London Calling!

The first thing that strikes you about London is the city’s enigmatic vibe. There is never a dull moment here – one may run out of money but will never run out of things to do. A true melting pot, it is home to tourists, gastronomes, adventure enthusiasts, art connoisseurs, business tycoons and more. With an awe-inspiring history and culture, there is something for everyone in this magnificent city.

One can never predict what the day looks like in London – one moment the sun shines and the next moment it begins to pour. In spite of several mood swings, it welcomes tourists 365 days a year. Though summer is prime-tourist season since people can enjoy long sunny days; the cold winds and snow do not stop them from visiting either. It’s the sort of place that makes you fall in love with it – truly, madly, deeply in love with it.

Popular attractions like the London Eye, Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square are always flooded with visitors, especially during the peak tourist season. But there are also those areas that most tourists miss out on due to lack of time. Listed here are a few places where you can enjoy the city’s relaxing yet entertaining side.

– Notting Hill: 

Escape the city’s hustle-bustle and see an altogether different side at Notting Hill – an area that hosts the city’s biggest street carnival. Tourists are seen in large numbers fanning their cameras to capture beautiful images of quirky, colourful buildings – after all, pastel pinks and vibrant reds make excellent backdrops! Head to a local bar and enjoy a chilled glass of beer or shop at the famous Portobello Market, a great place to collect vintage souvenirs. Whether you like to eat, click, shop or people watch, this is one part of London you cannot miss.

– Camden Town: 

Famous for its labyrinth open-air markets, quirky street shops and tattooed hippies, Camden has its own distinctive flavor – a vibe that gradually grows onto you. It is a mind-blowing mix of eclectic, unique and intriguing experiences that are sure to leave you spellbound.  Shop for quirky clothes and accessories or relish food from around the globe at its numerous eateries. If you’re into rock, punk and jazz, this sprightly market is surely the place to be at for its live music performances.

– Borough Market: 

A delight for gourmands, Borough Market is the largest vegetable, fruit, meat and seafood market in Central London. It is home to the finest quality ingredients and is flooded with foodies everyday. Interact with various traders or sample delicious foods from live counters. Walk in hungry and you will have ample to choose from.

– Carnaby Street: 

Home to independent cafes, British bars, chic boutiques and concept stores; Carnaby Street is a charming area located next to Soho. Walk around this quintessentially English street to experience the city’s infectious vibe.

– Gabriel’s Wharf:
Amidst the bustling South Bank lies Gabriel’s Wharf, the quaint creative hub for art and design lovers. Enjoy panoramic views of the stunning city skyline while sipping on a drink or indulging in some life-changing conversations at the wharfs cutesy cafe.

– Primrose Hill: 

Enjoy breath-taking views of Central London by climbing the steep slopes of Primrose Hill. Famous for its skyrocket residential rates, this area houses some prominent names. Relax at one of its cozy cafes and keep your eyes open for celebrities.

– Emirates Air Line:

Glide over the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsular and the Royal Docks to enjoy stunning views of East London and the O2 Arena. The best time to enjoy a ride in London’s first and only cable car is during sunset. Keep your camera ready to capture stunning views of the city from above. After your ride, head to the O2 Arena for an enjoyable meal as it stocks some of London’s finest fast food chains.

– Spitalfields Market: 

Set in the heart of London’s diverse neighborhood, Spitalfields is a treasure trove for visitors. Famous for its pop-ups, vintage shops, handcrafted items and food court, it is undoubtedly a great weekend destination to enjoy with the family. Art enthusiasts can also walk down the lane to Shoreditch and experience some quirky paintings by Banksy and the likes.

– St. Christopher’s Street: 

Located opposite the Bond Street Station, you will surely find it difficult to leave this place. Flanked by cafes and bars on both sides, picking a restaurant can be a tough decision. Keeping in mind the relaxing ambiance, be prepared to have never-ending conversations over lunches that might just turn into dinners.

– The Scoop – Near London Bridge:
An open-air amphitheater located near the London Bridge, The Scoop is a hotspot for entertainment all year round. Enjoy live performances, open-air plays, opera, film screenings and lots more over here. Their events are open to public and are free of cost. It is recommended to reach before time as the seating is on a first-cum-first-serve basis.

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New York! New York!

Journalist Tom Wolfe once said, “One belongs to New York instantly. One belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.”

I realized how true that statement is when I first visited New York a couple of years ago. As a diehard fan of popular sitcoms such as Gossip Girl and Sex and the City, a vacation in New York was a dream come true for me! Like most other 20-year-old girls, I wanted to see the spot where Blair met Chuck for the first time, eat at the places where Carrie and her girls went for brunch and ofcourse, visit the store where Bradshaw found her famous Manola Blahnik’s. Everything about New York fascinated me – the people, food, culture — even the song, Empire State of Mind.

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Photo Credit – http://www.newyorker.com

The first thing that strikes you between New York is the city’s enthusiastic vibe. It’s fast-paced yet relaxing. A true melting pot, it is stuffed with ambitious people who populate its five boroughs – Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. More than the dream of New York that I had built up in my mind, it was the awe-inspiring splendor that took my breath away. From tall skyscrapers to subways, every little thing was magnificent.

Food Matters!
New York is a paradise for food lovers. – my day would usually begin with a cream cheese bagel and a cup of hot chocolate. Food trucks line every corner, making it impossible to miss out on the city’s renowned fast food. But, if you still need recommendations, here’s what you should try out:
– Cart Food: New York is known for its cart food, which basically serves you large portions of meat and rice, flavoured with sauces. Available into the wee hours of the night, it is filling, delicious and pocket-friendly. The best and most popular cart food is available at The Halal Guys.
– Max Brenner: A renowned chocolate bar and restaurant located at Union Square, this is a paradise for chocoholics. A few friends and I walked into Max Brenner for a cup of hot chocolate and walked out with a 12-inch chocolate pizza, topped with chocolate chips and marshmallows!
– Chipotle: This is, by far my favourite Mexican chain. A filing burrito at Chipotle is the perfect way to end a tiring day.

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Photo Credit – http://www.maxbrenner.com

Fashion Forward:
Draw up a list of fashion capitals of the world and New York is bound to be somewhere close to the top. Some of the world’s most popular stylists, designers and fashionistas hail from here. From walking to Soho empty-handed and returning with a handful of bags, to sitting at a café, wishfully looking at people splurging on high-end brands in Park Avenue, New York has something for everyone. Other popular shopping hubs include Macy’s, China Town and Canal Street.

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Photo Credit – http://www.walldevil.com

Slice of Culture:
New York has a number of museums and art centers, but the most popular is undoubtedly the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, popularly known as the MET. I was stoked to see the amount of creativity that was on display – it houses the world’s finest modern and contemporary art. If you’re an art enthusiast, this place is a must-visit for a dose of inspiration.

Entertainment Ahoy!:
From musicals to live street performances, sports to shopping, bar hopping to sit-down meals, you won’t run out of things to do in New York. I watched The Phantom of the Opera, an award-winning musical at the Majestic Theatre. Of course, Times Square is a spot you can’t miss visiting – the large billboards, flashing lights and the energy will leave you amazed. New York’s many parks such as Central Park and Union Square Park are other great places to while away your time. My favourite pastime was to walk through, or simply read a book at the park.

The Tourist Trail:
Even the tourist attractions in New York, which you wouldn’t think would really surprise you, can leave you with long-lasting memories. On my way to the Statue of Liberty, I spent some time at Battery Park, which is the port from where the ferries set off. While I was there, I stumbled upon Castle Clinton and a couple of artists who offered caricatures on the spot. The caricature I had drawn of myself is undoubtedly my most precious souvenir. As for the Statue of Liberty? Well, I was lucky enough to head there late afternoon, where I was treated to a fabulous display of the setting sun on one hand and the Statue of Liberty standing tall on the other. Other must-visit tourist spots are The Rockefeller Centre, Grand Central Terminal, Yankee Stadium, Chelsea Market, Harlem and the 9/11 Memorial.

With its architectural assets, vintage cafes, boutiques and novelty shops, New York City is a serious treat for every traveler. It’s the sort of place where getting lost will only help you find something new. It allows you to dream as high as its skyscrapers and then helps to convert them into reality. I now know what Simone de Beauvoir meant when she said, “There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”

FYI
– Unlike Mumbai, New York is extremely strict about following road discipline. You cannot run across an empty street at a red light – yes, the pedestrian ones that we normally ignore in our city.

– A basic understanding of the grid system is helpful if you wish to travel independently. Finding your way around the city becomes easy once you master this. An important thing to remember is that avenues run North and South, while streets run East and West.

– While local buses, taxis and tubes make commuting within the city convenient, having experienced all, I think walking was the best option – more so for the experience than for the ease of travel. I came across and struck up conversations with several people during my walks and some ended up becoming acquaintances!

Koh Samui – the land of sun & fun

Koh Samui is a beautiful island situated in Thailand, popularly known as the land of sun and fun. With sandy beaches and blue waters, this place provides various accommodation options and activities for budget travelers and luxurious tourists. Tall coconut palms welcome honeymooners, families, backpackers, party animals and health & wellness enthusiasts to this paradise-like island. Conveniently located a few hours away from Mumbai, this place is a great option for a budget holiday or even a short getaway from the city.

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TRAVEL:
– Getting There:

The best way to get to Koh Samui is by taking a short flight from Bangkok, Singapore, Phuket or Pataya. Flights are available all through the day and can be booked in advance. Samui International Airport is one of the prettiest looking airports you will ever see. Flanked between two open-sided terminals and colourful flowers, the exotic charm of this airport is enough to get you into holiday mood.
Alternatively, one can also opt for a flight from Bangkok to Surat Thani and a ferry ride from the latter to Koh Samui.

– In & Around:
Hiring a car service is a convenient and pocket-friendly option. Ask your hotel/apartment to put you in touch with a car service and make your bookings accordingly or simply head to Chaweng beach to make a booking. Motorbikes are also available on hire and can be booked easily. Though taxi services are available throughout the island, drivers do not agree to switch on their meters, thus over-charging customers.

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STAY:
Park yourself at one of Samui’s plush spa resorts or simply book a room at a hotel. The best option, however, would be to rent an apartment/villa, depending on the number of people. Samui Summit Estate is one of the most exotic villas that can comfortably accommodate a group of 15 people. Situated at a height, the panoramic views from the villa are a sight to behold. With an extensive infinity pool overlooking the mountain, an entertainment room, kitchen and other state-of-the-art amenities, the villa promises an unforgettable holiday experience.

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Samui Summit Estate copy

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ACTIVITIES:

Tourists:
– Big Buddha Temple:

A 12-metre seated Buddha statue is the islands most popular attraction that can be seen even from a distance of several metres.

– Grandpa and Grandma Rocks (Hin Ta and Hin Yai):
Discovered by locals, several years ago, Hin Ta and Hin Yai are fascinating rock formations located between Lamai and Hua Thanon.

– Na Muang Waterfall:
Na Muang boasts of two panoramic waterfalls – first being 18 metres high and the second about approximately 80 metres. While walking to both the waterfalls, tourists can also explore the forests and nearby hiking trails.

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Party Animals:
Koh Samui’s longest and busiest beach, Chaweng is the entertainment hub. With innumerable restaurants, bars, cafes, nightclubs and more, one can spend hours at this bustling beach eating, drinking, shopping or simply strolling around. While most restaurants and cafes are open until midnight, nightclubs usually welcome people until 4am. The most happening clubs on this party street are Green Mango and Arc Bar.

Nikki Beach Club & Resort overlooking the crystal blue waters of Lipa Noi Beach is another party place that one should not miss. Their Sunday brunch has become known for its cocktails, food, music, VIP service and picturesque view.

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Adventurers:
For people who are up for a thrilling experience, there are several adrenaline-pumping activities to choose from. Go hiking or rock climbing between Chaweng and Lamai or surf the waves at these beaches. Snorkel in Koh Tao or kayak in the midst of nature at the Ang Thong Marine National Park. Explore exotic flora and fauna while elephant trekking or simply relax and watch the sky burst into various colours during sunrise or sunset – a breath-taking sight indeed!

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Health Enthusiasts:
Koh Samui promises a therapeutic holiday for health and wellness enthusiasts. With innumerable spa resorts, massage parlors, yoga studios and wellness centres, Samui pampers her city folks to the fullest and ensures a comforting and stress-free vacation.

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Venice of the East – Udaipur

It is said, “See Venice and die, but see Udaipur and live to see it again and again.”

Popularly known as ‘Venice of the East,’ Udaipur is a great city to escape from the daily routine of life. Situated in the Southern part of Rajasthan, this majestic city was established by Maharana Udai Singh II in the year 1568 and has been a well-known tourist spot in India ever since.

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Cold winds and calm waters warmly welcomed me to the ‘City of Lakes.’ A morning walk around the magical Lake Pichola – one of the most famous lakes in Udaipur, was a perfect start to my day. India’s oldest Aravalli Mountains make a flawless backdrop against this enthralling lake.

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As you walk around it, panoramic views of the white-marbled Lake Palace Jagniwas are a sight to see. Like most tourists, I also decided to take a boat ride from Rameshwar Ghat. While admiring the gorgeous landscape and the splendid architecture of the City Palace, I couldn’t take my eyes off the Lake Palace that sparkled like a solitaire in water. A boat ride around this beauty, gave me a peek into its mural-decked rooms and ancient artwork.

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The boat finally halted at the Jag Mandir Palace, a stunning property that has played host to several celebrity weddings. Since it is located in the middle of the lake, the only way to reach this hotel is by boat. I walked around the palace hotel and admired its maharaja-style setting while sipping on a hot cup of coffee.

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Jag Mandir overlooking Lake Pichola

Jag Mandir Palace

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Soon after, I took a boat back to proceed to the City Palace, also known to be the biggest palace of Rajasthan. Only a portion of this huge palace is converted into a museum for visitors. If the magnificence of the royal era interests you, don’t miss the City Palace Museum and The Crystal Palace. The former houses a collection of rare exhibits that belonged to Maharana Pratap Singh while the latter showcases mirror embellished interiors that boasts of the grandeur of the Rajput rulers. The palace structure is a beautiful combination of granite and marble that make it one of the most striking palaces in Rajasthan. While the beauty of the boat ride and the City Palace blew me away, on the downside, I was rather disappointed by the fact that they had very poor arrangements for senior citizens and disabled people and also unsatisfactory sanitation facilities for women.

View from City Palace Museum

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No trip to Rajasthan is complete without a taste of their traditional cuisine. So I stopped by at a local restaurant to sample some lip-smacking Dal Batti Choorma, Gatte ki Sabzi and Mirchi Bada. The food was slightly on the heavier side but was absolutely delicious and filling. In order to digest my food, I then strolled around at Sahelion-Ki-Bari – The Garden of the maids of Honor. It is said that in olden days, women from the royal houses would come to this garden to take a walk or spend some time with each other. It’s fountains, water pools and lotus ponds make it a quiet place to roam around and enjoy cold Udaipur winds. After spending some peaceful time by myself, it was now time for some entertainment.

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Lotus Pond at Sahelion Ki Bari

Witnessing a traditional performance is the best way to get a true feel of the place and its ancient culture. So, my next stop was at Bagore Ki Haveli, an 18th century mansion with over 130 rooms where I witnessed live performances by Rajasthani women clad in different colored ghagras. Some danced to traditional folk music while some others played the balancing act by balancing pots on their heads. A puppet show followed soon after. It was a visual treat to watch these graceful performances. After a long and tiring day out, I finally headed back to the hotel for some rest.

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The next day, I visited Manek Chowk and Hathi Pol Bazaar to shop for traditional collectibles. Udaipur is famous for its silver jewelery, handicrafts, pottery, tie and dye fabrics, bandhej (bandini) sarees, embroidered handbags and jootis. The bustling markets were filled with artifacts and other traditional knick-knacks. A myriad number of small local shops and big showrooms offered a large variety of options. As I walked down the streets, I came across an assortment of wooden toys, colorful puppets, artistic wall hangings, ethnic paintings and contemporary artwork. Though I bought many fabrics and a pair of golden-embroidered jootis, my most precious memorabilia was an elegant pair of kundan earrings I purchased from a local jewelery store.

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To sum up my experience, Udaipur is an amazing blend that combines real beauty with a historical past. Tranquil lakes, century-old temples, awe-inspiring fortresses, picturesque gardens and plenty of folklore only add to the city’s natural charm. Age-old monuments and palaces silently tell stories of victory and defeat of the bygone era. Its salubrious climate, panoramic landscapes and a number of heritage hotels undoubtedly make it the most desirable tourist destination. I was completely rejuvenated after spending 48 hours in the city. While planning my itinerary, several people told me that my trip to Rajasthan would be incomplete without a trip to Udaipur. I couldn’t agree more with them!

Chinese Fishing Nets, Kochi, India

When you think about Kochi, the first image that conjures up in the mind is that of the Chinese fishing nets. Also known as ‘Cheenavala’ in Malayalam, these nets are over 500 years old and were first introduced by Chinese emperor Zheng He. Located at Fort Kochi, these cantilevered fishing accessories have over the years become a popular tourist attraction. Just like any other visitor, I was most excited about seeing this unique process of fishing with these Chinese fishing nets.

Listed below are a few facts about the Chinese fishing nets I discovered during my trip to Fort Kochi –

– These fishing nets are permanently fixed on-shore installations that are set up on bamboo and teak poles and work on the principle of balance

– They droop towards the water like over-sized hammocks and are counterbalanced by stones

– The fishermen open the nets at a particular time keeping in mind the state of the tides

– A team of six or more fishermen operates each installation at a time. Two people walk on the beam so that the net descends into the water while one person opens the net and leaves it in the water for about four to five minutes. The remaining three pull the ropes thereafter so that the net comes back up and they can finally see how much fish they have managed to catch

– Once they are done fishing, they carefully tie the net to the pole and head out to sell their fresh catch of the day.

It was amazing to see these fishermen complete their task so effortlessly. They not only enjoyed the entire process but also made it super fun for people who were watching them. Their positive attitude towards their work and life definitely taught me a few things that I would like to share with you –

– Patience:
When they release the net into the water, they patiently wait for some time until they start pulling the ropes to see how much fish they have caught. Likewise, you can achieve everything you want. All you have to do is be patient. Everything happens at the right time

– Team Work:
All six of them had one goal – to catch fish. Each one knew what role he had to play, gave his 100% to it and as a team they successfully reached their goal. The same applies for us in our day-to-day lives. Always focus on the goal and respect your team members. It is important to concentrate on your role and give your 100% to the task

– Trust:
Each one trusted the other’s timing and had faith in them. Similarly in life, play your part and trust the process

– Have fun:
Pulling those ropes is no easy task. But while they were at it, they decided to have fun. They sang songs until the nets were back up and enjoyed the process. Just like that, don’t take life too seriously. Even if you’re going through hard times, don’t forget to smile and have some fun.

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Opening the net

The net is in the water

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Getting it back up to see how much fish they have caught

Living the Sula Life at SulaFest’15

When it comes to wine festivals in India, the first name that comes to the mind is SulaFest. I attended the 8th edition of this Gourmet World Music Festival held on 7th & 8th February at the gorgeous Sula Vineyards in Nashik. Little did I know that apart from wine and music, there would be lots more to look out for. Delectable food, wine tastings, live performances, tarot card readings, foot massages, grape stomping and a plethora of fun-filled activities kept the crowd busy for two days while adding to the carnival feel. The open-air Greek style amphitheatre also added to the beauty of the event. For people who could not make it this year, here’s what you missed –

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Fest-goers at SulaFest’15

Wine Tasting: Chief Winemaker Ajoy Shaw conducted several wine tastings at The Tasting Cellar where he provided information on different kinds of wines and helped first timers understand wines better. Apart from that, Nick Pringle, Director of Sales (Hardys) conducted a wine and food tasting where people sampled wines from Hardys with food from the popular restaurant, Soleil by La Plage.

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Hardys Lounge at SulaFest’15

Stay: In order to keep up with the festival feel, fest-goers stayed at Tent City, the campsite of Sula Vineyards. Approximately 250 tents were equipped with essentials to make the weekend fun and memorable.

Food: Fest-goers could choose from a variety of restaurants like Soleil by La Plage, Woodside Inn, Cafe Zoe, Busago, B&BBQ, MM Maroosh and more. I tried the Chicken Teriyaki Burger at Woodside Inn and the Chicken Shawarma at MM Maroosh both of which were delicious enough to satisfy my hunger.

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Taste the Sula Life

Bazaar: Shopaholics had found their spot at the SulaFest Bazaar that not only gave them the opportunity to shop but also gave them the opportunity to relax with a foot massage or indulge in other activities.

Music: As always, Sula lived up to its promise of being a musical extravaganza for music enthusiasts. The headlining act, Young The Giant, had the crowd going crazy over their popular track Cough Syrup and ofcourse their main man, Sameer Gadhia. However, the man who stole the show was none other than Lucky Ali. He sang old favourites like O Sanam, Na Tum Jaano Na Hum, Ek Pal Ka Jeena and others that had the crowd singing with him. His soulful performance made everyone nostalgic and transported them back to the 90’s. Apart from that, the other artists that performed were Gentleman’s Dub Club, Will And The People, Swarathma, Nucleya among others. To sum up the fest in a few words – It was definitely an awesome experience filled with loads of energy. I will surely be going back for more next year.

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Performances at SulaFest

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Lucky Ali with his soulful performance

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Crowd enjoying the music at the Main Stage

Photo Credit – Sula Vineyards.