated within this Illyrian castle which took its present facade during the 5th-6th century. The castle has nine towers, a few surrounding houses and the Teqja e Dollmasë. Inside the castle grounds, you can also visit the Ethnographic Museum, a typical house made of çardak, which belonged to the illustrious Toptani family.

In case you’re an avid fan of castles, there’s just no shortage – err hum, a total of 158 castles and fortifications in the country that have achieved – drum roll please – the status of  Monuments of Cultural Heritage.

The traditional market of Kruja stands near the castle and is one of Albania’s largest handicraft markets and has operated since the 15th century. A must see for some truly intricate items of ‘days gone by’.


On the top of the mountain over the town of Kruja is a religious place called Sari Salltiku (Bektashi sect). ​ There, visitors can find shelter and accommodation if they wish to climb to that spot. Additionally, travellers will find a magnificent view toward the valley and further out towards the Adriatic Sea.

Further afield, Lake Ohrid straddles the mountainous border between south western Macedonia and eastern Albania. It’s one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes preserving a unique aquatic ecosystem of worldwide importance; with more than 200 endemic species it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979.


At the end of each day, I’m happy to see my hotel of choice, Mak Albania which is quiet, spacious and an easy walk to the city centre. The staff are incredibly efficient and very helpful.

For more information about Albania and group bookings, please see the home page and email me directly.

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