Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I never tire of the excitement that goes into the preparation of travel. My most cherished dream of course would be to pack off with hubby and kid at a moment's notice, but alas! living in the world that we do today, visas are a mind numbing procedure that we simply have to live with.

Having travelled to over 43 cities in 13 countries across the world, I am often asked to name my favourite place and the reasons for it being my favourite. I must admit it is a really hard question to answer as every city we have visited is really special to us! We have chosen every destination with a great deal of care, some because of their popularity, some for having read so much about and some because we simply had to see!!!
How can I even begin to rate kayaking into bat caves in Phuket or walking from Bondi to Bronte in Sydney? Should I mention my first glimpse of the Niagara falls or describe the Monalisa at the Louvre in Paris ?How does one express the beauty of the Sistine Chapel and the immortal works of Michel Angelo at the Vatican or for that matter the stark beauty of Jaisalmer's desert? Should I try to describe a moonlit dinner that we had on the terrace of Jodhpur's 400 year old fort? Why not try and talk about the lunch we had right opposite the Colosseum in Rome?What a backdrop that was! That's what I would call "lunching with a view"!

But finally, if I really had to put down my favourites on paper it would definitely be :-

I fell in love with Venice after reading the "Brunetti " series by Donna Leon and of course the legendary exploits of the most famous lover in history "Casanova" whose many adventures were set in medieval Venice.

I longed to be a part of the secretive and decadent world of Venice with its wonderful and sinful carnivals and masked balls, its magnificent churches and its Piazzas, bridges and palaces.
I could not for the world of me visualize having to step out of the door and onto a boat to go from place A to place B!

Navin and I set out for Venice by train from the famous Milan Centrale Stazione. As the ICE thundered towards Venice, I was gripped by an unexplainable excitement. Would Venice be as thrilling as I expected it to be or would I be disappointed?

As we alighted at the St. Lucia station and stepped out of the railway station, there stood Venice shimmering gently in the fierce Italian sun!!

We were awed by the spectacle of this eternal and magical city with the gentle waves of the Adriatic Sea lapping at her gracious feet.

It was almost surreal as we hopped on to a Vaporetti and glided along the Grand Canal towards St.Marco Piazza (St Marks Square).

Thomas, our gondola boatman told us stories of love, escapades and people's reaction when they first come to Venice as he expertly navigated narrow canals.
The gondoliers with their distinctive striped black and white shirts in their lavishly decorated gondolas, make a splendid foil for this lovely city.

An ambulance boat and a police boat sped past us. It was just like any other city except that instead of roads you had water!

We passed centuries old buildings, Churches, Castellos and Pallazzos; their window sills bursting with summer flowers.
They have been lovingly restored and turned into many splendid hotels or museums now.
But what had these old, once grand homes witnessed before? If those walls could speak, I am sure they would tell us tales of how the early Venetians must have lived, partied, schemed, loved, laughed and cried!

We explored just a part of the grand canal and its lovely alleys, over and under quaint bridges.

We had lunch at a beautiful restaurant with sweeping views of the magnificent "Santa Maria della Salute". It was the tastiest macaroni and fettucine that I had ever eaten!

Venice showed us her best side of course! But she is also just as secretive as her past denizens. She has still managed to keep some of her best secrets under wraps.

As we explored Venice by foot, hopping off and on at each Vaporetti stop; gazing down the Grand Canal from the famous Rialto bridge, it soon dawned on us as to why this city was so unique and why it has often been described as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man".

Everything you see in Venice makes you exclaim, Mama Mia!!!

There is something extremely exciting and paradoxically soothing when faced with miles upon endless miles of an ever changing and mysterious ocean. Was this how those early voyagers felt when they first set sail on the high seas to look for new lands?

A tiny speck of land in the Indian ocean, just off the coast of Africa, the beaches in Mauritius are beautiful with spectacular white sand and pristine emerald green water all around it.

We were stunned by the sheer beauty of this little island nation. You can cover this small nation from north to south and east to west in about 2 hours and is endowed with so much by Mother Nature. Small is indeed beautiful!

We drove through tropical rain forests, peeked down at a volcanic crater, sped across the ocean in a heart thumping speed boat and then walked on the rocky sea bed wearing huge oxygen helmets with 20 kg stones wrapped around our waists. It was pure magic.

It was a life changing experience as we snorkeled for the first time ever in the warm azure waters of the Indian Ocean.

As we soared high up in the blue sky on a para sail from the fabulous Ille Aux Cerf we fell irrevocably in love with this little calm and peaceful island!

If there is a paradise to be found on mother Earth, then this was it.

Johnson famously remarked that "A Man who is tired of London, is tired of life itself". Surely he must have been exaggerating I told myself.

As we swooped down to London's Heathtrow airport, I could see the river Thames, slowly meandering its way through the heart of the city. There below us lay, this vast legendary metropolis , almost twinkling in the late afternoon sunshine!

I was slowly captivated.

This is a city that simply oozes history at every street corner and yet lends itself so effortlessly to the modern century.

As we stood at the famous Paddington train station, waiting to hop onto the famous "London Tube" I could almost see in my mind's eye, members of the Ton in carriages driven by 2 pair horses; elegant beauties in pale pastel gowns with their parasols and reticules; stiff necked men in top hats clothed in breeches and elaborately styled cravats!
I blinked and instead saw people from various parts of the globe calling this City home. How wonderful!

When we walked in Hyde Park on an early, crisp and lovely summer's day I could imagine what it was like for those regency bucks fashionably driving their curricle's around Hyde park and Serpentine Avenue.

We explored the famed West Minister Abbey, saw the coronation wooden "throne" and tried to memorize the names of some of the great monarchs of the former British Empire buried there.

I slowly read through the epitaphs at the poets corner. The poets Shelley, Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Keats, Byron........all immortalized here!

The "Beef Eaters" narrated frightening tales of intrigue, deceit and treachery at the Tower of London. We stopped and gazed upon the "Traitors Gate" and tried to imagine the plight of all those unfortunate enough to have passed through them. 2 queens and innumerable noblemen had been beheaded at this Tower. It also houses the Crown jewels and it saddened me to see the Kohinoor diamond sitting in London instead of in my land to which it rightfully belonged.

We calmed our nerves with a lovely tea of piping hot scones and fresh strawberry jam.

We toured inside the Buckingham Palace, watched the rather tame "Change of Guards" outside and soared above the city on the London Eye.

We finished another day in London with a ferry boat down the Thames as the Big Ben and Houses of Parliament kept a benevolent eye on us.

Admiral Lord Nelson looked down upon us almost imperiously from his high perch at Trafalgar Square and the dome of St Paul's Cathedral gleamed in the pale sunshine as we stepped inside to view Sir Christopher Wren's masterpiece.

As we ducked and weaved through the crowds of milling locals and tourists, hopped into "tubes" and red buses and the celebrated London "Black Cab", we realized that we would never be able to see all that London had to offer in just one visit.

I had first visited London when I was 5 years old and through my child's eyes, it felt cold, forbidding and chillingly grey.
As an adult, London showed me that she was just like a fine wine, getting better as she got older :)
Could it be that Johnson probably got it right? I sure think so!

4)Karlsruhe (in the state of Baden-Wurttenberg, Germany)

This is a small sleepy town of no great consequence, except of course to those fortunate enough to be born in it and is located near the French-German border.

Its only claim to fame is that the Supreme Court of Germany is located here. Unlike the other great cities and towns of the world, it does not have anything of great value to recommend itself to a tourist. That's why I am so enamored by this place!

It is a quite, quaint German town with a great deal of character. It lends itself remarkably well to the German way of methodical living.

Quite roads, cobbled pathways, several cafes, the charming central square with the mandatory church tower and clock and of course an alarming lack of traffic.

Not to forget the fresh air.

One can just wander around without any great expectations that one usually has of cities and towns around the world and experience living life in a picture post card :)

Its almost perfect.

5)Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland always fascinated me because of its history, Nessie the monster and of course for being the birthplace of the world famous Scotch whiskey.

It equals Jerusalem in blood being shed through the ages. I had often heard that the beautiful desolate landscape was at odds with its violent past!

The land of the celebrated poet Robert Burns, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, bagpipes, kilts & of course the tragic Queen Mary of Scots who was unfortunate enough to make an enemy of England's most celebrated monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.

We took the National Express East coast train from London's Kings Cross station to Edinburgh up north. We passed through some spectacular English scenery as we sped past and arrived late evening at the historic Waverly station.

Ah! The Auld Reekie as Edinburgh is cheekily known by its inhabitants!

On a clear, chilly morning we walked the Royal Mile and stood on the ramparts of the mighty Edinburgh castle and as we gazed at the city that lay before us, we began to understand why so much blood was shed for this ancient yet timeless city.

We listened to tales of massacre and bloody battles as we drove through the fabled highlands and trawled the black waters of Loch Ness looking for Nessie the monster as the brooding Urquhart castle ruins looked on.

Glencoe (sometimes known as Glen Coe) is a glacial valley in the Lochaber region of Scotland and is one of its most beautiful valleys. Its special character lies not only in the beautiful scenery but also in its tragic past (the Massacre of Glencoe). As we looked up at the three grim and desolate peaks, we couldn't but help shudder at the tragedy these peaks had witnessed!

We drove to Pentcaitland looking for the famous Glenkinchie distillery, home to some of Scotland's famous single malt whiskeys.

We got lost in the East Lothians looking for Tantallon and Dirleton Castles. We were glad that we got lost. It helped us discover lovely small villages and remote cottages hugging the craggy coastline.

The utter beauty of these Scottish lands had us captivated as we covered mile after mile of desolate country side in our little hired car.

It was indeed true of all that I had heard about Edinburgh and the wild untamed beauty of Scotland. It simply takes your breath away!

Travel to us is never about the best shopping bargains, glitzy malls or glittering brand stores. It is about culture, history, people and the food. We always eat the local cuisine of that region and try to live like the locals do even if it is for just a few days.

Every city, town or region that we have visited have told us their own tales. Tales about the past, the present and the future. The people have always welcomed us with a great deal of warmth while evincing a keen interest in our land.

We have never felt ashamed to be an unabashed tourist taking in everything that is thrown at us.

We love being impressed with the world and find beauty in all it holds. It can be ancient cities, valleys, oceans, gardens or even buses and trains.

Travel has opened our eyes and exposed us to a whole new world that constantly amazes, astonishes and most importantly - OPENS our minds :)