Sunday, 31 January 2010

Brotherly love

The Kiss was actually Seth saying sorry after swinging Bo into the door. But on the whole they're getting on really well and do seem to love each other. This is their play/living/dining/bedroom, which is attached to ours.

Right, I promise that is it for kidcentric posts this week!

15 things to do with small kids in and around Fort Cochin

After being rude about the childrens park in Ernakulam, here are 20 great things to do with small kids (my toddler is 22 months old). They're all free or dirt cheap.

1. Ride in a 'tuk-tuk' rickshaw
2. Take a ferry boat from Fort Cochin to Mattancherry
3. Play on the swings & slides at Nehru Childrens Park (lots of shaded areas)
4. Feed the birds outside the Jain Temple in Mattancherry
5. Watch school and college kids playing cricket, baseball and football on Parade Ground
6. Sit by the Chinese Fishing Nets, watch the fishermen and the passing boats
7. Choose a fish fresh from the fisherman's bucket and have it grilled for lunch
8. Take them swimming at Abad Grand Residencia Hotel on Princess Street (it has a lovely little round shallow pool as well as the main one)
9. Walk down around Jew Town (the main street is car & rickshaw free)
10. Run around Bishops Gardens
11. Visit small art galleries & studios where the artists will talk to children about their work
12. Play on the little beach in Fort Cochin
13. Walk down Bazaar Road, naming things in the traders' shops
14. Turn off smaller lanes in Fort Cochin to meet other children who will want to talk and play
15. Cake & ginger lime at Kashi Art Cafe or Jew Town Cafe (both places v child friendly and have delicious non-spicy food)

Ernakulam Childrens Park - we survived!

Today I took Seth and Bo on the little ferry boat across to Ernakulam, the main part of the city of Kochi. It's a 45 minute ride passing all sorts of types of boats. Today was particularly interesting because the Queen Mary 2 (the world's largest ocean liner) was in dock. Seth was seriously impressed and gave a big 'WOW!' which drew even more attention to us.

Our destination was the Childrens Park right next to the jetty. It looked like a couple of hundred metres on the map, so a nice and easy afternoon outing. So naive. The tiny, potholed pavement was overcrowded with market sellers and crowds of people, and the occasional tree with big knobbly roots shooting out through the cracks in the paving stones. Not pushchair or toddler friendly at all. So I had no choice but Seth in the sling and to walk in the road. Cue large group of people crowded round me as I attempt to lift my 15kilo boy onto my back. Sideshow over, I worked my way down the hectic road with buses and cars charging by and rickshaws and bicycles almost catching my heels.

So I was relieved to arrive safely at the park.

What a place! It was all very 1950s, including the ticket. I was the only person in the park that vaguely resembled the post-war British looking woman with her two white children. Seth looked pretty confused for the hour or so we were there, but I think enjoyed some familar activities like slides and see-saws. I, on the otherhand, was a nervous wreck for the entire time. A poster advertising a prize for bravery for children made me chuckle - is it given to every child who survives this place?
For the record, here are 10 ways for children to seriously harm themselves at the childrens park in Ernakulam:

1. Be knocked over by other kids driving metal pedal cars, in a manner that pretty much resembles the road just outside.

2. Be deafened by the Indian pop music blaring out on gigantic speakers right next to the one piece of grassed area.

3. Scald their feet on the burning hot sand in the under 5s area where no shoes are allowed.

4. Be terrorized by the interesting choice of idols in the middle of the play area.

5. Be severely sunburnt because only one roundabout and the idols have shade.

6. Get shaken baby syndrome from a ride on the moving aeroplane for under 3s that vibrates manickly and made Seth scream with fright.

7. Fall off the high bridge with completely open stairs and sides.

8. Fly down the elephant trunk slide at such a speed due to the stupidly steep gradient that you fly off the end flat on your face.

But saying that, Seth survived, and quite enjoyed himself, so I expect we will go back. After that we went to India's answer to KFC for fishfingers and to play in their (much safer) play area. Not where I'd choose to hang out on a Sunday afternoon, but the boys couldn't have been happier.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Mumbai: different worlds

Ollie here: just back from a trip to the Ganesh slum. Right in the heart of Mumbai, it's home to several thousand people from all over India. Mohammed took me. He lives there. He works as a driver for an accountancy firm and lives in a one-room house 10ft by 12 ft, with his wife and two children. We watched boys playing cricket amidst the rubbish, the skyscrapers of booming Mumbai behind. A two minute drive away, other boys were playing cricket. Only this time they were dressed in whites. The backdrop was made up of trees and the elegant facades of Raj-era buildings. It could have been a different world. I guess it was, in a way.

Friday, 29 January 2010

A word about Bo Benjamin Balch

So, I've been accused of ignoring Bo on the blog. The truth is he's usually attached to me in the sling when we're out and about, so it's tricky to take photos of him.

He's doing fine. As ever, he's smiling lots, is always the first to get ill, is the mosquitoes Balch of choice, he looks adoringly at Seth, and he's now crawling everywhere. He's like a silent snake - I found him inside a drawer the other day!

He just loves his bouncer and swimming, and he and Seth have a new game, doing 'row, row, row the boat' (although Seth's version is 'row, row, row, row, row, row, row...').

His introduction to Indian food has been a success so far and he'll happily stuff a chappati in his mouth or gobble down a bowl of dhal. Seth is less convinced.

On foot in Fort Cochin

Ollie hits the road. Mumbai first stop.

Seth and Ollie having a last game of Snap at Kashi art cafe before Ol heads off for two weeks in Mumbai and Delhi. We'll miss him!

Ollie will be guest blogging on this site with tales from his travels.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Feliz Cumple Macu! desde Seth en la India

Eye drama

I scratched my cornea two days ago. Stung like crazy, throbbing pain, and I can now just about open my eye. Apart from that, we're all good!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Prop shopping

These would make great props for my shop in Argentina...

Headtorch twins

Ollie and Seth set out on an after dark expedition to buy food.

Babysitting bonus & Teapot cafe

A big thank you to lovely Helen and Nick Potinger, fellow guests at Sui House, who offered to look after Seth and Bo last night so we could go out. After what has been a pretty full on ten days it was such a treat to escape for a couple of hours on our own. We went to Teapot cafe, a cute little spot in Fort Cochin, serving tea and cake, but also delicious Indian dishes. (Photos thanks to Rang

Before I sign off, a plug for Helen and Nick's B & B in Paxos, Greece, which looks like a wonderful place to get away from it all.

My new storage bags

Living with very little stuff is predictably refreshing. But then there's always a certain amount of stuff with two small kids, and I don't regret one bit bringing a suitcase of toys and books for Seth and Bo. But where to put them? I found these bags in great colours and bought a few (for a few pennies a time) as our temporary and travelling storage solution. I love them!

Does this man really look like Rohinton Mistry?

Ollie has found a regular spot at a bookshop cafe in Jew Town. He sits, tapping away from 9-5 and yesterday the shop assistant asked me in the bookshop if he's a writer. I said yes, and proudly showed the double ff on the back of the book I'm reading, by Rohinton Mistry, and explained that Faber & Faber have commissioned him to write a book about contemporary India. The girl looked most impressed and shuffled off to tell her manager.

So, today Ollie walks in and settles down in his usual corner. Two Australians seated at a nearby table walk sheeplishly over and ask him 'Are you Rohinton Mistry?'...

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Test blog

A few people have been discovering my blog. I know that's the point, but for me it's still a bit of a trial blog. I've been way too exhausted to write anything lively or interesting, photos sit in places I've asked them not to, and now the photo upload function refuses to work. Bear with me for now..

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Five day report

Today was our fifth day here in Cochin, and for the first time I'm feeling happy to be here. Not loving it yet, but I think I'm on the way there. It's been an exhausting few weeks - packing up in Argentina, moving from place to place in England, and then arriving here. We've been to India before, but somehow, being so tired and this time with two under twos (who are still jetlagged) and knowing we're here for a year on a tiny budget, we felt completely overwhelmed when we arrived in busy Mattancherry.

 Bo with the ayah at Sui House

Staying at Sui House has helped us settle in and find our feet. Kumar and Pauline are really warm, and kind and interesting people. They moved to Bombay with two small children and were far away from home with Kumar travelling and away lots, so they understand a little of what we're going through. Ollie has chatted late into the evening with them. Today Kumar took Ollie for a tour around Jew Town, explaining the history and telling him all the people he should meet and interview. In India everyone wants to help and network, which is great for Ol's research. In fact, I think he might spend most of his time managing his vast and growing spreadsheet of contacts!

Although I'm discovering some beautiful parts of Fort Cochin (30 min walk/5 min rickshaw ride, haven't taken any photos yet...) I think I prefer living where we do as I really enjoy the walk there, through Jew Town and then down Bazaar Road where all the merchant trader shops are. I feel so inspired and full of ideas each time I walk down there, which always lifts my spirits. Fort Cochin has a quite touristy part near to the Chinese Fishing nets, but the Kashi Art Gallery and cafe is lovely (lunch is 95 rupees, approx £1.20), as is the very cute Teapot Cafe and some great little restaurants. Photos to follow in a future post.

Yesterday I took Seth and Bo for a swim at hotel pool and they were ecstatic! The happiest I've seen them since we landed. Bo is such a water baby and was yelping with delight and kicking his way across the little pool. It also has a enclosed garden where Seth can burn up any energy left after swimming. We'll be spending lots of time there!

Walking further around the peninsula at Fort Cochin there's Parade Ground, a large piece of grass with young people playing football and practicing cricket. Around its perimeter is Malabar House, one of the most exclusive colonial style hotels in Cochin, plus Delight Homestay which has an incredible garden, another gallery and cafe, and some design shops I know from Delhi. Walking a little further there are beautiful villas in Dutch, Portuguese, English colonial styles, and it's calmer and quieter altogether.

Nearer to home, there are lots of little shops selling fresh fruit - one sells only bananas, hundreds of them all clustered together on their stalks - some of which I haven't tried before. I sat on our step this morning and made a big fruit salad for us. Pauline's breakfasts fill us up for most of the day, and we've been eating fresh fish and vegetables, and drinking ginger lime sodas instead of gin and tonics, so I hopeful we'll lose all those pounds we put on in England.

A local fisherman gave Seth one of his latest catch

One of the big differences I've noticed with here compared to Rajasthan is you get a lot less hassle. I felt so claustrophobic in the north, with people constantly hassling us to take photos of Seth and pinching his cheeks. That hasn't happened here at all. They notice him and talk to him, but rather like in Argentina, and I'm happy that he has that interaction with so many different people.

So we're getting there. I can see some good points now, which is a step forward. There were some hard moments early in the week, mainly due to sleep deprivation, I think. But at least I'm not looking for flights to Goa, or back to Argentina!

Showing off my new Ergo Sling which holds Bo or Seth on my back, front or hip. Cheaper than gym membership!

Friday, 22 January 2010


Kerala is the home of many spices and over the centuries it has attracted merchants from around the world. Black pepper ('black gold') cardamon, ginger, tumeric are among those for which Kerala is best known. In Jew Town there is the International Pepper Exchange, a wholesale spice market, and there are countless shops near us selling every type of spice you can imagine.

Some of the spices I saw on our walk through Jew Town yesterday. A cinnamon stick for anyone who can identify all seven!