Kolkata in a Day

Leaving Goa wasn´t easy, but it was time to move. I missed traveling, the moving around with a backpack kind of traveling. I was off to Calcutta, one of those far away places that sounds like it only exists in colonial history, but it exists today as Kolkata, a city beating with West Bengal life so strongly that only the architecture reminds you it was once the capital of British India.

curbside barber shop

I arrived at the airport late at night, to a dysfunctional system of prepaid taxis. There were as many taxis curbside as people that needed rides, but one or two police guys in an office box had to get our names, numbers and destinations printed out and take payment from a long line of tired travelers. An hour later I was finally paired up to a driver that took me to the only hotel in the city that somewhat resembled a backpackers – Kolkata Backpackers Bed and Breakfast. It was more like a homestay, or paid couchsurfing, and the rooftop breakfast was worth every penny.

puchkas waiting to be filled

If you come to Kolkata for one reason only, let it be the food. Flury´s bakery, est. 1927, is a tearoom that sells pastries on par with a Parisienne patisserie. I found a bar called Someplace Else that certainly felt like someplace in Ireland, and two incredible restaurants: Peter Cat and Mocambo (they had steak!). There are street vendors and markets in every neighbourhood, and red carrots almost half a meter long were common. For more familiar things, there´s a beef-free McDonalds, and a local version of a kind of Starbucks called Cafeccino that sells frappuccinos worth waiting in line for.

the memorable Victoria Memorial

I was only going to spend 2 nights/1 day in Kolkata, since I was enroute to Bangladesh. My second night I stayed at the Hotel Bengal Guesthouse, which says it has a bar and restaurant, but doesn´t, and the dorm rooms aren´t arranged by gender, but passport. I stayed in the ´foreigner´dorm, where Indians and Bangladesh travelers can´t stay. There was a middle-aged Chinese man with me, who spoke not a single word of English, and after listening to me trying to cough myself to sleep, came over and tried some Chinese medicine on me, with the help of his smartphone translating.

Park Street Christmas lights

As far as tourism goes, there´s not a whole lot to do or see in Kolkata city itself. If you like architecture and religious monuments, don´t miss the Birla Mandir temple and St. Paul´s cathedral. Nearby, the Victoria Memorial is unforgettable, as big and white as the Taj Mahal, surrounded by groomed, green gardens (nota bene: Indians pay 30 rupees to enter, foreigners, 500). The New Market and Park Street are worth a stroll, especially in the evening, unless you´re like me and trying to avoid Christmas – apparently there are enough Christians and westerners around to justify decorating the whole length of Park street in Christmas lights with festive music beaming from speakers at every major intersection and hawkers selling tacky hats and LED jewellery. I looked forward to arriving in Bangladesh the next morning, where the Muslim city of Dhaka would actually be skipping Christmas.

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Must-try eats in Tel-Aviv

There´s a nightlife district in Tel-Aviv´s ancient fort city, an old neighbourhood called Jaffa, with plenty of great wining and dining options. Happy hour at Raisa bar on a hightable outside people watching is definitely a highlight, but any bars on the streets running north-south in that pedestrian area can lure you in, depending on your mood and company.

Eating at Onza restaurant on a Monday or Frida means live music on the street, which is also where they set up their overflow tables, as the diners spill onto both sides of the road getting their fill of world-class dining. The wine list is one of the best in Israel, including local special varieties, and the food cooked by Turkish chefs Darhani and Magriso will impress any gourmande.

Mashya

The best restaurant in Tel-Aviv is hands down Mashya. Sit at the bar and chat with the bartenders, and be mesmerised by their cocktail making skills. They´ll always answer a question about the menu with a personal touch, and definitely trust any recommendations they have for food or drinks. If you have the time and money, I´d suggest going back twice or thrice so you can try all the cocktails and plates.

dazzle your senses (and your wallet) at the Carmel Market, which sells street food that could make even Michelin chefs jealous

Haifa is a pleasant surprise, especially the stretch of (Ben Gurion) street leading up to the Bahai garden terraces and the view from the top of the staircase down to the city and nearby port and train station. Eat and drink at Fattoush, by far the best spot on the strip. The ambience, atmosphere and full tables attest to it´s popularity, and the price and portions were generous, especially by Tel Aviv standards.

If you´re going to Nazareth or Tiberias, don´t expect much in the restaurant, bar or shopping scene, but it´s still worth going for the scenery and vineyard region in and around the Galilee region. Don´t pass up the chance to get into the private home cellars of some family winemakers for wine tasting. Another highlight is of course the Sea of Gailiee – you can get a natural foot fish spa by dipping your feet in from the shore, which seems to be sinking as fast as the Dead Sea, so its definitely worth going sooner rather than later!

Photo Highlights: Food and Drink in Ethiopia and Sudan

It’s hard to remember everything I’ve done or where I’ve been, but the food has been a memorable part of this trip. Eating only with your right hand and drinking coffees while being choked out by burning incense has become a daily affair, and the places and people I’ve shared these moments with are just as unforgettable.

the street kids in Hirna, Ethiopia, offer to share their dinner

the street kids in Hirna offer to share their dinner

a local coffee shop in Old Harar, and two of my new travel buddies

a local coffee shop in Old Harar, and two of my new travel buddies

morning coffee in Bahir Dar

morning coffee in Bahir Dar

a typical injera spread

a typical injera spread

sharing some injera and shiro with our hotel cook

sharing some injera and shiro with our hotel cook

a fried fish lunch, fresh from Lake Tana

a fried fish lunch, fresh from Lake Tana

a woman prepares her incense at her open-air coffee 'shop'

a woman prepares her incense at her open-air coffee ‘shop’

Sudanese ful, a fava bean concoction eaten with bread

Sudanese ful, a fava bean concoction eaten with bread

a coffee ceremony in Khartoum after a traditional Sudanese lunch

a coffee ceremony in Khartoum after a traditional Sudanese lunch

Street food in Sudan: fried and sugar coated donuts

Street food in Sudan: fried and sugar coated donuts

my couchsurf host in Khartoum prepared raspberry pancakes and french-pressed Ethiopian coffee

my couchsurf host in Khartoum prepared raspberry pancakes and french-pressed Ethiopian coffee