This year has been uncertain for everyone. Needless to say, all our plans specially travel plans have been indefinitely put on hold. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. In addition to all the numerous trips I had planned, I was specially looking forward to two trips- my birthday trip with my mother to Sri Lanka (which I had almost booked the tickets to) and another with my dad and brother, probably to the Andamans during the later half of the year. Ofcourse it’s been disheartening but I did not wish to sit and crib about it. And since I haven’t written a travel blog in a long time, I was like I should probably trace all the little trips that shaped my love for travel.
I have been fortunate enough to have parents who love travelling and ever since I have been a toddler, they have made sure we take one trip a year and that ritual followed util my brother and I got into college. It’s difficult to trace every trip to their minutest details but it was extremely nostalgic to go back to the albums and relive some of the moments with my parents all over again. I have tried putting the trips in a chronological manner but more often than not I may have jumped the order.
I was around 1.5 years old when I went on my first trip to Mussoorie. I have absolutely no memory of it but my mother describes me as an easy fuss free child and that experience instilled confidence in them that they can plan more trips with me.
My father used to travel a lot for work. During one of his trips to Calcutta, my mother and I joined him and we went to Darjeeling from there. This was in the month of October 1993 and my first winter vacation. I remember this trip for a lot of reasons- experienced snow for the first time to how my father always chimes while describing the incident where a 2 year old kid was stuffing her mouth with as much as 15-20 paani puris (popular Indian street food with potato filling and spicy water).
Another thing that I used to do was that I hated walking and Darjeeling had a lot of stretches where my parents had to walk for miles cause of bad roads that didn’t allow vehicular movement. So after every few steps, I used to just stop walking and stretch my hands towards my father and insist of being carried on his shoulders. And I used to only enjoy being carried by him cause it gave me the feeling of being tall and the joy of viewing things from that height and since my mother had always been skinny, her bones used to poke me. Again, I can’t really contest the facts here, just presenting everything verbatim that’s being shared with me.
We went to Tiger Hills, Nathu La Pass (my favourite and a place I vividly remember), Mirik lake, Changu Lake and the beautiful tea estates of Darjeeling.
We happened to visit Darjeeling and Sikkim again after my brother was born.
This again is one of my favourite trips. We were celebrating New year in Nainital. My parents chose a lot of places based on their favourite Bollywood films cause my mother absolutely loved posing in the same locations as her favourite actresses . Nainital during the 90s was really famous as a popular Bollywood spot for a lot of films like Kati Patang, Gumrah, Masoom etc.
A striking memory I have from this trip has to be the visit to Nandankanan National Park cause I remember this was the time in school when we were taught a lot about wildlife, sanctuaries and national reserves. Also after every summer vacation everyone had to share their experiences so trips like these made it easier for us to tell stories.
The only time I have got the opportunity to eat dollops of white butter on all kinds of exotic parathas and douse down lassi has been during this trip.
This was also the time when I was being dressed in embarrassingly funny clothes and my brother used to wear all my clothes from childhood. Oh and that milton bottle; a constant!
My first Goa trip happened in 2000 or so. It was obviously unlike any of the Goa trips I go on now. But the best part about it was that we chose to cover South of Goa which is really the best part of Goa if you want to be away from crowds and enjoy the beauty of the beaches in their totality.
After a lot of Bollywood films including my favourite, Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak were shot in the pine forests and pristine locations of Ooty, Kodaikanal, my parents took us for a trip there right till Kanyakumari. We visited the beautiful Nilgiri Hills, Kodai Lake, Shola Falls, Thiruvalluvalr’s statue in Kanyakumari (I was quite mesmerised by the grandness of the statue to be honest).
I think this has been the only time I visited Rohtang pass in Manali. Also as a teenager, got to experience snow peaked mountains from such proximity.
There were a lot of other trips I took with the family but for some reason once we transcended to digital cameras, all the pictures from those trips are buried somewhere I have no memory of. More than anything I just wanted to go back to these trips as a reminder to myself that how every little thing has shaped and contributed to my love for travel. Till I get to travel next, I am going to dream of beautiful beaches and snowy mountains in the hope of getting lost in them, soon!
Winter vacations are my favourite. Infact, the season is my favourite time and rightly so cause who isn’t looking forward to wearing hoodies and sweatshirts after the scorching Bombay October wave? I always make it a point to plan my winter vacations 6 months in advance so I can get good deals on flight tickets thereby keeping the budget of the trip in check. Since last year was all about beaches, I thought let’s experience the touted Christmas markets in some of the favourite winter cities of Europe. I started looking for tickets and Air Italy had just launched in India and was giving a lucrative return airfare from Mumbai to Milan for just 28000 INR per person (35000 with luggage). Since my to and fro destination was the same, the entire itinerary had to be planned accordingly.
We booked a flight to Rome on the same day we were landing in Milan since the plan was to celebrate Christmas in Florence and New Years in Vienna. Since we covered quite a number of cities in 15 days, I will write about each city in detail, places I covered and tips for travellers.
Rome, hands down has become one of my favourite go-to cities in Europe after Paris. I am sure this list will become bigger with every passing trip to a new European country but now I know why people say even 15 days is less in Rome. It has so much to offer that you will need time to simply bask in the vibe of this historical marvel. We were staying in Generator Rome which was in the central part of Rome. The first evening we just walked around to familiarise ourselves with the surroundings. Italian cuisine is one of my favourite all time mood boosting cuisines and I was really excited for trying everything for the next 15 days. My first evening meal was pasta in white sauce and wild mushrooms.
Breakfasts are really important for me during any trip so the pursuit to hunt for the best breakfast place is even greater. Panella was a cafe which was close to our hostel and the walk to the cafe was through a beautiful garden. It’s one of the oldest cafes in Rome that houses all kinds of organic pastas, risottos and every flour on earth possible. I had gotten hooked onto the Marochhino and that was going to be my coffee during this trip. We went for three different kinds of croissants: one filled with nutella and other with custard cream. I had never ever tasted such fine custard cream ever and everything was being served fresh from the kitchen.
We finally started our day by walking through the pretty lanes of Trastevere which is a bohemian funky mosaic tiled neighbourhood in Rome that houses some of the cutest cafes and gelato centres. We passed through some of the iconic places such as Spanish steps, the Roman Forum and finally ended the walk at the most historical marvel I have ever seen- The Colosseum. I didn’t know much about its history until I went there and read about the kind of patience and hardwork it had taken to build, maintain and preserve this amphitheatre. There are a number of amphitheatres around Italy but this one particularly stands out cause of its design, size and the number of people it could accommodate at that time (around 80,000 people).
The day ended with yummy cheese pizza filled with spinach at Farine la pizza and gelato at Verde Pistacchio. Both the places are must visit on your Roman trip.
After visiting the Vatican City in the morning we arrived at our second stop; Florence where we were going to celebrate Christmas. We were staying at Hostel Gallo d’Oro and hoping that there would be some Christmas party at the hostel but to our surprise there wasn’t any so we decided to head to the Piazza Duomo which was very close to our hostel and witness the mass during Christmas eve. The Duomo is another beautiful sight in Florence with really intricate and beautiful Gothic artwork. It’s truly marvellous, both inside out.
Since the hostel wasn’t planning any activities, Couchsurfing proved to be a really helpful app. There are a number of events and parties listed in the city that you are currently in. We became a part of a group (which had two fellow Indians and a fellow hostel mate). We all decided to watch the sunset by Piazzalle Michelangelo which offers a beautiful panoramic view of the entire city of Florence. It was one of the most serene views with the cold winter breeze making its presence felt on your skin.
Next morning we left for Pisa since it was just an hour and a half by train. I had a choice between either Pisa or Cinque Terre and since we had only limited daylight available and Cinque Terre in itself required 2 days to be explored at ease, we chose Pisa. I didn’t want it to be a touch and go kind of an exploration so I decided to keep Cinque Terre for summers. Pisa, again is a small beautiful town situated by the Arno river and the walk from the station to the structure was really beautiful.
For me the walk through tiny lanes leading to Pisa was beautiful than the structure itself since it was really crowded. But it’s an architectural marvel in itself which leaves you wondering in amazement with the kind of tilt it actually has.
Our next stop was perhaps one of the places I was really looking forward to during this trip- Venice. We were staying off the canal in a hostel called Anda Venice which was just a station away from the canal. The evening we arrived in Venice it was really cold (around 1-2 degrees) so we decided to relax in the hostel. We walked to grab some dinner and came across Via Viaggio, a road side stall that you must try for yummy hot pumpkin soup and mozzarella fritter.
Next morning was also foggy but we left for the canal city to see all the pretty canals and bridges that I had seen only in pictures so far. Venice has over 400 bridges that connect its several tiny lanes. It felt like the entire place belonged to us since it’s only in summers that tourist flock the canal land. After seeing the Bridge of Sighs and St. Mark’s Square, we decided to head to the neighbouring islands of Burano and Murano.
Burano is a small island located about 7 kms from Venice and has an array of colourful houses, each so different from the other that it looks like some of the best artists came together to paint the town. The women in the town earn their living through embroidery whereas the men rely on fishing.
After this we headed to another neighbouring island, Murano which is actually in between Venice and Burano. It’s famous for its glass factory but by the time we got there it was already dusk and the factory had shut but we decided to quickly stroll through the town before catching our next ferry. We came across a very pretty glass Christmas tree that was constantly changing its hues and I’m so glad we got to witness it.
The next day we planned an impromptu trip to another medieval town in Italy’s Veneto region, most famous for the setting for Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet. After checking in at our pretty hostel, Hostello which is located in the centre of the town, we went to the famous Juliet balcony which was thronged by tourists who had relentlessly queued up just to get a picture clicked in her balcony.
There is also a Colosseum like structure in Verona called the Verona Arena. We ended our day by enjoying the sunset by the beautiful Castelvecchio. We had made some friends at the hostel with who we later headed to Osteria Sottocosta, which is a massive city square with tons of eateries and pubs around it.
We had an afternoon flight next day from Venice to Vienna, our New Years destination. We were staying at the city centre at Wombats which is again one of the best hostels in Vienna. My only problem with huge hostels is that you rarely get a chance to mingle with others cause most of them are already travelling in groups. We reached pretty late on 30th so we decided to take it slow.
Our hostel was located at the periphery of Naschmarkt which is one of the most famous markets in Vienna selling all kinds of food (Lebanese, Turkish, German etc.), souvenirs and clothes in addition to the famous German vin brule, which is a saviour in the cold weather.
Next we went to Praters Amusement Park since one of my favourite movies, Before Sunrise is shot there.
We had joined a Couchsurfing group for NYE and it was fun to meet so many different kinds of people from all over the world, drinking and enjoying themselves. We went to watch the midnight firecrackers at the City Hall in Rathaus, which was an extravagant event in itself.
Next day we went for a quick day trip to Bratislava, the capital city of neighbouring country Slovakia. Honestly, we wanted to go to Salzburg but it wouldn’t have been possible to squeeze that in a day trip. That’s how we landed in Bratislava, in the hope for some snow. Although it did snow when we were at Bratislava Castle but I guess it’s only in January that you get to see actual snow all around. We decided to take shade in a 150 year old cafe L’Aura and took a stroll around St. Martin’s Cathedral.
Another place of historical relevance that you should visit in Bratislava is the Slavin’s War memorial which has the graves of over 6000 Soviet soldiers.
We came back late in the evening to Vienna and ended our day with a pizza at our favourite and highly recommended place in Vienna, Frascati followed by the most important dessert that one mustn’t miss in Vienna- the Sachertorte at a vintage cafe, Kleines. The cake consists of two layers of dense chocolate sponge with a thin layer of apricot jam between them, all covered in a thick layer of shiny chocolate ganache. That’s not it. It’s served alongside a dollop of sumptuous serving of whipped cream. Tempting right?
We had a flight early morning for our final destination- Milan. We were staying off the centre and after we checked in, we left for the famous attraction that floods every search of Milan- the Duomo di Milano.
Just behind the Duomo is a famous street food joint that you shouldn’t miss on your Milan trip ever- the panzerotti at Luini. It has these different kinds of breads that are filled with a variety of fillings ranging from mozzarella and tomato, ricotta, olive, salami, vegetables etc.
We spent the day shopping in the city centre buying gifts and souvenirs for our friends.
Next morning we decided to go Lake Como, which seems to be the wedding destination for a lot of Bollywood couples off lately. The only thing I kept wishing to myself was the fact if we had stayed there cause it has a lot of pretty villages which takes an entire day on foot to explore. But whatever little time we had it indeed was marvellous.
And we ended our day by a quick stop in Turin cause we wanted to buy the chocolate from Guido Gobino where we also had this amazing coffee topped with thick chocolate and whipped cream and took some mouth watering chocolates to reminisce over the next few weeks.
Another pizza joint that you mustn’t miss if you are in Turin is La Pinseria. It’s a small joint which had some of the best pizza toppings I have ever had. Starting from the simple cheese and pesto to vegetable and mushroom pizzas. We stuffed some 6 pizzas since it was our last meal and I just couldn’t get over the taste of the crust that I had tasted in Italy throughout the trip.
And that was how my eventful winter vacation that will go down as one of the best vacations I have ever had came to a beautiful end. Or perhaps started a new love affair with yet another European country. I am sure I am going to return to Italy, soon.
PS: a tip for all those who really want to shop at Christmas markets. Make sure you plan your trip towards November and before Christmas so as to experience them in their full glory. Christmas and New Years Eve are extremely private affairs for Europeans and they prefer celebrating with their families. So make sure you keep that in mind before planning a vacation in Europe or anywhere in the West.
As another eventful year draws to an end, I want to reminisce and remember the best trips I took this year before the much awaited winter vacation (I don’t want to talk about it right now and take away the glory of this post). We will wait for January 2019 to read about it 🙂
One of the life changing, best trips I took this year hands down has to be Kashmir, which was a trip I gifted myself during my birthday in March. I knew this was coming for a while and there was no auspicious time than the birthday month to do it. I love Kashmir and Kashmiris. Period. Anyone who knows me, knows for a fact that this blog exists cause of my romance with Kashmir that started back in 2012 when I went there for the first time and the trip inspired me to start blogging. So I follow a photographer, Aamir Wani who is now a dear friend, based in Kashmir and I have been following his instagram page @kashmirthroughmylens for a while now. He is a poet, photographer and supports a lot of causes in Kashmir and I have been doing as much as I can to support it too. He started organising trips for people who’d love to explore Kashmir the way he does last year. I was really looking forward to witnessing Autumn in Kashmir when he did the first trip in September 2017 followed by a winter trip in January but I couldn’t due to work commitments. I was really sad that I’m not able to be a part of these trips but he kept promising that’ll organise one again and I should be a part of it. So when he put out the post for his Spring trip, without thinking twice I signed up for it.
My parents were a bit averse on me going on a trip with a bunch of strangers but I assured them about its authenticity and told them it’s all going to be safe after making them go through the itinerary in detail. I was quite thrilled and anxious to go with 10 new strangers, for the first time in my life. Being a finicky person, I was just hoping that we all blend well. Here’s a tip for people traveling to Kashmir for the first time- always, always take a window seat cause the view of the snow-capped mountains when you are about to land is one of the best views that you’ll ever see.
The first day was a day to know your fellow travellers since all of us had arrived at different times so after a quick lunch, I was assigned a room with a girl, Niveditha from Hyderabad. We left our room immediately to proceed for an evening Shikara ride at Dal Lake, which was a 5-7 minute walk from our hotel. All of us got acquainted with each other during the ride.
It was a beautiful sunset evening where we crossed the floating market, met interesting saffron, flower sellers who find the most interesting ways to sell you their products that one can give-in to their pitch due to their sheer innocence and cuteness. One thing that I missed doing is experiencing the vegetable market that opens at 6 am in the morning and shuts around 8-9 am. It is supposed to be India’s only lake vegetable market.
After the initial introduction, we all walked to Zero bridge which is this wooden arch bridge running over Jhelum river. It was calm, beautiful and we were still getting used to each others’ company. We decided to head to our hotel and played our favourite coke studio songs. Little did we know that this was soon going to become an evening ritual for the remainder of the trip.
After a sumptuous breakfast we left for Gulmarg, which is one of my favourite places in Kashmir. I have been there twice and got to enjoy the Gondola (cable car) ride once during summer which is also one of the best cable car rides in the world. When we reached there, the atmosphere was quite different from what I have witnessed before. Seeing a big group, the local guides who ply the sledge started hackling us insisting that the walk we wanted to do can be done on sledges only and when we told them we wanted to walk, they refused to comply blaming Aamir and his friend accusing them of being tour guides who were taking their money away. We still started walking and a bunch of 10 sledge carriers kept following us and refused to let go until we decided to finally leave the place (we also took the sledge ride for some time so they could back off but didn’t help).
We finally decided to go to Drung which was around 20-25 mins from where we were. It’s another beautiful spot with icy trails which has not been discovered by everyone yet. I think we must’ve trekked for an hour and a half crossing precarious frozen pipelines to climbing steep hills, slipping on the way, getting drenched in ice water while crossing tiny rivulets to finally reach the beginning of a river.
We were like this one big group helping each other while crossing the river, looking out for one another. It got us all closer and the fact that there was nobody there except us, made the trek special, exclusive and beautiful.
We left really early in the morning to go to Pahalgam. We were supposed to stay at Aru Valley for the night which again is a small trek from Pahalgam but unfortunately the cottage we wanted to stay in was not available. So we decided to stay in Pahalgam. After checking in and having lunch, our driver dropped us to the beginning of Lidder river in Pahalgam from where we started our walk to a secluded spot in Aru Valley to catch the beautiful sunset over the Lidder. With so many interesting people forming company, the hour and a half walk seemed like a breeze. When we reached uphill, it was calm, pleasant and meditative. I remember finding a spot inside a conical tent and sleeping there until the rest of the people reached. I could only hear the birds humming and the sound of the river, which gave me so much joy that it’s hard to describe in words. We stayed there for about an hour until sunset and began our descent.
Infact during the walk, we stopped at various points just to admire the beauty of Lidder river. The sunset from Aru Valley has to be one of the best sunsets I have witnessed.
It got dark by the time we descended and even then the view was gorgeous.
We returned to Srinagar around afternoon and after having a hearty wazwan at a Kashmiri restaurant in town we headed for a walk around the Old Town. The old side of Kashmir is raw, simple and very different than what the other side of Jhelum has to offer. We visited the Khanqah mosque situated on the banks of Jhelum built by Sikander Butshikan built in the memory of the Persian preacher Mir Syed Ali Hamdani who is responsible for the spread of Islam in Kashmir. The spire of the mosque was under repair from a fire that broke out a couple of weeks ago and an interesting trivia about the mosque is that the shrine has caught fire multiple times since 1480 AD but somehow has always been rebuilt and managed to hold its original charm.
After this we headed to another beautiful mosque, Jamia Masjid.
After this, Aamir took us to a secluded spot at Dal Lake to witness the sunset, all away from the crowd and again it was just us who were left alone to enjoy the magic of the colourful rays of the setting sun.
Today we were supposed to go to Sonmarg and Naranag but due to some tension there and roads leading to Sonmarg being shut and vehicles asked to return midway, we decided to go to Doodhpathri in Budgam district since we didn’t wish to risk our last day and it was quite a drive. Sometimes things are just meant to be and I am glad that Doodhpathri happened. It has been the highlight of my trip. I couldn’t get enough of that place. The drive was beautiful and we met so many interesting people on our way.
Doodhpathri literally means valley of milk and the river actually resembles like one, it’s so white. It was quite a walk of around 4 kms that too in thick sheets of ice to reach the river. Every time we were tired, we used to simply sink into the ice sheets and cool ourselves. Once we reached the river, it was beyond beautiful. The famous bridge, which since then has been seen in a lot of Bollywood movies become our spot for the next two hours where we were just sitting, chuckling, breaking into snow fights and everything in between. After every few minutes one of us would just go, “Oh my god! Isn’t this too pretty. Can we just live here?”
It started to snow and rain while we were walking back and the colour of the sky, though a little dark was gorgeous and every now and then I was slipping into the thick sheets of ice, wanting to forever get lost in the solitude that had engulfed me. I couldn’t stop admiring the beauty of Doodhpathri and feeling gratitude for this beautiful world that we live in.
I dream of living here!
After returning to Srinagar, we had our farewell dinner and continued playing coke studio songs until late at night, saying goodbyes and promising to be in touch. Those 5 days were genuinely the most beautiful days I experienced with people who are now my best friends (I took a trip with few girls I met on the trip recently to Uttarakhand). I was initially skeptical about how I am going to feel in an alien group but we were like a house on fire. And to all those thinking if it is safe to plan a trip to Kashmir, a big YES to that. If you’ve been planning a trip to Kashmir for long, it is never too late to just do it. The place and the people will surprise you with their beauty, goodness and warmth.
I know it has taken me long to pen this down and there is absolutely no reason except that I had been procrastinating and been on back to back trips ever since I returned from Thailand. I promise (like always) to be more regular and share everything in the coming weeks about where I have been till now. In my last post, I shared my Thailand itinerary, all the places I went to, where I stayed, what I did. Since it was already too extensive, I thought of doing another post only on the places I ate at. So without further ado, below are some of the best places to eat around Thailand and trust me you will not regret experiencing them:
The Velo Cafe, Hua Hin
Hua Hin was our first stop after landing in Bangkok. It is a small, lazy town and while we were there it was raining so we had to spend most of our time indoors. Velo café was very close to our hostel (Jetty hostel) and it was a newly opened cafe (just a few weeks old) run by this young guy who was making everything fresh. We called for one cold mocha and affogato along with a grilled tuna sandwich. Trust me when I say this, I haven’t had a yummier tuna sandwich before because I somehow don’t like the taste and smell of uncooked, cold tuna and I went for this because it was going to be grilled and it tasted amazing.
Because I enjoyed my first meal here so much I went here again the next day to have breakfast. This time we called for some cappuccino along with croissant and pancakes, which again was really tasty.
The Coffee Club, Hua Hin
For people staying at Hilton, this could be a cheap alternative for the breakfast buffet since it is walking distance from there. I honestly, did not find it very cheap or pocket-friendly due to the addition of VAT in the bill (which was a first for us in Thailand) cause of which this breakfast proved to be a little expensive (around 900 baht for 4 things). Nevertheless, I urge you guys to go for this one if you want to have a sumptuous, filling start to your day. We went for the feta cheese mushroom omelette along with regular pancakes, mocha and ofcourse our favourite coffee dessert these days, affogato. Although in hindsight, I now feel I should have gone for the coconut pancakes since they are the most famous there, so if you happen to visit there, keep it in mind to order the coconut pancakes.
Lion and Shark Cafe, Krabi
Our next stop was Krabi, one of the busiest islands in Thailand and given the population of tourists at any given point, the place is flooded with restaurants and cafes every few metres. We went for Lion and Shark cafe for our first night’s meal. We had a nice mushroom pepper soup along with a mexican veggie pizza. The place also has a hostel alongside and hence you will always find some backpackers sitting around, lazing, absorbed in their books.
Tom Yam Ton, Ao Nang, Krabi
If there’s one place that gets completely booked out for dinner in Krabi, it is Tom Yam Ton thai food restaurant which was right next to our guest house Ao Nang Guesthouse. The place apparently gets booked out for dinner one day before so the day we reached Ao Nang we couldn’t do dinner there so we made a reservation for next evening. If you are a thai food lover, you will definitely love this place. I went for the classic pad thai noodles along with thai green curry and rice which was absolutely worth the half an hour wait.
Since we enjoyed the place so much we had our next day morning breakfast there which was this really yummy bowl of muesli with fresh fruits and yoghurt.
Tanya’s Cafe, Koh Samui
We celebrated New Year’s at Koh Samui and spent maximum time here. This is another tourist friendly destination which is flooded with a lot of restaurant/ cafe options and we were looking for a nice breakfast cafe on New Year’s Eve and stumbled on this cafe through TripAdvisor rating. Tripadvisor reviews have been a saviour for us on this trip and all the places that we ate at were thanks to lovely reviews and ratings on TripAdvisor. I strongly suggest you guys to use that when you are travelling internationally.
Since I wanted to eat fruits, which by the way you get in plenty in Thailand. Whether you are in Bangkok, Krabi or any island, the choice of fresh fruits and coconut water that you get here is unparalleled. I went for fresh fruits with cream and chia seeds along with some vegetable omelette, mocha and cappuccino. Everything is freshly prepared by Tanya and her family. She is extremely warm, friendly and would suggest you dishes if you can’t make up your mind like me 😛
Fresh fruits with cream and chia seeds
Wile Tribe Cafe, Koh Samui
Another really good cafe for breakfast in Koh Samui is the Wild Tribe cafe, thanks to a wide array of vegan, gluten-free and healthy options on the menu catering to people of every palette. They have a lot of options for smoothies and juices as well. We went for gluten free strawberry pancakes and cheese omelette.
Tree House, Koh Tao
Our next stop was Koh Tao where we went specially to dive after seeing all the beautiful pictures and reading so much about it. As compared to Krabi and Koh Samui, Koh Tao is a relatively smaller island where there aren’t a lot of options so while walking one evening we spotted this colourful place and decided to have dinner here. The place is managed by a couple and it is famous for thai food. We called for pad thai noodles along with some hot noodle soup.
The Road Less Travelled, Koh Samui
Another interesting, colourful cafe cum hostel that we came across was The Road Less Travelled near the ferry pier at Koh Samui while we were really hungry one evening and wanted to have a quick munchie. Although we couldn’t really eat here anything since they were preparing the place for New Year party, the owners were really sweet to offer us some hot croissants along with coffee. The cafe is really beautifully done and has a great dessert menu so I would highly recommend you to try it since it’s walking distance from the ferry pier.
Paper Butter, Bangkok
One of my favourite food places on this trip has to be Paper Butter in Bangkok which was inside the vicinity of our hostel, The Yard Hostel where we stayed during the last two days of our trip. They serve these yummy veg and non veg patties in charcoal burgers which are apparently really good for digestion. I went for the beetroot patty while my partner went for their famous beef burger. I have to tell you that it was perhaps one the best burgers I have had in my life. It was soft, juicy and the charcoal burger added this nice burnt flavour to the patty and sauces. Must must go-to place while you are in Bangkok.
I strongly urge you guys to have local thai food as much as you can along with lots of fruits and coconut water, which is available for really cheap. Even while we were driving around, we used to pack fruits for snacking and they proved to be healthy and filling. I would recommend going local and simply entering these tiny restaurants wherever you are since they would serve the most authentic food along with lots of love and warmth.
Couldn’t have gifted myself a better end to 2017 than a Thailand trip. 2017 has been a year of travel for me, of which Seychelles and Thailand will top the list without an iota of doubt. Earlier I thought I was equally inclined towards mountains and beaches but now that’s beginning to change and I feel I am more of a waterbaby. Thailand will also be memorable for ticking an important thing off the bucket list: SCUBA DIVING. Yes, I finally dived in the middle of a beautiful ocean only to be surrounded by colourful fishes. In this blog I will mostly be writing about the entire trip, where all I went and stayed. I will also be doing another post soon on all the cafes, restaurants I visited during the trip.
Day 1: Bangkok. We reached our hostel Here hostel in the heart of Bangkok city around 2 pm after a long journey only to crash in our cosy room for a while before we headed to explore some night markets and the city life. We wanted to take it slow and retire early so as to be fresh for the drive next day. Yes, Thailand has been a first legit road trip for us. My boyfriend and I drove to the different islands through road, at some places we had to ferry the car. It was a fun, tiring drive.
Slide your way through hostel dorms at Here
We went to the popular Platinum Shopping Mall and the Saphan Phut Night Market in Bangkok as we wanted to stock up on some beach essentials. Platinum Mall has a lot of options for women and just one floor for men (that’s a pity) but you have to have the patience to scout the best shops and bargain for everything that you buy. There are some cute shops such as Moshi Moshi where you can buy things like headphones, neck pillows, stationery, mobile covers, hand bags etc. Saphan Phut is the street parallel to Platinum Mall and it had all kinds of stuff at half the price than inside the mall but the quality of clothes was rather ordinary and didn’t seem long lasting.
After roaming the streets for a while, we wanted to have a good meal and while driving around in search of some eatery, we accidentally took a wrong route and ended up reaching Sukhumvit area through a toll road. Bangkok is full of toll roads and if you are not careful you will end up spending so much money on tollways. But I am glad we reached Sukhumvit cause we got to eat authentic pad thai noddles and a hot broth full of veggies at Tamnak Isan Ekamai where the meals are prepared by traditional Isan people of Thai region.
Day 2: After having a sumptuous breakfast of waffle and fruits at Here (don’t miss the breakfast), we started our drive towards Hua Hin, which is touted to be a romantic destination in Thailand. We don’t know why but I guess the laid back vibe and the pleasant weather kind of makes everyone cosy. The weather in Hua Hin was cold as compared to Bangkok with cold winds and rains, for which we were unprepared for. The weather didn’t let us do anything except indulge in some refreshing massage. The location of our hostel was right in the heart of the busy street which was in proximity to all the popular cafes and restaurants. We walked to the night market on the evening we arrived and bought a bunch of stuff, including these really comfortable trainers for just 500 baht. The streets are lined with crepe and coconut stalls every few mins and that was our dinner for the evening.
Jetty hostel in Hua Hin is a newly opened hostel and the owner Cap, being an architect has designed the interiors himself. In the entrance lobby are these beautifully designed suitcases that adorn the wall that he has cut from old suitcases of his grandmother. Throughout the hostel there are these pretty corners with wooden work. The view from the terrace is the uninterrupted ocean view.
Day 3: We went to the historical Hua Hin railway station which is considered to be one of the attractions in the town. It’s a small station where hoards of tourists had gathered just to click pictures. A must visit if you enjoy old architecture.
Pretty. Isn’t it?
Day 4: We started our drive to Krabi early in the morning around 9 am since it was a long 6-7 hours drive and we wanted to reach before sunset. We had a great breakfast at Velo cafe (more information on this in my next post) and headed straight to our next destination. The drive to Krabi is the most prettiest drive in the entire Thailand. We found ourselves driving amidst huge palm trees and limestone mountains that glow at night. We were staying in this beautiful guesthouse Aonang Guesthouse and the owner, Tin was really sweet to help us with kind suggestions and places to visit nearby to make the most of our limited stay. Again this guesthouse was very close to the popular sunset point at Ao Nang Beach and the entire market area in Krabi. On our first evening, we just walked to the market, had a nice meal at a cafe nearby and retired since we were tired after all the driving.
Drive to Krabi
View from Ao Nang Guesthouse
Day 5: We woke up and went to the popular hot springs which is an hour’s drive from Ao Nang. It’s advisable to rent a bike if you don’t have a personal mode of transport since cabs are quite expensive in Krabi. We thought that the Hot Springs will be crowded and full of people but when we reached there, we were surprised to find only few people. It’s located in a secluded place amidst a huge fancy property. There are these mini pools before the actual hot springs where you can start by dipping your feet and then once your body has gotten used to the temperature, you can proceed to immersing yourself in the pool. It’s really fascinating as to how a certain part of the pool is warm and then the lower bottom where the water opens is cold. It’s also advisable not to be in the warm water for a prolonged period since it can drain you.
A mini warm pool
We were here for a good two-three hours before we arrived at Ao Nang beach for the beautiful sunset.
Ao Nang Beach
Day 6: We left Ao Nang shortly after breakfast to start our drive towards Donsak from where we had to take a ferry to Koh Samui. The ferry port at Donsak is huge and beautiful. We had to wait there for an hour for our ferry. We managed to reach Koh Samui only by late evening and the hostel where we were supposed to stay (P168) missed our booking and we were transferred to another hotel which was on the party street of Chaweng Beach in Samui.
Donsak Raja Ferry port
We went to party at the famous Ark Bar on Chaweng beach. I really enjoyed being there. The music, fire show and the vibe was really good.
Day 7: We moved to another hostel Chill In near Lamai beach in Samui and before heading there we had one of the best breakfasts of our trip at Tanya’s cafe. Chill In hostel was situated right at the beach and during evenings and early mornings, the waves used to hit the edge of the parapet. On our way to the hostel, we passed this beautiful viewpoint from where you could see the entire ocean and it was a pretty sight. We spent the day chilling at the hostel and playing some interesting card games with fellow hostel mates.
Chill In hostel
Day 8: This was New years eve day and we wanted to rest it out as much as we could so as to be all pumped up for the night. We were going for the full moon party to Koh Phangan. We paid 2300 baht for a couple that would take us by a speedboat to Phangan and bring us back at any time in the wee hours. The speedboat ride was quite bumpy and we were glad to have made it alive. The full moon beach was crowded with thousands of people and it was difficult to even walk your way to the beach. I don’t think I will ever be back to a full moon party because one has to be completely drunk to enjoy these kind of parties and I realised that it’s not my thing.
Day 9: We had an early morning ferry to catch to Koh Tao, which was going to be our last island destination for the trip and we were particularly very excited because we were going to be diving for the first time ever. Koh Tao is a relatively smaller island as compared to the rest of them that it almost feels like a small town/ village. There might not be as many 7 Elevens (a popular supermarket chain in Thailand. You’ll find them every few metres wherever you go) in Koh Tao as there are diving schools. We just relaxed the day we arrived as we were very tired from partying the earlier night so we just walked around, had thai food at a popular restaurant right next to our hostel. We were staying at a great hostel, The Dearly hostel in Koh Tao. I think it’s the biggest hostel in Koh Tao, also walking distance from the ferry pier. It is huge, spacious and has clean rooms.
Day 10: And the D- day was here. I had contemplated diving so much only because I was suffering from a severe toothache which was making it very difficult for me to even talk but the people at Ozone Diving School assured me that if I did everything slowly, it wouldn’t affect and since I was in Koh Tao to dive, I couldn’t have not done it. We arrived at the diving school at 11 in the morning and our instructor, a South American guy now living in Thailand explained us few basics before we left to go to the island. He was a sweet and motivating instructor and it’s important to have a good instructor who will just motivate you to have fun under water. We went to another island Koh Nangyuan to dive, which is an extremely beautiful island.
As usual, we were having the pre-dive jitters like everyone does and since there were too many things to remember, we kept clarifying them again and again before we actually jumped. While wearing the suit and the gear before the dive, the oxygen cylinder that goes on your back is the heaviest and jumping with that weight was quite scary but if you follow the instructions it’s pretty simple. Once we jumped, I was like that’s it? Is that all we had to do. The marine life underwater is absolutely breathtaking. From beautiful shaped corals to different varieties of fish ranging from angelfish to barracuda, neon damsels, parrotfish, horsefish etc. I saw all kinds of fishes at Japanese Gardens in Koh Nangyuan. It is considered to be one of the best diving destinations in the world. No wonder there are tons of diving schools in Koh Tao and each school is equally competitive than the other. After doing this try dive, I am very sure of going for a full fledged diving course so that I can dive anywhere in the world.
Enjoying the sunset post diving
Day 11: We were on the road the entire day driving back to Bangkok which was in all a 16 hours journey, two ferry rides over 4 hours and then 11 hours of driving. It was the longest and tiring drive of our lives. We finally reached the Yard Hostel in Bangkok late in the night. This is another hostel which is beautiful. They serve basic yet filling breakfast in the morning and they have this fancy burger place in their premises, Paper Butter which is famous for their charcoal burgers.
Day 12: This was the final day of our trip which was spent shopping on the streets of Bangkok, buying gifts for family and friends.
Some tips if you are planning a Thailand trip:
One mistake we did was not calculate the distances between two destinations and in the process when we reached a certain place we were so exhausted by the end of the it that we just wanted to crash. And eventually we were left with just one day or one and a half day to spend in that place.
One thing I learnt the hard way was: never ever forget to carry your medication. Although you get the basic paracetamol tablets there but antibiotics are difficult to find and they are very expensive.
It’s better to have your own mode of transport since taxis around islands is expensive so once you take a ferry to a certain island, just hire a bike. We hired a car from the airport since we wanted to do a road trip and it still proved to be extremely cost effective.
There are great hostels in Thailand, one of the best I have experienced so far in any country. So don’t waste money on hotels, stay in hostels while in Thailand.
Stay in each island for atleast 3-4 days so as to enjoy it to the fullest.
Lastly: eat local. Thai food is one of the best cuisines in the world.
Recently, my girlfriends and I got the chance to take off during the long Diwali weekend and we wanted to go for a quick short trip. After some considerable research of places to go near Mumbai, we finally zeroed on Sula Vineyards in Nashik. I was really excited for this since I had only heard about the vineyards and seen pretty pictures of it online or on friends’ social media feeds. This place is famous for the Sula fest that takes place during the harvest season in February every year. We had booked a hotel near the vineyards. We left on Saturday morning in a rented cab and checked in to our hotel at 3 pm. We quickly got ready and rushed to Sula since we wanted to finish the vineyard trip and head to another nearby winery, Soma to see the sunset as a lot of people had written about pretty sunset views from Soma.
When we reached Sula, it suddenly felt like some fair. It was crowded and like how. There was hardly any place to walk in that huge property. We were really disappointed and decided to directly head to Soma and do the wine tour the next morning before heading back. Soma, on the other hand was empty and pleasant to explore. We directly headed to the terrace restaurant since we were there mainly for two things- wine and sunset, both of which were quite a delight.
Sunset from Soma Vineyard
The wine at Soma was quite nice. They had the Chenin Blanc Dessert which was a mixture of peach, dried apricots with lushness of melon and pineapple. It had the perfect balance of sour and sweet with an after taste of apple-honey which made it absolutely palatable. They have another variant in this: the Dessert Sauvignon Blanc which is high in its acidic content with more of pineapple flavour. We spent the entire evening at Soma, drinking wine, walking around the vineyard before calling it a night.
Next morning, we made sure we reached Sula at 10.30 am (that’s when it opens) so that we get to do the wine tour before the crowd pours in. For spice lovers, there’s a very famous restaurant near Sula, called Sadhana Restaurant where you get charcoal made misal (lentil stew) which is loaded with spice, so much so that my friends had to pour bowls of curd in it to douse the spice. Our wine tour started at 11.30 am, before which we were touring Sula vineyards, which is a huge property. It has an open amphitheatre where the festival takes place, surrounded by lush green gardens.
From understanding the entire process of grape harvest to what kind of grapes go in making each kind of wine to holding a wine glass properly followed by a finale of wine tasting, the tour was quite enjoyable, so to speak. There were a few myth busters as well like how wine should not be stored for years. It starts to oxidise which eventually makes it completely sour and inedible to drink. Also the fact that Champagne is Champagne. No other brand can use that name. Just like you cannot call France as India, you cannot call sparkling wine Champagne in India. Champagne is the name of a village in France and that’s how the sparkling wine that’s made there is called that.
Cylindrical tanks in which wine is made
In all we tasted six different kinds of wine: white, red, rosé sparkling wine (my favourite) and three other types of red wine which were late harvest and hence dry in taste.
Obviously a vino trip is incomplete without wine bottles, so I ended up buying tonnes of bottles to stock them for all the upcoming year end celebrations. Before coming here, I was not sure how the place is going to be cause Nashik is still an orthodox developing town but the vineyards felt like a different world altogether. A must visit place. In fact I plan to visit there again specially during the harvest season between December to March so that I can also do some grape stomping. Will be a lot of fun, I am sure 🙂 Till then happy vining guys!
This year’s annual visit to Cannes Film Festival was exciting for a lot of reasons. From being planned at the last moment to getting the visa on the day of departure to mom and mine’s first solo trip together, this trip was full of surprises at every step. Also since mom hadn’t been to Paris before I thought it would be great to cover some of the old and nice cafes of Paris.
It was difficult getting vegetarian food at these cafes for mom (this is before I turned vegetarian) but there were quite a few options available. In this blog, I have listed the cafes that I went to while exploring Paris, again.
Café des Deux Moulin– This was the first cafe we went to since we were on a walking tour in the area of Montmarte and if you have seen the movie Amélie, you would surely want to experience the place where the film was shot. It is a popular cafe bustling with tourists and Amélie fans getting their pictures clicked around a corner designated to the movie’s art. The food is reasonably priced. We had a glass of wine and some Crispy de Serrano, hot cantaloupe on toast with fried veggies. The cantaloupe on toast can be a blast of sodium for people who are not used to it.
Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole– Looking to have a feel of the 18th century Paris? Then Au Vieux Paris d’Arcole is the place for you. A cafe cum restaurant, this cafe is situated very close to the Notre Dame cathedral and was built around the same time as the cathedral. It was once home to the Church priest and there are rooms that still exist on the second and third floor of the cafe. They do rent it out to travellers but do not advertise because they don’t wish to commercialise the stay. This cafe, although situated in a tiny little corner will immediately grab your attention thanks to the colourful decor and an array of vines beautifully decorating the windows.
Even the interiors are thousand years old, the staff believes in maintaining the legacy. It was a little past lunch time when I visited the cafe but I had a nice lunch with chicken breast, salad and a glass of wine. This cafe is a must visit for all photography lovers.
Café de la Rotonde– Another old brasserie frequented by artists like Pablo Picasso Diego Rivera, Alexandre Jacovleff, La Rotonde is a famous cafe in the Montparnasse Quarter of Paris. I was lost while finding my way to the cafe and when I asked the owner of a small pancake shop nearby, he was really happy that I am going to this cafe. Sitting outside on the street under umbrella, sipping wine, witnessing the crowd go on about their lives was fascinating, so to speak. I went for a tuna salad and a glass of wine. The staff was the best part about the cafe; impeccably polite and quick.
Shakespeare and Company Cafe– I have to admit but out of all the cafes, this is one of my favourite. Situated at a walking distance from Notre Dame, one of the favourite bookstores in Paris, now also has a cafe right next to it. Had I not been with mom, I could have simply grabbed a book from the bookstore and sat in this cafe for hours, doing absolutely nothing. Such is the vibe of the cafe and the people who frequent it. They mostly serve vegetarian food so I went for a avocado bagel sandwich and a hummus pita platter along with some fresh pressed fruit juice. And when you are at Shakespeare and Co., how can you resist the temptation of buying some books?
Le Verre Luisant Cafe– A local friend of mine took us to this cafe near Chatelet. The manager of the cafe was American and he was really happy to have Indians at the cafe. It was a quaint little cafe located at the corner of the street from where we witnessed a beautiful colourful sunset while enjoying our pasta and burger. The menu is all in French but the staff is extremely helpful with their suggestions and the ambience is all young and energetic.
There were a lot many cafes that I wanted to visit but couldn’t due to my limited stay but I am sure I will visit them again during my next trip. Lastly, every time I return from Paris, it has become a ritual to get different croissants so that I can relive the Parisian life for a few more days in Mumbai. I was lucky to find Du Pain Et Des Idees, a very popular and amazing bakery near my hotel so that I could pack fresh croissants right before my flight.
Yes that is how I’d like to describe my recent Seychelles vacation: Dreamy. Pretty. Beachy. It is so far the best vacation I have had till date (not that I have explored a lot of beach destinations around the world) but I am sure Seychelles tops the list. After all, it is touted to be one of the best beach destinations in the world. Although I was there just for a week, initially attending a close friend’s wedding and then later extending the trip for another 3 days, I cannot and simply cannot stop myself from revisiting the photos everyday atleast twice since my return. Especially for someone like me who is a city person and has a crazy hectic life here, Seychelles was a therapeutic break; much needed and absolutely rejuvenating, so much so that the hangover still lingers in my heart.
More than the beautiful beaches, it is also the people who contribute a great deal in shaping the perception that you will take back home with you. Seychelles homes perhaps the most humble, kind hearted and forthcoming people I have ever come across, again something which comes to them naturally from having living in such a beautiful paradise. Not even a single person I came across who sulked or stared down upon me. Each and every person starting from the tour guide to the driver to waiters and the local people were warm, sweet and jolly. Even when the plane descended on the runway, which felt artificial, something that came up from the middle of nowhere just so that we could land amidst blue waters and mighty green mountains.
159 tiny islands make up Seychelles
I was staying in Mahe for the first two nights followed by 2 nights in Praslin which is an hour and half by ferry. One can even fly to Praslin but I would definitely recommend the ferry because of the beautiful journey. Once in Praslin, I went to one of the most famous beaches there: Anse Lazio. I was there for over three hours from late afternoon until the sunset and it felt like one private beach. There were hardly people around and they were all engrossed in having the time of their lives. The tide was quite strong and hence I couldn’t really swim but playing with the waves is some fun, isn’t it? All I did was swim, play, stuff myself with some food and then went back again. It was magical, so to speak.
Beginning of the beautiful sunset
No filter sunset
This was followed by a sumptuous meal at a French restaurant which also had freshly made yoghurt ice creams. Don’t forget to try their local Creole cuisine. Next day was a long beautiful day since we had to leave for another tiny island, La Digue which is a 45 minute ride by the ferry. Once we reached there, we were given our individual bicycles around 10.30 am and the island can be explored in both north and south directions, having different attractions. Everybody has to return to the starting point at 4.30 pm to take the evening ferry back to Praslin. We cycled the whole day long for some 5-6 hours, taking cosy breaks by the beach, soaking the sun, getting wet in the waters. So there are vanilla plantations, turtle park where one can find a family of some 100-150 year old turtles. One beach that you absolutely cannot miss is the Anse Source d’Argent. It has perhaps the cleanest water I have ever seen at any beach. It was like a glass film on sand bed. Inspite of not having the basic scuba gear, which I seriously regret now, I could see so many pretty fishes swimming next to my feet. It was straight out of a scene from a movie, it felt surreal.
Anse Source d’Argent
Actually Anse Source d’Argent was the last beach that we went to since it was in the other direction and that is the only beach in the north. In the south of La Digue there are a number of beaches where one can simply park the bicycle, hop off and have a dip in the water. Most of the cafes are also on the south side. We stopped at a cafe to have a simple meal and the waiter there turned out to be an Indian. He got excited seeing us there and simply couldn’t stop talking. The vanilla plantations on the north are pretty but except for the Anse Source d’Argent and turtle park, there isn’t much to explore there.
It was a long, tiring, sweaty day but definitely I never had so much fun cycling before.
On my last day, we moved back to Mahe since our return flight was from Mahe the following day. We stayed near the famous beach of Mahe: Beau Vallon. After all the cerulean beauty that I had experienced throughout, I thought there is nothing left to explore and it will all be the same. But my last beach definitely had the lasting effect on me. It rains at any given point of the day in Mahe. It must have rained heavily on 8 out of 10 occasions while we were there. So even on our last day it started pouring just when we were about to go to the beach and finally when it did not stop until 5 pm, we decided to take our umbrellas and go. We couldn’t have stayed inside the hotel sulking about having missed going to the beach.
I am so glad that we decided to go to the beach. The entire lane opening to the beach looked like the set of La La Land and it was gorgeous. Beau Vallon is like an infinite wave pool with baby waves where one can just float and swim without having to worry about huge waves washing you ashore. The icing on the cake was the formation of a beautiful rainbow which spread across the green mountains, spreading throughout the arc of the evening sky casting its magic on the sand bed. That was a moment that I chose to consciously capture in the laboratory of my mind, which can be evoked at times like this where I still have the ability to pour it vividly in full detail.
Beau Vallon Beach
While Seychelles is definitely an expensive destination but it is totally worth going there once in your life. There were certain things that I learnt during the course of my trip that I feel will come handy to you guys:
Since Seychelles rupees is not a commonly available currency, please carry euros whenever you go. Although dollars are accepted too but the conversion rate on euros is much better than dollars or any other currency.
Unlike other countries, very limited hotels in Seychelles provide free wifi. In most of the two star hotels and apartments/ guest houses, you are expected to purchase wifi which is very expensive (ranging from 10 euros to 25 euros for 24 hours)
Carrying some dry food and snacks came really handy in Seychelles since the most commonly available food option is meat which is quite expensive and one can simply eat snacks whenever and wherever.
You will have to buy water at a supermarket there since tap water cannot be consumed.
Don’t forget to carry basic swim gear like goggles, breathing tube so that you can get into the water to experience the beautiful corals and fishes.
Seychelles is definitely a dream retirement haven where one day I will have a French architectural house overlooking the beach, barbecuing fresh catch from the sea while enjoying my favourite movie or book.
The famous French phrase Bon Appétit meaning ‘good appetite’ is usually said to someone at the start of their meal in the hope that they will enjoy it. But don’t we all thrive to eat good food? Atleast, a foodie like me does. I look forward to my meals, be it after a tiring workout, a long day at work or more enthusiastically during my vacations. Because that means I will get to try a different cuisine and a new dish every day. Very rarely, I have been disappointed by a new dish, except when I haven’t been careful about enquiring about the ingredients used in them. I remember the time when I tried the Arabic dish Shakshuka for the first time (thanks to peer pressure and the chef’s recommendation) without understanding what it was and boy, it was terrible. I ain’t a fan of poached eggs and tomato sauce in general, and the combination made me sick. Unfortunately, I had to waste the entire dish because I couldn’t eat beyond a morsel.
I have developed a romantic relationship with Goa. There hasn’t been a time in the last 6 years that I haven’t visited Goa atleast once, sometimes even twice. Travelling to the same city year after year can get quite boring and monotonous but somehow I always manage to have a novel experience every single time. This time when I went there last month for a work trip and to celebrate a friend’s birthday, starting from the place that I stayed to the restaurants, cafes, even the beaches I explored were new. Before the work began I was there for about a week so I’d like to tell you about the places I visited.
Villa Blanche Bistro, Assagao: This has to top my list of cafes. A spacious open French cafe covered with tall conical canopy, Villa Blance’s interiors are painted in bright blue colours and house pretty wooden furniture with beautiful tile art paintings all around. It is run by a French lady who has made Goa her home for the last 11 years. There is a small boutique shop housed within the cafe where she sells dresses, jewellery and artefacts by other designers.
I went there twice for breakfast since the place is famous for its vegan and gluten-free dishes. You must try their pancake which is quite different from the ones you must have had. Their juices, shakes are freshly made and the lady personally tastes every ingredient that goes in the making of the dishes. The side dishes that they prepare along with the sausages are amazing. There are different varieties of freshly baked breads like walnut, multigrain available for sale every morning.
The yummy breakfast spread
Freshly made bread for sale
Burger Factory, Anjuna: I ain’t really a burger fan but the sheer number of good reviews and rating for this place tempted me to go there. There was not even a single negative review on Zomato for Burger Factory. That’s quite a feat in itself. Their burger portions are huge and since we were just two of us, we called for a barbeque chicken burger which they serve along with baked potato wedges and a yummy egg yoghurt dip (the recipe of which the owner refused to share). Their potato wedges were great in taste and so was the burger, juicy and tender.
The only downside is the fact that they get sold out way before the closing time so if you really enjoy burgers, then you should go there early. They have good pork and beef variants too.
Gunpowder, Mapusa: The taste- buds had a re-defined experience of South-Indian cuisine. I am not exaggerating but seriously the food was so good that we relished every single bite. Even something like curd rice was different and the spices that were added for flavour tasted so good. We had called for some prawn and chicken curry along with this yoghurt based veggie that had spinach and beetroot for the vegetarians on the table. Everything was perfect to the T. In my excitement to gorge on food thanks to a growling tummy, I forgot to click pictures of the food 😦 But seriously please put Gunpowder on your must-visit-restaurants in Goa.
Baba Au Rhum, Anjuna: This is another cafe that I always visit when I am in Goa, because of its secluded location and the friendly staff here. Since this time round I was on a break from caffeine, I went for their strawberry smoothie and mint smoothie. Along with that I had a yummy feta cheese croissant and Spanish omelette. The best part about this cafe is that you can just sit there indulging in endless, uninterrupted conversations for hours while gazing at the infinite stretch of land in front of you.
Artjuna, Anjuna: From attending the season onset party to lazy breakfast and befriending interesting strangers, Artjuna has been one of the highlights of the trip. The season party was so good. It started at 4 pm in the evening and was to go till 10 pm, in which the cafe will serve some appetisers and sodas for free. It was entertaining to watch the locals dance like free souls letting their hair down without having to worry about a penny (considering it was first week of demonitisation).
Old Quarter, Panjim: This is also a hostel located in one of the prettiest, old town of Panjim. There is a famous church around the corner and I went here on one of the evenings after my work strolling around. All the buildings near the hostel are painted in different colours of the rainbow inhabited by cute old aunties and uncles and how I wished I was staying in them. Even the tea stalls there were colourful. The cafe is quiet and although it doesn’t have much variety on its menu, you must visit the place for pretty architecture.
Interior of the cafe
A pretty museum next to the hostel
Lila Cafe, Anjuna: I went here since it had got a rating of 4.2 on Zomato but it wasn’t that great. The ambience and decor was quite dull. The entire cafe was painted in white and had the same colour furniture which kind of dampened the overall feel. Apart from their croissant with orange marmalade, there was nothing worth raving about the food we ordered. The sausages at Villa Blanche were far more superior than they were here.
Since I was staying in Vagator, most of the cafes that I went to were around Anjuna, Morjim and Vagator. But trust me if you want to have a European cafe experience, you must visit them. I want to write about the beaches I explored and the place I stayed but I will do so in the following blog as I am introducing a new section on experiential review of the places I have stayed at during my vacations.
It’s been a while since I wrote about my getaways although I have taken a couple of them in the last few months. Recently, a friend of mine went to Himachal on a backpacking trip without any agenda and ended up in this village Bir Billing, which is famous for paragliding for almost ten days doing random things with the villagers there and had amazing stories to share. And that was when I thought, this could be the perfect place to escape from all the work pressure that drives me insane here in Mumbai. To tell you the truth, this has been one of my budget friendly trips in a long time.
Bir is a two hour drive from Dharamshala. Since I couldn’t get cheap flight ticket to Dhramshala due to India New Zealand ODI, I decided to go via Delhi as I am also not a big fan of spending hours in buses. It makes me sick. So I got a cheap return airfare to Delhi and from there I took a train to Pathankot. There are trains from Chandigarh as well but I preferred Delhi. From Pathankot, Bir was a 4 hour drive (around 145 kms) and since my train reached Pathankot in the wee hours of morning, I reached Bir at 7 am. While boarding a taxi, its important to negotiate with the driver so as to reach the best price possible and if you have people sharing with you, boom! Staying in hostels has become an integral part of my travel so even this time I stayed at Zostel Bir. It’s a recently opened property and definitely one of the best.
Zostel at Bir is run by two engineers who quit their jobs to pursue their passion and love for creating an eco friendly vacation getaway. They plan to extend the idea to encourage corporates to plan meetings integrated with vacation for families in an interesting way.
The food at Zostel is delicious especially their parathas, omlettes and daal. They have a cool lounge like setup on the terrace where one could enjoy the sunset with piping coffee or tea admiring clear sky changing hues over the green mountains.
There isn’t much to do post sunset in mountains. That is the time when you engage in interesting conversations with the locals, hear stories of other fellow travellers, enjoy some drinks with strangers before retiring in the comfortable dorm beds at the hostel. The hostel is reasonably priced, boasts good cleanliness and hygiene.
Next day, I rented a bicycle and rode uphill to a monastery. It was physically exhausting as the route was narrow and full of curves. There were times when the incline was so steep that I couldn’t peddle after a point and used to start sliding down, so I had to get down and walk. Once I reached the monastery, the feeling of achievement was thrilling and the place was grand so to speak. It is one of the biggest training institutes for monks in Asia and quite heartening to see them pray and share a glimpse of their routine with strangers.
Next on the agenda was paragliding. I have never ever done any aerial adventurous sport before and there were butterflies in my tummy before I went for my jump. There’s a pilot who accompanies you on the jump. I can’t really explain the feeling in words but the initial couple of minutes that I was in air, I was just smiling throughout and talking to the vast universe which embraced me in its warmth. It was cold up there and my pilot was worried since I wasn’t shouting or exclaiming, which could be a common form of expression for others. But little did he know that I was happy and it was a great feeling within. Towards the last lap of my landing, I was actually starting to feel sick because if you are going to do paragliding with the expectation of thrill then it might just disappoint you. It’s more meditative than adrenaline.
After Bir, I descended down to Mcleodganj. Although in hindsight, I wish I could’ve stayed at Bir a little longer as you start gelling in the vibe of the place only after two-three days and by the time I had started enjoying the calmness around me, it was time to leave. Mcleodganj was a sudden plan as I was joining a few friends there but I know I will be back to Bir soon. The only cafe I went to in Bir was Silver Lining cafe and fortunately I was their first customer. The guy there makes amazing cafe mocha. Make sure you guys try it out when you’re there.
Mcleodganj was commercial and surrounded by tourists. It’s good for shopping and cafes. Thanks to international travellers there has been an increase in the number of cafes at such places in the last 2-3 years. I stayed at this hotel called Zambala and it was a decent hotel. The room was clean, nice and comfortable. And since it was in the centre of the city, we could just walk to the nearby places. Some of the favourite cafes that I went to are:
1. Shambhala restaurant: they are good with their breakfast and coffee but I didn’t quite enjoy the food there especially their momos. They were huge and didn’t taste as good as the ones you get on the street. Personally, one should go for the street side momos rather than the restaurant ones. Shambhala did have good thukpa though.
2. Illiterati Cafe: I went here twice and I must admit that it is one of the best cafes I’ve ever been to. It’s a huge cafe integrated with a bookstore and a mini terrace kind of setting. Fortunately I was there during full moon day and I could witness the moonrise from behind the mountains illuminating our tiny table with its full might. Everything on their menu is droolworthy, be it coffee, sandwiches or burger.
3. Moonpeak Espresso: another favourite cafe of mine for breakfast. It’s a tiny cafe located in a busy shopping lane. A must try for coffee and chicken sandwiches.
4. Shiva cafe: one of the most popular cafes of India, to be honest I was a bit tad underwhelmed by it. Firstly, it’s located on top of a mountain so the trek is literally exhausting and then the food (not that I tried anything fancy) is nothing to rave about either. It’s just the location that attracts people and the not-so-great view from the top. The only good thing was the fresh mountain water from the tap which you’ll need after the tiring steep trek!
5. McLlo: perhaps the most famous Indian restaurant in the entire Mcleoganj only cause it has host the cricket team from India and elsewhere. The entire place is full of photos of all the popular cricketers with the owner and the food was just like any other Indian restaurant but the apple cider beer is something that could be given a try there. Good place to drink and chill with friends.
There is also a small village Nadi near Mcledoganj city where we took a cab while going and because we wanted to enjoy the sunset, we trekked all the way down from the valley. It was a beautiful little trek and I’d advise you to try it too. You’ll find the descending walk down the narrow green valley exciting and peaceful.
This was perhaps one of my most commercial hill experience, barring Bir ofcourse. In my next blog, I’ll write about my experience of Leh Ladakh where I went in July this year.