Saturday, July 22, 2017

Food and Stay - South Goa Monsoon 2017

The thrill of the windy and cloudy weather in Goa during the monsoon season is accentuated by the unpredictability of the rains. While sometimes it may rain several times a day in short, sharp bursts, at other times it may rain buckets for hours. Walking the desolate beaches wrapped in the haze raised by the agitated sea is one of the nicest experiences ever. It's also a bit like living on the edge. Will it, or won't it pour?

Walking about 45 minutes braving the risk of rain is indeed a thrill. The walk from the Royal Orchid Beach Resort to Fishka Restaurant is partly on the beach up to the Majorda life guard structure, and then on narrow, winding lanes. Maybe one or two cars and three or four scooters may pass you in half hour, so light is the traffic density. Guest houses and restaurants along the way are mostly shuttered, except for the large Pentagon.  

It was a weekday, and Fishka presented a rare sight of all tables being unoccupied. It gets a little busier at about 1.30 p.m., and slightly so on weekends, when several local families show up. 

The weekday fish thali at Fishka is certainly worth sampling, with the large piece of 'rawa pan fried fish' topping the rice. Several varieties of curries surround the mound of rice, including the twangy and supposedly healthy 'kokum' based drink. The 'kokum' fruit is a speciality of Goa and South Maharashtra, and is one of the remedies for digestive ills mentioned in the traditional Ayurveda system of medicine. 

Yet another long walk, slightly longer, is the walk from Royal Orchid to Martin's Corner in Betalbatim, about an hour away. The initial part of the stroll cuts through the haze floating on the beach, all the way to Sunset Beach south of Majorda. 

The stroll inland is rather pleasant, you get a chance to admire the moss covering the walls by the streets. 

Martin's Corner during the weekend appears like it is the high season. The restaurant is full and the service is high class, as usual. A large painting by Goa's famed painter Mario Miranda, my school mate though senior by several decades, adorns one of the walls. Good opportunity to take a picture in tribute. 

The food is, as always, excellent. We order salad, calamari in Rachaedo masala, and then fish and vegetable curries made with Ambotik and Xacuti masalas. 

Well, that was a super meal, wasn't it? Martin's Corner is actually set in a large, old house, and the inside is worth taking a look at. 

The walk back was a feast of green until we hit Sunset beach, with the sun attempting to peep out from behind the clouds now and then. 

The all-weather restaurant nearest to Royal Orchid is the well known Zeebop, situated by the sea. The view is fantastic, the grey sea is not too far away. The restaurant is covered in thick sheets of plastic. The makeshift doorways are opened and closed several times every day in tune with the rains that are invariably intense. The direction of the rain tends to be angular, pushed relentlessly by the powerful South West monsoon winds.   

Evenings and weekends see a few more guests showing up, which is good for the business. Zeebop appears to be a popular venue for corporate gatherings of large groups reaching up to over 100 people. 

Waiting for the drinks and food to arrive is no problem at all, the ambience of this kind is not commonly found. 

The views at dusk are amazing as the sea gets shrouded in inky darkness punctuated with the lights of tankers and other cargo vessels berthed in the harbour in the distance. 

The menu is quite varied, worth researching. 

A small Bar and Restaurant is located right behind Zeebop, a sleepy local place that goes by the rather uncommon name of Xaxticar's. 

The other restaurant we go to quite regularly is Baltons, located about 100 metres south of Park Hyatt along the street. The decor is simple and impressive, and always well maintained, as it has been over the years that I have known Tony who runs the restaurant. Baltons is open 365
days, and I don't think Tony goes on a vacation. 

Dinner choices include Cafreal, Xacuti and the coconut based Goan Masala curry dishes.

We stayed this Monsoon trip at the Royal Orchid Beach Resort in Utorda. Having travelled to Goa since the early 1980s and been brought up on a diet of guest houses and modest, family run hotels with the well-known warmth and Goan hospitality, the thought of staying in a 5-star resort does not particularly appeal to me. Our stay this vacation was the result of a family suggestion. More than a suggestion, it went like this "Here is the link, please reserve this resort!".

We were pleasantly surprised, indeed. The staff in all the departments were extremely courteous and made us feel at home, smiling all the time. The sprinkling of non-Goan staff had obviously learnt the art of hospitality from their Goan colleagues. The rooms were maintained very well indeed, which is a huge challenge given the extreme humidity.   

The resort itself is not that large, containing about 70 rooms, with a neat garden and a well cleaned swimming pool. 

Should you find yourself at a loss and wish to do something interesting, the management organizes 'Feed the Duck' events every morning and afternoon. 

A little bridge connects the property with the beach, a nice landmark should you get lost among the overgrown vegetation along the beach. 

We definitely had the privilege of being allotted one of the two best rooms on the property, Room 422, the other similar room being its mirror image across the garden. A large balcony provided adequate opportunities to admire the garden and peer at the beach about 100 metres away.   

There's a strange attribute of darkness, it somehow manages to amplifies the sound of the crashing waves. The roar seemed to get louder as the evening went by.   

The view from breakfast was quite pleasant, overlooking the pool and looking far away at the sea. The sun actually managed to shine weakly on a few occasions. 

Finally, Royal Orchid did NOT turn out to be an impersonal 5-star resort, much to the contrary, the feeling was closer to a typical Goan, family run hotel. 

A good time was had by all. The highlights were the long beach strolls on desolate beaches, risking the rain all the while. And the always interesting local masalas, of course. 

See you next time, in Goa or at another holiday destination. 

Related post: South Goa - Monsoon 2017


Friday, July 21, 2017

South Goa - Monsoon 2017

For 6 months every year, many popular beaches in Goa return to the state they were in before the tourist invasion. The photo below is that of Utorda Beach right outside the Royal Orchid property. Stretches of beaches have plants growing wild. The debris is mostly natural, consisting of leaves, branches and bald coconuts.  This is where about ten shacks come up during the season.

For those familiar with Majorda, the life guard building is indicated with the red X in the map above, and visible on the right in the photo. Quite a change from the season, isn't it? This is where dozens of beach shacks come up.  The swirling waters of the monsoon powered tides break through indiscriminately. High tide can be very scary, indeed. Low tide offers reasonably good leeway to stroll along the beach. 

Many fishermen opt to park their boats well away from the high tide line, certainly hoping that the high tides are not going to come in all the way.

Peering south through the haze, it's Betalbatim in the distance, and the beach is completely devoid of people that morning. I wondered whether any local boys would show up on weekends for their usual game of soccer or cricket, as they do during the season. We make a mental note that we'll walk that way the next day, looking for Martin's Corner restaurant.  

We head back north and turn inland, walking by the lanes that leads to Fishka Restaurant. It's a 20 minute walk, though it seems longer because the roads are deserted, guest houses and restaurants are closed, and the clouds threaten to open up any minute. Now, that's fun. If you visit Goa during the monsoon season, you got to be ready to take the risk of getting soaked. And the restaurant may not let you in with water dripping from your clothes.. who knows? Anyway, we made it safely to Fishka, and our trips to Martin's Corner were without incident, as well. 

Most of the time, during the day, it was just us on the beach, along with branches, leaves and bald coconuts washed on to the beach. Crabs would be scurrying around madly, as fast as they can walk sideways. 

The high tides do strange things to the beach. Large portions of sand get scooped away, resulting in fairly uneven spots where the difference in level is quite high, needing careful hopping and jumping to negotiate the unpredictably soft sand.

The spot in the photo below is about 50 metres from Zeebop. A rivulet had formed and water was rushing around. We were wondering, to cross or not to cross. The level of water was varying unpredictably. Well, to come to the point, this was the last photo that my mobile phone took. A large wave whooshed down on us, as if to say hello, and to ask whether we were having fun. My mobile restarted, and parts of the touch screen decided to call it a day. Several futile attempts later, it was decided that the phone needs to get back to Bangalore before I attempt to get it fixed. 

The same spot, a couple of days later, at about the same time of day during sunset, just south of Zeebop. The rivulet is visible, however, the tide is much lower, resulting in safe passage across for dinner. 

Goa's roads are a refreshing green during the rainy season. However, moss covers many walls. Maintenance is a high effort, which we noticed in the hotel, as well. 

The fields are a splash of light green. The sun makes an attempt to peep out from behind the clouds. We look up, too, wondering whether the clouds would play games with us that day. 

With a bit of luck, we stayed dry most of the time. It was a risk worth taking. Should the clouds decide to unload their blessings on you, it takes less than half a second to get soaked. All you hear is a huge roar, and then a strange feeling of unbridled happiness, like being a child all over again. In the middle of that, a quick reality check to ensure that electronics and money are well protected within several layers of plastic. 

"Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide." 

My next post is about the Royal Orchid resort and the several restaurants we ate at in the area. All within an hour strolling distance, of course. Looking up, playing hide and seek with the rain. 

Related post: Food and stay - South Goa monsoon 2017  -=-=-= 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Glimpses of Utrecht

The inner city of Utrecht is amazingly pretty. Buildings of the University of Utrecht are strewn all around, the buzz is almost 24x7, with canals, cobble stoned streets and thousands of pubs and restaurants adding to the energy. After the Bangalore to Mumbai to Amsterdam flight, the train ride from Amsterdam to Utrecht is less than 30 minutes.

My service apartment for 4 weeks was Plompetorengracht 11B, an ancient building that has been restored, right in front of a canal. 

The canal along Plompetorengracht. 

The imposing and pretty Dom Tower is a common point of reference in Utrecht. Less than 2 km away from the apartment, it was a pleasant walk along cobble stone streets. 

The inner city is traffic free, that is, only cycles, buses and taxis are allowed. 

The beautiful church by the Dom Tower. 

An University building right next to the Tower.

Two major canal systems are found in Utrecht.

Perfect for long walks in the evenings.

Hundreds of restaurants and pubs dot the banks of the canals. 

A neat way to tow beer!

Being heavy-traffic free, about the only traffic to watch out for are speeding cycles and relatively slower moving buses.

Cobble stone surfaced streets lined with flowers. A pretty sight!

Early morning, waiting for the bus.

Early morning traffic!

Near the Dom Tower.

Utrecht Central Station is large, and the cycle parking lots are even larger. 

Late evenings were very cool and superb for long strolls. 

The lovely Janskerkhof (church) dwarfs the statue of Anne Frank.

Typical evening scenes, the street side cafes filled to the brim.

This property was the Utrecht prison until 2014. Alternative uses for the community are now planned for this facility.

Party scenes!

A pretty park just outside the city centre on the way to Leidsche Rijn.

Utrecht is well known for its curious rabbit statue called the “Thinker on a Rock“.

A solitary picture of Rotterdam.

On the flight back, from Amsterdam to Mumbai.