Author Archives: Dipti

About Dipti

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The luck of the Irish’s

Ireland.

It wasn’t on my immediate travel radar but it happened, thanks to a work trip. And if I were asked to sum up the country in one word, it would be this: GREEN.

Green and how!

First off, I live in a region where sand dunes are your definition of nature and erm, beauty. So you may want to discount me if I go a little overboard over ‘green’. But Ireland (Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) is so green that it could put Photoshop and its myriad hues of the colour to shame. To quote the wise words of a colleague, the Irish landscape was green on ‘auto-enhance’.

Enough with green. Over to the weather.

No one travels to Ireland for a suntan! As a traveller, chances are that you could encounter rain no matter which month you travel. However, in the week that I spent between Belfast and Dublin, there was one evening …yes, just one evening of rain. Rather, a heavy drizzle. Of course, it helped that we went in May and experienced pleasant weather and long summer days. I still can’t get over the sun setting at 9.30pm!

Now on to Irish, the people.

It does take time to understand Irish accents – it took me a couple of years at work and a few Bushmills to get there but when I finally did, I concluded that the Irish are a crazy and funny lot, having met colleagues at work, servers at pubs or just bystanders that you ask for directions while strolling arond. Little did I know then that they are quite famed for their sense of humour.

Due to large scale emigration from Ireland centuries ago, Irish festivals like St. Patricks Day and Halloween are celebrated in many countries. As is with every country and community, they are also very proud of their “Irish” heritage and take all effort to promote it. If you are in Ireland, do not miss visiting one of the souvenir shops (Carroll’s seem to be the most popular) – from shamrocks and leprechauns to Guinness and Celtic souvenirs, there’s something in there for everyone.

And finally food and drink.

As a vegetarian, I cannot speak much of Irish food which is predominantly meat based, however I had no trouble finding decent vegetarian options (and even vegan, in some places) at the hotels I stayed in and pubs visited. The ‘drink bit’ of course warrants another post. It would be unfair to the Irish any other way.

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24 hours in Brno made us feel younger!

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Slovakia, snow, shoes and more

Yin and Yang are back with their travels. With Young, in tow. They celebrated Young’s second birthday in Jan 2018 (ah, time flies) and and a month later flew to Eastern Europe, thriftlessly paying for a third-seat ticket. On the plus side, toddler was kicking the seat in front rather than his parents’ faces and legs. Oh oops.

But more on toddler tantrums later. Lets focus on how a toddler wrote the narrative on where to travel.

We looked up Google maps and contemplated every place from Muscat to Mexico. True story.  Muscat was too near, Mexico was too far (23 hours flight with child = disaster). And in between were places that were too cold, too hot, too expensive, too unsafe.…you get the drift.

After a few weeks that resulted in extra grey hairs (all mine, of course) and in almost zeroing in a on a weekend ‘staycation’ at the nearby Ras-al-khaimah hotel, we applied for a Slovakian visa. The Austrian embassy (in the absence of a Slovakian one in the UAE) stuck its nose up and kept us on the edge before stamping us a green signal to travel.

The average day temperature in Slovakia was predicted at 1 deg C. Grey-haired Yang was excited for herself yet fearful for her child and drove Yin crazy about the need to stock up baggage solely with baby woollens. Better sense finally prevailed and vacation day arrived.

And so Slovakia, we went. In fact, Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic.

We flew into Bratislava, Slovakia’s capital and spent 3 nights exploring the old town, sampling local brews and importantly, enjoying our cheap and cheerful Slovakian-decored apartment.

We then took a train into Vienna and spent another 3 nights there. The capital city snowed us over, quite literally, and with a night to spare before heading back to Bratislava (for our return flight), on a whim, we took a 90-min bus ride to the student town of Brno in the Czech Republic.

The highlights of our 8-day vacation was:

  • Snow

Lots and lots of it, being that time of the year. And coming from the desert, we absolutely loved it! More importantly, the boy was fascinated by the whiteness and much to our relief returned unscathed, despite an evening out in heavy snowfall.

  • Walking

As a lot of travellers will vouch, most European cities are best experienced through walking. Both of us love walking and that just made everything easier. It also helped in losing considerable calories being gained steadily through beer consumption.

  • Picking up shoes

Whilst we walked, our boy was latched on to a stroller. The shoes being a wee too big for his feet, he used every opportunity to fling them both on to the cobbled streets. More calories were lost before we decided to release his feet and double-sock him. Don’t you call me paranoid; we were in sub zero centigrades, mind you.

  • Using two online disrupters

That is, Airbnb and Uber.

We used Airbnb for booking our stay in all three cities and stayed in apartments owned by locals. Great decision and while I’m conscious that it may not work for all cities across the world, give mainstream hotels a miss and try this when holidaying in Europe.

Uber was really cheap in Bratislava and we used it to our advantage for longer distances and where we didn’t have to worry about taking strollers up and down an underground tube.

  • Beer

The obvious highlight. Cheaper than water in supermarkets!

Categories: Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Dilijan

Where time stopped still.

My closest comparison to this sleepy town is the Dalhousie trip I made five years ago.

The August weather of Yerevan was getting a little too hot to be out and about so we weighed our options and decided to drive up to the cooler climes of Dilijan, a little town about an hour from the capital.

En route, we stopped at Lake Sevan. The dad took charge of entertaining the boy by the waters and I made a short trek up to Church Sevanastek.

The route upward was dotted with pomegranate trees. Pomegranate trees galore!! (If you didnt already know, seeing fruits on trees make me go berserk). These fruits are symbolic to Armenians and every souvenir shop I’d come across had something and everything on pomegranates!

Church Sevanastek is archaical and beautiful but what makes it stunning is it’s position atop the hill. It is situated amidst a lake and over time, has risen over. The view from the church was incredible, to say the least, despite the hot sun that hovered over me. I can’t imagine how much more pleasing it would be in cooler weather.

I made it to base in 27 minutes. Yes, I timed it- and time management is essential when a toddler is part of the travel picture. We eventually reached Dilijan late afternoon and checked into, what we realised much later, the popular Tufenkian Heritage Hotel.

Now I don’t mean to advertise a hotel but our Tufenkian stay in Yerevan was so pleasant that we looked up online and saw that their presence in Dilijan so made an impromptu booking the day before heading there. What we didn’t realise is Tufenkian Dilijan is a heritage hotel – that is, the historical site was bought over by business magnate James Tufenkian and restored into a hospitality area. We were put on the ground floor and over our first evening, window-watched tons of passing tourists stopping to take pics of our building.

With a restless 18 month in tow, Dilijan may just be the place to relax with a pint of Dilijan (side note: cheap and cheerful)! However, if you are looking for a lot more activity, I’d suggest staying put at Yerevan. The town had nothing much to offer but we spent a couple of hours driving up to Park Dilijan – a nice place to chill, perhaps even do some adventure sports if you are around earlier in the day. I took a walk to the town square one late evening to search for the nearest grocery store but hurried back as it was fairly deserted despite being a weekend (I would add though that seems like a pretty safe place).

On Day 2 of Dilijan, we asked to move to the first floor of the hotel which had a balcony and a better view. Sitting out, we were witness to an ‘Armenian pop video’ shoot taking place in front of our hotel! With at least 25 retakes of the song, it still rings in my head.

The town also me an opportunity to savour two lovely Armenian dishes – Borani, a pumpkin-chickpea soup and Gata, a warm pastry served with a scoop of yougurt. Delicioussss, to say the least.

As I look back, Dilijan was a great place to relax and bond as a family.

 

Categories: Armenia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Armenia: Half agenda, double the fun

Indians with UAE residence visa now get ‘visa on arrival’ in Armenia. Best ever travel news of 2017!

republic yerevan

Its July 2017 with an upcoming August-end Eid break and in typical fashion, we have planned travel with no clue on where to go, what to do. And then comes this piece of news that we validated several times over – twice from the Armenian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, from Tripadvisor forums and Google only to be reassured that it was indeed true!

With my love for Georgia still not lost, I was looking forward to see how Armenia would be different, considering how much both countries have in common geographically and culturally. To be honest, my expectations weren’t that high but I was pleasantly surprised.

orthodox church yerevan

A landlocked country, Armenia has an identity of its own but with strong influence of its neighbours. For a start, almost all signs are in Armenian and Russian and while 98% of the population are Armenians, most of them speak Russian as a second language. The architecture, particularly the churches with conical domes are very similar to those in Georgia, reflecting Orthodox Christianity. The food, like Georgian cuisine, is an eclectic mix of Soviet, Middle eastern and Western influence and needless to say, this warrants a separate post!

wine miming yerevanThe weather is extreme with hot summers and icy-cold winters. End- August was still hot in the capital,Yerevan (37 deg C!) but I was told that it was much hotter earlier that month. Thanks to this and with toddler in tow, we couldn’t walk around much but with what we did, I must admit Armenians (the women in particular!) rank very high in appearance! *whistle*

beer yerevan dilijan armenia travelOur trip was over 4 nights; we had booked two nights in Yerevan and like in the past, left the rest to be decided impromptu. As Yerevan reminded us of the Dubai summer, we eventually headed to Dilijan on Day 3, a so-called spa town an hour away. A sleepy place, Dilijan was pretty in parts, but if only the weather had been more considerate, I’d have loved to spend all 4 days in the capital.

There is only as much as you can do with a toddler who is just learning to talk (which translate into screams at every opportune moment) and walk (which means, he doesn’t want to be strapped and if left loose, decides to go on his own trip). And so we had to don the role of responsible parents and manage his mood, food and sleep patterns which meant considerable time was spent within the the confines of hotel room. Of course, we foresaw this and wisely stocked up on every brand of Armenian beer thus enjoying our in-room sampling sessions!

 

 

 

Categories: Armenia, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sri Lanka 2016

So this is what babies do to you! I was told, forget travel now that Young is here and they were right. Well, almost.

I have had, what I term ‘travel starvation’ in the last year. Our only two breaks were back home to India, both family/occasion related. Being full-time working parents, we have been very lucky to have family support for the baby and now a nanny, however with visa restrictions and other commitments the year has passed within the confines of the emirate.

And so, for the time being, lets e-explore the beautiful country of Sri Lanka that we travelled to exactly a year ago. Oh! How I remember this evening that day in chilly hilly Kandy, sipping on a Lions’ while the boy had just latched on to the bottle! At 6 months, he was the best baby a parent could have travelled with. Maybe we waxed a little too eloquently about it and today, it is a different story altogether.

As with most countries that we have travelled to, typically for a week, we touched 3 cities. Ideally, I’d have liked going to a few places off the grid but with baby in tow, we stuck to more popular ones.

  • Bentota
  • Kandy
  • Colombo

Bentota was the typical beach-holiday goer’s place, sun-soaked, lazy and where life slows down a little. The beaches of Bentota, were no doubt, beautiful, and the weather, although a bit warm for my liking was rainy and a welcome change from the desert heat. I particularly loved our day trip to Galle, the UNESCO world heritage city south of the country with imposing Dutch architecture, quirky cafes and ambience that a day trip can do no justice to.

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Kandy was a last minuter to the schedule – as first-time traveling parents, we were a little paranoid about how he’d endure the road trip uphill- downhill but took a chance and had no regrets. Kandy reminded me of the colourful and busy ‘hill-stations’ of Southern India. We visited the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic  which hosts the ‘tooth’ of Buddha. Alongside this was the International Buddhist Museum, a wonderful display illustrating Buddhism from across the world.

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Colombo was a typical asian capital city – noisy and busy yet vibrant in its own way. We just spent a day there and splurged on the Galle Face Hotel, a historic colonial hotel facing Indian Ocean. And shopped a wee bit on some great quality but super cheap clothes!

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And food! Rice-heavy and plenty use of coconut, it was very similar to back home (i.e. Tamil/Kerala cuisine). Try the string-hoppers with curry – they are worth every bit of your rupee!

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Buddha is of course, omnipresent.

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In all, Sri Lanka offers a bit of everything and a country that can be easily explored over a reasonable length of time on an inexpensive budget.

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Dubai Water Canal

I must confess that, had I not lived in Dubai, it would never make it in my list of top must-visit places. Simply because it is a man-made city created from a desert and personally, I’d have no desire to travel somewhere to see a bunch of well-made concrete structures.  Having said that, I appreciate and am highly grateful as a resident of Dubai for all the comforts it continues to provide on a professional and personal front. And over the last couple of years, I am in awe of all that the government has done and continues to do in trying to make the city one of the most desired tourist destinations in the world.

On that note, I spent an evening strolling by the recently constructed water canal. The Dubai Water Canal was inaugurated in Oct 2016, three years after it was first announced. The changes made to Sheikh Zayed Road, the arterial road that connects the emirates, is commendable considering all that has been done in a short span of time and within the stipulated deadline.

The water canal is a 12-kilometre waterway that connects Dubai Creek with the Arabian Gulf and will eventually feature a jogging track, restaurants and cafes along the promenade and marine stations with regular ferry of passengers. As always, Dubai wants to make a noise about it –  I even noticed that they have Bose speakers installed along the walkway!! This project will also feature ‘smart’ electric poles and other tech-elements to fulfill requirements of Dubai’s aim to become the Smartest City in the world!

Here’s a first glimpse of the water canal and the bridges, view of Downtown Dubai and of course, Burj Khalifa.

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Categories: Middle East | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

New kid on the blog

Presenting Young, new kid on the travel blog.

Young is what happened when Yin and Yang went a little overboard with their travels!

baby travel

He is 3 months old and has already travelled to one country that included 4 cities, 3 flights, one train journey and a few bumpy inter-city car rides!

So we took Young to India as there were a line of grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles and aunties queueing up to see the latest addition. This was his itinerary over a duration of 2 weeks:

While Yang became the typically paranoid mum about how son would cope with the sultry Indian summer and the hectic schedule after a pampered Dubai ‘winter’, Yin was certain he would weather it all. So except for a worrying cough that came along the way, Young responded well by just sleeping! The moment we got onto a vehicle, he’d fall asleep, only to wake up when we reached the destination. We couldn’t have asked for more (and can only hope this trend continues, fingers crossed).

Thus Young successfully completed his first trip.  Travel is never ever going to be the same again! Here’s to a whole lot adventures, madness and fun! Clink, clink!

Just in case you thought otherwise, that was the sound of baby milk bottles.

Categories: India, Middle East, Travelogue | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

And here’s to 2016!

As 2015 ends, I came across an interesting sketch by Sylvia Duckworth. As I embark on a 2016 that is all set to turn my world topsy-turvy (more on that coming soon), I just found this little piece that I could relate to and get more inspired and possibly, inspire some of you as well.

Happy New Year 2016 and here’s to many more travels & adventures!

IM

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Penang’s street art

You can lose weight in Penang! Which sounds a tad ironic because Penang is famed for cheap & good (street) food. But there is so much to see and that is best done walking. So there, you have the best of both worlds!

Food obviously warrants a separate post so in this one, we focus on street art forms in Penang – more specifically in Georgetown, the capital – where most travellers/tourists swarm to and which is the centre of action. Street art is found in missable nooks and corners so to ensure that you see as much as possible, you must walk!

The street murals are quirky and have 2 distinct categories, from the whatever little that I saw: wall paintings combined with real-life objects and art using iron structures. With wall paintings, I learnt that a Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic, received worldwide recognition after creating a series of these paintings in the city that have now become an integral part of its cultural landmark. I absolutely loved his works – you can check his Facebook page for all that he has done. With his success, there are other local artists who have followed suit. Most of these murals are centered in and around Lebuh Armenian (Armenia Street) in Georgetown so make sure you don’t give it a miss if you are ever there! As for the iron structures, the idea was initiated by the Penang tourism board to allow tourists to learn about the cities heritage through welded iron wall pictorials.

Below are some of images that I managed to take in those brief seconds when no onlookers were posing near them!

The first image seems to be the most iconic of Penang’s murals and one by Zacharevic – “Little children on a bicycle” (most souvenir shops use this image and I’m told it is the most popular. It’s easy to believe that, I love the expression of the little fella!)

Ernest Zacharevic children bicycle

And as you will see, bicycles & cycle rickshaws that dot Penang’s streets also find a prominent place in these murals

Man Cycle rickshaw penang art

Penang cycle rickshawpenang cycle art mural

tourist cycle rickshaw penang art

A boy teaching how to pronounce hokkien chinese, one of the local languages. The second one is titled ‘Culture Girls’ – it appears to depict the 3 prominent races of Malaysia – Malays, Indians & Chinese.

hokkien boy & culture girls penang art

boy temple penang

penang wrought iron art

Penang wall art

wedding penang art

Categories: Malaysia, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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