Gina writes:

The state of Kerala was on our list of places to see while in India. We had heard that the feel of the place was different, due in large part to the state's economic prosperity, and that the nature around the cities was worth seeing.

We used Christmas money to treat ourselves to flights there and back. Travel to and from airports and layovers still made for a 16-hour journey each way, but much better than the 30+ hours we'd have had to spend if taking the train! We arrived in the evening of February 15 and left on the morning of February 21, so had 4 complete days to enjoy.

We spent the whole time in and around the capital city of Kochi. It's extremely popular to stay in homestays (similar to bed & breakfasts in the U.S.), so we decided to try that. Our homestay, Heavenly Homestay, lived up to its name for sure. Patric and Mary, the owners, were so nice. We arrived at about 9:30 p.m. on the first night, but Patrick still took us out for a walk around the neighborhood to show us a few restaurants and help us get our bearings. They were also really helpful in scheduling day trips with various tour companies. And a big, delicious breakfast every morning, at the exact time that we arranged the night before, was a real treat. The free internet, bottled water, hot shower, and soft mattress were just bonuses to the excellent service. Highly recommended, especially for the price of 700 rupees per night.

There are a lot of old churches and museums on the lists of tourist attractions, but we're not interested in that, so we decided to spend our first full day in the city exploring the unique features of the area like the markets and the beaches.

Princess Street is known for it's colonial architecture and shops. It was nice to stroll through the streets. The shopping isn't a good value, though. The prices of shawls and other things that can be found elsewhere in India were at least 3-4 times the price! After Princess Street, we took a rickshaw to Jewtown. (Yes, that's the official name of the neighborhood.) There, the shops were basically the same, but more street vendors and temporary stalls.

We walked too much for both of us and shopped too much for Corey's liking, so we took a break at a waterfront restaurant.

After swearing off "tourist shopping" we went to the mainland of Ernakulam, to see a more authentic Indian market and explore the busier section of the area. We opted to take the ferry, which was a great decision. 3.5 rupees to ride a hop-on, hop-off service that stops at 4 ports. The ferry wasn't crowded, so we had a relaxing 15 minutes enjoying the time on the water. The skyline of Ernakulam is so impressive, so many new skyscrapers!

A ferry identical to ours with Ernakulam in the background

We did find Broadway Market, which was a typically crazy Indian market with lots of chaos and lots of junk! The only thing we wanted specifically was spices from around Kerala, since we read that Broadway Market was the best place to get them. Unfortunately, our market-savvy failed us, because I'm pretty sure we paid about 6 times the price we were supposed to for some black pepper and vanilla beans!

After that, we were shopped out, so made our way to the boardwalk to relax. We had tried to sign up for a sunset cruise that we found advertised online, but it wasn't running due to lack of interest, so we were happy when a man approached us trying to fill a last-minute cruise leaving in 10 minutes. Good timing! The 1-hour cruise, at 50 rupees (1 USD), was a great way to enjoy the cool breeze and the setting sun.

The next activity was a drum performance by 150 or so Hindu priests. I don't know the background or further information about the group or the music, but it was an excellent performance. I especially liked the horns that 10 of the men were playing, almost like a french horn stretched out to its full length.

After the ferry to our island, we ate a delicious Italian dinner at Upstairs Italian. A calzone with real cheese, ham, and olives for me and a more basic pasta dish for Corey -- a nice change from rice and curry.

We returned to our homestay exhausted and sweaty, but satisfied. An excellent first day!

(The plan was for me to cover days 1 and 2, but as you can see, I've gone on too long already. Coming soon -- backwaters boat tour, bathing elephants, waterfalls, a Kerala martial arts performance, and more!)