My travel do’s and don’ts

Every SINGLE time we travel, I have the jitters. It starts about three hours before our flight, and lasts until we have landed and cleared immigration (if we have to). We need to catch the right bus, at the right time, get to the airport on time, or find parking for the car at an irrationally priced parking garage, check in luggage, and oh, what if the flight is delayed? Will we miss our connecting flight? And what about the multiple security checks? Don’t even get me started on those!

In recent times I feel like I have gotten better with my preparation, and my jitters (though H will probably vehemently deny this). Just so I have a structured flow to the myriad thoughts that come to my mind, let me classify the tasks involved, and my thoughts on those in chronological order.

Booking tickets

In recent times, H and I are subscribed to a number of travel mailing lists. We get excited every single time there is an airline sale or a Travel sale from one of the websites we follow. It is a given that the trips we book on a whim are the ones that turn out successful! I believe this is because we have somewhere to start once we have made the bookings!

Having said that, every travel experience comes with woes of lost luggage, adverse weather conditions, visa troubles, vacation times during peak office workloads and transit timings. My blood pressure peaks every single time our flight lands on the nick of time at our connecting airport, too close for my comfort. I hate running around the airport, between terminals, trying to make it to the next flight! I still haven’t figured a way out to get around the delayed flights and weather conditions, but here are a few suggestions for booking travel and to minimize damages:

  1. Invest in a good travel card. Credit companies have travel insurances that cover lost luggage, refunds for last minute cancellations (for valid reasons), and double charges by the airline people. All of these has happened to us, and we are wiser now with every mishap. You could even earn points with every travel purchase, car rental and restaurant.
  2. If you have multiple lay overs, make the bookings with the same travel company. Yes, their customer care numbers have long wait times, but it is well worth it to have a single ticket number. This helps with tracking luggage better, and through check-ins. We have booked it on separate websites before, and either travel company will not take responsibility for any delays to the flight, or delayed luggage that makes you miss your next flight. Sometimes you have to deal with the hassles of double check in and security!
  3. Always get duty free purchases on your last leg of travel, especially for international destinations that require double security checks. If that cannot be avoided try checking in the duty free bag during your last leg of travel. We had to throw away our duty-free Punta-Cana rum as we entered the US. The only way we could have avoided this is quickly put our duty free bags into our cabin bags and check them in. So sometimes, unforeseen things do happen!
  4. Be aware of travel rules in countries that you only have a lay over at! What is allowed in the USA may not be permitted in another country- including in checked in luggage. This includes pepper sprays for starters.
  5. If you don’t want to travel off-season when some great travel rates are available for some unpleasant weather conditions, try to get to your destination just before the peak season. In most cases, it is a win-win situation.

Itineraries

After the trip to Paris, I decided that international trips are not to be winged! Yes, you do chance upon some amazing things on your trip if you have an open mind and are open to changes. But I decided that “no plan at all” is simply not going to work; especially after all the effort put in to secure visas, making reservations, and making time for the vacation. So this time around, on our trip to Azores, I planned everything.

Digging into blogs by others, and doing some research before the trip felt like digging out treasure. Input from others to decide on places, pinning them on google maps, and working out timings, such that you are never rushed, and most importantly, having an open mind to be FLEXIBLE all make the trip more fun.

Packing Chronicles

I am notorious for leaving behind at least one essential on each trip. On our Puerto Rico trip, I decided to set that straight, and packed one bag for the short trip to Vieques and back, and another carry-on suitcase to be left in the trunk of the car (in the parking lot of the small airport) with clothes and necessities for the rest of the trip. Once it was done, and after an impressed nod from H, I pat myself on my back. Two days later when we were in Vieques, I realized that I had left H’s sandals in the other suitcase that was in the car’s trunk! So much for my effort!

Are you one of those couples that always forgets a certain something? Well we are that kind, too! On every trip we make, we end up buying an SD card. Somehow we always seem to run out of space (also read ‘H doesn’t get all the previous pictures transferred on time’).

I am usually one to give up easy, but surprisingly, not when it came to packing! I put together several pins from the life-saving Pinterest app, and decided to implement them on my next trip. Implement, I did. I have some thoughts and a newly devised method to share, that seemed to work for me this time.

  1. The itinerary is a good place to start, and work backwards on. I start with my last day activities, and put the associated items in, then the last but one day, and so on, and finally the first day. That way the first things you need always come out first.
  2. I avoid unpacking on trips that are less than a week long, because I am notorious (once again), for leaving stuff behind if I put them away in cupboards.
  3. I have several pins on my Pinterest account, on minimalist capsule wardrobes, that help me decide what to wear and maximize outfits based on what I take.
  4. I maintain a note, where I add to the essentials I realize I need for every trip. So I can keep a tab on what I need to start packing, when I start packing. This list has been growing with every trip, so I am still not perfect, but I have gotten better!
  5. This time around on our trip to Azores, I printed all my itineraries, travel tickets, reservations, folded them, labelled them, and arranged them by dates in ascending order. This hardly took space in my hand bag, and helped me access information in a  foreign country before I got access to Wi-fi and a sim card. I even went to the length of printing out directions to the BnB from the airport, lest we had no internet/ GPS.

The travel and the trip!

Oh this is always the fun part, so my only comment on it is to “JUST HAVE FUN!”.  Only in recent times have I learned to not brood over something missed. There is always a next time, you can say to yourself! The itinerary you put together, is just to give you an idea of where to start. It is just an outline for when you are clueless about what’s next. If there is a nearby attraction that wasn’t part of the plan, go for it! Having too much fun trying new food? No worries, there is time! What you are doing is a part of the trip too.

Having said all this, let’s see how our next trip goes! I am sure I will have more tales to be told, and  SD cards to be bought! 🙂

PuerrrrttoRrrico… Rolling it like the locals!

H jokingly calls me a hippopotamus for how much I love staying in the water. Puerto Rico, for that, and many other reasons was one awesome vacation spot! There was a little bit for adventurers, history buffs, beach lovers, foodies and lazy vacationers, alike.

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An island vacation brings to me images of a hotel by the beach, a book in hand, a huge hat and big sun goggles, a generous amount of sun screen, beach towels and umbrellas, lazing in the sun and not doing squat, the warm evenings of long walks, or early morning walks by the beach, with mimosas for breakfast and Mojitos for dinner. Or it did! Our first beach vacation together in the Dominican Republic was all about these things. A trip to Puerto Rico, can be that lazy trip, or it can be a healthy mix of laziness and activities alike.

A hectic month at work for me, an ongoing strenuous project for H at his work place, and a last minute almost-canceled trip kept us sober when it came to travelling for our anniversary weekend. We were surprised and delighted at our experiences there over and over again, that it was as if Puerto Rico was trying to do its best to keep our moods elevated!

I am still not sure if I can do justice to the ‘just WOW’ moments from the trip with my descriptions, as my brain right now, is swimming with images from the trip. It seems to work faster than my hands that are definitely trying hard to keep up! So it might just be easier to break it down by my top picks from the trip.

The flight between the main island and Vieques

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Thanks to a friend’s input from her trip to PR, we booked a Bio-luminescent bay tour at Vieques. We decided to just do a night, and fly right back the next day. This was not without my usual research and much contemplation about the ferry services there, a proper mix of activities and leisure and the reviews. Our Jetblue flight reached there at 5am, and we decided to do the tour that very night. A rental car in hand, helped with us driving down to Ceiba, right across the sea from Vieques. The small 8-seater flight was quite the experience on its own. The gorgeous views of the islands in the Caribbean sea, the way we boarded the flight, rode right next to the pilot, all made it to my favorites’ list. This may be a good time to declare that we were extremely glad we invested in a Go-Pro!

The island, Vieques

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You could get from one end of the island to another in about twenty minutes. That makes for awesome sun rises and sun sets. This time around, we did not get to spend more than a night here. That gave us an evening of lazing in a cafe by the beach, and strolling in the sand for the evening sunset. Not to miss out the exciting little flight to get here (I hear the ferries can be unpredictable and getting tickets is tedious). We could just get a taxi to take us everywhere, with some pre-planning. Our hotel hosts were great, and helped us with the planning and making reservations. So friendly people is another thing that makes it to my list. Riding around in the cab and the traffic here, reminded me of driving in India; what with people parking on the roads, and honking at turns.

The bio-luminescent bay

I highly recommend doing this if you come all the way to Puerto Rico, and more so, if you are visiting Vieques. There is another tour, apparently, from Ponce. I was told it wasn’t as good as the one at Vieques, but I am saying that based on other people’s feedback. Try to do the kayak tour, and not the ferry tour. Our kayak tour turned out to be quite the adventure. Just as we got off the huge van that took us to the ‘Mosquito Bay’, it started pouring. It continued to rain as we embarked on our kayaks in pairs. “Will we be able to see the sparkling, and will the tour still carry on?”, I asked my guide. “Do you want to go and see it?”, he asked. It got hard to even keep a track of the orange blinker he wore on his life jacket, to follow him. “That’s the small pass that keeps us away from the Caribbean sea”, he yelled over the thundering rain. The rain stopped in a few minutes, and we kayaked once again to where he said he usually sees activity. No luck there. Just as we started paddling to get back, the water shone with the activity of our paddles. The guide asked us to let the water run through our fingers. No go-pro, no camera, can do justice to that moment, you see the jeweled spots run on your arm. I continued playing with the water as he shared tales of the tribal people of the island, the first Spanish that came and discovered the Bay and thought it was a demon, and later, about the chemical content in the micro-organisms causing the light. It turned out to be a private tour for H and I, and another couple from Boston, as the others returned to the shore, due the heavy rain.

El Yuncue Rain Forest

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If you have done your research as well, you probably already know that this is the only tropical rain forest in the country. What makes this rain forest unique? They don’t have any big mammals.This rain forest is also an excellent place to spot a multitude of birds, and the different plants and their leaves.  We drove about the road with stops marked out on the map provided at the visitor’s center. It was a Saturday when we did this, and the place was pretty crowded, with tourists and locals. Make sure to slather your arms and legs with bug sprays. The little bit that I had on, did not help much. I felt the after-effects only after a day or two, and I was going at my legs for hours together for 6 days after our return. As the name suggests, it rains often. The hike to the falls is definitely worth the 40 minutes’ effort, as you can see from the picture. Oh, the greens!

The lazing around part of the trip, Isle Verde beach

The last two and a half days of our trip was divided between eating, sleeping, and strolling by the beach. The downside of our stay at the TRYP hotel by Wyndham, was all the traffic noise. The hotel is right off the highway, and that could be something to keep in mind. There is no question about the ease of getting to the beach, as all you had to do was cross the road to get to the entrance.

Back home, I remember the days when I went to the Chennai beaches in salwar kameez with friends.We would get our pants wet up to our undies and leave a trail of sand as we walked into the restaurants  for breakfast or dinner. I was reminded of those moments, as I walked with my wet, dripping dress and my sand-covered legs back to the nice and clean hotel room.

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Old San Juan was another place we walked around in. The colors in the place were pretty, the fort was impressive, and the food, lip-smacking good.We missed checking out the night-life here. That is for another time, I guess!

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A general concern that most of the people expressed when I asked them for suggestions,and feedback, was the food available for vegetarians. Thankfully, my experience wasn’t bad at all. I enjoyed every one of my lunches and dinners (it could be the rum too :p). Mofolongo (mashed plantains) is always an option in places with Puerto Rican cuisine. You could also ask for fajitas.It is true that there aren’t as many options, but there are a few if you look for them, or modify something on their menu.

All in all, I would love to go to Puerto Rico and do everything all over again!

P.S. I do think the pictures from H’s camera were well worth the time taken to publish the post!  🙂 Thanks H!

Passport to Paris

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The quintessential Paris picture! Through H’s lens!

In the past weeks, after new years’, life happened! I have been swept up by work, and the umpteen number of resolutions I made for the year. This blog post again, is a result of one of them: sticking to something I pick up, until it becomes a habit!

This blog post is due for a while, and without further adieu and while it’s still fresh in my mind, let me drone on about Paris this, Paris that,…!

First things first – making plans, and making them work.

H and I have never been people who plan huge itineraries, or even if we did, we have never stuck to them . Paris was no different. An advertisement on one of the travel deals website that we religiously follow, showed us ridiculously (or so we thought) low airfares on the new WOW air. I will review our experience with the airline in a minute, but the deal was definitely lower than any other airline fare for the dates we looked at – and we picked a peak Christmas season to travel!

After booking the tickets on a whim, we reluctantly set out to research the visa process, consular interviews, accommodation for our stay and everything else, but the big B word (psst… it’s Budget!). We decided we would do Paris, and if H’s stamping process allowed it, another quick trip to a neighboring Schengen country. The Schengen visa required us to show proof of accommodation, and a bunch of other usual formalities. Come AirBNB to the rescue! We found a great deal to stay at a studio apartment, close enough to the city and the attractions, and all the lifeline that was the Metro and RER transport systems. The French Consulate at Boston was a pleasure to work with! We had a quick interview (or rather, gathering of all our documentation), and were asked to come in 5 working days’ time to pick our passports up. It took me a minute to register that that meant our visa was granted! LOL.

Being our first time in Paris, we weren’t quite sure about where we wanted to go, in spite of the umpteen number of sites and blogs we lapped up. Rick Steves’ book on Paris helped quite a bit on what was where, but I was still not very efficient at planning our day to day itineraries! We decided to get the Paris Pass then, for 6 days, so that we could get the most out of whatever we could see.

As a mini spin off to this update, here is what I think about whether getting a Paris pass is worth it. I have broken this down further, as you read on.

The pass itself for six days cost €230 each. This includes a Paris Museum Pass, Paris attraction pass and a travel pass (three separate cards), and a guide to what all the passes entitle you to.

Each card is activated the first time you use it. So if you use the museum pass first, it will be valid for 6 days, and you can activate the attraction pass another day to get the most out of your passes, provided you have the time. Of course, come to think of it, a three day/ four day pass makes more sense to me, than getting a six day pass like we did!

The travel card allows you to travel in zones 1 to 3 for six days, from the time you activate it. Another option I could think of, is getting yourself a 10 day pass/ this can be altered to 3 or 5 day passes. The 10 day pass would cost you €37.50.

The most important pass out of the lot, is the Museum pass. It does grant you fast track entrance to the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay and Invalides. Then again, I am talking about the major tourist attractions while spending a short amount of time (close to a week) in Paris. You could keep looking at the displays at Louvre throughout your trip, and you’d still have so much more to see! This Fast track entry, however, doesn’t hold good for Notre Dame. You may want to go a little early on and get in the line there, or this could take you close to three- four hours to get done (like it did for us). In my opinion, this museum pass will be the one that’s your entryway to the major attractions you’d need to sight-see in Paris.

We used the attraction pass to do the Seine river cruise, the Petit train at Montmartre, Montparnasse tower, and the Hop-on-hop-off Big Bus tour. This pass also includes a guided tour of the Opera Garnier that we were never on time to catch. We did go to the Opera house though! It is a beauty! The Big Bus tour is definitely worth taking early on in your trip, to get an idea of what you’d be interested in getting off and seeing. You can ride it all day long, get off at any attraction, and pick up where you left off.

We didn’t enjoy the Petit train too much. The wagon takes you all the way through the pretty cobbled roads of Montmartre, all the way up the hill to Sacre Coeur. The Basilica by itself was breathtaking, and offered a different vantage to seeing the Paris skyline. The charm of the cobbled streets is lost on you, by the droning sound of the put-put wagon that takes you uphill, with some commentary in English that you can’t even hear over the noise of the vehicle!

H and I decided to do the river cruise and the Montparnasse tower in the night, to catch the beauty of these massive structures lit up in the night. It was a cold December night, but for that, we loved the river cruise. We had had enough commentaries by the time we took to the vessel and we decided to go to the open top and just take the views in! At the tower and while getting on the cruise, we had to stand in line, to exchange passes back to their tickets, so the Attraction pass made no difference to our wait times, it just acted as a prepaid card!

I am not completely ruling out the usefulness of the pass, I just think that it needs to be given some thought! One major lesson you’d want to learn from us is that as a first time Paris visitor, you would want to plan your trip better! A 3 or 4 day pass will go a long way (at least a week!).

Finally, WOW air. This is a budget-airline on an international scale. They are relatively new, and don’t have a big fleet of air crafts. I am assuming that this is why they have a lot of delays. All our flights (from and to the US to Reykjavik to Paris) were delayed. As a result of our first flight getting delayed, they delayed all connecting flights in Iceland. I think that must have set off a cascading effect at some point, because the same thing happened on our way back. The service was great. You pay for extra space, water, food, luggage, bigger carry-ons, to name a few, but I liked the flight. H and I paid for extra space tickets, and the seats turned out to be normal. H did find out that there were other seats that were more cramped, so it was good we paid for what we did. We each took a small carry on, and shared one big 20kg luggage between us.  All landings, were stellar landings! No stomach churning, hand squeezing moments there! I have to say!

The best thing about our planning for the trip was the BnB. AirBnB did not fail me (once again!), and having a laundry unit in the house helped! The studio was good enough for the two of us. It did have a few things we found weird, but you are, after all living in someone else’s studio, and you are bound to find things that are strange to you, that they are accustomed to!

All in all, the passport to Paris was quite smooth and we came back with quite a lot of experiences and memories to share, and lessons learned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paris- my top 5 picks from the trip!

Here I am, with almost 10 days’ worth of memories, stories and mini-flight adventures. I have tonnes and tonnes of pictures from my memory, as well as my camera and phone, that I can’t wait to post, and so many experiences, some useful to future Paris visitors, that I want to share.

But here is a quick summary of what will be multiple blog posts in the coming days/ weeks!

My top 5 picks from my experiences in Paris, in this very order!

  1. The view from Notre Dame Basilica. This was one of my favorite views of Paris. The chimeras at the top of the tower just add so much character to the Paris skyline. Yes, and I liked it better than that from the top of the Montparnasse tower!
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    That’s how we gazed at the city too!

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    The skyline with the chimera in view!

  2. That first complete view of the Eiffel tower. The tower is majestic, and I simply cannot imagine a Paris skyline without it! It looms large and comes into your view anywhere you go around in the city. It leaves as much the impression in the day, as it does in the night. We glimpsed portions of it as we came out of the Louvre and walked towards Place de la Concorde. Our first complete view was from Jardins du Trocadero, and that is my favorite view of the tower in its entirety!

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    The Eiffel tower; night and day!

  3. Walk by the river Seine. We walked a lot in Paris! The Metro & RER system is great, but there are so many things to be seen in the same neighborhood, that we just had to resort to nadaraja service! We crossed the Seine several times during out trip, but the best of our walks was when we got down to the river and walked right next to it. It is quite the scene to take in; the crowds, the numerous bridges, and,the monuments and churches surrounding you. The city just oozes history.

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    The bridges on Seine lit up in the night.

  4. My favorite restaurant pick. There are smaller favorites you tend to add to your list as you do things in Paris. Visits to Patisseries, the Nutella crepes and gaufres (French waffles), the French wine you liked the most, the macaroon flavor you grew fond of, meringues that dissolved in your mouth as they touched your tongue, the creme brulee, and, the restaurants that you wanted to visit over and over again for that one favorite dish! For me, it was Chez Hanna in the Le Marais neighborhood. This neighborhood is bustling with by walkers munching on crepes, beignets, croissants and doner kebabs that they carry in their hands. I read about this place on the Bruised Passports blog, and I was reminded about it the moment I set my eyes on the quaint little street on which this cozy restaurant was. I had their special; the Falafel plate, and the aubergines that came with the plate were probably the best I have ever tasted!
  5. Walking through the Christmas markets. H and I almost always make impromptu plans on the go. We have never stuck to a single itinerary, for a day we decided to plan! The first complete day in Paris was no exception! The moment we stepped on to Place de la Concorde, we we went where our legs took us. The two sides of the beautiful Champs Elysees (took me a while to pronounce it like the French do!),stretched out in front of us with bustling Christmas market stalls. I was in Nutella paradise, what with every crepe -selling shop, stocked with buckets of Nutella! There were soups to be tasted, the vin chaud (gluhwein or the hot, spiced wine) , chocolat chaud, cheeses, souvenir shops! Enough to make it to my top 5!

    P.S: All pictures in this post are from my phone, as a result of my impatience to share my excitement and stories! I am waiting for the nicer pictures with better clarity from H’s camera.

A road trip to remember!

A year back, I made my first cross-country trip. It was not exactly the New York-Seattle trip, but rather the South to North (Houston – Boston) trip. It worked as a good sample test for the real thing, considering it was the longest first trip with the husband.  I got the wisest of words while planning it, from my mom-in-law. “A week long trip? The secret to a successful marriage is not to sit together in the car for more than two hours!”

Oh how right she was! We got into some of the biggest fights, but when i think back to the trip, those fights are not the ones that come to my mind. We drove through some of the nicest places, and some not so nice places too – but they gave us stories to share, memories to make and mental pictures to remember (lot of good ones at that!).

It was the end of fall, and I spent about a month (that’s more than the notice I gave my company) looking up places and routes to take. The best part of it all? We didn’t really stick to most of the plan we made! I am glad though, as we covered routes we might never have taken, and states we might not have visited otherwise. Packing for the trip was painful; what with me never having the heart to throw anything that was functional and useful (hey, to someone at least!), and the husband-man wanting to throw as much as possible, to drive with an empty car (ha! in your dreams!). I was packing till the last minute, and all it took H was one look at the mound of undecided things I had made in the middle of the house, and throw them out. I blame the outcome on having a dumpster quite close to the apartment.

I recommend using the Roadtrippers app/ website to make plans. They have great suggestions, city guides, highway guides, suggestions based on things to do, quirky things to do, offbeat routes, places to stay in, eat at, and rentals around the area.

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The trip started in the northern suburb of Houston. I did a decent job of making my hotel reservations for the night. New Orleans,it was!We stayed in that part of the business district, that was close to all the activity. The first time around, we were at the Warehouse district, and now that we had already been here, we knew how to weave our plan better around this trip, and the things we liked to do this time around. We zeroed in on a few things; Cafe Du Monde, of course, for their super sugary beignets, Cafe-Au-Lait, but that wasn’t exactly breakfast! We walked the french market, did some shopping, added a lot of to-buys for a trip later on, and decided to have a creole seasoned breakfast at this small cafe that made a specially requested vegetarian (I can almost imagine all those disapproving head shakes) po-boy like sandwich just for me, and pickled bloody Mary! Yummmmm. After this it was time to hit the road again.

I drove the next 10 hours through Mississippi, Alabama and then Tennessee. Our original plan was  to drive through Mobile, Alabama, into Florida, then Georgia and South Carolina. Hurricane Joaquin made the decision for us though, as we chose this alternate route. Being peak fall in the south, all hotels near the Great Smokeys were filled up, and we finally got a dingy hotel at Pigeon Forge. The one good thing about the terrifying room, is that in spite of the cold, cold morning, H and I got up at three in the morning, to make our way to our next stop, Water Rock Knob known for it’s amazing sun rise. I remember the drive – dark and scary, lest an animal should cross  our path. The downside to it, we missed the fall colors in the Smokeys, the upside – we were on time to catch a beautiful sun rise as we entered the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Sun rise at Water Rock Knob, NC

 

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My Fit kutty that made the 2000 and odd miles with us :*

Driving on the Blue Ridge parkway was a dream. It went close enough to some nice towns for us to catch good food, and see other things apart from nature itself! Asheville was one such city. I loved the young crowd, the quirky shops, and best of all, the best chaat-serving restaurant in all of USA! It’s not all the time, that you find pretty authentic Indian street food in the USA. The owner must be pretty Indian at heart. We loved it so much, that we went there a second night for dinner! The restaurant is called Chai Pani and I still dream of living in a city that has ‘Chai Pani’-level chaat. What’s more, we were even served chai while we waited an hour for our table!  For your reference: http://www.chaipaniasheville.com/

We stayed an extra day at Asheville, because we wanted to check out the Biltmore estate, and do a few hikes around the area.  The Romantic asheville website was a good source of things to do around here. reference: https://www.romanticasheville.com/attractions.html

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Biltmore Estate

As we hit the Blue Ridge parkway again, we decided to do the short hike to see the Crab Tree falls. Our smaller stops along the Parkway were to see the Linville Falls, NC and the Grandfather Mountain in the same area.

I wanted to have the B&B experience, and H didn’t quite like the idea of walking into someone else’s house at an odd hour that was comfortable to us, or sit with a stranger to have breakfast. So we met midway and chose to stay at a small, cozy inn at Boone, NC.

The rest of trip went by quicker, I want to say, because we had lesser road to cover, and took more stops.

We were supposed to stop at Roanoke for a night, but decided it was too soon for a stop. For the next stretch, we chose to drive the Skyline Parkway through the Shenandoah National Park and caught sunset here. H still loves some of the pictures he got of this sunset, as it helps us remember the beauty! What’s more, he even saw a mama bear and her cub! We have a fridge magnet commemorating this event! :p I refused to get out of the car though, lest the bear runs directly at us while with her cubs! I am reminded enough number of times about how I missed the sight!

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For the next part, our original plan was to stop at Baltimore, MD and head home past Boston, MA. H then observed that we get enough travel deals through Southwest (we both are becoming pros at finding good deals, planning itineraries and packing for travel) to get to Maryland, and that we should do it some other time!  So we drove through the rest of Virginia, a little bit of West Virginia, a lot Maryland, and some Delaware, to get to Philadelphia, PA.

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The quirky Kimpton Hotel in downtown Philly

We had a quirky boutique hotel in downtown Philly. We walked to all the attractions: The Liberty Bell, took a tour of the Independence Hall, visited Ben Franklin’s grave, Betsy Ross’ house and made our final stop at the Penn  Museum. Being suckers for Egyptian archaeology, we both loved it. One more thing I would have loved to catch in PA, is the town of Hershey’s. A friend created the image of a quaint little village with Kisses for lamp shades, and I didn’t want to erase the picture in my head and still haven’t checked out pictures of it online. So I added this to my bucket-list for some other time.

By this time, the two of us were ready to see other known faces, what with enough fights along the way. We stopped to meet family and friends in New Jersey for the night, and half of the next day.

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Who can get enough of the NYC skyline?

So what was next? Home, it was! That’s the story of my moving to the New England area, in October 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So what is it about travel?!!

There are several answers thrown at us when asked this question. “Soul searching, adventure, exotic lands, food trails, life and learning, spirituality”. Cut. This answer almost feels like a “When Harry Met Sally” spin-off, except that it is about travel.

For my family, travel was never a go-to thing, what with most of the family in the city! There would be the occasional four or five day trip once in two years, and almost always included temple visits (no complaints there, I love old temples and their history!It’s the crowded ones that I really like avoiding). An occasional tantrum once every year would make for a small trip to take me out somewhere! Maybe it was the inner craving that I had as a kid, to see new things, that is still in the back of my mind, that makes me yearn for more travel and new experiences.

When I came to the US for the first time, the charm of the airport was lost in my sorrow at leaving my family for the first time and anxiety of the unknown. It wasn’t until my first trip out of our small university town, that my love for airports grew. I love the hustle and bustle, the drama, the travel outfits, the small dogs in their bags and all the Facebook updates and Instagram selfies. That is also the only time you can ever read a magazine, completely guilt-free! Oh how I wish I had the money to travel to use up all the time in the world that I had then! My travel those two years were restricted to visiting relatives and making the occasional university organized tours and one very small road trip with room mates.

Each of us friends getting jobs in different cities, made for travelling easier, and fun! We would plan to meet at a different place each time! I never did get out of the budget-travel mode; let’s face it, for the amount of travel I wanted to do, I would have to be on a budget to be able to make it sustainable! That was another thing, the thrill of making travel plans to have the best experiences, but at the cheapest cost!

It’s different every time you make the trip to the same destination. Be it the itinerary, the people you go with, or the small experiences and anecdotes you make of them. And a very important factor to factor into all this discussion, the people who make it happen. There is always one friend who makes impossible plans, but figures out a way to bring that all together in an itinerary, one friend who brings everyone together and communicates ideas from one to another, creates groups on messaging platforms to connect and make plans, and one friend who keeps everyone crazy-excited and googly-eyed till and while the trip is made. Adding to that, a travel partner for life, who will make those trips that never clicked with a group, those smaller two-people kinda trips that have their own charm and one who will also help make new airport memories with you!

I am not one of those people who loves making travel plans to explore places, alone! So the question, “What is it about travel” can make for several answers, but boils down to two things for me- THE PEOPLE, and MEMORIES.

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The perfect backdrop we found a small cafe on one of our travels! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

The story of an Indian, vegetarian in a foreign land!

These are no longer the days where people land in a foreign land and are left stumped about what to order in a restaurant, what to cook as a student, what groceries to buy to make it taste remotely like paati’s saapaadu. Our uncles and aunts and several Indians who came before us, have already established a foundation for us F1/H1B visa holders landing with US flag’s starry eyes and dollar signs in our heads. Let’s face it; with competitive tests, assignments, bagging assistantships and staying with room mates, food should be the last thing you need to worry about! Oh, how we wish that was true!

Things are definitely easier these days. My room mate had bought samosas for me to have for dinner the moment I landed, and two days later, another new room mate’s sister sent us a huge USPS dabba full of bakshanam. This was followed by visits to relatives’ who hosted us during holidays and always sent us back well fed, and with a big box of brownies, milk sweets and lemon pies to share with the other forlorn souls near the university (who came back with their own stock). There was someone around, who’d make a trip to India each break, and they would come back with 2kg of bakshanam and sweets, from the mothers who thought that their kids (paavam) were cooking everyday for sustenance. Sambar and rasam podi came from four or five households in the very beginning, and stayed in the top shelf/ freezers in zip lock covers, to be transported two years later, upon graduating, to the new accommodation we moved to on finding jobs.

Our cousins, sisters and brothers visited us every now and then and took a few of us for nice lunches and dinners which they thought we didn’t get often. This was true to an extent, because for the first two semesters, we were restricted to the free pizzas handed at events around the campus. (The ten or more pounds I put on the very first month in the US, can vouch for my unlimited supply of pizzas when I wanted them. If you were vegetarian, of course, you’d have to limit yourself to the cheese pizzas. So sad!). If your town had a Chipotle, you were saved. Black beans, rice, pico de gallo, salsa reminds you of rice, channa masala and thakkali thokku. Closest associations to Indian food! and of course, the chappathi,er… tortilla!

So what’s the struggle, you ask? The struggle comes mainly from trying to order in non-Indian restaurants. Some restaurants (just not steakhouses/ seafood places) give you the stare when you ask for vegetarian options. H always rolls his eyes the moment I start ordering something, because I am always directing the chef on how to cook and present my dish. “Can I have the combo three, replacing the chicken enchiladas with mashed potato enchiladas, have black beans instead of refried beans, and oh, do you cook your cilantro rice in chicken stock?!”, “Is your roasted tomato soup made with veggie broth?”, “Can I just have the baked potatoes, without the bacon, please?”, “Does your marinara sauce have meat in it?” and the list goes on.

I have to pat myself on the back, for finding ways to stay vegetarian all these years. There are things you learn not to order. Thai soups that come with your lunch plate usually have oyster sauce in them, or some restaurants make their marinara sauce with chicken stock, or some authentic Mexican places make their tortillas with lard. Can you blame my dad or H’s mom for asking for “thuliyoondu thayir sadam” for dinner?

So here’s to all the struggles we have, on days we don’t want to cook, have no relatives in the area that day, and no Chipotle around in town!