Fourth month of our World Trip – Asia to Europe
India | Turkey | Greece
Our fourth month began in Alleppey in Southern India. We had the best experience of our time thanks to our homestay host. They treated our girls like family, we had great wifi, a large room and they organised a full day back-water and village tour.
We lived cheap in India and enjoyed just hanging out and hand washing laundry while our girls spent time with the girls in our homestay.
Mumbai was hectic but had a charm about it. It actually reminded us of Melbourne in Australia. It has a cool vibe, some great architecture, 1960’s buildings and a long bay.
We saw our first real slums in Mumbai. They lined the freeway and the streets around the airport. Mumbai is where we were swamped by Indian tourists for photos and encountered many scammers on the streets of the Colaba Causeway.
Our room in Mumbai was the smallest since Singapore with only three beds, we squeezed in but had terrible nights sleep due to the incessant traffic noise. Our hotel was right across the road from a popular eatery that was open most of the night and so it was noisy.
India is a very exotic travel destination and we were looking forward to visiting our second World Wonder, the Taj Mahal. We researched ways to tour this part of India and found that booking a car and driver was the best way. Our driver picked us up at Delhi airport and we drove straight to Agra. An unexpected guide joined us, introduced himself and met us in the morning in our hotel lobby to take us to the Taj Mahal. We had read online about these guys (they tell you that there is no fee and ask you if you want to check out the stores so they are payed a commission) and so just went along with it and payed him what we thought he deserved at the end. We arrived just after 8am and missed the huge crowds.
The Taj Mahal sits high and proud on the edge of lush green gardens with an expanse of open space as its back drop. The marble, architecture, love story and weather culminated in an overwhelming visit for all of us.
Online forums will warn of the many pickpockets and scammers on each of the walking routes to the entrance of the site but if you keep your guard up and don’t speak to them they soon walk away. Also if you are travelling with a personal guide then they will shoo them away for you. You can actually take a camel drawn carriage or a tuk tuk to the entrance but the walk is interesting to see the monkeys in the parks and it helps build the excitement.
We visited the Fort in Agra before farewelling our guide, he was OK, not great and didn’t ask us for money but we gave him $15 AUD because he told us some interesting stories while in the Fort.
Jaipur was our next stop and after a night in a cheap hotel room far from the tourist area, it was organised by our drivers boss, we woke early to tour the pink city.
The City Palace was the most fun for children without a doubt. It doesn’t open until 9.30 am but once inside there were many small shops, museums and rooms to visit. You are given a large ticket and get stamps at each of the entry points. Touring the palace is easy without a guide because all you need to do is follow the audio guide numbers sticking up all over the place. This becomes an entertaining game, finding the next number and getting stamps.
The two night tour from Delhi to Agra, to Jaipur and return to Agra is called ‘The Golden Triangle‘ and it is well travelled, not too expensive and there are plenty of nice hotels in both Agra and Jaipur to stay in. The most expensive thing along the journey was the roadside restaurants. Each company will have set stopping points and so you don’t really get to decide when or where you would like to stop for a meal and so you are at the mercy of your driver. The food was not the best we had had in India and the cost was exuberant. Apart from that we thought the experience was amazing. We saw everything on the freeways, from elephants to goats, donkey’s, camels and public transport that defied safety rules in any language.
By the time we arrived back in Delhi we were quite fed up with the amount of people who just stared and those that approached or offered advice completely unsolicited.
You cannot stand still in Delhi, people will approach and ask you what you need, for money, one lady asked us to buy her daughter an ice-cream and some children asked us to buy their wares, which were just plastic rubbish toys or the like. If you are able to get them to leave you alone you will notice them returning to the adults that sit on the periphery of the shopping streets giving them advice on who to go to next.
Some will come up behind you very quickly and you will find yourself holding onto you bag really tightly. The strange thing is, if you speak in a clear voice and look them in the eye they back down. They rely on you being off your guard or startled a little and they thrive on your vulnerability.
Strangely we loved India, the people we dealt with were extremely caring and giving. The staff in each of our hotels tried to help us at all times and were genuinely concerned for our safety and the girls. The massive population means there is just too many people without jobs and the street is their only existence, which we could easily understand and have laughed many times since about how confronting yet understandable it all was.
From India we flew to Istanbul in Turkey. We thought we were out of Asia only to realise that the Asian side of Turkey is still determined to be Asia by, well, everyone.
That’s ok. We then spent a few fantastic days in Istanbul. The mosques that call the worshippers to prayer across the city is haunting and yet melodic. The enormity, detail and history of this city fascinated all of us.
We stayed in a very poor neighbourhood on the edge of the river on the European side of Istanbul. Never once did a street child or adult approach us to try to get anything or sell anything. It was such a nice change from the previous few weeks in India. The streets were filled with men drinking Turkish tea and playing cards and groups of young children covered in dirt, most without shoes fighting, playing and fighting some more.
Back then we were on a tight schedule and so had to move so that we could see as much of Turkey as possible before our next stop in Greece. After a memorable day hiding from the rain in a Hammam we hired a campervan and toured the coast for a week.
We loved everyday of our camping and still talk about the mix of fun from swimming in cold water, skimming stones on isolated beaches, riding quad bikes on sand dunes to visiting Anzac Cove and some fantastic Roman ruins.
After Turkey we spent 48 hours travelling so that we could save money and enjoyed the many ferries and crossing a border via water, first time in our lives.
Greece was the perfect intro to Europe for us as a family. We stayed on the green and beautiful Skopelos Island in the North of Greece. Both Spring and Winter had birthdays on Skopelos. We relished the ability to cook in our own kitchen and spread out in our two bedroom apartment.
While we were thoroughly enjoying the blue waters and island life of Skopelos, we still felt disconnected from mainland Europe and almost as though we still had not made it to Europe. The weather was not hot enough for us to bake in the sun and dip in the ocean or our swimming pool in our complex but we still walked a lot and cooked at home a lot and used the wifi, as limited as it was.
Next month we hit Europe, big time.