Travelogue

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

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!

 

 

 

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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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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

Stay strong, Nepal

Taking on from my last post on Nepal, I was looking forward to detail our week long adventure trekking around the Annapurna circuit and the days spent loitering in and around Pokhara and Kathmandu.

But what a depressing last 24 hours it has been. Tuned into news of the terrible earthquake just as it broke where the anchors were speculating possible loss of lives. Went out to buy groceries and 5 hours later, the number was 1400 dead and counting.

2 weeks earlier, we were in Kathmandu. We debated whether to lunch at a local Newari restaurant at Durbar Square, stayed overnight at the touristy area of Thamel and did a brisk 2-hours shopping in its crowded streets before taking the flight out from Tribhuvan International.

Wouldn’t it cross your mind of how it could have been you, how this could have happened 2 weeks back or how we could have taken this vacation 2 weeks later?

Oh unpredictable life.

This only reinforces that tomorrow is not in my hands, not in our hands.

That we need to make the most of life today, to live for the moment and do what makes us happy and spread that cheer around. To travel while we can and make a difference in our lives and hopefully that of others.

For now, yesterday is a bagful of wonderful memories. Of hospitable, smiling nepali people that we encountered. Some of whom we took photos of. Of Rajender & Amrut, our guide and porter. Of a baby that gurgled as I passed by a village where his mom was selling hand-made jewelery. Can only desperately wish that they are safe.

nepal baby travel

nepal travel guide & porter

Stay strong, Nepal.

Links:

  1. Check out this  well-written post/prose on the earthquake by a fellow blogger.
  2. If you are in India, here’s how you can help.
Categories: Nepal, Travelogue | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

A week in Nepal

Yin had planned it all and together, they climbed up some mountains in Nepal!

We flew into Kathmandu and after an overnight of noise and dust, got into the mountainous city of Pokhara.

A 4 day trek was the highlight of our Nepal holiday:

  • Highlight 1 – My idea of fitness was put to shame and how
  • Highlight 2 – The locals could go to any ‘heights’ to please palates of trekking tourists
  • Highlight 3 – We were possibly the only Indian trekkers in those 4 days
  • Highlight 4 – An obvious highlight but to re-emphasize, the snow covered mountains were breathtaking (in more ways than one).
  • Highlight 5 – With a disciplined eating schedule (no snacking, none at all) and great deal of physical exertion, my body got into a wonderful detox & purge mode. And for the best interest of you, dear reader, we shall not delve into that any further.

Our schedule went thus:

  • Day 0 & 1 – Kathmandu & Pokhara
  • Day 2 – Nayapul to Ulleri via Tikhegundha
  • Day 3 – Ghorepani and Poonhill
  • Day 4 – Tadapani
  • Day 5 – Downhill to Ghandruk
  • Day 6  & 7 – Pokhara & Kathmandu

Detailed account coming soon; some pics of the beautiful country below.

Billboard at airport

Sherpa Nepal trekking

Pokhara countryside

pokhara trekking annapurna

Trekking path

trekking path nepal

Rhododendrons, national flower of Nepal

Rhododendrons, national flower of Nepal

Buddhist flags along the way

Buddhist flags nepal

Passing village, Nepali children

Nepali kids

One of the (many) handsome looking canines! Not particularly happy, is he?

nepal dog

Mantra: Drink Everest to climb Everest 

everest nepal beer

Categories: Nepal, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tourist or Traveller?

We are planning the next vacation. Which is exactly a month from now. And nothing has been done as yet.

While having an Indian passport is a lot better than many others, it is still a long-drawn application procedure if you want to visit countries around the UAE’s proximity. I have a deadline of 2 days for looking up a list of countries offering visa-on-arrival for Indians and rounding up on the shortlist. Watch this space.

Next comes the quintessential question of how you want to visit a new place. As a Tourist or Traveller?

Yin is the tourist. He believes that with a steady job and limited vacation time, one should fly non-stop and not necessarily on a low-frills flight. ‘2 vacations a year is what we can afford so splurge’ is his mantra. Yin is Mr. Organised and would want his tickets and schedule well before he embarks on the holiday. The idea is to check in to a well-known hotel, not necessarily luxury, but one that has a pool, gym and the works. With a 7 day timeframe, he prefers an itinerary of possibly 2 small countries, flying through the popular and key cities (oh yes, a low fare flight should be fine here), spending a couple of days in each, eating/drinking at a nice restaurant and heading back. If he had his way, it would be taking one of those customized packaged tours during the day and spending the evening sipping over a malt and reading a book. His goal is clear: Only 1 week so make the most of it, have a good time, and importantly, do not compromise on comfort.

Yang is the traveller. Her idea of a holiday is to spend no less than 2 weeks in exploring a small country. But then she cannot afford to get fired from her job. She will spend days monitoring flight sites for the cheapest fare (that said, she likes an expensive direct flight too with the gourmet meal n drink, I mean who doesn’t? If it were free, that is). She could spend weeks researching Bed & Breakfasts and home-stays, eventually taking off with little or no bookings and driving Yin crazy in the process. She doesn’t like an itinerary and wants go with the flow (whatever that means). But don’t get her wrong, she’s done her bit of research and has a general sense of what lies where, what’s good to eat (but indeed) and a few badly mugged up phrases in the local language. If she had her way, she would tailgate those bunch of backpackers with a college tour guide and then loiter around on her own and get lost (which she is excellent at), head to a nearby cafe and chat up with someone over a drink. Her goal is clear: 1 week, no need to rush, just soak up the culture and people and find a local family that serves authentic vegetarian food (oh, the hypocrite).

While I, and the intellectual world in general (club them both if you wish) is biased to the traveller, I don’t see the tourist as having any less fun. The important bit is that both are out there to see a new place in their own way, to take a break from their hectic work-home schedules and to have a wonderful time. Result: both are happy. No conflict.

Unless the tourist and traveller decide to holiday together. They say that Yin & Yang although distinct, show a balance between two opposites with a little bit in each.Yin Yang travel

In this case, if there’s one thing Yin and Yang love doing, it is sipping malt and watch the world go by.

As for the rest, as I earlier said, watch this space.

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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