Food, wine and revolution

The long road to democracy, a squeaky-clean police force (thanks to a reality show called ‘Police’ to restore its standing in the eyes of the public and a concerted effort to clamp down corruption) and a booming tourist industry that almost everyone is happy to capitalise on pretty much characterises what I saw in Tbilisi – and perhaps to a lesser extent, the whole of Georgia. The Tbilisi of today is a far cry of Tbilisi in 2002, at least according to Paul Rimple, one of the authors and guides for Culinary Backstreets, the food tour company with which TC and I signed up to get a feel of the local area....

The bride who hides her face

“Hello, my friend!” Tazo our driver greeted us with such enthusiasm that it was impossible not to like him at first sight. As we found out throughout the day, he knows a smattering of English, ending every sentence with ‘my friend’. His driving skills are unparalleled, so much so that we had a headache by the end of the day trip into the Caucasus mountains. The road out of Tbilisi is scenic, but absolute shite in many places. There are many times though, when the landscape alone makes it worth it and this is possibly one of those times. The Georgian military highway is the only route out of Tbilisi into...

In the heart of the Caucasus

The locals call their land Saqartvelo, whereas everyone else calls it ‘Georgia’, a place (and many men thereafter) named after its patron Saint. For the longest time, it has been a country shrouded in shadowy myths (for me at least), lumped in with the rest of the Soviet states and forgotten about, until the Travel Companion (TC) bought a bottle of Georgian wine years ago. My research into the place started in earnest then. I looked into their ancient language – a part of me imagines this is how Proto-Indo European might have sounded like -, the wine, the gorgeous churches, the mountains, the fabled hospitality of the people…and I was...

Staying fashionable while on the road

I’ve personally found it an impossibility to stay chic and fresh as I pull pair after pair of wrinkled pants (and shirts) out of my bags while moving from place to place. Even with hair that has thermally reconditioned (it’s a concession that I’ve been giving myself for the last decade to tame flyaway hair that can sort of still look alright in the morning), jet-lag and travel fatigue generally help guarantee that I wouldn’t be walking down any fashion runway any time soon. Those who look good effortlessly have my perpetual admiration and envy. Yet I’ve never really been particularly image conscious, until I started walking the streets of...

Speaking in tongues

My (ex)Icelandic tutor once told me that she was learning several Japanese phrases for an upcoming trip to Japan, despite knowing nothing of the country. A Travel Companion once, had even bought Turkish and Italian quick-fix language sets in preparation for those holidays. I’ve no idea if they actually succeeded in getting around more easily, but they’ve never worked for me. Should I bother memorising anything other than “Yes”, “No”, “Thank you” and “Please” in a language I’m completely unfamiliar with? I’ve often asked myself if I should even bother with the short section found at the back of every travel guide called “Useful phrases” in the language of the country you’re...

Travelling when ill

It’s hard to do anything when your body doesn’t want to corporate. You’re sneezing, coughing or wheezing and there’s a flight to catch, or a train to run after, or an early morning call that you have to take because you’ve signed up for an early day tour that you sort of now regret. I’ve hard diarrhoea and food poisoning (fever and all) on board a plane and it’s far from a fun ride. Besides that, it’s difficult to think about what will happen the next hour, let alone the next day. What is supposed to be the time of your life experiencing loads of new things has suddenly turned to laboured...

Adventure prone

Waking up at 4 am is a hellish experience I wouldn’t ever want to wish on anyone. But the Travel Companion and I did it, in my 4th iteration of what has so far been an annual pilgrimage to Bali, that has now gotten past just scuba diving off the east coast of Bali and off Nusa Penida. I had a great time on Christmas with Jan and Markus (just the 3 of us, it seemed), since tourist numbers are madly erratic for this period. But perhaps what made it worth it as always, was the accidental conversations I fall into during these journeys. Jan and I spoke at length...

2016: What I remember

I’ve never been the sort who catalogues every good and bad moment of the year and up until now, it has been difficult trying to sort each and every memorable one out. The months and the weeks go by in a manner that makes me feel I’d been in a coma for several months; a bad blip rolls over into a good one, which sometimes stays on…until the next disappointment or roadblock hits. And on it goes. But now that I think a little harder about it, the good memories always tend involve the process of learning something new, either as a hobby or as skills acquisition (I hate this...

Beyond the culinary

The crowds and the smells always indicate that something food-related is near. Well, it’s certainly true of the legendary night markets in Taipei – there’re 14 of them at least, some lesser known to the tourists which locals frequent – that are noisy, bustling affairs of smoke, dirt and well, some delicious finds. We managed only 3 here and if the plan was to eat our way through the streets lined with stores and persistent sellers, there’s really only so much I could stomach when it comes to fried chicken, bubble tea and starchy oyster omelette, let alone consecutive days of this stuff. More traditional dishes do tend to be...

Taipei Eats: A food tour

It’s difficult to know where to begin with the mind-boggling food of Taiwan but one thing I knew when I planned this trip was that it would be near impossible to get around to the places the locals like without having an English-speaking local to bring us around. Going with Taipei Eats for a few hours of walking and eating traditional Taiwanese dishes was a god-send, as was the lovely guide Jean who took us through the maze of streets and wet markets – and straight into the heart of Taipei where shops could be holes in the wall with untranslated menus. The philosophy of Taipei Eats, as Jean explained,...