Tag Archives: #travelblog

Happy New Year. #Sydnye

Happy New Year All.
This year we were in Sydney for the New Years and decided to do what we never did even once in the seven-year we lived in London. Watch the fireworks in person. A well-organized event in Sydney. There are different vantage points. The one we chose was the McMahons point – it opens from 8 am – 1 pm but capacity is limited to 15000. We reached there at 4:00 – the place was packed. We managed to squeeze in our three chairs somehow and just sat there ignoring the irritated looks of the people next to us. We could see the Opera house on the left, Harbour Bridge in front of us and then a sea of people with humongous colorful umbrellas and tents.

Around 4:00 pm it was still hot in Sydney, so everybody was applying sunscreen on a regular basis, but as the evening cooled down, tents come down, people wore sweatshirts to protect themselves from the chilly winds. And by that time we had practically become family to our initially unfriendly neighbors. The huge crowd of thirteen teenagers and one mom who was parked in front of us were asking us to move closer as their tent come down. I was tapping my feet to their music. We even sang happy birthday to somebody in the group at midnight. Somethings happen only in cities – where strangers share intimate, private moments and then go back to being strangers.

I was quite impressed by the portable toilets. There were about 20 toilets at the lower level and maybe another five male toilets at the upper level. That meant roughly one bathroom for 600 people. The queues were thirty minutes to one hour long. But they were all clean and operational even at 11:30 pm. Now that is an impossible feat if you ask me – hats off to the planners.

As we started getting closer to midnight, I could feel the excitement building up in the air. People got their glow necklaces, bracelets, and headbands. Now that it was dark we noticed the projections on the wall on the two sides of the bridge. And as a teaser, they release fireworks for five minutes at 8:30 and at 10:30 pm. People would gather and stand up as it neared those times.

Fireworks were shot from the boats behind the bridge, and they lighted up the bridge. It looked as if the bridge itself was a silent spectator enhancing the beauty of the fireworks. The way wind was blowing all the smoke shifted towards opera house which looked like three priests looking out from their cowls in the darkness. The display for five minutes was so dazzling that I found myself looking forward to the twelve-minute show at midnight.

And soon enough after a surprisingly quick 8 hours, the final countdown started from 75 seconds. And there was silence as the fireworks exploded like there was no tomorrow (which was true for 2017). There were different types of fireworks with varied colors. Some were concentric circles of different colors. Kids immediately labeled it as a rainbow. Then there was golden rocket which sprouted a dozen others as it fizzled out. And they made full use of the bridge. They shot upwards from the top of the bridge; there even was a golden waterfall at the end from the bottom of the bridge. The trains still going across the bridge just made the experience even more surreal. Crowds Oohed and Aahed with the rhythm of the fireworks. Little kids perched on their dad’s shoulder watched with their mouths open, finger pointed, but no voice came from them. As the frenzy grew so did the fireworks, it was like without a break.

When it was all done we made our way back home taking the miracle of the fireworks – Thank you #Sydnye (Syd New Year’s Eve). We could not have found a better way to usher in the New Year.

Ashville, NC – charming with extras

We recently visited Ashville, NC. And this is our second trip. First time we were passing by and spent a day here exploring the downtown and cool eating places. To be honest it was a)Dobra Tea House b)Chai Pani that brought us here. We loved it so much that we decided we will make another trip and we did.

I believe that it was more than these two places that made us come back to Ashville. There was this T-shirt that I saw in one of the shops which read “If you are too weird for Ashville, then you are just too weird.” And I agree with this. Ashville residents are not hippie but almost hippie. Lot of people with braided hair and a very nonchalant air about them which comes with meditation or sometimes using other mood enhancing stuff. There is a certain newness in the air as you stroll down the streets. And the fact that the mountains around Ashville are vortex centers might have something to do with it. It’s like Sedona except this is actual city as opposed to tourist stop on your way to Grand Canyon.

Like all such places, Ashville is very open and diverse. In one of the cafes, SunnyPoint cafe restroom signs said “All Gender”. Most places had a sign saying that we welcome all, everybody with pictures of people from different races. And for a place to embrace this unanimously says something about the openness of the culture. If you lived only in Ashville all your life your world would be a lot different.

Ashville has a lot of sass to it – I cannot remember some of the comments but two that stand out are
-Indian restaurant had a sign outside: “Tikka look inside.”
-Sign on a t-shirt: “I don’t carrot at all.”
-The best of all – a different take on religions

The owner of the store who had some of the cool T-shirts recognized our Shiba right away – he was a dog breeder for rottweilers in his past life. People there are very friendly. We ran into this gentleman in dog park who had moved from Texas to Ashville fifteen years ago with his wife. He is a author and piano player and they have a B&B. We got into a very good discussion about writing, MFA etc.They also have this cute little bookshop called Battery Park Exchange which has lots of cute window seats for budding authors. While we enjoyed a cup of tea and carrot cake we saw many groups come and meet in there.

Variety of restaurants in a place is also a good sign of diversity – they had a Mediterranean place called BabaNahm, Thai place, Indian, french, Chinese, Vegan and regular comfort food. We couldn’t try all the places but they were all in the top of the list in TripAdvisor. And if this is not enough they also have a double decker bus from London that serves amazing coffee/desserts.

And last but not the least it is a very dog friendly place. Almost 99% of our conversations with strangers was because of Aki. And they have these cool trails for both humans and pets.

I enjoyed my trip to Ashville and it is a gem in North Carolina. I may be biased in my opinion but as they say “Each to his own.”

Belize Trip – final

Trip to Belize was the best break I could have ever asked for. It was a complete switch off from our daily routine which forced us to just chill out. Life on an island is so quiet and calm – all you hear is the sound of the birds and water. Now I know why Island time is different.

I thought I would finish off this mini travel series on Belize trip with some wonderful memories.
Serenity Point: This was the furthest point on our little island called Serenity Point. Adam and I spent many hours here journal-ling/sitting down with our legs in water and watching sunsets. We did yoga here once and the best pose was the back bend as I could see the sea being up and the little huts hanging from the sea.
This was also a key snorkeling starting point – we saw many starfishes/schools of fishes and conch shells.

Hammocks: Reading a Jack Reacher Thriller with a mango-colada in hand while swaying gently in a hammock with the sea breeze. This is my dream come true. We had a lot of fun in these hammocks – naps, watching a hermit crab climb up my jar or just chilling out. I am tempted to get a hammock and put in our bedroom now.

Locals: I love interacting with people – there are some very special moment when you bond with people. We were walking to the beach from our bungalow and we saw the staff cutting fish on the side. I asked them if it was dinner. One of them responded – yes. And he picked up the fishes to show them off. Adam decided he will take a photo. And all of a sudden everybody became very silent and serious – it does happen when you have a camera in front of you. I said – ” you should smile.” And it broke the ice somehow and everybody laughed [I wish I had the laughing photo too ].

Food: I don’t know what I was expecting but the food was just so healthy, home-made and delicious. The desserts were not the best but I am not a big dessert person either or you could always have a mango colada. We had a fish hash for breakfast once which was just out of the world and lobsters/fishes we had for dinner were amazing. Coming from India it’s important for me to have spiced food and the island menu hit the right note.

Stars: Lying in an hammock and watching the stars pop up on sky before the moon rising with the sea breeze and water lapping was another awesome experience. I had only read about such experiences before. I even saw a shooting star. These are moment where you forget who you are and are just lost in the experience – one with nature. One of those moments when everything is so perfect and all thoughts drop you leaving just the one.

Sign-off: I am grateful for the lovely trip to Belize and I know I will have a part of Belize with me always. Thank you for following my Belize Series and Thank you universe.

Link to Day 4

Belize Trip – Day 3

My Dad is a big fan of reading all the self-help materials he can get his hands on. And as a child he encouraged me to do the same. I used to take the clippings from the newspapers/magazines and file them away. I lost the folder but I still remember a few things or quotes that stuck with me. The quote was “Always do something in your life that scares you.” At that point it was just an quote that called out to me and like all such quotes it remained dormant until the student was ready.

Since I took Creativity and Personal Mastery in London Business School, I have been on a spiritual journey and worked through issues in my life. I have been doing yoga and meditation since then and these things help you along your journey with obstacles and some breakthroughs.

Initially any book that I read or any movie that I watched in the spiritual genre my reaction was “Wow, that’s so cool.” And then it was about talking about how it applied to my life and how it applied to others and sharing the experience. And then at some point without even internalizing it all I had internalized most of it. And now I am not drawn to movies or books in the same way as I GET them now.

Similarly, trials and tribulations in my life and the life of others do not interest me in the same fashion as they did before. I am beginning to realize that this is life, this is human predicament. If it’s not this issue and then it’s another issue. I am sure all this sounds jaded, right? And I would agree with you that I am jaded.

And this is where the quote about doing something scary in your life makes sense to me and called out to me. About two months ago I knew I had to join swimming classes – there’s no major reasoning behind it just had to do it. Now, as a kid growing up in India you are not encouraged to spend time on activities other than studying which is what I did diligently. However, my brother who for some reason was going to swimming classes decided he was not going to the classes and locked himself up in the toilet when the time came for him to go. My parents being the middle-class parents in India decided not to waste the money and got me going instead.

I was overjoyed and honestly don’t recall much of the classes except that there were days when I was scared to let go off the railing until my dad threatened to stop taking me to the classes. And I swam even if it meant with my head above the water. And after that I never got into swimming pool for another ten years maybe.

So, I had taken just three swimming lessons before coming to Belize. And I admit openly that I am scared of the water, well more so of the water getting into my nose. I made progress in the last three classes I had and I am slowly beginning to realize that it’s all about practice and telling your subconscious that it’s ok.

Right, so this is where I was when we landed in Belize. And as you know already we are on an island and if I didn’t get into water there was no point. So I was mentally prepared to get into water and have been doing so diligently every day. I can even admit to actually relaxing and enjoying a few moments of them. I learnt how to float on my back at least until water splashes over my face and I end up drinking salt water. My body probably contains more salt water than the Caribbean sea at this point.

Yesterday we decided to try snorkel – and until we actually tried it I was scared – you are literally breathing inside water. We tried it in shallow water first, I held Adam’s hand and snorkeled around with him. Then we actually snorkeled our way to a neighboring island. It is really cool to see under the water – see and touch starfish, see the coral, sponge or seaweed swaying while the sunlight plays with them. Even though I made it, I was still scared that something might happen. But, I am keeping at it and someday it won’t be a big deal. As somebody said – most battles are fought within our mind and I totally agree.

While we were walking to dinner there were some Bocce balls lying around and Adam asked if I wanted to play. And my instant response was – “No, I am tired of doing things that I do not know how to do.”

Link to Day 2

Belize Trip – Day 4

The plan for Belize was to do nothing. It did not mean that we will just sit on the beach and drink virgin coladas all day long. What it meant was rest and relaxation and I believe we succeeded. First night in, I had a plan on what I was going to wear, when to meditate and when to do yoga. Next day it was only what to wear and the third day it was just wake up. We definitely marched solidly on the trajectory towards rest and recuperation.

Our usual routine was quite simple actually – wake up, meditate – do yoga [optional] and journal. After that it was a solid two hours of snorkeling – I am beginning to enjoy it now. And we have snorkeled at all the docks in the island. And then shower and it’s time for lunch. I am a pescaterian and every meal has been a delight. I have had sea food every meal and I am not bored yet. They do have this amazing hot sauce which might be the reason for it but the different varieties of fishes/lobsters and shrimps have been amazing.

The Belizean delicacies like zucchini fritters/breads remind me of India. Even the way the fish is spiced is very much like how my mom makes them. And the hammocks are made of a material that we use as carpets in India. Either I am missing home or this place is a lot like India.

And just as I was writing the blog, Adam got one of the staff to take our photos together. After he took the photo he said, “My name is Pablo.” And we introduced ourselves and he asked where we are from. We said states and then I added that I am Indian. His face lit up, he said he is also Indian and his first language is Mayan. I laughed and said I am from a different Indian country. He said that I remind him of his sister in law and that she is teacher in the university of Belize.I just added this little encounter to say that this is what happens when we are doing nothing – these little encounters, the tiny moments.

Going back to our routines, after lunch its nap time in the hammocks with the sea breeze. And here’s a photo of the hammock as well.

In India, for babies they don’t have cribs instead they take sarees [which are nine-yard long cloth that women drape themselves in] and tie the both ends to a hook in the ceiling so it’s like a cradle. Babies sleep in them and the mothers usually rock them gently in the cradle. As a baby I spent a lot of time in the cradle and got a lot of rocking done by my parents and extended family. Sleeping in the hammock with the sea breeze gently rocking the hammock reminded me of the cradle. The point I am making is that I slept like a baby, literally.

And then wake up and go kayaking – so we went around our island twice. Yesterday we made the trip to the bird island. The sea was really choppy and the waves were coming head on so in a few minutes in I was floating in the water in the kayak. Once you enter the water there’s no point in saying I am wet. It even rained for a bit. We did make it to the island – its more like a reserve and it was nesting season. I do not know the names of the all the birds but there were some interesting ones – there was this one bird which was all puffed up with its red chest. Lots of pelicans. We went around the island and made our way back hoping to find calmer waters but the wind was even more choppier. We ended up paddling on just one side as the water was pushing us to one side.

Then come back, nap again – read book or play a game and it’s time for dinner. And then go to bed. In essence that’s our typical day like.Chilling out lounge – coco bar as shown.

There are excursions from the island like coral reef snorkeling/lobster hunt/island hopping and almost everyone on the island made it to one of them. We were probably the only ones who did not and as I said we were here to do nothing and that’s what we did. We got to unwind, relax and spend quality time with each other which we haven’t done in ages. And had a good time.

Signing off with coconuts as I watch the sunset.
Link to Day 3

Belize Trip – Day 1

Time has been flying super fast for me since 2013 actually and this year has been a whirlwind literally. Around October I realized that unless I do something I will be just stay-actioning my entire vacation days. So did some research and settled on an overwater bungalow in Thatch Caye, Belize. And it wasn’t until I started packing the day before I realized that I WAS going on a vacation.

Thatch Caye is a small island about one tenth of a mile in length and 100 feet in width, A tiny island really. We got up in the morning and our first connection took us to Atlanta. From there it was a 3 hours flight to Belize City, which turned into three and a half hours as we were waiting for a few honeymooners to make this connection. The last 30-40 minutes of the flight was really bumpy because it was over the coast. I still hadn’t got into the holiday mood – the cynic that I am.

Once we landed in Belize international airport – and passed through immigration – we entered the domestic part of the airport which had about five small airlines all going to different parts of Belize. Our airline was Maya Airline and it would take us to Dangriga – a 15 minute commuter flight. They were definitely on island time as we waited 45 minutes after departure time to depart. It was fun though, first of all – the shops there were very local like the ones you would find on a street – there were about 4-5 of those shops. It was fun to just sit there and people watch who were primarily all tourists. People watching is one of my favorite hobbies – looking at them and guessing at their stories. I was beginning to feel silly which is my true self – so holiday mood beginning to kick in.

The lady at our counter announced that our flight was boarding and about dozen people formed a queue. We were in group one so we headed the charge. It was really cute – to see a plane with three wheels standing like a little sparrow in the airfield. We made our way to it- climb up the stairs and it’s so tiny that I cannot even stand straight. It has about four rows with room for two on one side and one on the other. We sat right behind the pilot in a two seater seat and we could watch everything that the pilot does. I fumble with my seat belts as they are more shoulder straps. Everybody settles in and one passenger actually sits in the seat next to the pilot.

Pilot says something about emergency exits and we take off. I could feel the tires heaving up and down as the plane started running on the runway. It took off and tt felt like we were all sitting in a big van and flying through the air. The windows were big like a van’s windows. I wanted to just open them so that I could look outside. Everything was so green and lush. It reminded me of India – the tropics. And on the way it started raining. We could hear and see the rain pattering and streaking through the windows. The holiday mood was beginning to sink in.

The pilot took a U-turn from the fields we were flying and we saw a runway. A black strip with a small whitewashed building in the midst of green fields.

We landed and were immediately transferred to the ocean side in a small car. And once we reached the oceanside there was a dock with a motor boat and a few out our fellow passengers were swinging in the hammock with drinks in their hands. The humid air reminded me of home, my body is made for tropical weathers after all. As I walked on the dock I made the transition to the holiday mood finally – the sound of the waves lapping against the dock – the gentle sea breeze.

The boat ride was about 30 minutes and we arrive at our little island with nothing in sight except just water all around. We were welcomed by a lovely retriever Duey and watermelon juices. We were shown to our rooms where the first sound I heard was the sound of water lapping against the stilts. Water was the only thing we could see from everywhere and anywhere.I had arrived in both mind and body and spirit.

Curious to know what happens next, subscribe and watch out for the other Belize posts.