Watch Out! Excuse me, say that again - No reservations?

Watch Out! Excuse me, say that again - No reservations? 

That kind travel agent, the one with the gorgeous smile, at Brussels train station made our hotel reservations in Paris. Pay in full, she said before that. She was helpful. Despite her warm nature, we had an ounce of uncertainty and therefore agreed to part with only 50% upfront. She reluctantly agreed. The rest was to be paid upon check-in, she reminded us. The hotel brochure displayed decent tourist-class guestrooms that included continental breakfast plus a fabulous view of the city from each room! Awesome deal, I was thrilled.


reachingdelphi Belgium


All set! There was just one thing left to do and that was to get there. So, next morning we checked in at our bus check-in counter. The officer verified our passports – neither of us needed any visas. Next thing we knew, we were heading to Paris. Oh yes, sweetheart! The city of love. I was desperately looking out for the Belgian windmills on our way there. After almost three hours on the road, we noticed sights of the charming renaissance. Oh, I felt her elegance; I did. A true lady and a fine one! I could not wait to get off the bus.


We got off at the last drop off point. Despite being tired and coffee deprived, we mustered the energy to drag our suitcases and headed straight for the hotel. The aroma of freshly baked croissants and steaming brew from the cafes along the way was very inviting, but we decided that those would have to wait until we got settled in for the night.

 Coffee ReachingDelphi Belgium


The hotel was in a hidden corner, away from the main street. It took us a while to find it. Next to the building was a vendor selling something that looked like Indian dosas, but with a sweet vanilla aroma. Crepes, I learnt. We sampled some the next evening. Simply delicious, as I recall. I have a craving for everything luscious, a sweet tooth if you are wondering why. 


I could not wait to get to the room with the nice veranda overlooking the city. We showed our payment voucher. Excusez-moi monsieur, madame, je n'ai aucune réserve pour vous. Okay, not another one, I thought. 


reachingdelphi, Manneken Pis


After 15 minutes of ‘friendly’ discussion, but no arguments, and several phone calls, we settled the remaining unpaid balance and received our keys. It appeared to us that booking through these agents and the unsynchronised bookings between the two parties is a rather common occurrence. We could not tell if this incident was a genuine mistake or a fraudulent practice. But we were lucky that our pre-payment was honoured without much fuss. Our room was comfortable, but I could not see the iconic tower or any part of the city. Instead, we were offered a charming French courtyard view. By the way, quaint hotels may not come with elevator services, so travel light, as you may have to carry your luggage up a few floors.

 

reachingdelphi,  Eiffel Tower


A similar incident happened more recently at another city. This time we had made a fully paid reservation through a reputable booking website. Upon arrival at the hotel (outer Phoenix), the reservation officer told us that they were overbooked. She also informed us that our booking did not show up on her screen. It was after 11 p.m. and we had been driving for almost five hours, so you can imagine our disappointment. You are lucky if the hotel realises the blunder and offers an alternate option, such a transfer to their partner hotels. But unfortunately, that sort of top service is a rare these days. The reception suggested a few other hotels nearby that may have vacancies. We were fortunate that we managed to get a room at the first hotel on the list, but it was a scary experience indeed, especially since this happened in an unfamiliar township. I could not sleep for a long time that night. I reported the incident with the booking site. They provided a full refund that same week.

 

Atomium in Belgium


So, do watch out! Be aware and do your groundwork review before you start your trip. If you are also a budget traveller, you know that hard-earned money is not easy to come by. So be wise. Always watch out.

 

What I have learnt:

  • Make reservations only through a reliable source. Carefully, evaluate the options shown. If online reviews are available, then take some time to read through what other customers had experienced. In the same way, leave a comment for others to benefit from your experience. Both positive and negative feedback is important.
  • Always keep payment confirmation handy. Confirmation of purchase is important. 
  • Reconfirm with the hotel directly ahead of time. I prefer contacting them via email, or online chat. If there is no response to either, I opt for social media such as Facebook. Trust me, this preparation will give you peace of mind. You do not want to be stranded in an unfamiliar place.
  • If you are mistreated or feel cheated for the services you paid for, do not be afraid to stand up firmly (and, calmly) for your rights.
  • Booking sites will usually provide a refund quickly when the supporting documentation has been provided. 

Reaching Delphi in Brussels





Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.

The Amazing Canyons : Grand Canyon, Arizona.

The Amazing Canyons : Grand Canyon, Arizona.

All ends will reconnect in time - ReachingDelphi

We stood there, Doc and I, speechless. I felt I was on another planet. In front of us stood magnificent million-year-old rock structures of various colours, each formation layered like a delicious cake. (If it were a cake, everyone in the world would be able to enjoy a tea-time special.) I am talking about the great Grand Canyon in the United States. Among those ancient rocks, I felt so small. It was a simple reminder of how tiny we are in the presence of Mother Nature.  

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Just you, me and mother nature. Speechless. 


What is the Grand Canyon? In short, it is a river valley in the Colorado Plateau that exposes uplifted Proterozoic and Palaeozoic strata. (The Proterozoic and Palaeozoic periods ran for millions of years, causing great geological changes and shaping how the Earth looks today.) Recent studies of the caves in the canyon indicate that the Grand Canyon gradually came into being about 17 million years ago. The multi-coloured layers we see today are the different types of rocks that have eroded and been exposed to the elements over the centuries.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Cherish the amazing world we have inherited.


So just how huge is the Grand Canyon? Overwhelmingly huge, to be honest. To start with, its 446 kilometres long. Putting this into perspective for someone from my part of the world, this is similar to the distance from Ipoh (in Malaysia) to Singapore, or from Bangkok to Sukhothai (both in Thailand). Its width stretches between 6.6 kilometres and 29 kilometres. Caution! Do not look down if you are afraid of heights – it’s over a mile (1.6 kilometres) deep. On that note, those who wish to satisfy their adrenaline craving should check out the bungee jumping packages.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
What is life, I am so lost?


There are over 1,000 documented caves at the canyons, but only 30% of these have been explored to date.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Canyon caves.


The Grand Canyon is home to diverse wildlife and endangered species (mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians). The earliest people in this region were the Native Americans, and they still inhabit the area today.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Come,  follow me.


Anyone can visit the canyon at almost any time of the year. Just head to the Grand Canyon National Park, which is in the beautiful state of Arizona.


Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
View from the helicopter.


Depending on where you are travelling from and the time of the year, you have the choice of visiting the South or North Rim. Doc and I travelled north from his sister’s place in Arizona to visit the South Rim first. It took us nearly five hours to get to the park by car. We stopped for a short lunch – and coffee break at Flagstaff on the way, naturally 😉. You could also get there through a tour package there, which is what my parents and sisters did many years before.


Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
I'll be there, I will. 

 

Once you reach the park, you will have several ways to explore the majestic landscape. Here are few:

  • Sightseeing on your own or with a guided tour
  • Trekking
  • Bus rides within the park
  • Helicopter rides
  • Canoeing/rafting

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
I am so tiny in your presence.


A few weeks before this trip, Doc made a helicopter tour reservation (aviation is one of his passions). If you have time, I do highly recommend this option. Though your wallet might end up a little lighter, you will not regret the opportunity to see the canyon from a birds-eye view. The breath-taking sights and the exhilarating feeling we experienced together during this one-hour ride will forever be etched in memory.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
Magnificent mother nature.


Our scenic flight took us through the beautiful Kaibab National Forest, which I learnt was home to the world's largest stand of ponderosa pines. Then we were treated to a feast of varying views of the canyons – North, South and East. We also pointed out the Colorado River snaking its way in and out of the canyons, eroding its steep sides as it has done for millions of years. Since our trip was in the winter months, there was a chilling breeze. I guess that was why we did not see any rafters along the Colorado that morning. But let me know if you spot any.

 

Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
A view of the Colorado.


Light snacks and meals are available at designated areas in the park. We bought ourselves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some coffee to go with it. What, more coffee?  Of course! Anyway, back to the peanut butter sandwich. Frankly, this was my first real American version of the sandwich, and after having one, I realised why kids (and adults) are so hooked on it. I would go for seconds if I were not, in the canyon terms, as old as the rocks.

 

grand canyon
Peanut butter sandwich & coffee. Come on, I am hungry.


We definitely needed that extra coffee to stay focused on the road, because on the way back, we decided to take the windy but scenic route back via Sedona, which was a little longer. 

  

grand canyon
Scenic drive on the way back.


 We made a few more exciting stops on the way.  Yabba dabba doo!

grand canyon
Get your Kicks! 


Doc loved flying, so naturally seeing these aircraft parked at the Valle Airport reminded him of his Cessna days and, me of Top Gun. Take my breath away.........


grand canyon
I know which one I would choose.


 We also spotted a few vintage cars at the gas station. 


grand canyon
Blown away!


“Grand” understates the canyon’s splendour. Some may regard this place as just a bunch of old rocks. Not so for us. It is the home of the ancient spirits. You can hear them in the blowing wind. Listen to them for a moment. Just being there face-to-face with this mighty geological showcase of colourful layers of rocks is most certainly the experience of a lifetime. It is a blessing and a privilege to be able to view this natural wonder. We are so blessed!

The soul of the rocks has seeped into me. My wish is that the stars of the canyons keep you and me company and guide us all through darkest moments of any day. Those shining diamonds assure me that everything will be okay. All ends will reconnect in time. Counting stars, reaching Delphi, searching for wisdom and peace of the ancient world.


Reaching Delphi @ Grand Canyon. All ends will reconnect in time.
All ends will reconnect in time - Reaching Delphi 💗💗💗

Watch Out! Secure Your Belongings Before You Leave the Room.


Watch Out! Secure Your Belongings Before You Leave the Room.

Travel Mishaps from the Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert Series.


What excites you when you check into a hotel room? For me, it’s to see the view from my window. I welcome any sight, but the views I like the most are the ones with streets dressed in local flavours, culture-rich neighbourhoods, blue seas, and mountains. Bonus points if I can spot a place to pick up some coffee easily. So naturally, the first thing I do when I open my hotel room is look out the window.

reachingdelphi
The view is good, but do watch out!

Have you taken a group package tour before for any vacation? These packages usually combine bus travel to transport you to the places listed in the itinerary, a knowledgeable guide, accommodation at reputable hotels, and delicious meals.

We had used group tours as one of our vacation options on several occasions. One of these was an all-inclusive package with a well-known tour operator in Greece. Now, everything about the trip was commendable and well planned – well, almost. Our tour guide, Maria, was our walking Wikipedia for everything we needed to know. We enjoyed the great selection of vegetarian Mediterranean food. While Greek coffee and wines were a treat, I found Ouzo was not quite right for me.


Reachingdelphi
Lets have some coffee here. Pick your table.


Imagine this – you received your hotel room key, and the view from your room surpasses your expectations. Just one more thing to do – unpack. As you’re settling in, the inviting view outside and your rumbling tummy hastily urges you to hurry on. Next thing you know, you are outdoors snapping photos and posting on Instagram. Here’s a question. Let’s trace back your steps. What do you do before you leave the hotel room? Make sure I have the room keys, duh! Well, that’s right, but not entirely complete, fellow traveller. 


On the second night of the tour, we stayed at a beautiful five-star resort in Corinth. Our dinner that night was included in our package, a buffet spread at the hotel. Most of us from the tour were exhausted and wanted to get under the covers for a good night’s sleep. We had to leave early the next morning for another city. Naturally, we freshened up quickly and left the room – with our keys, of course. Since my room was only steps away from the hotel restaurant, and because this was a fancy hotel, we left the suitcases unlocked, only taking essentials like our passports.

After a heavy dinner and some light socialising, we got back to the room and, to our shock, found our suitcases open. Upon checking we found some money, tickets, and small purchases missing. The next day we learnt that two other travellers from our group also noted their important valuables were missing. When we informed Maria, we were miles away from the resort where the incident took place, and U-turning to Corinth would disrupt the tour schedule. Maria did not offer any solution. 

Reachingdelphi


When you analyse this, you’d note the following:
  • All the victims were from the same travel group.
  • The signs indicated this was an internally planned theft.
  • This theft may not have been the first time of such occurrence.
  • The organisers of the theft knew the travel pattern well. With their set tour schedule, their victims would not return to file a police report.
  • The incident occurred on the second night, when most travellers were not well acquainted with other travel group members.

We encountered a similar incident in a hotel in Singapore last year. Though I was cautious with the more essential items, I noted a bag of mixed nuts was no longer where I left it. It was gone. Housekeeping, I suspected. I closed an eye, but it shouldn’t have happened.

Reachingdelphi
Reaching Delphi......we are here!

What I have learnt:

  • Theft can take place in any hotel, regardless of hotel category or rating.
  • If you must leave anything valuable in the room, be sure to lock it up. Use a safe box if there is one in the room.
  • Make an inventory of your travel items and always check the details on them.
  • Check the room for hidden cameras or hidden eye holes .
  • Report any such incident right away so it doesn’t happen to the next tour group. Today, online reviews of hotels and tours aid in reducing such occurrences.
  • Anyone can be a victim.

Stay safe while you travel.



Footnote:
Regardless of whether you are a business traveller or vacationer, a one-time or frequent traveller – if you travel, you are exposed to risks. It’s important to understand that some of us are easier targets than others.

This series is dedicated to Doc, SV, who constantly reminded me to 'Watch Out!. Through Watch Out! Travel Mishaps from Reaching Delphi Travellers Alert series, I will share some of our travel misadventures with you. My aim is to create an awareness of such incidents and some useful suggestions to reduce the occurrence of unpleasant events. 

Follow Coffee Trail – Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi for travel updates and tips.

A Day in Kochi, Kerala – Visiting the Land of the Gods


A Day in Kochi, Kerala – Visiting the Land of the Gods


My recent trip to India brought me to a beautiful coastal city in a south-western state also known as the Land of the Gods: Kochi.


Land of the Gods
Kerala – the Land of the Gods

Lonely Planet, the famous travel guru,  ranked Kochi as the seventh of the top 10 cities to visit in 2020. I wonder if my father and his friends knew about Kochi's charm when they chose it as the venue for their college reunion. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to unwind with my parents and their fun-filled group of friends as we explored some of the sights and scenes of this city.


Kochi for First-Time (and Frequent) Visitors

  • Kochi, also known as Cochin, is the financial, commercial, and industrial capital of Kerala. It's no surprise that Cochin is the largest and most densely populated city in the state.  
  • Kochi is an important port city on the west coast of India, so it's not surprising to see many large ships docked here. She is also fondly known as the Queen of the Arabian Sea.

Kerala
Kerala's port city


  • Kochi had been occupied by the Portuguese, Dutch, and then the British. You'll notice many of these influences around the older parts of the city.

Fort Kochi
At Fort Kochi


  • Does Cochin sound familiar? Cochin was the name given to the city by the British during their occupancy. In 1996, the name was reverted to Kochi, its original Malayalam name.

watching the Arabian
Wait for me...wait for me


Getting to and Around Kochi

You can get into Kochi by rail, road, or air. On an earlier visit, I took a train to Kochi. This time, I flew in and was warmly welcomed by these majestic elephants.

Kochi Airport
Greeted by elephants

To travel around Kochi, you can opt for local taxis, Uber, and autos (the local three-wheelers). For this visit, we took a hired bus to explore some of the famous places in the city.

Reunion meet
We are ready!  Are you? Let's go! 


The Weather in Kochi

Kochi’s climate centres on tropical monsoon season, which means it's going to be moderately hot here. Comfortable cotton wear is advisable. If you don't have any, you can always pick up a few clothes in Kerala.

Shopping Kochi
Shop! Not me


A Few Kochi Essentials

Just like in any other major Indian city, you'll also find the regular traffic jams, tasty eateries, and stalls with piping-hot coffee. Once you acclimatise to these, I guarantee you that your trip is going to be a blast.

Despite being a densely populated city, most people I interacted with in Kochi were calm, warm, and polite when speaking to me.

The local and official language of the state is Malayalam, but English and Hindi are widely spoken in restaurants and touristy places. I communicated with traders at the smaller gift shops in what I thought were the commonly shared vocabularies between Tamil and Malayalam. I am pretty sure I did satisfactory job, because when I left with the purchases, we were both beaming ear to ear.

reaching delphi coffee
Coffee & Chai onboard. 💗 Anytime. Anywhere 💗

Exploring Kochi

Here are some suggestions for your trip to Kochi.

Fort Kochi

There are lots of numbers to share, so do bear with me for a bit. This area was originally a fishing village in precolonial Kerala. The town became as Fort Kochi when it was granted to the Portuguese in 1503 by the Rajah of Kochi, after the forces of Afonso de Albuquerque helped him fight the forces of Saamoothiri of Kozhikode. The Dutch captured Fort Kochi 160 years later. In 1795, the British took control and remained until 1947. 

Fort Kochi
Guess what I am?

If you have limited time to spend in Kochi, I highly recommend you visit this area, as you’ll see the various historical influences here. The entire area can be explored by foot, and it’s easy to get mesmerised by its charm for hours.

Boilers fort kochi
We were once grand boilers. Come find me


St Francis Church

This church is one of the oldest churches in India. St Francis Church was originally built in 1503 by the Portuguese. Vasco Da Gama, the famous Portuguese explorer, died in Kochi in 1534 and was originally buried in this church. His remains, however, were removed to Lisbon 14 years later.

st francis church kochi
Time for history revision


Mattancherry Palace Museum

Interestingly, this museum building was built by the Portuguese in 1553. When the Dutch took control of the state, they made extensive renovations to Mattancherry and called it the Dutch Palace. The structure of the building is solid wood, built in Nālukettu style, a traditional Kerala style of architecture.

Today, you can see Kerala's mythological murals and exhibits of the Rajas of Kochi. Photography of the exhibits is not permitted, but I did take some photos of the fine woodwork. A small fee is charged at the entrance.

dutch palace
Mattancherry Palace Museum a.k.a The Dutch Palace


Chinese Fishing Nets

No trip to Kochi is complete without having seen the Chinese fishing nets, also known as stationary lift nets. Just looking at the pictures I took of these famous nets never fails to calm my nerves.

chinese fishing net
Chinese fishing nets - stationary lift nets 

Chinese fishing nets were introduced back in the 14th century when Chinese explorers arrived in India. The nets are fixed-land installations for fishing. More formally, they’re known as shore-operated lift nets.

chinese fishing net
Chinese fishing nets at Fort Kochi


Jew Town 

Jew town is in the old Cochin quarters. Be sure to take a slow walk around and pick up souvenirs while exploring this beautiful area. Today there are many cafes and handicraft shops along these old streets. 

jew town kochi
At the Fort Kochi neighbourhood

When you are here, don't forget to look out for the Paradesi Synagogue that was built in 1568.

Paradesi Synagogue
Paradesi Synagogue at the old Cochin quarters


Local Souvenir Hunting 

Trust me, you are not going to be disappointed. I just fell in love with the colours and charming items offered at a bargain. I’m not usually drawn to shopping, but this time I couldn't resist picking up a couple of mementos.

shopping in Cochin
OMG...look who is shopping in Kochi


Get a Refreshing Drink

The temperature can get high, so it's essential to stay hydrated. Here is a reminder to do so.


coffee here
Stay hydrated...some times it feels hot as an oven 😎

Watch a Local Cultural Performance

India is so rich in traditions and classical dance. Kathakali is a form of Indian traditional dance that originates from this region. We didn't get to see a performance, but we're fortunate to see two performers at the hotel where we stayed at.

Kathakali performers
Kathakali performers

Sunset at the Harbour 

If you have more time and are spending the night in Kochi, then don't miss an opportunity to see the glorious Indian sunset by the harbour. It’s simply amazing!


Queen of the Arabian
Queen of the Arabian Sea

Over at the harbour, you can also opt for a sunset cruise through the backwaters, which will offer views of the marine drive, Chinese fishing nets, and the point where the Kochi lagoon meets the Arabian sea. I do this every visit, and I am never disappointed or bored. For me, this is the icing on the cake.


Queen of the Arabian
Sun set, golden memories

And, what's just as good is to enjoy the sunset with some local coffee or chai, like what I am doing here.


reaching delphi coffee
See you soon. 💛


This trip was very special. It was a reunion of friends and I got to be a party crasher. I was reminded that strong bonds are built and sealed over time. Where we live doesn’t have to matter. The distance in between nor the seas can truly separate us. I wish this group many more happy years of good health, prosperity and reunion meet-ups.

Counting Stars, Reaching Delphi. Wishing everyone good health, happiness, safety and peace.

Stay calm, safe, and healthy while together we overcome the global COVID-19 pandemic.



Never forget the days I spent with you. Continue to be my friend, as you will always find me yours.
Ludwig Van Beethoven

chinese fishing net
Never forget the days I spent with you

*** Note : This travel was made made prior to the Covid-19 virus related travel ban.