Mauritius; The star and key of the Indian Ocean

 

Mauritius is one of those once in a lifetime destinations. A honeymoon spot for many or just an extraordinarily luxurious holiday that creates memories to last a lifetime. We were lucky enough to win a trip to the star and key of the Indian Ocean through the #BeachLife photo competition with Stylist Magazine and Veranda Resorts. If this blog teaches you anything please let it be that yes, people really do win those incredible holiday competitions you see on the TV and in magazines, just give it a go!

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Flying with Air France we were not looking forward to the 12-hour flight that awaited us but it turned out to be one of our most comfortable flights ever with a whole row to ourselves… each! We were able to sleep the full journey and arrive in the country we had been dreaming about ever since we got THAT tweet from Stylist Magazine.

We had never been to Africa before and although this wasn’t mainland Africa, we still didn’t know what to expect. Arriving in September it was pleasantly warm and we set off on our journey to the very north of the island. With the island being a mere 2040km² we drove the full length of the island within an hour, picking up some insightful information from our driver with the usual taxi chat. Did you know Mauritius’ biggest export is Prince’s tuna? Neither did we but we were more interested in the local rum which was to come later!

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Veranda Pointe Aux Biches was absolutely incredible. We have had a number of discussions since returning whether this was our best holiday ever and the hotel was definitely a major factor. The reception immediately set the tone with a sand and wooden theme almost forcing you to relax. Upon arriving the first thing you are asked to do is take your shoes off and immerse your feet under three water spouts representing peace, love and happiness. This might be a bit cringe for some but what a fantastic change to arriving and being asked for your booking details and credit card before so much as a hello!

We were toured through the hotel which was the most wonderful and peaceful setting we have ever encountered on holiday. The hotel has two pools, bars, restaurants , a spa, plenty of activities to get involved in, a private beach and the most welcoming staff you will ever meet. Being based in the Privilege room, we were free to eat at either of the two restaurants which offered very different but equally delicious food and impeccable service. The Sandy Lane village bar, pool and restaurant were for adults only, all-inclusive customers but really, you would have the holiday of a lifetime in any room in. We were free to roam to any part of resort and that’s exactly what we did, spreading our time between the Sandy Lane and Foot-Loose areas.

Our room was filled with complementary coffee, tea, fruit, snacks, coke and beer which were all replenished everyday. The towels were shaped into different animals each time you went back to your room and the view of the balcony was so perfect you could have a good time without even leaving the room.

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Although it wasn’t the height of summer, we couldn’t resist swimming in the pools and sea. We also made the effort to take out some of the free to use water sport equipment laid on by the hotel such as windsurf boards and kayaks. The Pina Coladas flowed all day, everyday and we soon found the coconut rum to be our drink of choice. A few nights ended with us being slightly more flamboyant that usual thanks to a few too many cocktails but if you can’t get carried away on holiday you may as well stay at home!

The Senses restaurant was a buffet style setup with fresh grilled steak, fish and chicken with an everlasting spread of supplements to go with it. The vegetable gratin was one of the most heavenly things we have ever had and for us to pick out the vegetable as our favourite item you know it was good! The all-you-can-eat style meant you could spend hours eating and chatting as the night wore on with the the cocktails still flowing freely.

Although we loved the buffet area, the Sandy Lane restaurant was on another level. Michelin style service was matched by scenic views made for memorable moments. The restaurant continued with the sand theme as you felt your toes settle into the sand as your listen to the waves crashing beneath the stars of the sky.

The food was impeccable with a different five course meal served up each night. From succulent steak to freshly caught fish brought in from the sea just a few metres away, this was a real fine dining experience. Deserts ranged from coconut emblazoned crème brulee to hand made profiteroles fit for a king. The food at Veranda Resorts was something we are sure we will never experience again, and that is a very upsetting thought!

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Wanting to see more of the country, we did venture out of the resort as we visited the Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden and L’ Aventure du Sucre. The botanical gardens were a beauty and we recommend taking a picnic with you as it is a great place to explore where you can spend hours losing yourself within the exotic plants and giant tortoises. The sugar cane factory is great if you are keen on finding out more about the heritage of this incredible little island. It is more than just a sugar factory and explanation of processes, it also tells you about the people of the country, their customs, values and their beliefs.

We visited Trou aux Biches on a few occasions and thoroughly enjoyed taking some time away from the resort to see the real Mauritian people as we walked through small villages and chatted with the locals. The beach itself was yet another breathtaking setting but the same could be said about most of Mauritius. We also took a Veranda catamaran cruise to Bernaches Islet where we enjoyed a BBQ to conquer all BBQ’s, and spent a few hours taking in the perfection of Mauritius.

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On our last day we rented out some bikes to ride out to the sugar cane fields. Cycling through the winding roads and listening to the roar of the waves beside us, we made it to the fields which were a bit further out the way than they had seemed in the car! The long ride was well worth it though as we settled down and explored the fields that could have lasted forever if we only had our eyes to judge it by.

Mauritius has become that holiday that will never be beaten. That luxury break that cannot be topped and that memory that will never be lost.

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The Asian Circle

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KHTravels are working with The Asian Circle on a mission to support vulnerable women in India and South Asia. We are honoured to be assisting with their social media campaign raising awareness of the fantastic work that they carry out daily. Please help spread the word and follow them on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram!

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The Asian Circle is working together with Oxfam in the tribal Adivasi communities in North East India to challenge the social acceptance of sexual and domestic violence against women. Oxfam is helping the government, police and judiciary to apply the laws that protect women. This includes setting up support centres in police stations to provide shelter, legal advice, counselling and launching a state-wide campaign to raise awareness of and change attitudes towards violence against women.

Around the world, 35% of women and girls suffer physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. November 25th is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a day dedicated to raise public awareness about this and other appalling statistics and that is what we’re doing!

Colombo; What to do & where to eat

A city we fell in love with instantly, that crazy, intense, knock you off your feet kinda love. Arriving in Colombo straight from India, we thought we knew what to expect; smog, bikes, tuctucs, rubbish, too many people, too many horns, too little pavement and a variety of smells that send your senses spiralling out of control. However, we were wrong! Never judge a book by its cover, Colombo was so far from what we expected, and in the most wonderful way.

As we left the airport and headed straight down the highway at 5am towards the city, we immediately felt a kind of culture shock. Having spent three months in India, being a passenger in an electric car on a smooth road with accompanying signs and markings was somewhat strange, but oh so good!

Where to stay

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We were spending three nights of luxury at the wonderful Jetwing Colombo Seven, a brand new stylish hotel located in the heart of the city. If you’re looking for slice of paradise during your Colombo stay than this is the place to be. Panoramic views of the upcoming skyline, a rooftop infinity pool and cocktail bar open until 2am, huge rooms with the most beautiful decor, an indulgent spa and room service to die for, this was heaven and the perfect place to celebrate K’s birthday and our eight year anniversary!

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What to do

Our first evening was spent wandering the cute, cobbled streets of the Old Dutch Hospital which offered plenty of eateries to choose from, we opted for a little Chinese place and whilst in Sri Lanka you have to try the garlic Kankun, its incredible and very similar to Vietnam’s morning glory. There are plenty of bars to choose from, our particular favourite was the Tap House serving very cheap beer and great pub grub! The area is also home to several shopping outlets open till late to quench your thirst for shopping.

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We love experiencing a new country’s culture and whilst in Colombo we visited Gangarama and Seema Malaka Buddhist temples. Both so beautiful, entry fee is 300lkr which admits you into both which is an added bonus. The temples oozed culture and with so many buddhas around we didn’t know where to start. There was something very special about these temples and despite being in the middle of a huge downpour it didn’t stop us enjoying their uniqueness. Seema Malaka is located in the same lake as Gangaramaya Park and has great views of the surrounding areas.

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Next up was The Sri Lanka National Museum which had an entry price of 1500lkr per person. It was another lovely building and very informative about the history of this amazing country, located on huge grounds it’s worthy giving yourself a couple hours to explore the museum and surrounding areas.

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We wanted to see a Sri Lankan shopping mall and chose Arcade Independence Square from the many options. The quirky layout was great to wander around and so different from the standard shopping centre. We were lucky with the weather and when we came outside to see the Bandaranaike Memorial we could relax and enjoy the sun! We love trying out the cinemas in every country we visit, not only because they’re substantially cheaper than the cinemas in the U.K. but throughout Asia they seem to be so classy! This one was a little on the small side but so clean and welcoming and had a very traditional feel.

Pettah market is great to check out if you want to experience some local markets and get away from the tourist hubs. You can simply wander around taking in the hustling streets of traders and maybe even try some traditional local snacks. The red mosque in the centre of it all is also worth paying a visit.

Where to eat/drink

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We’re big foodies and first up on our list of restaurants to try was The Fat Crab. We opted for the fish platter which was nothing short of delicious, overflowing with lobster, calamari, scallops, tiger prawns and of course their famous crab… we have been dreaming about this place ever since!

Next up was the highly recommended Gallery Café, with crab to start and beef and tuna steaks for main, the food in Colombo just seemed to be getting better and better! Unfortunately, we had had one too many cocktails and didn’t have room for a dessert which is what they are renowned for with over 30 on the menu! Oh well … we will have to return to Sri Lanka one day.

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Barefoot Cafe is also an unmissable place to visit, both for the food and the shopping. Whilst visiting the cafe we enjoyed Lion beer, fresh falafel pittas and beef bagels with such fresh and healthy ingredients. After our tummies we’re nicely full we enjoyed shopping through their endless supply of organic products which are all made in Sri Lanka, it is a shop you could spend hours in admiring each carefully crafted item!

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On K’s Birthday, we went to the famous Galle Face Hotel for bellinis by the sea in both the Pool Bar and Travellers’ Bar. It was lovely to spend a couple of hours simply relaxing and soaking up the atmosphere of this stunning hotel.

Although just a flying visit our time in Colombo was wonderful, we fell in love with the people, the sights, the food, the cleanliness, the transport, literally everything. We couldn’t fault anything about our time here and we’re incredibly excited to see what the future holds for this incredible city.

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Clock Inn Hostel

During our two weeks exploring Sri Lanka we’ve chosen to do a mix of luxury and budget accommodation to get a feel of what Sri Lanka has to offer for a range of travellers.

Being a travel couple dorm rooms aren’t ideal for us therefore when we came across Clock Inn Hostel it seemed the perfect budget accommodation as it also offered double private rooms.

We booked to stay at Clock Inn Colombo for one night when we arrived as well as three nights in Kandy. We knew we had chosen the right hostel even before we set foot in the country having had several email correspondences with the management who so helpfully assisted with our route planning and very kindly booked our airport transfers. Everything you can hope for when planning to visit a new place!

Clock Inn Colombo offers budget conscious backpackers clean, cozy and well equipped private bedrooms and dorm rooms. Despite the fact we arrived at 4am we were greeted so warmly in the cutest reception space full of bright colours and quirky decor. Our room had a large bed (just what we needed after four hour flight delays!) AC, cable TV, towels, toiletries, bottled water and a hot shower! To most backpackers this sounds like a fantasy but trust us it’s real! After a couple of hours sleep we enjoyed our free breakfast which consisted of eggs cooked to your preference, bread/toast, cereal and fruit, accompanied with fruit juice and tea/coffee (which is free all day). Our stay at Clock Inn Colombo was the perfect welcome to the city.

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After a few days exploring we booked a train to Kandy. Located right in the centre, Clock Inn Kandy is within walking distance to most of the local attractions. As with the branch in Colombo, our private room was great and featured all of the same excellent amenities and even offered use of the MAC computer in reception. Although we didn’t have much time to use the common area it looked fab, clean and full of games, DVDs and books.

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If you’re looking for something different they also offer quirky little capsules which we’ve never seen anywhere else before! Perfect for solo, budget backpackers who occasionally need their own space.

All in all our stay at both Clock Inns were faultless and we couldn’t recommend them enough! If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact us.

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A weekend in Bangalore

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Visiting Bangalore was a strange place for us as it came immediately after leaving Our Home Community. Once we did finally manage to wipe away our tears and venture out of our hotel room we soon discovered we were in what could become one of our favourite Indian cities! Please forgive our lack of photos in this blog, we felt we just needed a few days away from smiley snaps and social media!

Where not to stay:

We booked to stay at Treebo Edge and being a business city, accommodation wasn’t cheap to come by and the location of this particular Treebo caught our attention.

The hotel was a short walk away from the grand UB City Mall and this was fantastic but unfortunately this is where the positives ended.

The room was small and stuffy with no windows. The staff were not helpful at all and borderline incompetent, we aren’t the most difficult travellers to please but the staff found it difficult to answer the simplest of questions.

The walls were wafer thin so you heard every conversation from the reception to the guests next door and all in between. The food was mediocre at best (that’s being generous) and we had to argue to get access to the wifi! All together Treebo Edge in Bangalore is a big no no.

What to do:

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Bangalore is one of the biggest cities in India but unfortunately we only had two nights to explore and most of our time was spent in the luxurious UB City mall and comfort eating! The whole layout of the place is exceptional and exudes class, we would suggest you leave the elephant pants behind for this outing and it’s by no means a cheap place to shop but even if you go for a walk and a beer you will enjoy your experience. Our top tip would be to save your ventures to UB City for the evenings and take advantage of the many happy hours on offer at the local bars during the day. Bootlegger was our preferred choice and we’d definitely recommend giving it a visit.

Where to eat:

Once again UB City was our saviour from the disappointment that awaited us at Treebo Edge. There is an abundance of incredible restaurants to choose from on the outside terrace and we decided to give Sanchez a try after being lured in by the scent of fresh fajitas!

Sanchez was reasonably priced considering its setting and the food itself was delicious. The staff were exceptional and it was the perfect pick me up as we drank our sorrows away in the Mexican surroundings.

We also visited Shiro for a drink and we were right when we guessed they would make one hell of a Pinocalada! *inserts throwback to Mauritius*

Shiro was especially busy and no wonder as the setting was one of a Japanese paradise with the dark shades contrasting with the giant Buddha as the white elephant in the bamboo enclosed room. We managed to get a seat on one of the sofas in the main restaurant but we would avoid waiting at the rooftop bar in the sweltering summer nights despite the soothing sounds of live acoustic music.

Cafe Mojo on St.Marks road was another great find. From the outside it doesn’t look the most appealing and you have to go up a set of stairs before reaching the restaurant, but when you enter you are immediately relieved! Goan themed this hidden gem wasn’t as busy as it should have been. Excellent service, cheap but delicious food and drinks with a good atmosphere. If you’re looking for a budget night out then this is your place.

Finally if you’re an ice-cream lover make sure you take a break from the scorching city heat and visit Fava. The most incredible menu of luxury ice cream for such reasonable prices!

We can’t really say we explored Bangalore as we missed out on many of the top things to do due to a lack of time. However we weren’t there for a long time, we were there for a good time and that’s just what we had.✌🏽

The last week at Our Home

It’s taken us a while to write this blog … we’ve been coming to terms with leaving Our Home and the last week was so emotional we’ve not known how to put it into words. However, having cried out all our tears and spoken to the children numerous times since leaving, we’re now ready to share our experience with you.

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The week was a beautiful one, filled with so many wonderful memories makers. We went on plenty of walks where the children picked us lovely flowers to “take back to England.” K enjoyed his last few football matches with the older boys, we sang songs and recapped over the amaxing few months we spent together. We took more photos and promised the children as soon as we returned to England we will print and send them as we did last time which gave them something exciting to look forward to.

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The children had many heart wrenching questions for us “when are you coming back?” “why can’t you live here?” “Do the airports check your bags? I was thinking I could sneak in and come to England with you.” It truly was so tough and we were just as upset as them, if not more. All we could do was reassure them that we would be back and told them that not a day will go by that we won’t think about them and that we will write, phone and do everything we can to stay in touch. It felt different leaving this time to before. It wasn’t just an orphanage where we volunteered at, it was family we were leaving. Our little bedroom became our home and we packed our bags whilst listening to music from the last few months that we had shared with the children… which probably didn’t help!

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To make things just a tad more difficult during the last few days there was absolutely no water or electricity. It was a really hard few days both physically and emotionally and the children needed a treat. We wanted to make our last evening as fun as possible and luckily during the afternoon the electricity and water finally came back. We brought some speakers to the dining hall to play music and H’s nan and granddad very kindly sponsored chicken biryani for dinner, the kids favourite! Although it was lovely evening enjoyed by all, we couldn’t get away from the feeling that we were leaving tomorrow, it felt very surreal.

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When the morning came around we woke up so heartbroken that our incredible journey at Our Home had come to an end. One of the boys was awake already at 5am and had come to our room to help us finish packing. That started the tears off and once they started they wouldn’t stop! It was by far the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do. Every single child woke up extra early to see us off and greeted us with letters, flowers and drawings. We said goodbye to each and every one of them although we could barely speak we were so upset. So much for keeping it together and being strong! We were so sad as as our car drove away and all of the kids stood looking on.

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We did however leave feeling content that we achieved more than what we originally came to do, not only teaching and helping with day to day duties but building relationships and bonds with the children that can never be broken. They all know that we will ALWAYS be there to support them and we will visit as much as we can, although it’s the end of this trip it is just the start for our future with them. We’ve made the best memories and together experienced not only the fun, laughter and love but we’ve also endured the rawness, truthfulness, tears, emotions and overcome so many firsts. In the words of the children:

“You going time you no cry, you going time you happy only” … Until next time Our Home.

A weekend in Ooty

Ooty, known as Queen of the Hills is famous for its cooler weather and beautiful views. We’ve visited twice and both of our trips have been a unique experience for us as we have friends there who warmly welcome us into there home. This meant a break from Trip Advisor reviews for the best hotel deals and instead we could focus on the really important stuff … exploring!

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We recently stayed in Ooty during the Easter weekend so it was significantly busier than usual but what a wonderful weekend it was. First stop was Ooty Lake as we took a tuk tuk through the hills on a sprightly sunny day towards the still waters.

We hired a pedal boat for an hour and once pulling away from the first time boaters and upon reaching the far end of the lake we felt an overwhelming sense of serenity as we took in the beautiful views. The only thing missing was a cool beer to go with that sea breeze, or lake breeze as it were in this case. It is 160 rupees for a 2 seater boat for 30 minutes, you’re also required to leave a depsosit, which you can claim back if you’re within your time.

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The whole area around the lake is full of great little food stalls and you can’t visit without stopping for a spring potato. Although the shops and stalls detract from what the lake once was it is still kept clean and in good taste, and we actually quite enjoyed the holidaymaker feel it has to it.

The Botanical Gardens were next on our list of places to visit however they were full of picnic goers. There was little room to sit and relax until getting to the high end of the hills so we would recommend going at a less busy time than Easter weekend! This wasn’t a problem for us though as we enjoyed strolling through this picture of natural beauty.

Dodbetta view point is situated just outside of Ooty but was recommended to us as a must see so we gave it a go. Travelling up through the mountains we bumped into a giant wild dear crossing the road. The tuk tuk driver screamed at us to take a photo as they are extremely rare to see in Ooty but unfortunately the best we got was strictly rear end focussed!

Once again the downside to our experience was the sheer number of tourists taking a break from their busy lives during the Easter weekend. After walking through a parade of stalls selling everything from hats and scarves to permanent tattoos we reached the summit. The view itself was good but not great and unfortunately there was just far too much litter scattered around. We’re sure this place is usually kept neat and litter free but the volume of people meant the authorities could not enforce rules as usual. We would still recommend you visit it if you have time but try a weekday instead!

If you want to know the real Ooty we would suggest taking a walk into the town, meeting the people and exploring the homemade chocolate shops. Being much cooler than most places in India you can enjoy a stroll through the streets without the hassle of the unrelenting heat.

Back in 2015 during our first trip we also took a ride on the Toy Train. If you have time we would definitely recommend it, the slow speed and gorgeous views really allow you some time to relax, however make sure you book tickets in advance as the train gets full pretty quickly. Somewhere else we were lucky enough to have dinner at was The Ooty Club, rumour has it that this is where snooker was first invented! When you step into the club it is like going back in time and you are completely in awe everywhere you look. Unfortunately you can only enter with a member so if you want to visit, we suggest you make some very good friends!

We love Ooty for its climate and uniqueness. Although situated in the heart of India the heritage of once being ruled by the British East India Company is still evident to its core and that blend of British/India is balanced just right in this uniquely mountainous town.

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A weekend in Mysore

Mysore is one of those places in India where you just feel welcome. Let’s not forget that India isn’t for everyone but there is a slight chance that Mysore might just be. Being voted the cleanest Indian city for two years in a row definitely has something to do with that!

Where to stay:

We’ve stayed at Hotel Aditya a few times now and we’re never let down. The location is perfect as it is within walking distance of the Mysore Palace and Devaraja Market while also being opposite More. More is like finding a needle in a haystack in India as it’s a supermarket that sells beer! Hotel Aditya is a 10 minute tuctuc ride from the KSRTC bus station which makes coming and going very easy. The staff are helpful, the rooms are decent for a reasonable price and they have cable TV, wifi, and free breakfast! Just what you need if you’ve been backpacking in hostels.

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What to do:

If you want to see India in all of its glory then Devaraja Market is the place to be. From Holi paints and flowers to gem stones and exotic oils, you can find virtually anything at this market once you’ve shifted through the furore of people, cows, dogs and stalls outside, a great place to get those insta pics.

Chamundi Hill is a great spot to get a view of the whole city, especially at sunset or sunrise. The sunlight reflects across the whole city and it feels like you’re sitting on the edge of Pride Rock. Take the 201 bus to the peak and for a few extra rupees we suggest you wait it out for the air con bus which is a lot less busy and much more comfortable. Once reaching the top follow the steps to find yourself a secluded spot and the view will speak for itself.

If you have some spare time the Mysore sand museum is a good place to visit with some awesome sculptures for only 40 rupees per person. It’s located just a few minutes’ drive from the Mall of Mysore and features some amazing artworks based on religion, history and Disney!

The Mall of Mysore is a basic mall, but offers some tasty treats, a good supermarket and a cinema with English movies.

Finally, Mysore Palace is what you visit this city for, built in 1912 it is incredibly well maintained and attracts six million people a year. If you want to get the full experience make sure you explore the inside of the palace to experience life as a Maharaja in India. If you’re just there to get some snaps then avoid paying the full entrance fee and wander the grounds leisurely with a picnic but we wouldn’t recommend going in the middle of the day unless you want to remember your experience with some semi-permanent sunburn! Everyday except Sundays the Palace holds a sound and light programme between 7pm & 8pm where you can see the palace illuminated in all its glory.

Where to eat:

Having been in India for over three months were always on the lookout for our next western meal so hearing of a dominos, KFC and McDonald’s was music to our ears. We know this isn’t the most cultural thing to do but what says India more than a Maharaja Mac?!

There is also a great little pizza place by the name of Sadananda’s Wood Fired Pizza within walking distance of Hotel Aditya. It doesn’t look the busiest or the most appealing place to eat but looks can be deceiving and we can’t recommend this place highly enough.

Mysore is a wonderful Indian city with some much needed home comforts. If you just come along for the palace and a Maharaja Mac it will be a day well spent but as with the rest of India there’s something special about this city with plenty to see and do.

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Volunteering isn’t easy

Something we’ve seen with lots of bloggers and are guilty of ourselves is only sharing the good parts of volunteering… Those unforgettable moments or cute selfies with the kids.

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The truth is volunteering isn’t easy and can be really tough. Of course the good bits are incredible and it’s natural to share these moments with family and friends but you tend to keep the bad bits to yourself, it’s easier that way. It’s hard to explain but you feel if you share your negative experiences that you are letting yourself down.

We’ve volunteered several times internationally and each experience has had its difficulties. We’ve decided to share some of our hard days with you and how we’ve overcome them. If you’re considering volunteering abroad it’s good to know what you’re letting yourself in for!

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Firstly prepare yourself for very basic accommodation with no luxuries; uncomfortable beds, little sleep, no fans or AC, mosquito bites, squat toilets, hand washing clothes, no TV and no wifi! Culture shock can also be a little daunting, when volunteering you’re often in remote communities that may not have seen foreigners before so make sure you do plenty of research into local customs before your arrival. These are the first things to come to terms with and the rest will fall into place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia we experienced extreme language barriers. We struggled enormously, particularly in Cambodia where the children were not very well behaved. Teaching classes of 30+ students that do not even understand ‘sit down’ was frankly a nightmare! We quickly realised we couldn’t improvise and had to spend time planning for each class. Using pictures was very helpful so we spent the nights hand drawing in preparation for the next day. Action songs are also great to keep the small children occupied whilst engaging them in learning English. One thing for sure is don’t assume the children will know basic English, especially in the poorer communities because… they don’t! There will also be very few facilities so pack what teaching materials you can as it will make your life a lot easier.

In the Philippines we experienced extreme poverty. On the daily commute to our volunteer placement we saw so many street children that we wanted to help, but what could we do? We couldn’t just walk past and found giving the children food was a great way to help. We often bought snacks for them to eat and always took away any food we had left over in restaurants to give out. Also after days of deliberating we started talking to them. They are children after all and much of their day is spent begging or sitting on the streets bored. Taking the time to chat and play simple games we soon had them laughing and although the simplest thing, a smile sometimes makes everything feel better.

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We’re currently at Our Home Community Orphanage in India. It’s our third time volunteering here but this time we are spending almost three months living at the orphanage. It has exposed us to their everyday life and the real struggles they face each day that you just wouldn’t know about from visiting for a few days.

The days are long and hot, especially now it is the summer holidays. The children wake up very early, some at 4:45am and do not sleep until after 10pm. Previously we worked in London and without our daily commutes and working hours we realise how much time there is in a day. With limited resources there is only so much you can do and quite often we find ourselves looking for something new to do with the kids but without the energy to do it because of the heat.

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Being with children 24/7 is also pretty tough. Don’t get us wrong, we absolutely adore them but anyone with or around children at home will know this themselves, sometimes you need a break especially when it’s 42 kids you’re trying to occupy! We have found ourselves missing adult company, family, friends and ‘normal’ things that we do at home. It’s a huge lifestyle change that we’ve had to adjust too.

The lack of water in Wayanad at the moment is a big problem, being here in the height of summer means extreme water rationing. We are experiencing a drought and often have not had water for two or three days so no flushing the toilet after a number two, no showers after sweating all day … there’s nothing worse right? Wrong. This is the children’s drinking water so there’s us upset we can’t shower whilst the children are thirsty which makes us feel even worse. As well as the water the electricity also comes and goes as it pleases, usually at night so food cannot be prepared and dinner can be very late.

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This brings us on to money issues. Living at the orphanage we’re exposed to the day to day money stresses they endure and some days all they have to eat is boiled rice. We don’t even eat rice at home so having that as the only food option is tough and we spend nights dreaming of Pizza Hut takeouts!

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Spending so much time with the children we have formed some really strong relationships. It is only natural that they feel that they can open up to us and although we’ve never asked them questions, a few have told us about their past experiences and how they came to be at the orphanage. Sitting listening to some of the horror stories they have been through is absolutely heartbreaking and probably the hardest part of all. We’ve sat holding back the tears whilst they have opened their hearts to us. All we want to do is cuddle and protect them from ever being hurt again and take away their painful memories. These stories just play over and over in our minds and we have spent a few nights sobbing at the thought of what they have been through.

Finally, saying goodbye. Everywhere we have volunteered it’s always been tough saying an emotional goodbye to the children we’ve formed bonds with but Our Home is completely different, these children are our family. The past two times we’ve left have been hard enough, we dread to think how we’re going to leave them this time.

So how do we overcome these difficulties? We do what the children do and get on with it. You never hear them moaning “there’s no water” “I don’t want rice” “I’m bored” they are our biggest inspiration and motivation to get through the hard parts. Each day is a new start and we always find if we’ve had a bad day after a sleep we wake up feeling better and a positive attitude can change anything. Remember this when you’re feeling low because coming home is just as hard if not harder. You miss everything you hated, you find it so hard eating the pizza you wanted because you’re thinking of the children eating their rice and all of a sudden your ‘normal’ isn’t so normal anymore.

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Our biggest advice would be to enjoy every single minute of it. Volunteering is an amazing, life changing experience despite the fact it isn’t easy. Accept all of the bad parts and try to enjoy them the best you can, remember why you’re there. Don’t pretend to yourself and others that everything is always okay, it’s not and that’s what makes your journey. Express how you’re feeling and don’t bottle up those hard parts, embrace them.

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Life brings tears, smiles and memories. The tears dry, the smiles fade, but the memories last forever.

A weekend in Kochi

Kochi is a welcome break for most travellers in India with its European feel and abundance of restaurants to choose from, it’s definitely more that just “that place with the Chinese fishing nets”.

Where to stay:

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This was our second time visiting Kochi but unfortunately could not return to the excellent Bastian Homestay as it was fully booked. Instead, we stayed at Maison Casero homestay which was just as brilliant and if anything better. The one thing we craved most was a western breakfast so being awoken to tea, toast and eggs made to measure immediately out a smile on our face!

The rooms were very clean, had the option of AC, offered free wifi and a hot shower. You can’t really ask for more than that for £16 a night!

What to do:

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The beach is not so great and really rather dirty but you should definitely head down to Fort Kochi to see the Chinese fishing nets in action. We recommend avoiding the heat of the day and head down at sunset to enjoy the view of the sun descending into the Arabian Sea whilst the locals are bringing in their catch of the day.

Santa Cruz Basilica Church is one of Kochi’s most famous landmarks and although nice to see especially at night when it is all lit up, it wouldn’t be our top reason for going to visit however, there is something else close by that is a must see…

Kathakali is one of the main forms of classical Indian dance. A story portrayed through art, we watched a rather large man turn the whites of his eyes blood red before depicting a story of rape and death. Not the most uplifting of tales but certainly one you’ll never forget. It’s a very strange experience, but one not to be missed!

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On the bright side, if you’re after a bit of western life then Lulu Mall is the place to be. Take the airport bus from Fort Kochi directly to the mall and you get to ride through this quaint town in the comfort of air conditioning without forking out for a private car. The mall itself offers an array of shops to explore, a great cinema with English and Indian movies and best of all it’s very own answer to Nando’s; Galitos! We also experienced the best milkshake we have ever had in Bloomsbury’s cafe, which was reason enough for us to return to the mall during our second visit!

Where to eat:

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There are an abundance of great restaurants to eat in Fort Kochi. On our previous visit we headed down to The Old Harbour and despite being a bit pricey, they serve one hell of a steak! For a cheaper but equally exceptional meal take a stroll from the fishing nets to The Killians Hotel. If you’re in a pair or more we highly recommend getting one of the seafood platters, Kochi offers some of the best seafood in India and this place might just be the pick of the bunch. Despite many recommendations online, we would advice you avoid eating at the many stalls lining the beach as we found they’re often over priced and take an age to prepare your meal!

Finally, the Upstairs Italian Restaurant was like a mirage in the sun when we first visited Kochi and it was just as fantastic this time around. Seated with an open window view of Santa Basilica Church, this might be the only place in India that serves real prosciutto Ham!

So there you have it; where to stay, what to do and where to eat in Kochi. Just remember you won’t be able to claim your free whole chicken on your Nando’s card in Galito’s… it’s still india after all!

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