We’ve all been asked that question: ‘What’s the best burger you’ve ever had?’
If you’ve been to the adrenaline junkie hub of New Zealand – Queenstown, then it’s more than likely Fergburger would be up there in your considerations. And what’s not to love about a burger joint that’s open to satisfy your potential 4:30am munchies?
Open 21 hours of the day, this hunger-crushing heaven seems to have gained reputation as the gold standard of burger houses not only in New Zealand, but internationally. And I’d be first to raise my hand to vote Ferg #1 (make that two hands), as even the classic Ferg is utter mouth bliss with their genius combination of tender meat, soft buns and that sweet, sweet aioli (cue drooling).
Whatever various health-related hold-backs you have, throw caution to the wind and abandon them for one perfect night with one of these bad boys. Tucking cautiously into half of one of these guys was – albeit at doctor’s instructions – my first baby step into breaking over three years of vegetarianism, and I can say it definitely set a high standard for further reintroduction of meat. That said, I hear the vego options here would give the carnivores a run for their money.
If you’re beyond that simple life and game enough (*cough* intoxicated enough) for a feast, prep yourself for one of the Big Als. This monster isn’t even part of the main menu, and sits not-so-humbley at the bottom of the page waiting for some worthy soul to step up and attempt to consume a tower of burger bliss.
If you time your plan of attack well enough, it’s possible to avoid the often hour-long queue from fellow burger enthusiasts. There are generally two lulls in the constant stream of hungry travellers (let’s be real – there are virtually no actual Kiwis in Queenstown): the first being around 10:30am when the breakfast burger goers are all nursing their food babies or getting out early to suss out their activity game plan. You want to get in that line before people’s early lunch hunger kicks in, so plan for a solid brunch burger. Then the dinner rush seems to extend till around 9:30, and the wise drunks who’ve decided to soak up their night’s efforts and succumb to those Ferg cravings come out around midnight, causing burger-tantrum-inducing wait times. 11pm is perfect for minimising the suspense so you can sink your teeth into one of these legends and avoid any serious burger withdrawal symptoms.
Best burger in the world? Let’s just say my plans to go back to Queenstown in ski season aren’t just for the skiing…
If, like me, you are an avid James Bond devotee, you may be aware of a little visit Sir Roger Moore makes to a glamorous Indian land to take on Octopussy. While my own adventures in this Rajasthanicity – christened Udaipur – did not include any battles on top of planes mid-flight, classy crocodile submarine disguises, or yoyo blade throwing, it did turn out to be the most undoubtably beautiful city I experienced in India, leaving me awestruck repeatedly.
The contrast from Mumbai was shocking. There was grass here. There was shimmery water here, space to think, room to breathe. Trailing around the winding, intimate stoned streets instantly took me back to Venice and the dreamy parallels didn’t end there. I’m talking beautiful bridges overlooking stunning historical architecture, wandering lovers, sparkly rooftop dinners, and the perhaps obvious factor that Udaipur is known as “the Venice of the East”.
For a start, our hostel was unimaginably gorgeous. After stumbling around the cobblestones in the heat with too many bottles of sunscreen weighing down my backpack, arriving at a palace was out of this world. It was fit for a king. Bunkyard was exquisite with exceptional service and an amazing vibe, making the short time in Udaipur extra sensational.
The diary entry of the day read:
“I’m sitting by our window, looking out across mirrored lights on the lake. I can see hundreds of archways. It feels baroque and Muslim and Balinese and Islamic and Arabian. Many mountains. Rooftop chai bliss as the sun sets. Amazing. Why were we in Mumbai when this exists…”
So it was quite a treat. Getting lost in the streets and culture of “The City of Lakes” was a highlight of its own, but if you’re a fellow view-hunter, this place is heaven. Climb above two floors and it’s eye ecstasy. The merchants in this character-rich city have a solid, unofficial competition for the highest restaurant. As you can imagine then, there were a lot of stairs to be climbed. Though the “high” buildings only reach five or six floors, when one is expected to climb to the top before being able to assess the suitability of each menu, believe me there was much quad work. It has got to the absurd but equally brilliant point where many buildings have fashioned several somewhat dodgy extensions to their rooftops to achieve an extra few metres with which to brag. Despite this though, almost every restaurant we came across boasted “highest restaurant in Udaipur!” The other brag point, is obviously the Octopussy card. And yes even though it’s been over thirty years since the film hit screens, locals honestly milk it at every possible moment: the restaurants around us had nightly screenings of the spy movie. Nightly.
When we weren’t trying to avoid being run over by rickshaws speeding around corners, or getting told by palm readers that I am emotionally weak, we were watching women dance while balancing mountains of pots on their heads, bargaining clothes vendors to their most “happy price”, getting lost in the maze of colourful streets, staring in amazement at puppeteers manipulating their dancing puppets, and learning the secrets of Indian cuisine from the Indian cooking greats themselves: the locals.
One particular morning I woke to the normal blare of repetitive but joyful singing somewhere in the city. This was the day to visit the City Palace and cruise over the lake to Jagmandir Island for some prime Bond-location-hunting. Whilst waiting for the boats to start running, we hovered around the entrance to the majestic City Palace and decided to get some street food for breakfast. This is a big deal for me as allergy is high and Australian to Indian communication is often poor.
Once back in Sydney, I discovered that Bond has a car chase past the stall we stopped at. With that Hollywood value in mind, you’d think this street vendor would be quite civilised right? Not quite. After clarifying numerous times “no mungfally (peanuts)”, I cautiously bit into my first 30c meal – kachori. This spicy snack is basically a deep-fried pocket of flour stuffed with curry. Once the anxiety that I wasn’t going to die from it had passed, I started getting up to get the attention of the teenager who had served us initially, to ask for another one. It was at this moment that I felt a significant cultural difference. Here in the doorway of the tiny seating area, sat the teenage waiter on his phone with his back to us. The seating area was so small we could see everything on his phone with minimal effort. This young man was unashamedly invested in an unmentionable video. After several days of witnessing the different culture India had to offer, it hadn’t occurred to me that the people here might watch porn too. What was most surprising though, was his ability to switch so intermittently between serving customers, and returning to his phone. In fact, I was somewhat impressed at his diligence to return after each customer and find the spot he was up to so he could resume his absorbed and curious stare.
I was less impressed when he then served me my second kacholi with his bare hands…
Several “Namaste”s later, we were zooming around the majestic Lake Pichola Bond-style (it was much more of a slow chug on one of the tourist boats), till we got to Jagmandir Palace. This exquisite island is everything I imagined a romantic Indian city to be: elephant statues, breathtaking views, archways looking out to historical cities…
And then there was Monsoon Palace. If you too are on a quest for sights that make your eyes leap out of their sockets, this is the place. If brave enough to venture up the twisting mountain side in a rover that’s managed to squeeze upwards of 12 people in, without falling on the driver as he swings round the corners, then you’ll find yourself face to face with the glorious Aravalli Hills that envelope the city (complimentary monkeys swinging around the stunning architecture).
In terms of sheer beauty, cultural immersion, and “that one place on the trip you’d go back to”, Udaipur has smashed out first place 110%.
A quick Google search of “Goa” will show you this:
Pretty nice right? You drooling too? Those White sandy beaches featuring palm trees and relaxed, clean vibes aren’t the only things to behold in this southern state of India. There is much more character to the vibrant ocean-side culture than displayed on the beach, and the area’s fascinating Portuguese architecture alone is reason to put your shoes and helmet on and stray inland.
My own first impression of Goa was being chased down a dark highway at 10:30 at night by an angry taxi driver who was determined to drive us to our hostel (NB: don’t express interest in one taxi driver, and then tell him later that you’ve found another way – turns out Goa airport takes their employees’ opportunities quite seriously. A suggestion would be to research every other transport option before you arrive, only falling to the horrendous airport taxi prices as a last resort).
In Goa, drug dealers seem to be as common and persistent as street vendors in crowded Mumbai – where else would you be offered “LSD or ecstasy for you, my friend” when in a traffic jam on your motor bike? (It would have been easier to ignore this had I been wearing a helmet – another of Goa’s cheeky dismissals of safety.) As a result of this easy access to nevertheless “prohibited” substances, the taxi driver we did end up escaping with (literally, we jumped into the car, locked the doors and yelled “GO” as we could see the angry airport employee running down the road), was quite content speeding along to deafening trance music while blowing puffs of his hand-rolled marijuana joint out into the Goan night/my sleepy face in the back seat.
After an hour of swerving down narrow, windy backstreets at midnight, we pulled up outside a 50s style yellow set of buildings in the bush. Much like the position of accomodation one would expect a horror movie protagonist to enter. It turns out much of Goa has a similar outback feel to it, and there aren’t really big cities in the same way there are in the other states, making it an ideal getaway.
There are, however, denser areas with amazing architecture of Portuguese influence. On route to the “Church of Immaculate Conception” (turns out it’s actually not an IVF clinic), we were stopped by “police” who were suspiciously only pulling over white people to check their licenses. My intuition says that even if we had been carrying our Australian licenses, we still would have been charged the $30 “fine” (or bribe – it’s hard to be sure).
I found that Goans, along with many other Indians I’ve been fortunate enough to come across, are excellent cooks. Every aloo (potato) dish I encountered in Goa was outstanding, and as I always examine milkshake standards, I discovered they too got a double thumbs up (unlike other areas of the country).
That said, ice cream vendors were a different story… I passed on every ice block I bought to my boyfriend for fear of permanently scarring my tastebuds, and was not impressed at the vendor’s attempts to short-change us (CHECK YOUR CHANGE!). As with other parts of India travelled, there seems to be some communication difficulty with the word “orange”. Apparently it is synonymous with “mandarin”, and if, like me, mandarins make you gag while oranges are liquid heaven, steer clear of “orange juice”. Apart from that, the communication was surprisingly ok, except when the kind people at the train station tried to poison me by sprinkling peanuts onto my rice, despite written and verbal assurance in both English and Hindi of my peanut allergy. I was waved away and brought a separate bowl of rice, while they left the peanuts in front of me. An interesting approach.
If there’s one thing Indians are not known for, it’s their alcohol. With a predominantly Hindu population, this is entirely understandable, but given that I tried repeatedly on the beaches of Goa to amend this common theme, it must have slipped my mind continuously. If I were to offer one piece of advice to fellow Goa explorers, it would be not to touch the alcohol unless you pour it yourself (the $2 bottle of rum we shared with our Russian neighbour as we practised the art of communication was delightful). Hopefully the only time I’ll ever secretly tip my cocktail over the wall of a beachside bar was in Goa. As it’s safer than the water, it seemed like a good idea to continue trying their drinks, including the local “fenny”, which has claimed first prize in the definition of “vile”. We were unsure if “Rainbow Bar” just served us toilet cleaner, though, by the state of the toilet, I’d assume toilet cleaner isn’t something they come across often. Maybe they should use the fenny for it and save everyone the two awful experiences.
At least the Goans can drive. Or can they? As it wouldn’t really be travelling if no one left their passport somewhere, we had to make the 90 minute taxi ride between our hostel and the airport three times in twelve hours. This included a road trip at 2 am with a car that shouldn’t have been on the road, a visually-impaired driver who stayed above 100 km/hr even in the concealed, windy back roads (sports bras can only do so much when you go over speed bumps at this speed), and barely missing a cow on the highway.
Despite the madness of Goa, I found myself instantly missing the warmth of the Indian ocean and the super relaxed atmosphere as soon as we left. A beautiful and exciting adventure for any fellow wanderlust victims.
Like many other film buffs out there, I was giving my refresh button a solid workout on January 24th to find out the Academy Award nominations for 2017.
As a film in the running for six nominations, the recent drama ‘Lion’ has absolutely stolen a piece of my heart. Actually, forget ‘stolen’, I got down on my knees, not-so-dry-eyed and offered up my whole heart as the credits rolled.
Sitting down in my favourite local arthouse “picture palace”, I was somewhat aware of the potential this film had to blow me away, thanks to my fellow Oscar-loving friends, two hours of Dev Patel’s charisma (and because Slumdog Millionaire blew me away). However, this poignant true story about family and nostalgia had me lying awake at night not just marvelling at the exceptional standard of acting, screenplay and music that just collaborated to form this exquisite film, but at the realities of third-world nations.
It can often be assumed that Hollywood depicts an actuality that isn’t quite as authentic as what exists behind the doors of your local cinema, but this particular night I was questioning how we should shape our attitudes to harsh situations that we haven’t experienced first hand.
As a twenty-something, I’m naturally going through the ‘wanting to change the world’ phase (as mum refers to it). However I would expect I fall into a small minority of those who want desperately to be exposed to the truths of the rest of the world and who would prefer to trek through subsaharan desert and play with orphanage kids than lie on a beach in Fiji drinking cocktails. It is generally agreed that Australians have it well. It is also generally agreed that we take a lot for granted and that we should be appreciative of everything we have.
I want to know how we’re meant to know what we’re taking advantage of without venturing out of our well-constructed houses and experiencing things for ourselves. Am I the only one who is restless to close my laptop, box up my National Geographics and go and see how other people live for myself, in the three-dimensional world? Or should we just stick to watching the discovery channel, being worldly in the news we read, donating to appropriate charities, and then shutting it back out of our minds?
Along with reigniting my obsession with Indian culture, this film highlighted the timeless significance of relationships and what family means. The cinematography captured the urban and maybe unconventional beauty of Indian slums and has undoubtedly catalysed my decision to travel to India this year. Other than being one Bollywood movie away from growing my own bindi, I’m feeling curiously drawn to culture whose second biggest city has the same population as the entirety of Australia.
So pack your lonely planet books, India is coming.