Wednesday, June 7, 2017

It was a conspiracy #BlogchatterEbook

Befoe we begin, 

I take on the baton of Blogchatter Ebook Carnival from Deepa whose Ebook "Parenting Tips and Tricks" is also a part of the mix. 

About Deepa's Ebook:- 

A parent’s guide to raising happy, insightful, creative and generous kids. Parenting blogger Deepa Gandhi believes parenting is easy, only if we remember to stay calm and enjoy parenthood. It is an insight from a learning and evolving mom.


This is how the conspiracy began

That's right, this whole A to Z Challenge and the Ebook carnival was a big conspiracy. Conspiracy by the universe to make it all happen! How else can I explain it? Here I was working on my novel, publishing my ideas on my blog whenever I could find some time from my work and suddenly there came a wave which changed everything for better.

It all started with A to Z Challenge. I came across it somewhere on the vast ocean of Social media (I can't even remember where exactly I saw it first) towards the end of March and my first thought was 'How on earth will it be possible for me to publish a post every day? My project deadlines may take a toll'. But I decided to participate and take it in stride. I thought if it becomes too much for me then I will quit. After all, there is no harm in trying it and leaving it halfway rather than not doing it at all. Next I knew, I was swept off my feet by the overwhelming response, support & encouragement by everyone around me - family, friends, blogger community and even people unfamiliar till that moment.

But that was only a start. Within a week of starting the A to Z Challenge, hubby dear suggested I gather all my posts when the challenge ends and publish a book. Until that point, I had read that some of the last year's A to Z Challenge participants had published books with their respective posts but I wasn't sure if they were handpicked by the Blogchatter team based on their contributions in the challenge. In less than a week's time, Shubhreet suggested me the same. Coming it from her was a big deal for me as she comes with years of experience in journalism. It all got me thinking seriously about publishing a book and here I am!

Off Beats is special in many ways for me, first and obvious reason is that it is my first published work and will always hold a special place in my life. But this whole challenge and the ebook carnival gave a massive boost to my confidence. We all have self-doubt and I guess it never goes away completely, but the ebook carnival helped me overcome it in many ways. Secondly, though I have completed 70-80% of my debut novel and am still working on it, I was not so sure about publishing it. The feedback I received from Off Beats assured me that I should publish it. This phenomenon (if I may call it so) of the challenge and the carnival took me and the blog to places we had never been to. Surprisingly not many of my family and friends had read any of the previous posts, some of them weren't even aware of its existence. What came as a pleasant surprise to me was it helped rekindle hubby's love for photography. In recent months, he hadn't been too keen on taking his DSLR out unless necessary. But seeing his photographs in the ebook and hearing all the encouraging comments motivated him. No matter of pestering from my end could have achieved the same result LOL.

But the real goosebump moment happened when a dear friend told me how reading it all helped her get through the tough time in her life. She was going through awful time and reading my posts helped her to look at things with new perspective. When we started Be Young 4ever, the idea was simple - to tell people that life is not over when you cross a certain age; to motivate them to pursue their passion. And listening to her move me to tears of joy. The only feeling I had was that it was all worth it if it could bring some sunshine to even one person's life.

So now as you can see, it was all a universal conspiracy on a larger scale, of seeing my work published, of touching lives. I really hope it continues to do the same. The more people it will inspire the more my life would have been worth it.

Here is my baby I have been so obsessed about over last few weeks, hope it inspires you - Off Beats.

Don't forget to share your comments below, I am keen to know if it worked its magic on you too.


I pass on the Baton of Blogchatter Ebook Carnival to Pratikshya whose Ebook "Kolors Of Korea" is also a part of the mix. 

About Pratikshya's Ebook: Kolors Of Korea is a compilation of blog posts at Magic Moments and some Guest Posts in A PotPourri of Vestiges on Korean sitcoms and drama series. Though the Hallyu or the ‘korean wave’ has gripped people’s imagination internationally, it is popular in India only among the female young folk. Through the reviews of various top rated drama series in this compilation, Pratikshya wants to bring this vivid world of storytelling to audiences here. Based on emotions and sensibilities, she considers most of these stories dwelling on the universal feelings of love, longing, and belonging, as timeless. Venture into this amazing world of tales, folklores, and legends.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Zaanse Schans, Netherlands - #AtoZChallenge

I can't believe we are already on out last day of #AtoZChallenge, a challenge where the participants had to post every day based on the alphabet of the day. Don't worry, I am not going to take you on an emotional journey as it deserves a post of its own. But I certainly had a fascinating time travelling down the memory lanes, bringing you some places I thought would be interesting for you all. I couldn't have found any better place than Zaanse Schans to conclude this beautiful series.

It is a place which takes you back to the 18th and 19th century with its well-preserved green wooden houses, functioning windmills, barns and workshops. It is a minuscule representation of the 1100 windmills which were built between 17th & 19th century. We got to witness the actual functioning of a saw mill as the weather was in our favour. The mechanism was simple yet ingenious. It was interesting to hear the history of the place while imagining the area from 17th century till today. The windmills looked beautiful on the backdrop of Zaan river. There were walking as well as cycling tours, taking small groups around the place.


After the windmill, we visited the cheese factory. After tasting various cheese flavours and understanding the cheese making process, we left it with our bags full of selected flavours of cheese and our minds full of lovely memories to cherish.

You can find more information about the place here.


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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Youthful & vibrant South Bank, London - #AtoZChallenge

The South Bank of London is most known for the London Eye, but there is a lot to it than the iconic Millennium Wheel. If you want to taste the real culture of London, then this is the place to be. It is always happening irrespective of the season. During summer it is full of people enjoying the sunshine, taking pictures with human statues, enjoying the live singing and dancing by street artists while during winter, it becomes a Christmas market.

Every season and almost most of the weekend you will always find something or the other to do there. If not, then even sitting on one of the many benches, enjoying the spectacular view is as refreshing as any of the activities. Carry a picnic basket and settle down on the grass while watching people enjoy themselves or enjoy a book or musical instrument, there is not the slightest chance to get bored in this place.

We would usually start at the County Hall, taking in the gigantic wheel, walking all the way to the Blackfriars bridge at times. After passing through the crowd eagerly waiting to get on the London eye starts the real fun part. You can see the Big Ben & The Westminster Abbey on the other side of Thames while enjoying the happy giggles of the kids and the hustle bustle around you. According to the time of the year, each of our visits would bring at least one surprise for us. We once visited a science festival here, so full of scientific marvels easily comprehensible even to a science hater!! Once we saw a dome, shaped as a large violet cow, upside down which we later found out as the Underbelly festival full of entertaining programmes of various categories such as circus, comedy, cabaret, music & theatre. The place is lined with so many restaurants serving different varieties of cuisines from across the world that you will be spoilt for choices.

Walk across the Golden Jubilee bridges to find a percussionist practising or sometimes a sale of used books under it. On one hot day during summer, we decided to take a break and walked up the riverside terrace looking for a nice place to settle down with a drink to cool ourselves and found another surprise, a fountain!! but not the usual kinds. It had lines of water jets spraying water creating a rectangle dividing the area into 4 parts by the jets. We could easily stand in an area surrounded by the jets without getting thoroughly drenched, it was mind blowing. I couldn't even remember when was the last time I went to play in a fountain. We spent more than an hour playing in it forgetting all about the drinks. Just a short walk from the Golden Jubilee bridges, there is a graffitied area with roller skaters, skateboarders and cyclists doing stunts we can only imagine. We would stand there spellbound looking at them with admiration in our eyes.

This place is the heart and soul of London and a visit to London without experiencing this place would be incomplete. You can find more information about the upcoming events here.

Here is a virtual tour specially for you to get the hang of this place. Click on the front arrow key to walk along the South Bank.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Xmas in London - #AtoZChallenge

December is the best month to visit London!! I know, I know, some of you will disagree owing to the grey sky, cold and the travelling woes. Yet the air is filled with Christmas spirit and you can feel it every moment with people in a cheerful mood, food and fragrances specific to the Christmas aplenty, and the best of all - shopping!! With the Christmas fairs & markets, there is a lot to choose from if the shops are not enough for you. Our first Christmas in London was enlightening in many ways. First of all, we used to think that it is all about the day itself, never did we realise that there would be so much to enjoy even before the festival day itself, colleagues at work bringing Advent Calendars, calendars counting days up to the Christmas with small windows for each day or sometimes random days of the month, to be opened to take a gift (chocolates in most of the cases in my office) on that day. Although putting up Christmas tree was the admin's responsibility, we all chipped in whenever we could, while many of them recollecting their fond childhood memories of the festival. As we neared the day, people started bringing in food which was cooked or available only during Christmas. Walking down the street or commuting in underground train or bus, there were always at least a few Christmas trees and decorations visible throughout the city, lifting your spirits instantly. But the Oxford Street beat everything else. A walk down this street after it got dark was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

All the store windows and shelves were adorned with beautiful gifts and unique items. They were so tempting that sometimes we would spend hours visiting stores looking at those fancy items and wondering whom can we buy those for (not to mention we would end up buying many things even though we didn't have much of a family or friends to gift those to, except for a cousin and her kids). But if we had a planned trip to home in immediate future, we would stock up on gifts to carry back home. During one of such shopping spree, we bought a scented oil burner and some lovely burning oils from Marks & Spencers. Coming from India, I was used to having everything available around the year in shops. So one random day long after Christmas was over, I searched for the same fragrances like a maniac only to be told in the end that those are available only during Christmas by a bewildered shop assistant.

As we neared the day, the excitement became increasingly palpable. My workplace had planned an elaborate Christmas lunch a couple of days before they closed for a week's holidays. I was so happy to be able to taste the traditional Christmas lunch as otherwise, I would have never got a chance to do so. The lunch started at about 12 p.m. (though we headed to the pub much before that) and went on for 2-3 hours with many courses of meals and rounds of drinks, followed by an elaborate celebration with more drinks till 8 in the night (at least that was the time when I left for home while many stayed back insisting me to join them for Karaoke or some more fun activities).


The actual day of the festival turned out to be a big surprise for us. All the shops, public transport, malls were closed and the reason was simple - everybody should get to celebrate the festival with their family. It was as if the city came to a standstill to celebrate. It was very unusual for us. We had always seen Policeman, shopkeepers, public transport employees and many other professionals working even on the most important festivals of their religions back in India. For that matter, during early years of my career, even I had spent some festivals in office. For the first time, it made us appreciate all those people back home who work even on holidays instead of being with their loved ones. On one Christmas I was supposed to be alone as hubby dear was going to be in India and I had to be in London for work. By the time the day arrived more than half of my office knew that I was going to be alone and they couldn't stop feeling sorry and wondering what was I going to do all alone. Some of them offered me tips while a couple of them also went to the extent of inviting me over for lunch with their extended families. I had barely joined in October and it felt so nice to be worried about by all of them (many of whom I knew only by name). But finally, I was invited over by a bunch of Indian friends, who just like me didn't have much to do on the day and had planned a house party with lots of food and board games.

It is true that sometimes you have to see the other cultures to appreciate some people back home and also realise that no matter what our origins, languages or faiths might be, we all are human and it feels nice to be treated as just another human rather than one from different religion who doesn't celebrate their festival.

P.S. Don't forget to try Ice Skating if you happen to be in London during winter, many iconic places have an ice rink created just for the limited time and I can assure you, its loads of fun.


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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Window shopping on the wheels, Mumbai - #AtoZChallenge

You may have visited many street bazaars and open-air markets but this one is unique. Mumbai is supposed to be one of the busiest cities in the world; people are running around the clock and hardly have any time for shopping. Taking this into account, shopping comes to you while you commute to work and back home. If you have ever travelled in a ladies' compartment on a Mumbai local train then you know what I am talking about (sorry men, there is no way you can experience this).

When I hated travelling in Local trains after first coming to Mumbai, the vendor selling plethora of knick-knacks and accessories used to be my attraction point. You will find everything from latest hair & fashion accessories to earrings, funky bracelets, anklets to nose rings and household items to quick snacks and seasonal fruits. You sit in one place (of course if you are lucky to have found a place) or stand and all those mobile stalls come by you, luring you to buy at least couple of their offerings for a very reasonable price.

Sometimes I wonder how difficult all those vendors' lives must be, moving from one crowded local train to another during sweltering summer and overpouring monsoon, trying to make their living off the meagre amount they must be making even after selling their whole lot. But one day I came across a lady greeting everyone on her way "Good morning!!!" while making way through the crowd with large piles of hair clips, hair bands and funky accessories in each of her hand. She was as cheerful as the dew on a morning bloom. Everyone in the compartment was worked up about some or the other thing about their life or the heat if not anything else. All of us were sitting with long faces brooding or complaining about something or other in life when we heard her greetings. Her spirits were so contagious that suddenly all our worries melted down and smiles erupted on all our faces. We all had certainly fewer worries than that lady and yet she was way happier than us in her life.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Volendam, Netherlands

When we made plans to visit Netherlands, one of the biggest attraction for both of us was to meet our close friends - S & his wife. We had infinite memories with S since college days and we were going to spend time with them after many years. Though both of them had met us at least once in two years during their short trips to India, our catch up would be quick and rushed. To our surprise, S had taken time off during our visit which was a cherry on the top for us.

On our second day, we went to Volendam, best known as the fishing village with its old-world charm, characteristic houses and a rustic feeling. It was the best setting for us to spend time together. We wandered aimlessly at Marina and the narrow lanes lined with restaurants and souvenir shops on both sides of the street, chatting and laughing heartily. The day was as bright and cheerful as our moods. Though the roads and shops were full of tourists, it didn't feel crowded. What was a visit to a fishing village without nice seafood? After a lovely stroll and many photo stops, we settled down in a restaurant overlooking the harbour for Fish & Chips.

After our delicious meal, we took a stop to get photographed in the traditional Volendam attire and bought some souvenirs for my miniature collection. It felt like good ol' days, three of us hanging out together as if the years in between hadn't happened at all.


P.S. For those familiar with the Bollywood, this is the place where the scene of Rani's gol gappa counter was set up in movie Queen.

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Uplifting orchestra at Paddington station

One day accidentally, hubby dear stumbled upon an orchestra playing at the Paddington station. It was a Friday evening and we already had some plans to kickstart our weekend so he couldn't stay back to hear them. The next Friday he made sure that our Friday evening was free and off we went to hear the first live orchestra of our lives. We were not even sure if it happens every Friday, or every month or was a one-off, but we decided to take our chances, thinking that we will wait till 8 and then go somewhere else to hang out if it doesn't take place. He wasn't sure about the start time but had spotted them sometime around 8.10, so we planned to reach there by 8. Later we found out that it starts at around 7.30 p.m. and goes on until 9 p.m. every Friday between Easter & Christmas and is called The Great Western Railway Paddington Band.

We stood there spellbound for an hour listening to them playing beautiful songs one after another. The station was operating as usual and occasionally some people would stop to listen until it was time for them to catch their train. But I guess they already had some fanbase as we were not the only ones who appeared to be in no rush to reach somewhere. It was as if the world had frozen in their perimeter while the world around it went on with their business as usual. It was there, for anyone and everyone, who was willing to take a moment to pause and appreciate the beautiful things in life! Here is a glimpse for you. Do visit them the next time you are in London.

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Tikona hillside camping, Lonavala - #AtoZChallenge

Have you ever visited a place where you felt a sense of belonging during the first visit itself? This campsite had that charm, for reasons unknown to us, we felt instant connection to the place as if we belonged to this place. It was a strange feeling at start given the scenario that we were visiting it for the first time, but as we spent more time, we felt more comfortable with that feeling and relished every moment at this serene, pristine place. The drive to the campsite was as breathtaking as the site itself.

Although usually, one can drive to the campsite, 4 days of non-stop pouring had made it impossible to drive regular car on the muddy road leading to it, hence we parked our car at their designated parking lot near the caretaker's house and started our journey on foot through knee deep mud. We had to look carefully for the spot with rocks, less amount of mud and least slippery before setting every step. It took us more than 30 minutes to cover 1 to 1.5 km to reach the campsite with most parts of our feet below the knees covered with mud. 

But as we cleaned ourselves and settled down with a warm cup of tea and a plate full of bhajiya, a sense of calmness spread all over us. The view from the campsite was spectacular. After the refreshments, we headed to a nearby waterfall. As far as our eyes could see, there was greenery with light drizzle and a fresh smell of the forest. After spending many moments at the waterfall we returned to the campsite before it got too dark.

The morning was as pretty as the previous evening. We couldn't come to the terms with departing from this lovely place. We sat on the wooden bench for as long as we could while enjoying the cool breeze and birds singing all around us. A drizzle here and there was just enough to make us feel loved but not drench us through. Sooner than we would have loved to, it was time to say goodbye. As we walked back to the car, we promised ourselves to return again next monsoon, only for a longer duration. 

What to pack for camping

1) Make sure you don't wear or carry trendy clothes. You need some simple, heavy duty, large enough clothes to cover yourself properly as it is not a great feeling to be surrounded by mosquitoes and all sorts of insects & bugs wearing shorts and vests

2) Footwear - The most important thing. Give those trendy high heels a rest for one weekend and wear only outdoor type of footwear. We met a lady at the campsite who wore her lovely silver pair of sandals, only to slip on her way and break those, not to mention the difficulty and time it took her to reach the campsite through that knee deep mud. While sports shoes may sound like a good option, once they are wet it may take ages for them to dry, especially during monsoon. The best ones would be floaters or some sturdy sandals with good grip

3) Carry some sleepers to roam around at the campsite as you don't want to roam around in the drenched sandals all the time

4) Rain and windcheater, if you are travelling during monsoon. (Psss this is a place to visit in monsoon). Umbrellas may not be useful as you want to keep your hands free to balance yourself and take support if necessary

5) Mosquitoes repellent, this is a must otherwise your camping trip would become a nightmare

6) An old school style torch. Don't rely on your mobile phone as you may or may not get an electric point to charge it once the battery has drained, not to mention the power outages (which people from Mumbai aren’t aware of)

7) Water bottle as you don't want to walk all the way to the pantry to drink water every time

8) Power banks for your phones

9) Music with portable speakers or a musical instrument

10) Towel & extra pair of clothes (if you get drenched in rain or decide to go for a dip in the nearby lake)

11) Swiss knife if you have one but this is a nice to have tool which may come handy occasionally

12) Be prepared to have basic home cooked meals, nothing extravagant

13) Yourself. You need to take yourself mentally out of your daily rut to thoroughly enjoy yourself and be comfortable without any network coverage in your cell phone or other gadgets. Don't bother downloading your favourite movie on your handset or tablet as it will be a serious insult of the place you are going to :(

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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Stonehenge - #AtoZChallenge

When we set out for our visit to Lynton & Lynmouth, I had no idea that there was a surprise planned for me by the Hubby dear. I wanted to visit Stonehenge for a long time, so he had planned our drive to the Devon B&B keeping a day for Stonehenge. I got suspicious when he refused to let me navigate, keeping it to himself while driving. As we left the highway and took a turn, there it was, the mysterious Stonehenge.

The first time had I heard about Stonehenge, it had intrigued me a great deal, I couldn't help but marvel how on earth people in 2500 BC could have done it without the equipment and heavy machinery available today, not to mention how they must have been carried from their origin about 150 miles away! Each of the stone measures around 2 meters in height, 1-1.5 meter in width and 0.8 meters thick. The construction of the site is said to have continued for several hundred years.

P.C. Kedar Gadre

The purpose of the Stonehenge is as mysterious as the process of constructing it. There have been many theories about its usage by researchers. It was probably a temple or a place for conducting rituals or a place for healing & worship or as a funerary monument. The place left us craving for more than what we had craved for when we arrived there. The research and excavations are still in progress and understanding about it has increased over last 10 years. So we really hoped that one day we will have many of our questions answered, but till then visit it to marvel at the creators and the creation itself.

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Road trip in France - #AtoBChallenge

As part of our week-long holiday in France, we decided to rent a car and drive through the country. I must say that it was a very good decision to travel on our own as that way we could be more spontaneous, take detours whenever we wanted and most importantly as many photo stops as we wished. But this post is not about all that. We are more than halfway through and all I have been writing about is amazing destinations, fond memories and incredible food, people, etc.. But travelling is not just about that. It would be unfair to paint a rosy picture for the wannabe travellers. Life is full of ups and downs and so are the journeys. No journey is perfect and it took me a long time to come to terms with that. Every time something went wrong I would be terribly upset as I expected to have the smoothest, most fairytale-like holiday every single time. Well.... now it turns out that the ones where we ran into troubles, had hiccups or things went terribly wrong are the most memorable ones, remembering every minute details of what went wrong and how it went wrong. Those obstacles made us smart travellers learning from our mistakes. So I decided to write a dedicated post on all that went wrong during our Road trip. Are you game for it? Don't worry, it won't be all gloomy, you will chuckle at many of those moments the way we do when we look back.

Once we were done with Paris, we went to the car rental company to pick up our car. It being the Easter weekend, many of their staff members were on holiday, leaving just one person to handle the delivery and collection of the cars. As we completed the paperwork and collected the key, the lady in her average English told us the location of the car in the basement parking and conveyed that she wouldn't be able to come over as she doesn't have anybody to take care of the desk while she was away. We had hired a Citroen C5 as that was the only model available with the GPS navigator (Lesson no. 1, plan early and make the bookings well in advance so that you have ample amount of choices). The car was facing a wall and we had to put it in reverse gear to take it out, sounds simple, huh? We couldn't find the reverse gear!!! We had driven only in India and hubby dear had just got his UK driving license and this was his first experience of driving anywhere outside India. We flipped through the French manual to no avail. We had not enabled international roaming on our phones so didn't have any access to the saviour in every situation - Google. After struggling for many moments, I went back to their office to ask the lady, but either she was not understanding what I said or I was not understanding what she said (Lesson no. 2 - do something about language barrier). After many futile minutes, I gave up on her and went back to the parking hoping that by now Hubby would have figured out the answer, but he hadn't. We had carefully planned the journey to avoid late night driving and were already an hour late. We started losing patience as the evening evaporated and darkness started to set.

Finally, we decided to call a friend settled in Netherlands to see if he can offer some help (secretly praying that the functionalities don't differ a great deal in different countries of Europe). He came to our aide as he asked us few questions and told us the different ways a reverse gear can be in European vehicles. It turned out that we had to push the gear while putting it in first gear and that was it!!! Cursing ourselves and thanking our friend we started our journey only to run into another problem - right side drive. You drive on the right side on the road in Europe which none of us had ever done. To make matters worse the car was much larger than the ones Hubby had driven so far, at times taking it a few mm away from the footpath, not to mention, he actually put it to the left side at one of the roundabouts as we were leaving Paris. We had heard that the fines and punishment in Europe are very strict and spent the rest of our trip worrying about whether we were going to be penalised for that error.

We were completely at the mercy of our navigator which funnily took us through a lane so narrow that at one point we actually were worked up about what would we do if this large car gets stuck in it, only to realise that there was an alternative to this lane was available which far larger than it. Apparently even the navigator was enjoying our naivety at times, we cursed the voice giving us directions and partially expected it to laugh at us in response. Finally, after struggling with the right side drive, large vehicle and directions given by the whimsical GPS navigator, we arrived in the town but our adventure was not over. We were unable to locate the serviced apartment we had booked as we went round and round the same path. Again, being the Easter weekend, we had been already communicated that there wouldn't be anyone in the reception and we had to pick up our keys from a password protected locker in their reception area. With road deserted and having no one to call and ask, we were clueless about what to do. This was the moment when I hated not being in India, where there would be always someone on the road, no matter what day or time it was, and all we would have to do was roll the window down and ask them for direction. Ultimately we managed to find a no. of their centralised call centre amongst the documents and found the place which was just a few feet away from us but inside a lane.

Rest of the 3-4 days of our journey went smoothly without any troubles until we were on the last day of our trip. We had to drive 372 km from Angles-sur-l'Anglin to Mont Saint-Michel, see the Mont Saint-Michel and drive 84 km to Rennes to catch our 7 p.m. train back to Paris. Does it sound ambitious to you? Well, it didn't to us. :(  So even after a warning from the Homestay owner at Angles-sur-l'Anglin, we decided to continue with our plan (Lesson no. 3 - Listen to the warnings given by locals). When we arrived at the Mont Saint-Michel, we realised our mistake. It was already past 1 in the afternoon and the place was full of people, Easter weekend had brought a lot more than the usual crowd. Unable to let go of the beautiful place in front of us, we told ourselves that we will start our return journey at 4 pm no matter what. We had to climb up the island to reach the monastery. There was a never ending queue to reach the monastery and we had barely reached halfway when the clock showed that it was time. Sigh! With heavy hearts we turned back as not reaching Paris in time would have meant we would miss our bus to the Netherlands for rest of our holiday. (Lesson no. 4 - Always keep some buffer before important bus/train times).

Mont Saint Michel
As we headed back, we realised that one of the terms for returning the car was to fill the fuel. So even though we were running out of time, we located the first Gas station on our way to Rennes, where we had to drop the car before catching our train. I had another 'I miss India' after we entered the gas station, we had to fill the petrol ourselves. When we got down, it dawned on us that while learning very few basic french words for food, water, please, thank you we had completely forgotten to check the french word for 'Petrol'!!! (Lesson no. 5 - Learn all the important words in the language most common at your destination). We looked at both the options, trying to understand which one would be the right option and how to operate it. Our navigator was showing that we would have only 10 minutes to return the car, find and walk to the correct platform and catch the train so we gave up and continued to drive.

As we reached Rennes a new problem materialised out of thin air, where the H was the car drop centre? It was supposed to right next to the train station and we went round and round on jam-packed street trying to locate either the centre or a place to park the car. Finally, on our third round, we spotted a parking space and parked the car, deciding to search for the centre on foot (without having to worry about one-ways, U-turns and CCTV cameras). We called the collection centre and again struggled with the French-English to understand the directions given by the lady on the other end. To make it quicker we split and spent many minutes locating it. By the time we located it, returned the car our train had already left. Sad and clueless, we stood in a queue to buy new tickets. When we approached the booking personnel we explained him our situation and showed him the tickets we had booked online, surprisingly he kindly updated his system and issued us fresh tickets valid for the next train without any charges. We ran to catch the train as it was leaving in next 10 minutes.

We barely made it to the bus station to catch our bus to The Hague but the eventful day was not over yet. After boarding the bus, our hungry stomachs growled reminding us that we had forgotten to have any food after lunch. The bus had already started and as far as we knew the first stop was The Hague!! (Lesson no. 6 - Always, always, always carry energy bars or some dry snacks with you so that you don't starve yourself to death). But maybe God felt that we had learned enough lessons for the day and within couple of hours the driver took a halt to refill fuel. God bless the person who first came up with an idea to have a 24 hours store at the Fuel stations. We managed to convince the driver and got down for 5 minutes, enough to grab some food to survive through the night.

Arriving at The Hague, being picked up by the friend who had earlier helped us with the reverse gear of Citroen and gorging on the yummy breakfast at his place was the best feeling in the world!

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Quirky Portobello Road - #AtoZChallenge

If you have spent some time living in England, the first thing to catch your attention would be the colourful houses in a row. In contrast with the formally planned houses in dull colours all over London and England, the houses here enunciate effervescence. It is one of the best places if you like wandering around shops without a shopping list, looking out for unusual, unique objects. Various stalls here sell from vintage clothes, jewellery to quirky signs and old maps, antiques to unusual home decor items.


It was one of our favourite places to visit whenever we felt low or missed the buzz of Indian cities and during every visit, we would come across something bizarre or unique or objects we had never imagined. During one such visit, there was loud music coming out of the speakers of a music stall. Although the language was unknown to us, the music was very pleasant and cheerful. After listening to it while browsing through various scarves, dresses and antique objects at different stalls, we couldn't stop ourselves from walking over to the music stall. It was a place full of treasure with music from all parts of the world, some of them from places we hadn't even heard of. The best part of the Portobello Road is you just have to initiate the conversation with any of the shopkeepers or stall vendors and they are more than eager to speak with you at length, sharing many interesting stories, experiences they have had over years. As we started chatting with the stall vendor, he showed us the CD he was playing - 'Buena Vista Social Club', a Cuban band. He also shared with us the story of the band, about how it was named after a Havana club from 1940s and how this album was created in 90s with some of the veterans who had performed at the original club. It was irresistible music with a very interesting story. Ever since then, every time I hear this CD, it carries me back to the energetic Portobello Road, unknowingly I brought back a piece of this place with me, to be able to visit it as many times as I wish. Most interestingly, a couple of years later I found the same album at my brother's place, it had been gifted to him by his friends from France. Truly this album was without any boundaries, though I had never seen any promotion or advertisement for the same.

If you don't mind being in a crowded place, then I will highly recommend visiting this road on Saturday for their market. The place is abuzz with shoppers and travellers, some shopping while some gorging on the delicious food of different cuisines from across the world.

You can find more information about the Portobello Road, market timing and the stalls here

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Paragliding at Kamshet - #AtoZChallenge

I love flight journeys, especially the part when the plane takes off the ground! The earth is pulling you back while the plane's mechanism is putting in power more than the earth's gravity and the moment when the wheels leave contact with the ground and you feel like a feather, floating in the air. Every time I experienced this exhilarating feeling, I wondered what if there was no plane in between. What if it was just me, floating in the air, flying with the wind. My dream finally came true when we decided to go Paragliding near Kamshet with Nirvana Paragliding.

Our journey started from Native Place (their guest house) after a quick lunch at about 3 p.m. They have different sites & ideal times for flying depending on the season. Being mid-April, afternoon was the ideal time. The sun was shining at it's best, but the temperature was tolerable until we had to get out of the vehicles. As we set out for a short trek up the ridge for the take-off site, I felt the burning from overhead and burning in legs (out of lack of physical activities in recent months). Taking it at my own pace, I finally managed to climb up (secretly cursing myself for going through all of this). I remembered one of my friend's words as I climbed up, "Why to excruciate your own body by climbing up the hills when you can lazy around in an Air Conditioner?" I asked myself the same question but having done a few treks earlier, I knew that it is all worth it in the end.

As we reached the ridge, the instructors were readying their equipment while others were catching their breaths. A strange mixture of nervousness, curiosity and excitement was creeping up as we heard the instructions and filled in the forms with contact details in case of emergency. One day prior to the flying day, I had talked to a friend who had tried Paragliding, and she had told me that you are required to run some distance till and beyond the end of the cliff and that according to us was the most terrifying moment. Having done Rappelling earlier, I knew that it is scary to step beyond the visible ground. You see we are the kind of people with both our feet on the ground, so the feeling to take them off the ground even for a few minutes sounds scary. We lingered around to let somebody else fly before us, just to assure ourselves that it is OK, and if possible learn from their mistakes. But we couldn't put it off for too long, as the instructors had to complete the Tandem paragliding sessions, to be able to focus on the students who were there for their elementary/advanced courses in paragliding. So I braved it first. But luckily, I never had to face my fear of running to the edge, nor did I have to run. Thanks to the wind and skills of the pilot I was flying with, it was a matter of 3-4 seconds and I was lifted in the air before I realised. Hubby dear had to run a few steps but still was lucky as he didn't have to go all the way till the edge.

After being airborne, I forgot about everything else. We quickly gained height and soon were flying at the same height as windmills on top of the same hill, we had taken off from. It was a dream come true for me, just me in the air and no plane in between. With widespread eyes & a large grin on my face, I was looking all around, farmland on one side and the hill on the other, a lake shining in the bright sun in distance and sheep grazing nearby. Although I was cursing Sun only a few minutes ago, now the setting sun was creating a wonderful backdrop for all that. A Nice cool breeze was brushing my face, there was not the slightest hint of the heat we had faced while climbing up. The instructor/pilot made me at ease within first few minutes after taking off, making it easier to chat with him. After flying for a few minutes the instructor asked me whether I would be interested in doing some stunts. I said 'Yes' instantly and he moved the glider in a circular motion, sometimes with our feet parallel to the ground. A sudden rush of adrenaline passed through my entire body. For hubby, his pilot swayed sideways a few times, but he felt something different rushing through his body alongside the adrenaline and he had to ask the pilot to stop. Before I realised it was time to come back to the ground reality. As we started descending, I took one last look at everything around me, as I knew that these are the moments I will remember for rest of my life (unless I go back for a pilot course). The feeling of 'first' experience always remains with you, no matter how many more times you do the same activity, be it the first time you were able to move your hands and legs in coordination while learning to swim or be it your first flight. The landing was as smooth as the take-off. I landed in the first attempt, while it took 3-4 rounds for the hubby to get back to the ground due to wind conditions. And when they landed, they couldn't put their feet firmly on the ground and were dragged a short distance, though he escaped with a few scratches on his elbow. But we have learned with prior experiences of adventure activities, that it is all part and parcel of it. After resting for a few minutes while watching others go through the same exhilarating experience and the ups and downs of the emotions, with one thing common, a broad grin on all of their faces when they landed, we headed back to the lower ground and parking area with our spirits still soaring high in the sky.

Tips for Paragliding 

1) Carry enough water with you, at least 1 litre per person, more the better.
2) Carry a bag pack to carry water and other basic things with you up the hill & during flying
3) Carry sunglasses & lip guard. The wind makes lips and mouth go dry too often
4) Make sure at least one person from your group remains on the ground for emergency as well as recording your take-off and landing moments, so rather than flying together, take it in turns.
5) Don't forget your camera to capture this lifetime experience, we used a GoPro to record it all.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Opera at London Coliseum - #AtoZChallenge

"You can either like opera or not, there is nothing in between" I still remember the words of Pete, my friend and colleague from work, with whom we watched our first Opera - The Passenger.

Watching an opera had never ever occurred to us until one fine day when Pete was getting a good deal on the ticket and was looking for some company. Till then we had seen opera only in a few movies and didn't know what to expect. Being inside one of the oldest theatre was mesmerising in itself, huge 3-tiered auditorium, dome-shaped roof, adorned with sculptures & paintings, the place itself was a great piece of art. As we settled down, Pete informed us that the opera was going to be in English, phew! that was one relief, but he quickly added that language is never a barrier in understanding an opera.

P.C. English National Opera

P.C. Wikipedia

The Opera was - The Passenger, based on a story around a German newlywed couple - Liese & Walter, travelling to Brazil on an ocean liner and their co-passenger a polish woman - Marta whom the wife recognises as a former inmate of Auschwitz concentration camp during the WWII (and who is supposed to be dead) where Liese herself (unknown to her Diplomatic husband) was a guard and played a crucial role in torturing Marta and getting Marta's then fiancé killed. The past haunts her as their journey progresses. The stage was divided into two levels, upper level as the dock of the liner i.e. the present time while the lower level as the Auschwitz concentration camp i.e. past. The contrast between two scenes was heart-wrenching giving the lower level of the stage a feel of a hell underground. Although it was a very gloomy subject, we stayed glued to our seats, at times holding our breaths.

A weak student of history, I knew only a few highlights of both the world wars, but this opera intrigued me into reading more about those. I think there are still hundreds if not thousands of untold stories from this era which show that if left unleashed, what low levels an individual human being can stoop to.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Native Place, Kamshet - #AtoZChallenge

Have you ever felt a craving for something or a feeling that something is missing, but you can't pinpoint what that 'something' is? It is a strange feeling as you don't know what you are looking for and obviously, you don't know where to look for it. We had this experience recently, and accidently we stumbled upon an oasis near Mumbai. Mumbai may have its own charm, but people like us who like to be close to nature, who like to see the sky from their windows, or occasionally want to look up and expect to see stars; it can be equivalent to a desert. It becomes even harder to spend summer here for obvious reasons that at times the combination of heat & humidity becomes unbearable and we are confined to our home as there aren't many opportunities to plan outdoor activities or quick weekend getaways as everywhere you go may be equally hot or worse. The word 'parched' takes a new meaning when our souls are parched to be out there amid nature.

When we planned a quick weekend paragliding trip near Kamshet, little did we realise that the place would have so much to offer than we had imagined. The moment we got out of our cars, nature welcomed us with open arms at the entrance. Being mid-April, the temperatures had already touched 37o C with dried grass and leafless trees everywhere, but this place was in contrast with its surrounding. Our room and the overall place had a rustic feeling to it, with large rooms with high ceilings, large windows and basic necessary furniture. Even though it was 1 in the afternoon and the Sun was at its brightest, we didn't feel any need for an Air Conditioner. The place is owned and managed by a lovely couple Astrid and Sanjay.

After a quick lunch, we relaxed a bit and set out for a Tandem Paragliding experience. But more about it in a later post (on Wednesday - 19th April, under P) ;) . After returning from Paragliding, we settled down on a picnic bench in one of the many hangout areas with hot cups of tea. As it is a paragliding school, many of the guests at this guest house were there for an elementary or advanced course. As many of them started returning from the paragliding site, the size of the group on our bench went on increasing until it was filled to the capacity. Before we realised it was a large group of friends from diverse backgrounds, with so many common interests and a variety of topics to talk about. As night set in, we all headed to the roof for dinner which soon became a party of a group of almost 12-15 people, many of them solo travellers and a couple of families. When we had reached there in the afternoon, we had seen a group of friends having a good time together and had felt that we should have come there with a group too and before the day ended we had formed a new group already, to hang out with, including both Astrid & Sanjay, one of the instructors on his 1 year break from his job in Switzerland, an IIT pass-out who had quit his career in IT to be in construction with his wife who participates in national level rallies, few of the students doing advanced course and regular visitors to this place and some of the new members visiting it for the first time like us. It was so good to find like-minded people who like us didn't mind downshifting their lifestyle for 'living life' and who had opted for different lives rather than running in corporate races to show off their wealth or power. That exciting mix of guests gave this place a feel of a youth hostel.

We concluded our day with an hour on the roof of our room under the sky filled with stars and with the lake visible just a few meters away, just the two of us, while the laughter and light background music from the main roof still audible where the party still continued.

P.C. Kedar Gadre

Although we went to bed pretty late and were doubtful about our plans to wake up at 6.15 next morning, to go for a trek up the nearby hill, I woke up even before the alarm buzzed. You see most of the mornings, I wake up with the noise of traffic in the background and there I woke up with the most unusual & beautiful alarm, loads of birds singing. As there was still time for me to get ready for our trek, I decided to take a stroll in the garden. Halfway through my stroll, I saw a gate opening to a narrow pathway leading to the lake. All the trees around the pathway were full of birds, I could see so many red-vented bulbuls, most of the trees being leafless, it was very easy to spot them. There were a couple of trees covered with nothing but Red flowers. Such mornings remind us why we are alive, when we are in-tune with the universe around us, when we realise how insignificant we are in the larger scheme and yet how much importance we give to the petty things in life. After spending many more moments in the serenity, I headed back to the room to get ready for our trek. As we were leaving the guest house, we ran into another guest, an architect from Kerala. We offered him to join in our trek which he willingly accepted. Three of us along with our guide climbed up till an ancient Buddhist cave, which was probably abandoned after some initial work on it. As the sun was getting hotter with every passing minute, we decided to cut our trek shorter than what we had planned, sacrificing a panoramic view from the hilltop. Our fellow trekker turned out to be a very interesting company as he had travelled to 17 states of India and had good information about various architectural marvels in old caves of Ajanta, Ellora and various temples in the country.

P.C. Kedar Gadre

After breakfast, we joined Astrid in the Easter egg hunt and other games she had planned for the kids of guests along with the kids from the nearby village. Soon it became an event for the kids of all ages, with the adult guests joining in for a game of musical chair and tight-rope walking. I spent a leisurely afternoon hanging around in the common areas and learning more about the place followed by a walk through the garden Astrid has so carefully planned, developed and is improving constantly. Her passion for her garden was evident from her enthusiasm and the minute details she provided. Right from the trees, shrubs, climbers, vines, crawlers indigenous to the native place to the salads, vegetables, herbs, chillies and flowering plants, the garden was full of plants supporting a complete ecology of various birds, bees, and other insects in the vicinity. She explained the philosophy of permaculture she has started following for sustainable ecology wherein the focus is on giving back to nature than taking from its resources, with each plant having 3-4 different functions. After spending almost an hour on the garden tour, we went for a dip in the lake, which was blissful given the hot days of the summer. Again evening was filled with laughter and hanging around with the newly found friends. Before going to the bed, we spent some time sitting on a bench in the starlit garden, gazing at the still lake. We wanted to carry as much energy from this place as possible to keep us going with our life in the city, until the next time we manage to escape it to be in a place like that.

You can find more about this place here - Native Place, Kamshet

P.C. Kedar Gadre

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