Elephant bath time in Hampi, India

For a lovely way to start the day in Hampi, set your alarm clock early, and head to the river by Hampi Bazaar (to the point where travellers and locals catch the ferry to the opposite bank, Virupappur Gaddi) for 7.30am.

If you’re lucky you’ll spot Lakshmi, the temple elephant, being led to the river for her daily bath.

You may even enjoy the ultimate ‘power shower’ yourself!

Elephant shower in Hampi

Elephant bath time in Hampi

Elephant in Hampi

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Sea views in Chios: A big fat Greek bargain

Stretching out before us is possibly the beautiful beach I have ever seen. The kind with showy palm fronds, good, squidgy sand, shimmery blue sea and a long inviting bay, just begging us to walk along it. And it’s literally on our doorstep.

If we can be bothered getting out of our beds that is.

Room with a view in Chios

Room with a view...

Our apartment is right on the beach. Clean and compact with big french windows to let you swing open the doors and enjoy the fabulous views, we don’t even have to get up to feel like we’re on holiday.

And the cost of this exorbitant, credit card-shredding paradise, you big show offs, I hear you cry?

Well, here’s the thing, this little place is actually rather well priced. In fact, at £621 per week for a group of six in late June, it’s downright affordable.

No wonder Ed, myself and my lovely aussie cousin Lucy are feeing rather smug.

If not a little lazy. Our days go something like this: We wake up around 9.30am and wander out onto the terrace, being sure to step over the owner’s dog, with our most literary reads (trashy magazines). Around 11am the heat of the sun gives us that kick we need to wade into the water and swim, serene in the knowledge that all this exercise and sea air is doing us good and that in no way would a delicious 12pm cheese filo pie from the local shop be a bad thing. The afternoon snoozes dreamily by and before you know it, we’re heading out to our favourite little taverna for stuffed peppers, baked feta cheese and squid, all served with lots of drinkable wine (and some incredibly undrinkable retsina) as the sun sets.

Oh and where are we again? Just the Greek island of Chios – an idyllic find.

Stasi prison break: On tour with an ex convict….

 

‘I stayed here once,’ our red-haired guide shares matter of factly, as we follow her though the cold, lank corridors of Hohenschönhausen.

I stop and look again. Actually, I grab Ed and whisper sharply, ‘what, she was here – when?’ You can see the rest of group pause, re-gather. A ripple of disbelief runs through us.

We are on a tour through Hohenschönhausen, a large, wan-looking building in a quiet, suburban district of East Berlin. Once a Nazi prison, when the regime fell, it was taken over by the Red army, then when the Berlin wall went up, the Stasi, as a place to hold political prisoners. As far as buildings go, it should have been notorious. But actually, for many years after the wall fell, nobody knew it was there. ‘It was not on the map,’ our guide tells us, the Stasi did not want us to know it was there.

Our guide is here to tell her story. She got lucky. She was taken by the secret police in 1989; one of a group of students whose protest was so polite and well thought through you would have thought it the perfect thought-crime. All supporting a DDR rally, standing separately, holding banners stating lines from their government’s constitution: ‘freedom of speech’ ‘privacy at home’ and ‘equal rights’ like model East German citizens – and all picked up by white vans with black windows a few days later.

‘When they took you, you would be driven around the city for over an hour’. The prison was only a 15 minutes bike ride away but the idea was to make you feel completely lost.

The Stasi tactics are strangely fascinating. We stop outside a cell door, where our guide was imprisoned for only 3 months before the wall fell, and peer in. ‘You see the bed. It was tilted up at the head, because at night the guards would turn on a very bright light so it would shine in your face and you could not sleep. You would never see another prisoner. If we had to move, the guards would escort us and signal to the next guide to make sure no one else was in the corridors. One time, another prisoner was put into my cell. I later found out she was from the Stasi to see if I would confess.’

Our final stop is the torture room. Sterile with just a simple, wooden desk and chairs and bars across the windows it’s far less terrifying than I thought it would be. I glance at our guide to check her reaction. The constant questioning, the sleep deprivation, the un-human loneliness – of course she confessed, everyone did, our guide almost laughs at the very idea – but how did she handle it?

‘You know,’ our guide says smiling momentarily, as we wait expectantly, ‘the guards of this prison still live in this area.’

And I get the feeling that now she’s facing her past. And fighting it back.

We wander out of the prison doors shivering and elated in the cold Berlin sunshine. Freedom.

 

La Route du Miam: A Nice little place I know….

‘Jean Michel, the chef, he wants to quit’, is one of the first things Marie, his wife confides, as she sloshes a delightful aperitif floc de Gascogne into our glasses. ‘The reviews have been terrible. The things people say is awful. We were first and now we are seventh.’ La Route du Miam, we quickly discover, has been tripadvisored.

La Route du Miam in Nice

Quelle horreur.

Oddly, it is the gushing reviews in tripadvisor that led us to La Route du Miam in the first place.

A tiny joint, tucked away in a back street in Nice, where the only thing on the menu is duck and foie gras – we’ve been thinking about it all week. If Well Fed had a tail, it would be thumping.

I walk in a little sceptically. So far the place – no bigger than a shop with little room for a proper kitchen – is empty. But there’s no need to worry. Marie, the owner and our waitress, seats herself comfortably next to us and explains the menu.

About seven dishes long, there’s no need to concentrate. The choices are: half duck with foie gras and stuffing (which somehow accounts for about six of the choices on the list), beef, or the special, which is lamb. Vegetarians beware.

Ed goes for the top option, a larger duck that’s a favourite with the men, whilst I opt for Marie’s favourite, the more ‘petite’ option that’s half mallard, half wild duck. French lesson 1: apparently ‘petite’ in French does not mean small… Take a moment to digest my meal below.

The petite choice at La Route du Miam

Never has food been so wondrously beige.

French lesson 2: La Route du Miam means ‘the yum route’.  Or as I like to loosely translate: the way of sinful overeating and obscene scrumptiousness. Our plates teeter over with a slice of toast topped with a fat wedge of foie gras, half a roasted duck, little roast potatoes topped with fried garlic and almonds and some ridiculously tasty stuffing. Jean Michel is a genius.

Marie pours us more wine and explains why our plate is piled so high: ‘People would come in and eat so much foie gras and bread they couldn’t eat the duck. Now we serve it all at once.

Ed’s duck is larger and the meat the fattier of the two. Mine is absolutely delicious. Succulent meat, perfectly cooked and lighter. But it’s the stuffing that’s the surprise treat. We ask Jean Michel for the recipe. It’s a family secret, he tells us, from his home in Gascony. But we do glean there’s lardons, duck herbs and foie gras in it.

The restaurant is full of happy locals by now and the air is festive. Marie and Jean Michel’s work is almost done and they sit with guests, pop open more wine and pour us a glass from their own bottle. We’re very full and very drunk. It feels like Christmas and we’re beginning to feel like part of the family.

I urge you to go – and tell Jean Michel not to quit.

Nice at dusk

Nice at dusk