food

Kolkata: The Road less Traveled

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

– the Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost.

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That may be a strange way to start an article about an experience I had in the city of Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) on my recent trip to India. Yet, it sums up my experience of the Calcutta Capsule Alleys and Street Food Walking Tour so perfectly that it felt right to use the quote.

There’s a couple of things you ought to know before I dive into the story. First, that visitors to Kolkata are warned not to drink tap water or eat street food. Second, that if you’re looking for a guided tour of the most famous tourist sites in Kolkata in an air-conditioned vehicle, then this isn’t for you. But, if you’re willing to take the road less travelled, you’ll love this experience, just as I did.

By now you’re probably wondering what on earth I’m talking about.

The Alley and Street Food Walking Tour is one of several walking tours offered by Soham, of the Calcutta Capsule. His aim is to show tourists the authentic Kolkata that he loves so much. And, since he grew up in the area, he knows all the secret gems of destinations and shows you a side of Kolkata that tourists generally don’t get to experience.

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The Alleys and Street Food Tour takes you on a 3-hour journey through historic narrow alleys in the heart of Kolkata where Soham shares stories of life in Kolkata, as well as tales of history, myth and fables. Along the way, you get to sample some truly delicious Bengali food from street food vendors and tiny eateries, experience Kolkata from the rooftops, and walk through some amazing local markets selling a rich diversity of produce.

The walking tour took me on a rich journey of the senses. From listening intently to the changes in sound as we weaved our way through a series of twisting narrow alleys with buildings soaring high above our heads; smelling the intoxicating scent of incense from the local religious shrines and spices from street food vendors. Listening to the chaotic yet friendly hubbub of a city of 10 million people – cars hooting, people haggling prices in the many informal stalls on the streets and markets that we passed. Feeling my way cautiously up three flights of uneven spiral stairs to emerge onto a rooftop that felt like we were on top of the world peering down on the busy streets below. Walking past local businesses ranging from a multi-generational family goldsmith to a sweet shop that had been in operation for more than 250 years. From start to finish, the tour was a wonderful riot of sensations that appealed to my every sense.

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And then there was the food – starting with a small cup of chai tea loaded with sugar, through various types of curries and traditional local dishes, to a variety of Bengali sweets, for which the area is famous. I should clarify that Bengali sweets aren’t like candy – they’re more like small cakes, donuts, or biscuits made from loads and loads of sugar of one kind or another. Even the ones that don’t taste sweet are deceptively so, so be warned! And, despite eating only small portions, you won’t leave hungry. Even if you’re a fussy vegetarian like me.

You’re probably wondering why I’m speaking so rapturously about street food considering the warning at the start of the article. Weren’t we worried about eating street food? Not at all. You see, we’d done our research– the tour received such high ratings and glowing reviews on both Trip Advisor and Airbnb that we figured the food must be okay. And we didn’t see a single review mentioning … shall we say negative consequences from eating it.

From what I’ve said, obviously I’d recommend the walking tour for anyone who happens to be visiting Kolkata. But, seeing as I doubt too many of you will be doing so in the near future, I hope giving you a tiny taste of my incredible experience will encourage you to look beyond the popular tourist experiences and take the road less traveled next time you’re on holiday. You never know what you’ll experience!

Paws for Thought on My 2019 Wishlist

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I was perturbed to read mom’s last article and see no mention of me in her intentions for the year. So I’m going to correct her oversight and hope she pays attention to my Wishlist for 2019.

You’ll notice my needs are a lot simpler than mom’s. it’s okay that she wants to achieve lots of different stuff in 2019 – writing books, challenging herself, and continuing to build her profile and her business in all sorts of areas. But me, all the things I want to do are easily achievable. At least, I think they are.

So, here’s my Wishlist for 2019:

  • Walking with mom – go for 5 walks a week – if I were greedy, I’d ask for double that. So I think I’m being ultra-generous in just asking for 5, don’t you?
  • Working with mom 01 – I know mom enjoys practicing the routes she knows regularly and that’s fine with me, but it gets a little boring sometimes. So, I’d like for us to learn at least 1 new route this year.
  • Working with mom 02 – I think mom did quite well getting out and about with me last year. I want to challenge her to continue doing so, and to take me with her to lots of exciting new places as well as our old familiar haunts.
  • Running with dad – go for 3 runs a week. I know my doggy sister Allie and I can’t always run with dad since sometimes he has to do LSDs (long, slow runs for those non-runners who read this), and we’re too fast for LSD. But it’s important for Allie and me to keep up our mileage and keep our trim waistlines, so 3 runs a week should be okay.
  • Communicating – this year I want to do more Facebook posts and videos, because they’re fun. I’ll need to figure out a better way of stealing mom’s iPhone or laptop to stay in touch with my human and doggy friends on social media, but I’m sure I’ll find a way.
  • Eating – I want to try to Persuade mom to give me 3 meals a day. I know this may be a stretch goal but I think we should all try to reach for bigger goals sometimes. Besides,, mom has 3 meals a day, so why shouldn’t I?
  • Playing – in 2019 I want to play lots with my doggy sisters Emily and Allie. I know this is probably the easiest goal for me to achieve since we already play lots, but I’m including it for completeness’ sake.

There you go – my Wishlist for 2019. I realize I may need to retrain mom a little to achieve some of them. I also know some of them may not be easy but, like Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.”

And I assure you I’m already dreaming about that third meal!

Louis on the Block – Another Great Place for Guide Dogs

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It’s really not hard to find an enticing restaurant in Cape Town, no matter what type of food you’re looking for. I’ve already written a number of reviews of places that welcome Fiji and this is another of those. But this restaurant, Louis on the Block, in Bergvliet, has an added bonus – they’ve made their venue accessible to people who are mobility impaired as well.

Craig, Fiji and I have eaten at Louis on the Block in Children’s Way, Bergvliet a number of times. Not only do we enjoy their delicious, reasonably priced food and good service, but I’m always impressed by how disability-aware they are.

My guide dog, Fiji, is always warmly welcomed into the restaurant. On one momentous previous visit Fiji was offered not just a bowl of water but a snack as well, which she was most put out when I declined. I know some of you may be thinking it was unfair of me to deprive her of her snack when Craig and I got to eat. Here’s the thing: if Fiji learns to look for food at restaurants she’s slipped over the line into begging – and a begging dog is downright unpleasant for everyone!

What really impresses me about Louis on the Block is that the restaurant is also accessible to those with physical disabilities. Though there are steps up to the main entrance, they have a second stepless entrance that’ll easily accommodate wheelchairs. The tables aren’t crammed together so the space is fairly easily navigable, and the restrooms are also spacious enough to allow access to a wheelchair.

Over the years I’ve been to a large number of restaurants that are happy to accommodate my visual impairment and my guide dog. Sadly I doubt the same is true for a person with a mobility impairment. So it’s really great to experience a restaurant that is so aware of the needs of all their customers, no matter what!

If you’ve never been to Louis on the Block in Bergvliet, Fiji and I would definitely recommend you give them a try –with apologies from Fiji for not being able to vouch for the food herself.

Bluebird Market: A Great Place for Dogs – and for Humans, Too!

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Another place Fiji and I go on a regular basis is the Bluebird Market, in Muizenberg. It’s a great place for the Lakeside and Muizenberg communities to spend a few enjoyable hours with good food, local wines and craft beers, diverse people… and a whole lot of dogs!

As a fussy vegetarian I especially enjoy the range of vegetarian food on offer – from scrumptious Falafel wraps to the most amazing cheese/chilli spring rolls. But don’t be worried you’ll go hungry if you enjoy meat – my husband has never complained about the numerous meat options on offer.

Since the market is welcoming to dogs Fiji loves going there as well. Interestingly I’ve observed that she seldom gets overly excited about the other dogs running around and, in fact, will sometimes do little more than lift her head to observe a passing dog and then go back to sleep. It would be a lie to say she always behaves like a perfect guide dog – with so many people and so much food it’s hardly surprising she’s tempted to sniff around to see what snacks she can find for herself. We try to discourage her but well, I’m sure you know what Labradors are like when it comes to the possibility of food!

I’m not sure the Bluebird Market would be easy for someone with a mobility impairment to navigate their way round. There are simply too many people and too little space. Having said that, the market building is equipped with ramps with a gentle gradient with the only exception being the step up into the book shop on the premises.

From my perspective as a blind person, the only problem I have is that the market is generally full and loud, which can make it hard for me to orientate myself in the building. But then I don’t think it would be much fun on my own so I always have a sighted guide there to assist me if I need to get around. Having said that, I regularly have total strangers offering me assistance there so Fiji and I could probably manage on our own should we ever need to.

Overall, both Fiji and I really enjoy the Bluebird Market and would recommend it to any friends – human and canine!

An Unhealthy Obsession

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Mornings are one of my two busiest times of the day – breakfast arrives in the morning, there’s a chance to run around like crazy in the garden to greet the new day, and a chance to spend some quality time with mom.

I actually think mom is pretty well trained for her morning routine – I jump up at her as soon as the alarm goes off and she climbs straight out of bed and lets me and my doggy sisters out into the garden. When we’re ready she’s waiting to open the door to let us back in. So far, so good – her focus is where it ought to be.

Then, for no clear reason, she gets distracted and goes off to the kitchen, which ought to be a good think since that’s where our food is stored. But she totally ignores our food and goes to fill the kettle. What’s that all about? It’s of absolutely no use to us doggies!

Anyhow, eventually she finishes with the kettle and returns to her duty – looking after us dogs. Breakfast is quickly served and even more quickly enjoyed. Then she lets Eccles and Emily out for another play and I go back to bed… more play might be too much of a good thing that early in the morning… besides, I have to conserve my energy for when I take mom for a walk later on.

Of course I sleep through the next bit but Emily tells me that mom’s unhealthy obsession with the kettle continues once my sisters are back inside. Since mom’s not doing anything important I’m happy to delegate the responsibility of watching her to Emily, who seems perfectly content to hang out in the kitchen for no earthly good reason.

Of course I wake up so I can check what shoes mom’s wearing – if she’s wearing her trainers it usually means she’s going to be a good mom and let me take her for a walk. And naturally I avoid the temptation to steal her socks, no matter how much I may want to – I’m a guide dog, after all!

As you can see, apart from her unhealthy obsession with the kettle, mom was pretty well trained by my predecessors, Leila and Eccles. Of course I had to retrain her on a few minor points when I first got partnered with her – can you believe she actually tried to send me outside with the others after breakfast before I showed her I wasn’t interested in going. Unfortunately, no manner of retraining has broken her kettle bad habit, but I’m willing to keep trying if any of you have any suggestions for me. Apart from that I’m really happy with how well she works – good mom, clever mom!

Now, I wonder how long it is till supper time, which is my other bestest time of the day!

As a side note, I’m also proud of mom for remembering that the first Tuesday of the month is my day to post an article – she really is a well-trained mom!

First Impressions

Cds IMG 0766It’s Wednesday morning and as I sit here listening to the rain pouring down in Cape Town I find myself reflecting back on the week I spent in Ghana… was it really only a few days ago???

My overall impression of Ghana is that of warmth, the warmth and humidity of the weather, the warmth and friendliness of the Ghanaian people I encountered, and the warmth of the experience of spending a week in the company of people I hadn’t previously met but with whom I shared some unforgettable experiences from which I believe long-lasting friendships will develop.

I’ll share some of the specific experiences that made my time in Ghana so special over the course of the coming weeks but perhaps a few initial impressions won’t be amiss here.

I found the Ghanaian people both welcoming and friendly – without a single exception. Now, I know this just isn’t possible – that there must be Ghanaian’s who aren’t friendly, or are simply having a bad day, but I didn’t meet any of them. From the woman who sold me two beautiful Ghanaian dresses, to the bus driver who had just spent an hour changing a tyre after we had a blowout on the journey back from the conference; from the receptionists at the guest houses to the hawkers touting their wares outside the conference venue.

And wow, are the Ghanaian’s creative and entrepreneurial in the way they market their produce. For most of our 6-hour bus journey the sides of the road were lined by small counters selling everything from under-carpet felt to vegetables, from pottery to peanut butter, from metal gates to (and I’m not kidding) coffins. Basically, I’m pretty sure that if you needed an item, someone would be selling it!

It’s obvious that religion is a cornerstone of Ghanaian society. We were amazed at the number of churches we saw – often several on a single street block. Also, most of the songs we heard on radio, both in the bus and at the guest houses, were religious in nature. I don’t know if there is a causal correlation between the prevalence of religion and what I was told about the reduction in crime and occurrences of HIV and AIDS, but certainly religion forms an integral part of everyday life in Ghana.

I also found it curious that most radio and TV I heard was in English. Then I was told that English is the official language of Ghana, which I found interesting in its own right.

A final observation about Ghana that was curious to me. I would have thought that the climate in Ghana would have made it an ideal place to grow almost any and everything. And yet it seems that much is imported – we saw fruit juice from Spain, milk from South Africa (when you could find milk at all), and the most frequent mobile phone outlet we saw was South African – MTN. I’ll freely admit that I missed some of my dietary staples, like cheese, which I didn’t see in Ghana so was craving by the time I returned home.

Those are a few of my general impressions of Ghana – watch out for more articles on specific aspects of my time in Accra and Kumasi in the next few weeks!

Louis on the Block, Bergvliet

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It is really not hard to find an enticing restaurant in Cape Town, no matter what your preference in cuisine happens to be. I am constantly amazed at the number and variety of restaurants we have. But I sometimes wonder if finding a restaurant is as easy for someone living with a disability?

Disability access is a subject close to my heart. I’ve decided to write reviews of places that impress me – and those that horrify me – in terms of how accessible they are. I suppose my recent article about the SAB Newlands Brewery should technically be considered my first, but this is the first that will appear under the Accessibility Review category.

Recently Craig, Fiji and I had dinner at Louis on the Block in Children’s Way, Bergvliet. Not only did we have a great, reasonably priced meal with good service, but I was impressed by how disability-friendly they were.

My guide dog, Fiji, was warmly welcomed into the restaurant and was offered not only a bowl of water but a snack as well, which Fiji was distraught that I refused on her behalf. Now, while it might sound very unfair that Craig and I got to eat while Fiji did not, the truth is that if she learns that she might get food when we do she will learn to beg – and a begging dog is downright unpleasant at a restaurant.

What really impressed me about Louis on the Block was that the restaurant was also accessible to those with physical disabilities. Though there were steps up to the main entrance, they had a wider door that was easily accessible to a wheelchair..

No, I didn’t happen to notice it. Nor did I ask (though I must do so when going to restaurants in the future). But at one point in the evening the restaurant’s owner and one of the wait staff crossed to the double door to assist a lady in a wheelchair to enter and join one of the tables having dinner.

The whole experience left me feeling very positive about the restaurant and enhanced my enjoyment of the evening.

Well done for going the extra mile, Louis on the Block!

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