A dash of Pepper…

…with a splash of Mint

Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Trip to Fort Bassein

Posted by Pepper on April 15, 2016

Despite having grown up in Mumbai, there are still several places that I never had the opportunity to explore. I thought it was time we start savoring the true flavors of this city. Discovering new places is one of our favourite activities anyway, so it would be a joyous way to spend summer. I started by making a list of the places I wanted to visit. Most of them were just day trips. One such place was Fort Bassein.

We expected it to be an hour long drive. Our aim was to leave by 8 am, but as usual, we ended up starting much later. After a quick breakfast, we were off. I was excited. We were visiting a place that contained years of history. The actual Portuguese name of the place was ‘Fortaleza de São Sebastião de Baçaim’. Bacaim turned into Bassein which eventually turned into modern day Vasai. Who knew a random suburb of the city held such ancient stories?

These ruins were the headquarters of the Portuguese rule in the 16th and 17th centuries! Here are some very interesting excerpts from Wiki. “The Greek merchant Cosmas Indicopleustes is known to have visited the areas around Bassein in the 6th century, and the Chinese traveller Xuanzang later on June or July 640. According to Historian Joseph Gerson Da Cunha, during this time, Bassein and its surrounding areas appeared to have been ruled by the Chalukya dynasty of Karnataka.

The coast of Bassein was first visited by the Portuguese in 1509, when Francisco de Almeida on his way to Diu captured a Muslim ship in the harbour of Bombay, with 24 citizens of Gujarat aboard. 

The Treaty of Bassein was signed by Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat and the Kingdom of Portugal on 23 December 1534 while on board the galleon São Mateus. Based on the terms of the agreement, the Portuguese Empire gained control of the city of Bassein, as well as its territories, islands, and seas. 

In the 18th century, the fort was taken over by the Maratha army under Peshwa Baji Rao’s brother Chimaji Appa, and fell in 1739 after a three-year-long campaign. The British shortly attacked and took over the territory from the Marathas as the price for supporting one faction of the Marathas against another.

I am extremely fascinated by historic monuments. So I was looking forward to the first glimpse of the place. It turned out to be pretty much how I expected it to be. Quite lovely! It wasn’t very crowded on that particular day, and we walked around making our way through overgrown shrubs. I was transported back to an era that held battles between the Portuguese, the Marathas and the British.

Here is a random mix of pictures. Some of these structures were the royal mansions, administrative centers  and other establishments of the Portuguese.

 

 

 

 

And some pics of us…

 

 

 

 

After our little tour, I was very excited about having lunch at the Mahila Mandal restaurant. This is a part of an NGO run by a local teacher, Mrs Indumathy Barve. Mrs Barve is 93 years old and still runs this establishment, employing 250 women. You can read about her here. The food served here is hygienic and absolutely delicious.

We ordered this thali and this plateful of awesomeness cost us only Rs. 55.

 

Each item was freshly prepared and packed with bags of local flavour. I couldn’t get enough of the fresh pickle. The thali was a no frills, home cooked local meal. Just the kind of food I appreciate! Of course, as per the law that governs my life, I had to drop some dal on my white dress. It made me very cranky, but thankfully I was able to get the stain off. It miraculously disappeared and I could rescue my dress. On the whole, it was a day well spent!

If you live around Mumbai and are interested in history and heritage, I recommend a trip to Fort Bassein. And while you are there, don’t miss the lunch at Shramik Mahila Mandal.

Posted in Slices of life, Travel | 10 Comments »

And we’re off..

Posted by Pepper on January 21, 2016

To Chennai! I’m just putting together the things I need to carry. We have our flight in the next few hours. Mint is going to get back from office and only then start packing. As usual, he leaves it to the very end. I have warned Mint this time, if he isn’t ready on time, I am going to proceed to the airport without him. I am serious. For a person who reaches stations and airports almost 3 hours early, Mint’s attitude gives me near heart attacks.  So this time, I have truly made up my mind to go ahead without him. Let me just hope he gets back from work at the promised time (without citing some excuse like a meeting that overshot it’s scheduled time and bla bla) and that he completes his packing quickly.

For now, here is a list of things I am excited about.

* Meeting Oregano. Yes, he is in Chennai for his kidney check up. He leaves for NY on the 24th and I am so glad we’ll get atleast 3 days with him.

* Revisiting beaches that were a part of Mint’s growing up years.

* Going to temples with the in-laws. The MIL knows my love for architecture and all things ancient. This trip, she wants to take me around to some of the old temples in the city.

* Hot filter coffee served in steel tumblers. Nobody makes filter coffee like my MIL does. It’s strong, packed with flavour, perfectly balanced with a mild sweetness and simply amazing in every way. I can’t wait.

* All the good food I’ll get. The melt in your mouth idlis, the amazing kozhambus for lunch that are a staple in the in-laws home. I also can’t wait to go to Murugan Idli to feast on their sakarrai pongal. Nothing comes close to that taste. And oh, Saravana Bhavan! How I hate them for not having an outlet in Bombay! I had my regular dose of Saravana Bhavan in the Bay Area but in Mumbai I find myself deprived. The irony! So no trip to Chennai is replete without a lunch at Saravana Bhavan.

* The joy of bringing back so many goodies. Molaga podi, paruppu podi, sambhar podi. Kothamalli thokku from Grand Sweets. Freshly ground filter coffee powder. Ahh, I can already feel the joy..

* Making a trip to Mint’s Alma Mater. I love going to the IIT campus in Chennai, watching the deer, going to see Mint’s hostel and his room. But most of all, I love watching Mint’s expression and his joy as he narrates stories of his time spent there.

We usually visit Chennai once in 6 months or so, but this time, we’re making a trip after over a year and a half. So my excitement levels are higher. Anyway, next post from there. Tada!

Posted in Travel | 19 Comments »

And if you want these kind of dreams.. It’s Californication!

Posted by Pepper on August 11, 2015

I could feel the flutter of the butterflies in my tummy when I heard the announcement. It had been over 20 hours of flying time. How much I had longed to hear those words. And finally, here they were. I couldn’t contain my excitement. Time to fasten our seat belts. We would be landing in San Francisco shortly. How long had it been since I had left that place? And yet, it felt like I was revisiting an old home. I couldn’t wait to meet and reconnecting with my past.

Ofcourse, I was delighted to see Mint after 2 weeks. But in all honesty, I was more delighted by the thought of actually being in the Bay Area. We drove out of the airport and I couldn’t stop beaming at the sight of the very familiar free ways. When I think back, I realise I was soaking in the simple joy of being in that place through out my trip.

We reached our apartment that would be our home for the next few weeks. I gasped. The area we would be living in was a little too upscale for me to wrap my head around. Such a prime locality! Right in the heart of downtown SF. There is no way we would have been able to afford living in a place like this on our own. This place was paid for by Mint’s company. For a moment, I wished we could have been given the money instead of the very posh apartment that cost an obscene amount. How much would we have saved? Anyway, since there was no way we could make that possible, I decided to make full use of the opportunity of living there. Although we had lived in the Bay Area for several years, we had never lived in the heart of San Francisco. I would make sure I explore the city to the fullest.

The first few days of my trip went by in a haze. I was too jet lagged to do much. I decided to put off the catch up sessions with friends for the next couple of days. I wanted to focus on the food and just get some rest. My first stop was Chipotle. Oh, how much I had missed this. As expected, I over ate. This, after I had already had a very big breakfast of avocado toasts, frittatas with feta and sun-dried tomatoes served with jalapeno jelly and the most delicious blue berry pancake. I told myself to go easy. How much could my stomach handle? But it was hard to stop. There were too many places I wanted to eat in. And the never ending conflict we faced? Should we revisit our old favourite restaurants or should we explore and try new ones? We decided to fit in as much as possible. We over ate during every meal. Not surprisingly, I fell ill after a point and spent the next 2 days taking it easy.

Mint was at work every day until evening and I had chosen that time to go around the city by myself. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. I was swamped with work. We faced some last minute issues in a project I was working on. I would wake up to a flood of emails everyday. So I spent the first half of my days working. I would walk to Mint’s office in the afternoons and we would lunch at a good place. He would come home early in the evening and we would set out to meet friends, or shop for tidbits and to dine at yet another favourite place.

Friends. We realised we had too many friends to meet and not enough time. Other than that, we also had close family. I was ecstatic to meet some old friends and catch up with my cousins. But I wanted to do more in our trip than just meet people. Our other problem was that most of our friends lived in the South Bay while we were living in the city. Needless to say, we spent a large chuck of our time commuting and catching up with people.

Towards the end of my first week there, I started feeling jittery. I realised we had been taking no pictures. I also wanted to do the typical touristy things. Walk around Fisherman’s wharf. Pier 39. Tour the Golden Gate bridge. Visit Crooked street. And so on. Mint was very taken aback by my demands. Haven’t we seen all those places a hundred times already? He asked. It was true. We had. When we lived in the Bay Area, I was rather sick of those places. Every time friends or family visited us, we had to take them on an obligatory tour and visit the said places over and over again. We were bored of them. And now, I was wanting to do the touristy things myself. I’m not sure why.

I guess a part of me felt like an insider and the other part felt like a mere visitor. I was trapped between these two conflicting emotions. Although I did know the place like an insider, although I couldn’t call myself a tourist in a place I had lived in for years, I couldn’t deny being a mere visitor this time. I tried telling Mint we should take many pictures. Pictures of what? He would ask. “We only seem to be going to restaurants. What do you want to click? I am not interested in doing touristy things”. He said that he was however ‘willing’ to do them if that is what I really wanted. I decided to take up the offer, even if it wasn’t a very enthusiastic one.

And so the days rolled by. We ate some fabulous meals, met friends, hung out at our old addas, bought little things every other day, raided Trader Joes, visited some tourist spots, rekindled some old memories, created new ones and just immersed ourselves in a certain unspeakable joy. I had gotten used to that life, replete with good food and happy times. There were no responsibilities. We even had assigned help who took care of the cleaning and tidying up of our apartment. We just had a toss a dirty utensil in the sink and the dishes would be gleaming the next day. Fresh towels would find their way to our bathroom. The pillows would be fluffed and bed sheets would be straightened when we returned home. Like magic.I really could get used to living like that.

Before we realised it, it was time for me to leave. We had been shopping all day and I had an early morning flight the next day. I was utterly exhausted. Shopping tires me out and makes me irritable. I was longing to climb into bed and ready myself for the endless flight. But I knew I couldn’t leave the Bay Area until I had paid homage to a certain place. If I didn’t visit this place, I would have left with a feeling of incompleteness.

I am talking about our old home in the Bay Area, one we lived in for all those years. By the time we drove into our (former?) area, I was squealing. ‘Look, this is the route I took everyday to pick you up from the Bart station’, I told Mint. ‘Oh, look, this is where we did our grocery!’. It went on. Every little corner had a memory attached. By the time we got to our block and saw our apartment, I was delirious.

Even the very non sentimental Mint was looking at our apartment complex with dreamy eyes. I wanted to take a picture of the gate but Mint told we would be reported for suspicious criminal activity. I took a quick picture nevertheless. Too bad we didn’t have the code to enter the complex. We then stood outside our what was once our backyard. My beloved backyard. How many times I had stood in there, pondering about life. That is where I used to have my morning cup of coffee. That is where we were surprised by the springing of a mysterious rose plant. And here I was again, on the other side of the fence this time.

We drove back, still reeling under the effects of all our past memories in that house. I can safely say, visiting that apartment complex was one of the highlights of my trip. The other highlight was meeting a certain somebody. Anyway, I was at the airport early in the morning the next day. Mint would be staying back for a while more. We hugged and said bye to each other. ‘See you soon’, he whispered to me. And as I walked towards security check, I realised those were always my sentiments when I left California. I don’t know what ties bind me to that place. But I can never say good bye. For I know I will return. It is always, ‘See you soon’.

Pictures, for your viewing pleasure. They are in no particular order or sequence.

Avocado toasts. I just could not get enough of these. I ate them at every opportunity. Such simplicity, but what an explosion of flavor!

toast

 

One night when we drove to twin peaks. As always, the wind was so ferocious here, I had to keep running back to the car to warm myself. I could feel the car swaying, quite literally. But the view was mesmerizing, so we tried to brave the wind and spend some time there. Mint would keep wrapping himself around me to shield me from the strong gusts of wind. Romantic setting and all that.

 

This was the *BEST* french toast we had eaten. Period. Oh God, I am drooling as I think of it.

 

Again, I was so delighted to get my hands on this African honey wine. It is called ‘Tej’. How I wish we got it in India. I can drink glasses of this with ease. It is probably the only kind of alcohol that I actually like. The rest of the stuff I enjoy only with good mixers.

 

On a sunny weekend, when we were strolling around the sea side. I saw this little girl playing on the rocks, engrossed in her own happy world. Just seeing her made me feel so happy. Anyway, how can you not be happy in such gorgeous surroundings? Doesn’t the sea look like a bed of molten sapphire?

 

On a cold, grey and foggy evening when we walked around Pier 39. That island you see is Alcatraz, which houses the famous prison. I am not sure I have written about my experience while touring this prison some years ago. Quite an interesting place. The cells and the description of the lives of the inmates sent chills down my spin.

 

This picture has a story. When we lived in the Bay Area, we would visit Target fairly regularly. We loved their shopping carts for how sturdy they were. I would stand on the edge of the cart and every time Mint spotted an empty aisle, he would push the cart while I stood on it and give me a fun, fast paced ride. It used to give me such a thrill and it always made me feel like a little child. Surprisingly, the staff never had a problem and would always give us a friendly and appreciative smile as they passed. This time when we visited Target, we realised I had to step on to the cart, for old times sake. Mint gave me the usual ride on the speeding cart and then he stepped aside to take this picture.

 

When we were just rolling on the lawns on a weekend. Such happy and carefree times.

 

In front of the far-famed Golden Gate bridge. We visited only because I insisted (for reasons unknown even to me). This must have been my nth visit to this place. I think there are so many better structures around, especially in the US. Why is this bridge so famous? Totally over-hyped, in my humble opinion.

 

I started getting cranky about not taking enough pics one day. In response, Mint pulled out his cell phone and took this random picture of me walking on the streets. That got me more annoyed. When I said I wanted pictures, I didn’t want pictures only of myself, walking on the road. And I didn’t want cell phone pictures. It was such a grey day anyway. We looked so dark. When I said I wanted pictures, I meant I wanted pictures of ‘us’. Good pictures, taken with our camera. Anyway, this picture is a little special to me. Because it commenced the beginning of taking more pictures. Had I not protested that day, I suppose we would not have had a single picture taken in this trip.

 

And so, that was a glimpse of our trip. It’s been a few weeks since I am back, and I already find myself dreaming of more travel. Sigh.. Anyway, long time since I stopped by here. How have you been, folks?

Posted in Travel | 50 Comments »

Happy Week

Posted by Pepper on March 19, 2015

The happy week is a series in which I scribble either a happy memory or write a happy post everyday for a week. Hopefully, writing daily for a week will also compel me to snap out of this very lazy spell that I have been reeling under.

Today, I will write about a happy little weekend trip of ours that lies in danger of being overshadowed by other recent events. Some weeks ago, Mint and I drove to an organic farm a few hours away from Mumbai. The idea was to spend a night in one of their cottages.

If you know us, you will know both Mint and I are heavily into organic food. Seeing how the produce is cultivated first hand was an exciting prospect. I must say, we weren’t disappointed.

Let’s get to the pictures.

Look at this cutie! I wasn’t comfortable holding it, so Mint was happy to hold it for me while I clicked. The little thing was content sitting on his palm. What was it thinking, I wondered. Did it know what a cute bald head it had?

K1

 

I clicked another pic when another cutie settled in even more comfortably in Mint’s palm.

 

K2

 

Lookie!  A baby bottle gourd in my palm. It was so tiny, my instinct was it to give it a good squish, jump in excitement and scream, ‘Aren’t you adorable!’. I didn’t, ofcourse. I behaved like a sane adult instead. Oh, I did bring this home with me, but alas, it didn’t last for too long.

K3

 

This one is a grown up bottle gourd, probably the mommy of the baby?

 

K4

 

Cauliflower! Ready to be harvested. So cool, isn’t it?

 

K5

One of our super delicious meals. Papad, rice bhakris, some mixed dal, sprouts and potato curry, mango pickle, alu wadi and some mixed green. Everything was home grown and came straight from the farm, including the rice used in the bhakri. I thought it was incredible. The taste most certainly was. Such mind blowing flavours. Sigh..

 

K6

 

The one on the right is the lovely cottage we lived in.

 

K7

 

The line up of the beautiful cottages. If you notice closely, you will see the lovely warli art work that I was so smitten by.

 

K8

 

I wish I had more pictures. There was a very playful farm dog that Mint couldn’t get enough of. The place had acres and acres of trees. Right from fresh bay leaves, to turmeric, to exotic fruits and vegetables. We took long walks, watched the cows swishing their tails and the goats bleating in harmony. We ate our meals in a shed that was placed in an open expanse of land, overlooking the hills. The greenery was refreshing. A sight for sore eyes. They lit a bonfire for us at night. It was so wonderful.

They don’t allow you to have noisy parties, nor do they sell alcohol on the farm. Since we weren’t looking to party anyway and were only interested in a peaceful break, this place was ideal. But ofcourse, no trip of ours is complete without drama. I must write about the sweet but strange Christian lady we met there who was taken aback when she found out we were married. She was horrified when we told her we had been married for several years now. Because we still didn’t have (or want) kids. So much so, that she insisted on holding an immediate prayer session for us. So she made us all sit on the grassy lawn and hold hands as she prayed aloud to Lord Jesus to bless us with a child. The look on Mint’s face made it painfully hard for me to not giggle.

She was so sincere, she even removed the pendant she was wearing and gave it to me as a good luck charm. She said that Saint (I’m not sure which one it is) would help us conceive. *Gulp*. Since I didn’t know what else to do, I accepted it and thanked her. I may have found the whole thing ridiculous, but I was touched by her gesture. She was willing to part with something that was clearly precious to her. Bizarre episode, I thought. Here is the pendant she gave me.

K9

 

I still don’t know why a stranger would be so interested in our affairs. She said something like it was ‘our duty to procreate’. Hmm.. I don’t know what to make of it. We’re not ready for a baby right now, so all I do is chuckle at the memory of this very bizarre episode. Life is interesting and fun.

Posted in Happy Week, Travel | 27 Comments »

From God’s own country..

Posted by Pepper on November 30, 2014

I am going to bullet my thoughts on the Kerala trip. My brain usually feels muddled when there is a lot to say. This post has been in the drafts forever. So without further ado, here we go:

– Like I had mentioned in my previous post, we traveled to Cochin by train. It was a 24 hour journey. I managed to sleep * a lot*. Perhaps the mild rocking of the train is conducive to sleeping? I don’t know. I was surprised by my own capacity to sleep. When I wasn’t sleeping, Mint and I spent time chatting with each other and reading our respective books. We had some good food too. Our train stopped at Udupi station and Mint got some boxed meals of appams and kadala curry. Quite amazing!

– I managed to use the toilets in the train without much fuss. It was okay, I thought. The only thing that grossed me out was the handles on the toilet doors. They were always sticky. That made me wonder. What was causing them to get sticky? Some of the passing thoughts were downright repulsive. So I stopped thinking. I used tissue paper to touch the handles and slathered my palms with sanitizer each time I used the loo.

– We got off at Ernakulam station at around 7 pm the next evening. It was drizzling. We walked to the end of the platform with all our bags only to find the entrance of the staircase closed. How were we to go to the other side of the platform then? We wondered. And then we realised. We were supposed to cross the tracks! With all our bags. That is what everybody was doing. Great. This happens only in India. So with a lot of trepidation and fear of being run over by speeding trains, we carried all our suitcases and tried running across the railway tracks in the dark as fast as we could.

– We checked in to our hotel in Cochin, dumped our luggage there and freshened up before we headed out for dinner. We were to leave for Munnar by bus early morning the next day. So we wanted to have an early night. We dined at Grand Hotel. Mint feasted on the fish fry while I enjoyed the egg curry.

– We were in the bus by 7 am the next day. The drive was around 5 hours but seemed much longer. Perhaps I was impatient to get a glimpse of the mountains. I wasn’t disappointed when we reached. Misty mountains and tea plantations everywhere! So very beautiful.

– The bus dropped us off at the main market and from there we were to take a taxi up to our home stay. Mint thought it would be interesting to experience the local way of life there, so he told me we should use the local share taxi to get to our destination, instead of hiring a private one. I agreed a little reluctantly. They stuffed a million passengers inside a small jeep. I remember being elbowed and not having enough room to keep even half of my butt on the seat. And this, after we paid for an extra seat just so we had more room!

– It was a 45 minute drive and while I was cursing Mint for making me ‘experience the local flavour’ by having me thrown off my seat at each curve when I was already so tired, it began to pour! Mint and I had not even thought of this possibility. How stupid were we! All our luggage was placed in the carriers on top of the jeep. There was no plastic sheet shielding our bags. I glared at Mint. He apologised. I worried about the stuff inside our bags. I wondered if our suitcases were waterproof, and if they were, how much they could really withstand. It poured and poured and after about half an hour, I gave up. I was sure all our clothes and everything would be soppy wet. Needless to say, I was sulking and snapping at Mint.

– We reached our home stay in the afternoon. Our hosts were lovely and welcomed us with a lemon flavoured drink. I rushed up to our room to sort out our wet clothes. Although our suitcases were soaked, only the top layer of our clothes were wet. Not everything had been ruined the way I had feared. I spread the clothes out to dry and lay down for a long nap.

– With no agenda in mind, Mint and I stepped out in the evening. We were told to not venture beyond the lake as we might run into wild elephants! Whoa, this was really living in the wild. We could not stop marveling at the shining mist in the mountains, the picturesque landscapes and the fresh air.

– While we were taking in and admiring the sights around us, a group of local school boys called out to us. They didn’t know what language to talk to us in initially. And then suddenly one of them discovered that Mint knew Tamil. There was collective cheering and the boys began talking to Mint in Tamil. They even coaxed him to join in a game of cricket. We asked them about their school and their life up in the mountains. We love traveling to different places because of experiences like these. We get an opportunity to peak into the lives of the locals. There is so much to know and learn.

– Munnar is a beautiful place. I was surprised to see a lot of homes converting their small living rooms to a ‘hotel’. All they had to do was put up a sign with a name of their ‘Hotel’, describing what they served. I remember ringing the door bell of one such house/hotel and asking them what they had for us. The lady called us in, went to her kitchen and served us terrific dosas and chutney. She charged us a measly Rs. 30 for this. How awesome it is to get access to such delicious home cooked food packed with local flavours! I think this setup is the best way to learn about the people who live there.

– Talking about food, we were treated to a fabulous ‘sadya’ by our hosts the same day. I really couldn’t get enough of the flavours in their food. I was happy we had another 3 days in Munnar. We were resting, pigging out and going for long walks. Life was good. Until I fell sick.

– We noticed I was feeling unusually cold during one of our morning walks. So I wore a sweater while Mint made fun of me. I was also a little out of breath and was beginning to feel a little nauseous. By the time we went back to our home stay, I thought I had developed a mild fever. So I spent most of my day sleeping in.

– That night, I had the brilliant idea of washing my hair. It felt a little oily and I didn’t want to have oily hair in my holiday pictures. What a stupid idea it turned out to be. So I went for my hair bath while Mint was using the wifi that only worked in the living room downstairs. The home stay had gas heaters that did not work with the shower. I had to use a tap and a bucket. The problem was the flame in the heater would snap out every 2 minutes and the water would run cold. I tried working around it by having a supply of very hot water in the bucket.

– I don’t know what went wrong, but just after I had rinsed off the lather and used conditioner in my hair, the heater snapped off and didn’t turn on again. It happened at a time when I had run out of hot water in my bucket too. The water was ice cold and I was shivering. I couldn’t bear to rinse my hair with that water. So I wrapped a towel around myself and walked out of the bathroom. I called Mint upstairs to our room and begged him to fix the heater SOMEHOW. He took some time figuring out what was wrong and in that time I stood there shivering in my towel, with wet hair and water dripping down my back. I was feeling so cold, I thought I would faint.

– Although Mint fixed the heater, it worked only for another minute before the water ran cold again. I managed to rinse my hair haphazardly and stepped out, trembling from head to toe. My teeth began to chatter uncontrollably. I had my hair dryer and I used the dryer all over my body to get some warmth. The moment I would stop, my teeth would begin chattering. By now, I was running a very high temperature. I put my clothes on but kept using the hair dryer on my body constantly. I know using the dryer was destroying my skin. I could feel it get dry and burn, but I kept at it because I was so desperate for the heat.

– By night, I was sick like a dog. I had very high fever and I was throwing up so much, I felt like a puke factory. Even Mint, who is usually quite unfazed at such times, touched my forehead that night and said he was really scared. I was burning. I told him to not worry in my semi conscious state. We were to leave for Thekkady the next day, but with me so sick, we weren’t sure we could go anymore.

– I blamed the faulty water heater for this episode. Maybe not the throwing up, but the high fever could be attributed to my disastrous bath. Our home stay was lovely and very comfortable. We had taken for granted that they would have a running supply of hot water. Because that is a given. Next time though, I will double check and not take this for granted.

– Since we had to cancel our Thekkady trip, we tried to squeeze in some local travel in Munnar the next day. We decided to step out although I was sick. We called for a private taxi this time and I wobbled along on my unsteady feet. I had medicines for fever and a puke bag handy. We stopped the car each time I felt uneasy. On that day, we explored Munnar at length. The waterfalls, the tourist spots, the tea estate, the elephant camp, all of it.

– We checked out of our home stay the next morning. Staying there was a lovely experience. The hosts gave us a lot of information about the place and some useful pointers on what to do there. The food they cooked was heavenly. They even shared the recipes. Home stays are wonderful in that sense. However, if you are like me, that is, overly conscious about how much you bother people around you, then maybe staying in somebody’s house may not be the best thing. For example, I felt very guilty asking them to give me coffee at the times I wanted. I felt guilty asking them to serve me the lunch of my choice. Instead, I said I would eat whatever was easiest for them to cook. Yes, we were paying them for every little thing, so Mint said my behaviour didn’t make sense. I just felt obliged to not inconvenience them in anyway. I grant myself more freedom in a hostel or a hotel.

– We took the bus back to Cochin. It took us almost 7 hours because of the traffic. I spent almost all my time puking. I had a large plastic bag in my hand and by the time we reached, the bag was full up to the brim. Eeeks.

– We met our friends in Cochin and spent the next few days catching up with each other, exploring the city and gearing up for the baby shower. Before you ask, yes, we did visit Fort Kochi and yes, it was lovely. We flew back home after 8 days in Kerala. Although the trip had been fun, I was happy to be back home to the comfort of my room, the familiarity of my bathroom and shower and ofcourse, simple homely food.

The local school the boys we met studied in. I wondered if they took those views for granted..

 

View from the balcony of our room in the home stay

 

The merry water fall we passed..

The merry water fall we passed..

 

Anybody know what flowers these are? They were so eye catching, we couldn't resist taking a picture

Anybody know what flowers these are? They were so eye catching, we couldn’t resist taking a picture

 

Moi. Observing the mist that lay ahead..

Moi. Observing the mist that lay ahead..

 

In the tea factory. They actually allowed me to work the machines and  produce a whole batch of tea leaves..

In the tea factory. They actually allowed me to work the machines and produce a whole batch of tea leaves..

 

Beauty..

 

And more beauty..

And more beauty..

 

And more..

And more..

Posted in Travel | 34 Comments »

And we’re off!

Posted by Pepper on September 26, 2014

The bags are packed. Our holiday begins in a few hours. I’ve been doing a happy dance since morning.

We’re going to Kerala! For a good 9 days! I know the whole world and it’s cousins have been to Kerala, but for me this will be a first. There are so many destinations in India that we are yet to explore. Every time we see an opportunity to travel, we end up having an international holiday. The reason is quite simple. We find India too expensive. When we compare costs and realise we will be spending so much on domestic travel, and that an overseas vacation will only cost a little more, we end up choosing the overseas vacation while we can. Ofcourse, I am taking about foreign destinations that are not too far away. Otherwise the cost difference is significant.

We’re relatively young now and can endure long flights and adjust to changing time zones without too much of a struggle. Traveling within India will be easier in that sense and can be done when age makes our energy levels deplete. Or so I thought. It took my dumb brain a while to realise just how vast India is. And how much we are yet to see. It just hit me one fine day. Would it be wise to leave it all for later? Other than that, we could afford the international travel before we bought the house. Now we have enough debt to last us a life time. Might as well start exploring the country now (since it is cheaper) instead of spending more money on foreign holidays.

So plans for a domestic holiday were hatched. Kerala had been on the list for a long time. It was the perfect time. And in what seemed to be a happy coincidence, a group of friends decided to join the plan because of a baby shower that was going to be held in Cochin. Mint and I are going to be spending almost a week by ourselves in Munnar. Once the friends join, we will do Thekkady and the houseboat in Alleppey before we head back to Cochin.

This holiday brings with it another first. We’re going to Cochin by train. It takes a good 24 hours. Despite having done some amount of train travel, I have never spent 24 hours in a train. I am sure I will have a good time, though to be honest, the thought of using the toilets worries me a little. We chose to come back to Bombay by flight, so the train will be a one time experience for now.

So tada peeps. Have fun and enjoy the little line up of holidays (in India). See you soon.

 

Posted in Travel | 19 Comments »

More Goa

Posted by Pepper on March 24, 2014

– We traveled to Goa by train. In RAC. And that too, in a non AC coach. To my surprise, the entire train was CROWDED! There were a million youngsters surrounding us – so many traveling without reservation. They crouched on dirty floors and chatted away to glory. You could hear sounds of the guitar blending with sounds of laughter. I guess Goa was a very popular choice for that long weekend.

– Since we were traveling in RAC, The BFF and I ended up sharing a berth. We’re both sort of petite, me more than her. We really thought we would be able to fit in and get some sleep, but we spent the entire night kicking each other’s faces and pushing one another so we could lay claim to some more space. In the end, we gave up. Ironically, we fell asleep in the last half an hour. Always happens, no?

– We were a group of 6 people, consisting of 3 couples. Out of the 3 couples, Mint and I were the only married couple. The other two always tell us ‘how cool’ we are considering we are married. We are just like them – we don’t seem ‘married’. I don’t know what to make of it, but this always leaves me feeling happy. Maybe because I don’t like being associated with the ‘typical Indian married couple’.

– We rented a villa with 3 bedrooms just a few minutes away from the beach. It was surprisingly cheap. I guess advance bookings do help. The beds were a little shaky, and we had fun cracking some jokes and teasing the unmarried folks. They don’t get a room to themselves often, and this time that they did, it came with shaky/noisy beds. Poor people. *Giggles*

– For a change, I was on the beach at about 6 am. Usually, I am not even up at that time on a holiday. This time, we reached Goa at about 5 am and we could check in to our villa only by 11. So the early morning was spent on the beach. It was quiet and empty. Totally worth it, I say.

– Hiring a 2 wheeler turned out to be quite a pain. Like I said, this was a very crowded weekend. We did get our bikes finally and had some fun times riding around and exploring new beaches. Did I tell you? I have a new favourite now.

– More than half of the world thinks Goa is wasted on me. I don’t eat fish and I don’t like beer. So I have neither. I am used to hearing people gasp, but hey, I love Goa to bits despite the lack of beer and fish. What can I do? I am equally happy without the ‘Kings’ and the ‘prawns’.

– Though I have been to Goa about a 100 times, this was the first time I actually went to the Saturday night flea market. I thought it was terrific. It made me wonder why I hadn’t been there before.

– I absolutely love Goan bread. It is called Poee. Warm, freshly baked poee slathered with butter is a favourite. I make sure to get some with almost every meal when I am in Goa.

– This psrticular trip was also special, because for the remaining two days of our stay, we rented a huge open jeep. What an experience it was! We drove to South Goa in our very awesome jeep. Just that the heat we had to endure in the two hour drive almost killed us. Most of us draped our heads and faces with all the possible towels, stoles and scarves we could lay our hands on. Despite that, by the time we reached we were dying due to dehydration. I may have gulped down atleast 4 glasses of fresh lime with ice the moment we stepped out.

– Every time we go to Goa, we make sure we make a trip to Palolem in South Goa. And every time we make a trip to Palolem, we make sure we eat at ‘Dropadi’. I hear their tandoori fish is to die for. But for me, I go there for the basil and cheese fritters that they serve with a sweet chili dip. It is AMAZING!

– Our drive back to north Goa was a very memorable one. We could see the full moon from our open jeep. It was a cool and pleasant night. Instead of sitting, we choose to stand in our jeep and that made all the difference. The breeze, the soft music, the full moon, the open jeep and the empty roads. It was all perfect. If you go to Goa in a group, I highly recommend renting an open jeep.

– The next morning, I was strolling on the beach with my slippers in my hands. It was scorching, but we had emerged out of the sea, all drenched, so the heat didn’t seem too unbearable. Suddenly, I stepped onto a broken beer bottle that had been thrown in the sand. Ofcourse, it gave me a deep cut and blood began to trickle. What made it worse is that I had just stepped out of the sea and my feet were still wet. Obviously, the water was salty. I had to walk on hot, burning sand. The open, bleeding wound, the salt and the hot sand made me go ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAHHH’. In my head, ofcourse. To others, I just said, ‘Oh no, it’s okay. Not a big deal. I will manage to walk on my own’. Sucks to be a grown up, did I tell you?

– I limped for a while. I have a neat little scar on my right foot now. I call it my memento. It gets me some attention. And I love attention from my loved ones. There were a few other glitches. Perhaps I will write about them sometime. Perhaps I won’t. But if you ask me in one word to describe our little vacation, I will say ‘fabulous’. After all, Goa always is.

Posted in Travel | 36 Comments »

Thai holiday

Posted by Pepper on January 9, 2014

When I look back at the past few years, I realise most of our holidays (including international ones) have just happened without prior planning. We make plans on the very last minute. Just like Thailand. We booked our flight tickets a day before we were to fly out. And our accommodation, well, Mint made the booking two hours before we left for the airport. The currency exchange happened only an hour before that. The just dried laundry was stuffed into our suitcase a few minutes before we rolled it out of the door. My parents keep shaking their heads and calling us crazy.

Anyway, Thailand. This was one of the best vacations I’ve had. When I compared it to the last two big holidays (Hawaii and Europe), I actually think Thailand beats them all. It was that good. And when things are so terrific, I find it awfully hard to put them in words. But for the sake of this blog, I will try.

We reached Bangkok early in the morning. Oh by the way, this was my second visit to Thailand. The first time I went there was 5 years ago. And what a surprise I was in for. I think the city has progressed considerably in the last 5 years. The infrastructure looked shining and new. And it was all so efficient. It made my heart ache a little when I thought of India. We can never dream of such rapid advancement. Sigh.

We stayed in a hostel in Bangkok. Considering our love for travel and the amount we do it, it is kind of unrealistic to expect to stay in expensive hotels. Especially if our holiday is kind of long. Which this one was. We took a private room, but most of the rooms were meant for sharing. Staying in a good hostel is so much fun! It is the best place to socialise and meet new people. You will even have common areas where people will be strumming the guitar, a place where you can sit back and play the board games they have there, a theatre club and so much more. Here is a video of Lub D, the hostel where we stayed. If you are visiting Bangkok and want to cheap it out, I highly recommend this place.

We chose to travel to Thailand towards the end of December. It was a great idea, because the weather was gorgeous. Cool and pleasant all along. Which was a good thing, considering the amount of walking we did. Since this was my second trip to Bangkok, I had already seen all the temples and shrines they had there. Mint however, was visiting for the first time and did not get to see much. We had chosen to be in Bangkok for limited time so we could spend most of our time on beaches in Phuket. And I wanted to shop in all the time we had in Bangkok.

Surprisingly, I got bored of the shopping soon (Okay, knowing me, it is not very surprising, I know) and lay my focus on the food there. Authentic Thai cuisine has now been elevated to my list of top favourite cusines in the world. Big rice noodles, the glass noodle salads, the fresh fruits, Thai curries, the explosion of flavour with the powdered red spices and lemon. Topping all of that with their ice coffees. Oh my God. I want to go back there. Sigh again.

Next on the list was Phuket. Phuket was where we spent most of our time. We lived right on Patong beach. It was quite crowded, if you ask us. But we had our fun. Again, we took a private room in a hostel. I suppose from now, we will abandon hotels and only stick to hostels. Our stay in Phuket was what I will call heavenly. Wake up in the morning/afternoon/evening or whenever you please, walk to the beach. Slump on a beach chair. Eat all of that fastastic Thai food. Enter the water. Walk on the shore. Step out of the beach. Walk around in in the city. Buy knickknacks. Get a massage. And that sums it up for us. We did all of that in various permutations and combinations on different days. It was glorious and restful.

We went to Phi Phi island one of the days. It is a few hours away and we chose to get there by speedboat. A crazy, bumpy ride it was and I was sure some of my bones would get dislocated by the time we reached. But then, I’ve lived to tell the tale.

Oh, we also went to meet the elephants. I’ve always wanted to ride on them, bareback. This time I did, while Mint sat behind me. We went on a trek in the forest. The elephant we were on consumed bananas at the rate of one per second. By the time we were back, I had run out of all bananas I had carried and that dear fellow wanted some more. Unfortunately, I had to tell him I had none left. And hey, they really do understand what we say! I also had the pleasure of playing with a baby elephant, and I must say, I am in love with these animasl. So intelligent, so loving, so majestic! If somebody asks me about my favourite animal now, I will say ‘elephants’ in a heartbeat.

Here is what I learnt in this trip:

1) A country can progress only if it wants to. To me, it looks like India is stuck in a rut and it is chooses to stay there.

2) Delicious food doesn’t necessarily mean unhealthy food. Thai food is brilliant, and yet, so very healthy.

3) My dependence on caffeine is scary. Every day on waking up, the first thing my senses would demand is a mug of strong coffee. Which meant, we had to keep all our plans on hold and go in search of my caffeine fix first. Only then could I function.

4) I am terribly unfit. I always knew this, but I realised the extent only in this trip. The endless walking made my legs so sore, I thought I would collapse. I would have, had I not been revived by the foot massages. Infact, I would find myself cringing with each step and walking with a limp. On the other hand, Mint can just go on. Says something about his fitness.

5) That my body is something I have to learn to be comfortable with. The amount of trouble Mint had in coaxing me to wear ‘atleast a one piece swimsuit”, when the entire beach was swarming with bikini clad women made me think. I *have to be* more comfortable with my body.

6) The sight of a darling little baby girl playing on the beach as her parents watch, with wet sand stuck to her chaddis is a powerful one. It can stay in your memory forever.

7) That Mint will never tire of making fun of my nose. This time he was trying to teach me how to swim. I was trying to float on my back and my head was almost fully immersed in water. Once I am up, he says, “You know, when your head was underneath, only your nose was visible. I was worried people will start running. They’ll think a shark is approaching”. Yes, I have still not forgiven him.

I can go on, but let me get to the pictures..

sandcastle

Building sandcastles at night.

water

That is me rushing out of the edge of water after Mint threatened to pull me inside.

frisbee

Mint and I played frisbee on the shore. That is him chasing the disc. I love this click.

phiphi

Phi Phi island! The colours here make you fall in love with the place.

maya

Mint succeeded in making me wear my swimsuit and taking me inside the water this time. We asked somebody to take a picture just before we stepped out. This is Maya Bay. Who will tell me why this is so famous?

snorkeling

Snorkeling to see the colourful fish.

fishes

The fishes racing towards a piece of bread

Elliebig

My darling elephant. He took us around for a while. Yes, I love him, and so he becomes mine

Elliesmall

And this little fellow, I wanted to bring him home. He was so adorable! I even have a picture of him giving me a kiss on my cheek.

walk

Going back to the hostel after our adventure with Ellie! We realised we could walk on the shore instead of the road..

jump

If we’re having fun, we have to jump! Always!

streetfood

My very handsome boy waiting for his omelette to be made. Did I already tell you streetfood in Thailand rocks?

bicycles

A Christmas tree made of bicycles! We thought it was very creative

toycity

Toy city! Bangkok looks so unreal here. Just a bunch of lego blocks and hot wheel cars.

Posted in Travel | 31 Comments »

Yet another getaway..

Posted by Pepper on September 11, 2013

A gorgeous drive to a town a few hours away from Mumbai, a drizzle, lush green in the mist, a welcoming family, masala chai served with freshly made banana chips, idlis steamed in jackfruit leaves woven together by hand, a lovely beach, laughter and conversations with the BFF, the sister and Mint, playing frisbee by the sea, going for a run along the shore, sand in your toes, driving to another secluded beach at night, acres of palm trees, a dark stretch of land with no soul in sight, feeling spooky, driving back to civilization, devouring tangy sev puri and gobhi manchurian, returning to our hosts, being served a home cooked meal on a banana leaf, eating while being seated on the floor, admiring the freshness of the pickle, wondering how those women cook such delicious meals for about a 100 people, experiencing community living in a chawl, playing housie at night, the cool wind, a fresh morning, bathing with hot water filled in steel buckets, a bright salwar kameez, gearing up to bring the Ganesh idol, soaking in the festivities, admiring the decorated idol, the lights, the flower arrangements, smiling through a karaoke session, silly poses for photographs, feeling suffocated during the puja, a big meal of hot rice, dal, fresh pickle, patra, karela, banana and mirchi bhajjis, a fabulous dish prepared with chopped cucumber, ginger, yogurt and coconut, a mixed veg concoction, chana in some unknown,  flavourful gravy, more idlis steamed in jackfruit leaves, buttermilk, payasam, and another mysterious dessert, licking my fingers clean after the big meal, feeling satiated in every sense..

That is what going to your best friend’s home town for Ganesh Chaturthi is all about. There is a lot of family, a lot of fun, a lot of love, and a lot of good food. The joys of living in India..

Posted in Travel | 16 Comments »

Go, Goa, Gone..

Posted by Pepper on August 23, 2013

‘Let’s go to Goa tomorrow’, Mint said to me conclusively one morning. I looked up in dismay. No, I love Goa to bits. But we had been oscillating between going and not going to Goa for the long weekend since the past 10 days. As usual, we had been unable to decide and the constant oscillation had worn me out. This time, he looked at me and said, “Let’s not change our mind again. We’ll go, pakka.”.

Okay. Fine. I hoped this call was the final one. Tentative plans don’t go too well with me. Immediately, we logged on to the dreaded irctc website to check train ticket availability, in tatkal ofcourse. But the goddamn website was down for an hour, and by the time it was active again, the tickets were sold out. That took me back to my state of uncertainty. We thought it was stupid to fly to Goa, considering how close it is to Bombay. Unfortunately, train tickets were not available. That meant we could only travel by road. And I find road travel very tedious. So was it worth going then?

Mint however, seemed quite enthusiastic about it. We would be staying in a villa owned by one of his friends. It was also seen as an opportunity to catch up with his batchmates from the MBA days. It was going to be 6 couples. Excited emails about the trip had been exchanged within the group. Seeing how keen Mint was, I decided to overcome my reluctance and go for it.

Our next debate was whether we should go by bus or take the car and drive down. I was unsure, really. Having the car would give us freedom, but it would come with the responsibility of driving the car ourselves. Honestly, I was not too confident of our driving skills on Indian highways. At the same time, I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the idea of traveling by bus. Mint on the other hand, was quite convinced we should drive on our own. After some bit of thought and consulting people who’ve done the drive, I dissuaded him and said we should stick to the bus.

Mistake. We stepped into our sleeper coach at 6 pm. At night, we noticed that the bus had halted for no reason in the middle of nowhere. The halt seemed endless. After asking around, we realised there was some dispute going on between the driver and the company that owned the bus. The driver nonchalantly told us we would not be going to Goa. He would take a U turn. A few enraged passengers got off the bus to fight it out. Mint decided to stay back, owing to his lack of knowledge of Marathi. I was pushed to the forefront. We yelled, threatened and did all that we could. The driver seemed to have agreed to get on. Only after did he start driving that we realised that the bloody guy had indeed taken a U turn and that we were headed in the wrong direction.

After driving in the wrong direction for a while more, he halted once again, in the midst of nowhere. This time, all the passengers got off the bus. What on earth was happening? We begged and pleaded and wasted another hour there. After some bit of cajoling, he agreed to get going and we were finally on our way to Goa. Phew. I climbed back into the bus and tried to get some sleep. But the bumps on the road would cause my back to ache. It was a grueling journey that never seemed to end. What was supposed to take 10 hours had already taken 18 hours. I was a mess. My neck and shoulders were sore. My back hurt. And I had a bad cold. Motion induced nausea was setting in. Finally, after hours of trauma, we reached Goa. The bus journey having taken a grand total of 21 frigging hours. Man, I could have made a trip to the US. All along, I could hear Mint saying, “I told you we should just drive on our own”. Sigh.

Once we reached, things got a lot better. We were welcomed with loud sympathetic chatter. Everybody wanted to know, ‘What happened?’ How could it take you 21 hours when it is supposed to take just 10?’. We don’t know, we said. The bus just kept driving. Unfortunately due to the delay, we had lost a lot of precious time that was supposed to be spent in Goa.

Nevertheless, Goa, as always, was rejuvenating and beautiful. People shy away from going to Goa in the rains. But I think the rains add a special charm to the place. The lush green seems more lush after a downpour. The beaches are less crowded. The air smells fresh and clean. It is gorgeous.

This trip, once again made me realise that I am quite an introvert. And that feeling is not very nice, especially if you are in a big group of people that has most girls and some guys jumping, squealing and clapping at the opportunity to go dancing to clubs late in the night, to come back home early in the morning and yet not sleep, to keep the loud jokes and banter going, to play games till the sun is up and never run out of enthusiasm to be with each other every minute.

Me? I can’t handle being with people all the time. After some time, i want my space. I had a good time in my own way. I enjoyed the food I ate, I marveled at the sights around me, I took walks at the beach, I read and I rested. I suspect most people around me would have labelled me as ‘boring’ when I found myself a chair to slump into when all others were dancing in a club. I was tired. I enjoyed the music and i wanted to sit back. I did it without caring of what it looked like. After getting home around 4 am when others decided to play games, I excused myself and said I wanted to sleep. So I did just that. Boring and dull, perhaps that is what I seemed like. Mint on the other hand, if full of energy and ever ready to party, play and socialise. So that really does make me the only odd one out in most groups. Sigh. The differences..

All said and done, I did have a wonderful time. My favourite part of this holiday was a trip to some fort. We were high up there, in an open expanse. It was raining. We stood at the edge of the cliff and looked at the sea and the rolling mist, with the wind in our hair, the sea and the rain in our eyes. Looking down from the edge of the cliff did make me dizzy. We were standing on a little stone on the very edge. One little slip and we’d be engulfed by the valley. To add to my worries, Mint as usual wanted to fool around and take pictures of him jumping from there. Instead of fretting, I asked my nerves to remain still. I took a deep breath and let the beauty wash over me. When I think of it now, I can still feel the cool drops of rain..

goa1

The swing I spent my morning in..

goa2

The huge balcony of the villa. Goa is so green..

goa3

Picture taken by a friend. I couldn’t resist putting it here..

goa4

One of my perfect moments from the trip..

goa5

The breathtaking colours..

goa6

Where we had a lovely meal overlooking the sea..

Posted in Travel | 21 Comments »

Weekend getaway

Posted by Pepper on March 20, 2013

Time and again, I feel the need for a holiday. A small break that will allow us to scurry away from the madness. At times, I feel like I haven’t had a good holiday in years. And then I gently remind myself of a few facts. Since the past 4 years, we’ve been doing not one, but two international holidays in a year! One would be a yearly trip to India. Other than that, we always tried to throw in more destinations. We did Hongkong a year ago. And our last big holiday was Europe, which was barely 6 months ago. So I really shouldn’t be complaining too much.

But with the crazy life we’ve been leading, I found myself yearning for a little break, again. I didn’t have leave. Rather, I wanted to save my leave for later. I knew a full blown vacation was not possible. So we chose a weekend getaway.

We asked my parents and sis to join us, but since the sister had exams coming up, she chose to stay back. Which meant, either mom or dad would have to stay back with her. My dad said he would, and urged mom to go with us. I thought it was the right decision, since I believed my mom needed a break more than my dad did.

We chose a resort on Manori Island for two reasons. One, I had heard some very good things about the place from her. Two, we wouldn’t have to spend hours traveling. A ferry ride is all it would take to get us there.

Mint, mum and I left home around noon on Saturday. Yes, we were to leave earlier, but Mint chose that very morning to go and play Frisbee at Juhu Beach. That delayed us. Ofcourse, we had a mini fight because of that, but let me not get into that now. Let this post be all about the awesomeness that was Manori.

We stayed at a resort called Manoribel. I am documenting this break, because it was all I wanted it to be. So when I begin to believe I haven’t had a break in eons, I want to have this record to come back to.

We spent all our time lying on hammocks, reading, walking on the beach, eating corn on the cob, chatting, sleeping, and eating good food, taking in the greenery. The mother and the husband spent some time ganging up against me, but I was kind enough to let that go past.

Some pictures..

Reading

Mint lying in the hammock with a book

Where we ate

Where we ate our meals

watching the sea

Me watching the sun set in the sea

Baby coconut

A baby coconut I was fascinated by.

This was a lovely little break. One that I needed. Life has been nothing short of a roller coaster. I have so much to say, but for that, I will have to come back another time.

Posted in Travel | 31 Comments »

The very long European holiday post

Posted by Pepper on September 22, 2012

– So yes, Europe was breathtaking. I don’t think I mentioned the reason behind our trip. Mint had to spend a few weeks in Paris for an exchange program, or to attend some seminars, or whatever it is that it was. But it was the school that sent him, and a bunch of other students there. Of course, the spouses decided to tag along and turn it into a holiday by adding a few more destinations to the agenda.

– We had our flight at 2 am. Till 8 pm, we were doing laundry and trying our best to rid the clothes of the residual dampness.  I used my hair dryer a few times. At 10 pm, we were at a mall, buying a suitcase. We started packing at 11 pm. I was on the verge of smacking Mint when he told me  at midnight that we still had to take printouts of our tickets and hotel reservations.  I guess I have to accept the fact that we have to do every single thing on the last possible minute.

– Once at the airport, I realised Mint had a new toy to play with – our new 4 wheel suitcase. He kept running around, spinning the suitcase every now and then, driving me nuts. Yes, I had to put this down here, so that I don’t forget about the childlike brat that resides in him.

Prague

– Prague was our first stop. I know I am going to find it really hard to stop raving about the beauty of this place. This is by far, one of the most beautiful places I saw. In my opinion, it beats Paris, Amsterdam and the other more popular destinations by a large margin. The city’s architecture leaves you awe struck for a long time. There are pretty cafes on streets, live music, gorgeous flowers lining roads that make walking there a true delight.

– During one of our night outs there, everybody decided to try Absinthe. We were in a club, dancing the night away. I gulped at the thought of trying something like that. Absinthe is a highly alcoholic beverage. It is banned in the US and most other parts of Europe due to its high alcoholic content. And people here wanted to do Absinthe shots? I wasn’t so sure. They did it anyway. I tried half a shot, and gulped it down without thinking. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes within seconds. I tried my best to douse the fire burning in my throat, lungs and stomach, but nothing worked. The others survived it without much effect. I wonder how? I know one thing though – I am not doing it again!

– We spent a lot of our time there in the beautiful gardens and parks, trying different kinds of beers and enjoying the warm sunshine. I am not a beer person, so I didn’t have much, but most people became a fan of the dark beers Prague offered. We also spent time admiring all the churches, cathedrals and palaces they have there. That place screams history, with some structures belonging to the 14th century.  14TH CENTURY! Walking in and around such ancient monuments was a strange feeling. There is so much to know and learn in this world.

– We were a group of 4 couples, out of which, one had a 1.5 year old little boy with them. I fell in love with him right in the beginning of the trip, and spent most of my time cuddling him, pushing his stroller, entertaining him, feeding him and loving him some more. When I think of it, I guess most of us did offer a helping hand to the parents, in some way or the other. But me, I was totally smitten and couldn’t keep away from him. To my utter delight, Mint seemed as smitten and we had a lot of fun, taking care of the little boy together.

– I attended my very first Opera concert in Prague. One thing I know about myself – I am not too much into classical music. I was pretty sure the long shrill verses sung by the Opera singers would bore me, but surprisingly, I actually sat through it, without feeling too bored. I even understood most of it, thanks to the translations.

Paris

– This is where we spent most of our time. A little more than 10 days. It gave me a wonderful chance to explore Paris at length and actually understand and learn the city. Everyday, we would pick a neighbourhood, and walk around there, bumbling along cafes, restaurants, libraries. We explored the city during the day, and spent the nights dining at local French restaurants, sipping wine and chatting about our day.

– I repeat, there is so much to learn and know in this world. Each street we went to, each corner we visited had a story. They spoke about the sufferings the Jews underwent, the life of the locals, the history behind the monuments, tales from the World War, etc. I tried soaking up all the knowledge I could. This is why I love travelling, it enriches me.

– I mainly hung out with a group of girls that were extremely fashion conscious. They loved dressing up. To my surprise, they had carried 4-5 pairs of shoes, 3-4 handbags and a lot of stylish clothes. In my bid to pack light, I had taken only 2 pair of shoes and one single handbag, along with some tees and jeans. Being around them, I felt very under dressed. They also told me I wore a lot of dull colours and needed to brighten up. Eh? They also told me I should step out of my jeans and consider wearing more skirts and dresses. Mint agrees with them and says I need to dress differently, and in short – be more like a girl. Eh? Well, okay. We’ve declared a ‘no jeans rule’ for our dinner dates.  Let me bring out my skirts and leggings now.

–  Mint and I babysat the little boy for an entire day once, while the parents took a well deserved break. So it was the 3 of us in the room.  We spent all our time chasing him, playing with him, singing to him. After a while, I was too tired to entertain him. Mint had to get ready too, so he wasn’t available. I got fed up and turned on my laptop, put on a few songs for him, hoping it would quieten and calm him. It worked. He sat quietly for 30 mins, giving us a break. There, so much for judging parents who use technology to distract their kids. And oh, living with a 1.5 year old toddler is tough. Very tough.

– Paris has stunning museums. I loved Versailles and would love to take my child there someday. I wish I had seen such places when I studied the French Revolution in school. It would have helped so much. It was a sudden realisation for me, to know that the figures we saw in our text books are actually real people. They lived in this palace I was seeing, slept on this bed!

– Monalisa is overhyped. Everybody says it, and I will too. The painting was tiny, and I wondered just what was so special about it? The other paintings and sculptures in Louvre were fascinating though. Especially because they were so ancient!

Amsterdam

– We lived in a house boat! Or rather, a hotel boat. The rooms we stayed in, were tiny! So tiny, that there was no room for a double bed. We had bunk beds! But living and sleeping on water gave me such a high. We also had a beautiful deck to marvel at and lounge on. The boat had a ‘confidence bar’. Which meant, there was nobody manning it. You take the drink yourself, and leave the money there. I was amazed! And saddened, because something like this would never work in India.

– The red light district in Amsterdam was equally fascinating. It looked like women were on sale! Wearing bikinis and standing by windows, calling you inside. Oh yes, we went for a live sex show there. There was a stage on which the couple had sex, and the audience watched. Yes, we sat on the front row. I don’t know why. Mint said we’d never watch it again, so we might as well get a good view now. Um.

– I was left wondering. How do those people there have sex in front of an audience? Couples took turns to come on stage, and do it there. How? What must it feel like, to perform like that, for an audience? The moves, the positions, it all seemed so rehearsed. I sighed. That’s not how sex should be. It should be intimate and free flowing and spontaneous. Mint told me I was expecting too much, if I really expected to see some spontaneity on stage there. I know he was right. But watching those people have soulless sex like that to make money, made me a little sad.  And oh, I will never be able to get over the embarrassment I underwent here. It was about 3 am. I was tired and sleepy. We sat on the front row, watching the sex show. And, I …fell asleep. Only to be woken up by the performer on stage, asking me in a horrified tone, “ARE YOU SLEEPING??”. I woke up with a start, and said no. Mint, in a bid to cover up, said “Of course not”. My cheeks remained flustered for a long time. Me dozing off on the front row while watching a sex show also become the talk of the town, and people couldn’t stop laughing for days to come.

– Amsterdam is a beautiful city, and very bike friendly. We spent an entire day biking around the place. And it was gorgeous!

– We also stopped by in Brussels for a few hours. I thought the city was okay. Not as charming as the other places we’d visited.

Venice

– What do I say? Even the memories leave me speechless. This is a city that is built on water. It looks like the houses are floating on water. Imagine not having any land as you step out of your door? You have to step directly onto a boat. People go to work on boats and water taxis. Office buildings are built on canals. It all looks very surreal.

– The gondola ride was great, but overpriced, if you ask me. 100 frigging Euros for 30 mins? Not done!

– The Burrano island left me spellbound. Rows and rows of colourful houses. Each house a different colour! Pretty little bridges over blue water. I had to pinch myself to believe this was not some fairy tale land. Mint and I did a lot of Bollywood stunts here, while the others had a good time clicking us.

On the whole:

– We had the time of our lives. Period.

– Mint won the title of ‘Best Husband’ around. His extra good behaviour surprised me too. He would be willing to carry me and walk if I said I was tired. He would encourage me to shop more and spend more, and even be willing to bunk class to take me shopping. He would bring me the mini cakes they served them in their school there. Just the way he did earlier.  He would seek my permission when he wanted to drink. He would bring me coffee and breakfast in hand, and a lot more. The guys made fun of his ‘good husband’ behaviour. The girls went “Awwww”. Me, I was left wondering, what really happened to him? We hardly fought during our entire trip!

– A lot of the waiters and servers we interacted with had traveled to India, and even lived there for months. Was it a coincidence, we wondered. They had only nice things to say about our country. I loved meeting people like that, with different backgrounds and experiences. I loved conversing with them, and learning their perceptions of India.

– Mint has still not gotten over his obsession of jumping. Each location we went to, he said he wanted a picture of him jumping there. He said he was doing a series called ‘Jumps around the world’, and will compile all his jumping pictures and make an album.

– I don’t know how, but we nearly missed every single flight and train we had to catch. Every single time, I remember giving up hope and being sure of missing it, only to have made it in the last second. Every single time, we ran, with huge bags. Why don’t we ever learn?

– I didn’t have any plans to shop. Despite that, I did end up buying stuff. Magnets from all the places we visited, a block of delicious, green coloured Pesto cheese from Amsterdam (my favourite), 3 handbags,  key chains and a jacket from Paris, a gold plated coin with a carving of Christ (this one went straight to my wallet, for keepsake), a puppet from Prague, leggings from Rome (from the airport), chocolates from Belgium and post cards from every place we visited. What a lovely, lovely vacation this was.

Live music on the streets of Prague

Locks on the sides of the river. It is said that if you come to the riverside after your marriage ceremony, place a lock here along with your partner, and throw the key into the water, you will remain in wedlock forever

Me smiling at the number of couples who have locked their lives here together

Playing with the little one, as we soak in the sun

Coffee with a view

We had a blast, playing together in the hotel room

Running around in Paris

Fooling around near the Eiffel Tower. I am glad Mint obliges, each time I want to do something crazy

Venice!

Look at the row of colourful houses.

The pretty Venetian masks. That’s really not how I look though *chuckles*

Because we love jumping and dancing when we are transported to a fairytale land

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The Hawaiian holiday

Posted by Pepper on November 30, 2011

The mention of Hawaii would always make me a little wishful. When I sniffed an opportunity this time, I clung to it right away. Prices be damned. I didn’t exactly say that to Mint, but he knew how I felt. It seemed like the perfect destination. For the longest time, I’ve wanted a holiday that does not involve a packed itinerary. I wanted to just sit back and do nothing. Hawaii, with its beautiful beaches and killer weather was ideal. We went to Maui, and it was sheer bliss.

We landed on the island on a bright, sunny afternoon. I gleefully abandoned the jacket I was wearing the moment we stepped out of the airport. What joy it is to be dressed in nothing but a thin, cotton tee when it’s almost December! It’s liberating.

The hotel we were staying in opened into the beach. That was another criteria I had. I wasn’t satisfied with the idea of our hotel being close to the beach, I wanted the hotel to be *on* the beach. Prices be damned, again. It made perfect sense. It gave us the opportunity to run back to our room whenever we pleased. It let us walk to the beach with a towel hung on our shoulders. It even let us take unplanned walks on the beach under the star lit sky at night. No hassle of driving around. Just get out of your room and you are there. You hear the sound of the waves as you sleep at night.

On our first day there, Mint and I had some fun splashing around on the beach. I am usually too scared to venture too far into the water. If you know me personally, you know about the horrifying experience I once had in Thailand. But we held hands, and he took me along into the water, telling me he would keep me safe. I also spent some time sleeping on the sand, spread out on a beach towel. It was heavenly.

The weather was gorgeous and I can’t say this enough. Warm, balmy days and pleasant evenings can make your spirit soar. To add to the charm, there was soft music floating in the air in the evenings, courtesy the guy who would sit by the poolside, strumming on his guitar as he sang. It rained on one of the days we were there. We couldn’t hit the beach, neither could we step out. So we hung out in our room, walked around the resort and finally sat by the pool side with a colourful cocktail and some beer battered onion rings. The strange part was me getting hit by a single drink. Really. One drink was all it would take for me to start feeling tipsy. And each time I would think I should stop, I would hear Mint say “Le re. Kuch nahi hoga”. (Just have it. Nothing will happen). He is the one who spoils me and then goes about telling the world that I am the one who spoilt him. Hmph.

We went to Haleakala National Park and we were actually on top of the clouds. I had gone in a flimsy cotton skirt, but thankfully had my jeans in the car. I ended up changing into my denims soon. I don’t remember the elevation, but we were high up there in a world above the clouds. One of the pamphlets I read said the park has such a high elevation, if you go up to the summit and look, you can actually see the curvature of our planet. We did huff and puff our way to the summit, which included the Halekala crater area. It was the first time I saw a volcanic region. However, the air up there was thin. I was gasping for breath and had a sudden headache. We didn’t spend too much time there after that due to my altitude sickness, which was also starting to make me feel nauseous. I threw up in the car on our drive back. Mint says it was the sight of me throwing up that made the cows turn around and walk away. Never mind.

Can you see us standing above the clouds in these pictures?

And of course, we went for a Luau party, which had all the traditional Hawaiian dances, fire eaters, music and unlimited food and alcohol to go with it. It was great, but like Mint said, India has so much of folk talent too. A lot more than all of this put together. We do not monetize it the way they do.

And then there was the food. We bought two big bags of chips and packs of Oreos which we stocked in the car. Driving always comes with munching. For our meals, we ended up going to the same place a lot of times. It is called Aloha mixed plate. I highly recommend it. They have great cocktails and amazing desserts. Their garlic fries are the best I’ve had. I love food. I love eating. I do not understand how people diet and deprive themselves of such pleasures. Food is the best.

Anyway, next we went into a Lava tube. Isn’t that exciting? Imagine us walking into volcanic lava that erupted years ago, solidified and formed cave like structures. It seemed like a long, rocky tunnel. It was pitch dark inside. I held on to my flash light, hoping it doesn’t slip out of my hand and roll away in the darkness. We read the signs posted that explained the formation of the lava tube, studied the structure and texture of the rocks. It was so informational and exciting at the same time. If only I had seen all this as a child, I would have understood all that my textbooks said a lot better.

We had such a lovely, lovely time. Hawaiian folks seem to be in a good mood perennially. They greet you with the warmest “Aloha!”. In fact, they don’t say it. They sing it. They are always smiling and go out of their way to help you. And they are a chatty lot. I remember the first day we arrived, we were just driving up to the reception of our hotel when a man asked us if we were there on our honeymoon. No, we said. He told he asked because we looked madly in love. It made us laugh. Madly in love? How? Mint was at the wheel, looking at the road ahead. I was looking out of the window. We weren’t even looking at each other, let alone cuddling. How did we look “madly in love” to him? Mint said he must be saying it to every couple he sees. It’s funny.

It was a grand vacation. I loved Hawaii. My favourite was the black sand beach. Imagine shining, dark black sand. It was beautiful. We drove around the island, ate good food and desserts, drank great cocktails, took pictures, lounged on the beach, drove to scenic waterfalls, slept a lot, shopped and had a fabulous time. I came back with sand in my hair and the sea in my eyes.

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Fun times

Posted by Pepper on November 23, 2011

You know that thrill you feel when you count the remaining days that lead to your vacation? That excitement and anticipation? For me, that is a big part of the whole holiday experience. When that is missing, I feel like I skipped the beginning and jumped right on to the middle. There is a reason I never miss reading the preface of every book. To me, it’s as important as the first chapter.

Sadly, that is not how things work for us. Almost all our holidays are planned on the very last minute. Let me just blame Mint for this. Until the last possible second, I don’t know if we’re going or not. So if we’ve to start our holiday on a Saturday, I will be living in suspense till Friday! It makes me feel disoriented. Shall I allow myself to feel the excitement? Or shall I not? I will be tearing my hair apart and that is when we will finalise things in a mad rush, pay thrice the amount that others would for the same trip and pack in frenzy. I hate it, but its the price I pay for not being willing to plan the trip and get the bookings done myself.

I had been telling Mint to plan our holiday since a few weeks. He didn’t do it. This time, I will spare him because I know he was genuinely caught up with stuff. As a result, we started looking at rates, holiday prices and available tickets etc, only two days before our intended date of departure. I chose the destination. The price that we saw made me cough, choke and splutter. The overall trip would cost us more than what we pay to go to India. This would be an expensive holiday. Shall we go or not? Is it worth the price? As usual, Mint left the ball in my court and asked me to decide. I dithered, thought about it and then passed the ball back to him. You decide! And then he did. He decided we will go and made the bookings. A part of me still thinks he did it because he knew I wanted it.

Well, so there. We leave in a few hours. I am excited. We’ve had a lot of holidays, but this is one I am really looking forward to. Mostly because it involves the things I love. Beaches and warm sunny weather. I’ve packed some good books, sunscreen, bright skirts and my iPod. See you soon.

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New York diary

Posted by Pepper on October 6, 2011

* I was supposed to meet Mint in the city on Friday afternoon. We had to take the train to the airport. Our flight was early in the evening. I left work early, got home, picked up our bags and started walking to the station.  Of course, things have to get a little crazy at such times. I was walking in a hurry, wheeling our suitcase, carrying my hand bag and also carrying Mint’s suit with me. It was a twenty minute walk, and as usual, I took a few wrong turns that delayed me. By the time I reached the station, I had precisely 2 minutes to purchase my ticket, take the escalator to get onto the right platform and enter the train before the doors closed. When I was going up on the escalator, I lost the grip I had on the suitcase and it went rolling down. When I rushed down to pick the suitcase up, I felt my ticket slip from my hands and it entered the crevice between the two steps of the escalator. A tiny blue speck told me where it was. I managed to pull it out and that is when my hand bag went rolling down. To add to the fun, I was trying to walk down on an escalator that was going up. With all this going on, I was quite sure I wouldn’t make it, but I managed to run into the train a nano second before the doors closed. Only then did I breathe. Dear God, why can’t life be more peaceful for me?

* I met Mint at the station I got off at. We had to hop onto another train that would take us to the airport. The moment I saw him, I felt the excitement that I had been waiting to feel. We were going to NY! It would be a 3 day break! There would be no in laws around! The minute we entered the flight, I collapsed, exhausted and excited.

* We landed in NY at 1 am, after a 5.5 hour flight. Just the previous day, I had gone to the salon and pampered myself with the new hair glossing cellophane treatment. It included a deep conditioning session and ended with a blow dry. I was feeling great, with my perfectly shiny, smooth and well styled hair. NY welcomed us with heavy showers. My hair was drenched the moment I stepped out of the airport. I saw the rain water entering the drains along with the money I had spent on my hair. Now instead of the bouncy, shiny and sweet smelling hair I had walked in with, I was left with damp, wild and frizzy hair. Why me God? I wish I had good hair naturally. I don’t, and that is fine. But at least allow me to keep the hair I have worked so hard for? Despite the rain ruining my hair, I decided to not have a hair wash and actually lived with that unruly hair for a good 3 days. Sigh.

* I *heart* NYC. I feel the same way every time I am there. The rush, the  buzz, the madness,the awesome subway system, it reminds me of Mumbai all the time. We went to the city for lunch on our first day there, and I kept staring at the pretty corners, the lovely little lights that hung on trees, people enjoying their meals on the streets, the live bands playing at stations. NYC is such a charming city.

* How can the street food there be so cheap? You get some amazing stuff for a dollar. At one place, we bought a pack of 15 mini cakes, just for a dollar. I think I am willing to move there. No, I really would. If only I could brave the winter there.

* We had lunch in an upscale Italian restaurant. I was very fascinated by something I saw on their menu. It was called “Batata Hara”. Batata is potato in Marathi. Could this swanky Italian joint serve regular potatoes, Indian style? I ordered, to find out. And there it was! A regular Indian delicacy – cubed, fried potatoes, marketed and labelled as ‘exotic’ food.

* I met former blogger N that day. She is so much fun! It is so easy to talk to people from the blog world. I am glad I met her.

* My cousin insisted I spend one day with her at her place in Edison. I wasn’t too enthusiastic about that, but since I didn’t know how to convey that to her, I agreed. Why do we have so many social obligations? More importantly, why can’t I learn to say No? Anyway, despite the reluctance, I did have a good time with my cousin and her kids.

* We were in the train, on our way to Mint’s cousin’s place in Long Island. I was bored and had time to kill. That is when I happened to check my blog and noticed a comment from Pixie. She said she was in NY for a while and asked if we could meet. I buzzed her on Gmail as soon as I had the chance. We planned to meet for lunch the next day, and ended up spending a good 4 hours together! Pix is exactly the way she sounds on her blog, simple, uncomplicated and wonderful company. The pasta she ordered for lunch ended up making the poor girl sick. She was uneasy for a while, until she threw up. I am sure she will never forget meeting me because of that. You can read her awesome account here.

* The 3 days there just flew by. Since we’ve already seen the place earlier, we didn’t want to do the touristy stuff this time. Instead we spent time going to the little joints that the locals recommended. I met another friend from my UK days and spent some quality time with him. It was raining intermittently. The streets looked fresh and cheerful to me and just walking around give me such a high. There was a lot more that we wanted to do but didn’t have time for. Next trip, will hopefully be longer. Until then, I will let these sweet and scented memories of NYC occupy my head.

Let me end the post with a pic taken at Times Square.

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