After ten days of travelling around and immersing ourselves in the incredible beauty of Rajasthan, we headed to India's west coast, to bask in Goa's 32°C heat.
In the twenty years we've been visiting Goa I still can't get enough of these old colonial houses decorated in wild colours, a hangover from Portuguese rule which forbade all buildings but churches to be painted white.
As usual on our travels, the plan was no plan. Although we knew we'd end up in Goa at some point we didn't book accommodation beforehand. Luckily, over the years, we've got to know several families who run guesthouses so we split our three-week stay between two cheap and cheerful basic rooms on the main beach road in Benaulim.
Our days took on their usual Goan routine, an early morning walk along the beach, a pav bhaji breakfast at a roadside canteen, wandering the village lanes admiring beautiful homes & gardens and gossiping with the locals whilst buying fresh fruit from the street. Sometimes we'd catch the bus to Margao, South Goa's principal town, getting lost in the maze of stalls at the indoor market and popping into Cotton Cottage to stock up on artisan-made block printed organic cotton clothing while the winter sale was still on. Other mornings we'd walk to the nearby resort of Colva to browse the animal charity shop, rarely buying but always leaving a donation to help the street dogs and cats.
Afternoons were always spent on the beach - shunning the touristy beach shacks for a quiet spot on the pristine white sands of Sinquerim beach. There we'd feast on fresh fruit, play in the waves and read until the sun sunk into the Arabian Sea.
After hot showers (yes, even the cheap and cheerful rooms now have solar panels) we'd sit on our balcony drinking white rum out of enamel mugs, watching the fruit bats dive bomb the palm trees before heading off for dinner and beers.
On the way to the airport last year we'd spotted San Thome, a privately owned museum in the neighbouring village of Varca, a 6km walk away. We were amazed to get there and back without a single blister!
The museum has all manner of quirky exhibits including the anchor from the Titanic.
After a couple of weeks, we decided to take a break from the beach, packed a bag and joined the queue for a bus ticket to Panjim, Goa's state capital. Last year we'd enquired about taking a taxi and were quoted £40 for a one-way fare (a distance of 39km), the bus cost us £2.40!
We checked into our hotel and set off to explore the city.
Our first port of call was Sunaparata, Goa's centre for the arts, where we took in an exhibition & strolled around the lush gardens before lunch in the gallery's gorgeous open-air Cafe Al Fresco.
While Panjim enjoys the same temperature as the beach villages, without the benefit of the sea breeze the humidity is around 90% so most of our time was spent wandering on the shady side of the streets with frequent stops for refreshments.
While the city centre is lovely, the faded splendour of Fontainhas, Panjim's atmospheric quarter is where our hearts belong.
When it comes to eating, we're spoilt for choice in Fontainhas. Our favourite restaurant is Venite, located upstairs in an ancient colonial-era house with rickety chairs, quirky decor and tiny balconies that just about accommodate two adults.
Although there's a chalkboard of daily specials, Jon ordered barracuda fillets he'd ordered last year, pan-fried in millet and served with home-made chips. There's always plenty of choice for vegetarians, so I'm happy.
We absolutely loved Panjim's science museum and at 50 rupees each (50p) it was brilliant value for money even if we had to share our visit with a hundred over-excited school kids. We laughed ourselves silly with the exhibition of mirrors.
The museum was a 4km walk from Fontainhas so we made lots of rest stops along the way, admiring the street art and, of course, popping into some of Panjim's incredible shops including FabIndia which inevitably led to a cheeky purchase.
Standing in the heart of Panjim, and stacked like a fancy white wedding cake, is the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, built in 1619 over an older, smaller 1540 chapel. When Panjim was little more than a sleepy fishing village, the church was the first port of call for sailors from Lisbon, who would give thanks for a safe crossing.
Some of the food we ate in Panjim: Uttapam (fermented rice flour pancakes served with sambar and chutney), Jon's pan-fried Baracuda, Upma (semolina porridge with chillis and dried fruits), Vegetable vindaloo (cooked the Portuguese way with palm vinegar and red wine), Vegetable xacuti (a Goan dish with poppy seeds, grated coconut, and dried red chilies)
The Panjim Inn was the heritage hotel in Panjim, a former family mansion tastefully restored and crammed with antiques. I fell in love with it 20 years ago not daring to go inside for fear that they'd chuck us, scruffy foreigners, out. Last year we'd visited daily for drinks, basking in the breezy courtyard garden and envying the residents. To our delight, when Jon looked online at rooms, we discovered that they'd slashed their midweek room rate by 40% so we were able to stay there.
This was our room, complete with a balcony with views across the Mandovi River.
Round the corner from the Panjim Inn is the Viva Panjim restaurant, occupying the downstairs of the heritage home of Linda and Michael De Souza. It's been voted restaurant with the Best Indo-Portuguese Cuisine in the whole country by The Times of India for the past 13 years. Their vegetarian vindaloo is worth the trip to Panjim alone.
Three days later we caught the bus back to Benaulim...
For a few more days of beach life, paddy fields and rampaging water buffalo.
Our 21 nights in Goa sped by, it was time to pack our bags and move on.
Next stop, Mumbai!
For all our Goa photos see HERE.