17

Travelogue : Tips to achieve inflight zen

Have you seen the movie Non-Stop? It has Liam Neeson in it doing what he does best, that is to look all serious and broody and conflicted. Trust me guys, I would never get into a flight with that guy, he is simply bad luck, with that serious face. The other reason why the movie bothered me so much is because of a scene where he fights with one of the accused villains in the ECONOMY CLASS and during the fight, the villain falls down between the seat in the next rows. and guess what? HE DISAPPEARS! How did a guy manage to disappear in the cattle class where it is difficult to even cross and uncross your legs. Try dropping something between the seats and trying to pick that up. I would rather dip my hand in that hot(lukewarm) cup of coffee that they serve in-flight.
The point is, flights are uncomfortable, messy and leave you with the sensation of having been digested in a whale’s stomach. I have taken a lot of long distance flights, with my longest flight ever being 18 hours from New York City to Mumbai, India, as well as domestic flights from East Coast to West Coast. I have learned to deal with the in-flight discomfort with some of my travel tricks. Many of these tricks are common to roadtrips too that I take many times. It becomes equally irritating in cars, specially when you are with company in the back seats and cannot lie down and promptly doze off. Sharing with you some tidbits that may help you stay calm and not kill the person next to you hogging your armrest.

  • Neck pillow: I had been putting off buying this for the longest time because I always thought of better things to do with $20. But on my last flight to India, I had to take a redeye to NYC, endure a 5 hour layover and then to Abu Dhabi before I could step foot at homeland. I got so uncomfortable on my first flight that as soon as I got to JFK, I bought one, and promptly went off to sleep on a small couch that I found near my gate. It is a savior, you guys!
  • Moisturizer, lip balm, small hairbrush: I am obsessed with lip balms thanks to sometimes single digit humidity in Southern California. My lips and palms are somehow always parched and it simply gets worse in flights with the controlled air. I always keep a small tube of moisturizer and lipbalm to hydrate my skin. A flight is far more comfortable if your lips don’t feel like Sahara dessert. The only reason I carry a hairbrush is to not scare the poor immigration officer and the person who volunteers to pick me up at airports. Long hair don’t take much time to look like a bird’s nest. This is also where those samples from Sephora, Ulta and magazines come in handy.
  • A book/Kindle: Time flies(literally) when you have a trusty book with you. My Kindle is one thing I never ever forget on a journey. I have more affection for a nice paperback or hardcover, but an eReader makes life easier when space and weight is a constraint. The seemingly immortal battery life is a definite plus when your phone fails to make the cute(looking at you iPhone!)
  • Sugar candy and baby food pouches: Now this is one strange tip that I picked up after having a couple of flights where I got really hangry. I buy a few of those fruit puree baby food pouches because they take minimal space and make a tasty vegetarian/vegan snack in a crunch. The hard-boiled sugar candies are good to suck on during takeoff and landings because they stimulate the salivary gland and prevent your ears from that painful popping. They are also useful if you are around a crying kid. Win-win for both. Do ask the parents first.
  • Socks: It would be rather nice to just wear flipflops for a flight, but I get very cold easily and for some reason angry when I am cold. I have to wear a pair of cozy socks and Toms so that I am comfy and warm. Many international flights do give socks in their flight kits though.
  • Oversized hoodie: Like I mentioned earlier, I get cold easily and the flight blanket covers either my neck or my toes. So to avoid losing my temper at the poor blanket, I just like to wear a hoodie that will cover my ears and neck snugly while the blanket keeps my legs and toes toasty.
  • Phone charger, headphones: It is always nice to carry your own headphones in case they work with the in-flight entertainment system. You can even listen to your own music and watch videos on the phone. I always have the phone charging cable, and a portable charging bank because I don’t trust my phone to last the whole time. It also helps to carry a long 10 ft charger cable if you have long layovers. Throw in a multiple USB charger if you are looking for blessings from people trying to find empty sockets.
  • A small bag: If you have a carryon and a personal item, I try to carry just a small drawstring bag or a sling bag. my bag usually fits all the items mentioned above snugly and it takes up minimum space under the seat. With the baby sized legspace that airlines give you, the last thing you want is a backpack taking up that area. Sometimes I carry this drawstring bag inside a backpack(that has even more stuff) that I put in the luggage bin, so that I have my essentials on me and rest of the stuff overhead. 

This list should help you travel more comfortably I hope and will keep you calm and stress-free. Let me know if you have anything to add here. Anything to make me not feel like Hulk in my next flight, is greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, go on tripping.com to check out some great deals on vacation rentals and start planning your next trip. I am already thinking about Florida this year and I see they have amazing beach rentals. Go ahead, get hold of a cute bungalow, book that flight and start packing your bags!

Happy travels!

10

Travelogue : Weekend-ing at Baltimore-Washinton DC

I had a tryst with a different part of America over the last weekend.

I was over to visit my bestie AH over at Baltimore who is in US for 3 weeks on some training session through his work. It was a trip that I had to take because I am going to miss his wedding in January which is such a bummer. All in all, it turned out great because I even got to meet my very special friends! Murat, his wife and his brand new baby girl Damla! He isn’t big on Facebook but he was scrolling through the feed to read about what was going on in Ankara. He came across my picture and he noticed it was tagged in Maryland. He asked Becca if he was seeing it right. He texted me right away and we made plans within the next 15 min and AH and I drove off to Murat’s about an hour outside Baltimore. I was under the impression that he was far away! Haha! They are my buddies who got married in Turkey in September! Boy, Murat did a great job timingwise. 😛 We were teasing him about his, ahem, strong swimmers. Baby Damla is beyond cute. She is a sweetheart and she wouldn’t stop staring at me with her big gray eyes and smiling with her tongue poking out! It was a great drive with lush greens on both sides of the road and it was a great evening with friends.

In Baltimore, the location of AH’s hotel was at the harbor and it was so picture perfect with graffiti, cobbled streets, street-side cafes. I have heard a lot about the issues plaguing Baltimore currently and how it can be a rough neighborhood, and from what people told me, the downtown is a much nicer area. I did not go to the highly recommended Aquarium because I have been to Sea World 3 times and I am perhaps done with fishes for a loooooong time.

 

We took a day trip to Washington DC and saw most of the iconic buildings and monuments. We spent a lot of time at the Smithsonian and I cannot recommend enough the Air and Space museum and Natural History museum. Please do not miss the Smithsonian! Here are some pictures.

Travel tip:

  1. Perhaps the most important tip would be to factor in atleast $15 parking charges a day into your budget. We did a lot of car moving here and there and saved some dough. It’s a horrible situation with very expensive parking rates in both Baltimore and Washington DC. In hindsight, do check ZipCar availabilities around your place of stay.
  2. Wear your best walking shoes possible.

 


This trip was a particularly special one. We had always wanted to take some sort of vacation together since college days. But with me here and the boys and girls in India, it was obviously very hard. The boys do go on way more trips than my girl friends though and I feel jealous that I miss all those. Moo and I managed to travel together to Turkey, meet up in US and all that, and that ways, we are quite satisfied. With AH, we had never thought that we’ll meet up in America like this! I would have loved to have him come home and see California but financially it wasn’t possible for him and so I flew out to meet him. It was worthwhile also because of meeting Murat and ticking off DC from my list.

I cant help it, but this trip was also bittersweet. He was visibly upset when I left and he said this. ‘PB things are going to change now’. His words could not have been truer, however much in denial I am. Things are changing and they will continue to change. I am trying to hold on to those days but they are like sand between my fingers. The more I forcefully hold on, the more they escape.

Maybe I just need to let go. Everything.

12

Universal Studios, Hollywood : Magic, Muggles and Potterheads


Platform 9 ¾. The red engine, with luggage cases and an owl cage next to it. Butterbeer carts. Pumpkin Juice and Gilly water. Wizarding Wheezes with fluffy Pygmy Puffs and Love Potions. Honeydukes with Chocolate Frogs, Peppermint Frogs, Fudge Flies. Ollivander’s with an array of wands waiting to match their witch or wizard. Madam Puddifoot’s for tea, cakes and whispered sweet-nothings. Moaning Myrtle gurgling the restroom. Three Broomsticks for raucous drinking. Gringott’s for some quick ATM needs. Flich’s emporium of confiscated goods. Gladrags wizardwear for custom fitted robes. Owl posts for mail work. Hagrid’s hut and Buckbeak for a rollercoaster ride. The sorting hat. A journey into Hogwarts, dungeons, the great hall and the Quidditch pitch strapped on a broomstick(stimulated 3d ride). Albus Dumbledore.

Universal Studios. Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Enough said.

Potterhead for life. 

2

Travelogue : Sequoia National Park

I think I am a medium sized human. I am not super short, but I am not tall. I look like a mid size girl(I don’t think I am ready to be called ‘woman’ yet) at almost 5’ 4”. But I felt really, really tiny standing next to the massive Sequoia trees that form the forests of Sequoia National Park. I wish I was taller. Like just an inch more, or two.

It was Madhuri’s happy budday on Thursday and her boy DD decided to surprise her by flying over from Connecticut. He had taken Abhi, Nish and me  into confidence and we planned a nice little day trip to Sequoia and King’s national park on Saturday. We reached LA on Friday night and prepped for the next day which had to begin early to utilize all the daylight we had. I was up at 4.30 am to shower and we left at 6.45 or so after a Starbucks pitstop. We also took a lovely breakfast break where we had enough breakfast for all the king’s men. We had scrambled eggs, green omelets, toasts, pancakes, biscuits, hash browns, fresh orange juice between the 5 of us. Thanks to that, I was knocked out in the car for almost an hour. The food, and car’s movements and the never ending road is enough to push me into a deep stupor.

The drive to Sequoia is about 4 hours from LA. The road is beautiful because it is lined with huge orange tree farms. We even saw some farms owned by Halos that supply tangerines/clementines/’cuties’ to Walmart and such. At one point, we even got out, took pictures and stole 3 oranges. I had a very terrifying thought of a sniper up in the tree waiting to shoot trespassers, thanks to DD and Abhi.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we reached Sequoia. By the way I have to totally mention that I did not like the way the visitor center lady refused to give me a map. I am not sure how much it costs them, but they may as well print out a non-glossy plain version to hand out to people if they are so worried. It really pissed me off. But I also blame my hormones for over-reacting. I was in a lot of pain, and very moody. 😦

After driving up another little bit to the visitor center, Nisha spotted a sign about gas and that prompted her to ask if we had enough gas in the car. Turned out, we had barely enough to drive back to the gas station. So that cancelled our plan to go to the King’s but that was fine because we were anyways going to run out of daylight by 4.30 pm. There was no point in going to King’s and drive down those winding slopes in the dark.

At Sequoia, we did a little hike in the woods to go to this Tunnel Log which has been carved out of a massive fallen tree to let vehicles pass. They say that they never move the trees and let nature take its own course. Some of the trees have been there for almost 2000 years! A few witnesses say that the tree suddenly starts to snap and the roots make a huge sound like thundering avalanche and that’s when the tree falls. It is all a matter of minutes. I would rather not stray in that tree’s path. There was also an interesting point about forest fires and how natural fires are beneficial to the eco-system. Due to man-made activities, these fires have become rarer and more dangerous. So rangers start controlled fires to help in boosting the ecological balance of the Sequoia and Redwood trees. Oooh, and there are bears in the area. Also, we spotted a deer from very close in the car!

There was a foot of snow on the sides but the roads were clean. Some parts had the frozen, slippery snow, but it was okay to walk as long as you were careful. We were driving an all wheel drive SUV, so we did not need snow chains as well.

Some pictures form the park:

Pointers:

  1. There are campgrounds at the start of the national park and we plan to go back there to camp overnight in the spring. It is beautiful and very green.
  2. There is no gas for 40 miles inside the Park, so definitely put gas in the car before you enter the park. It doesn’t hurt to have a full tank.
  3. Keep in mind the amount of daylight you have if you plan to go hiking and plan your spots to see accordingly.
  4. Carry your camera and wide lens(if you have them). Beautiful opportunities to capture a very different landscape.
  5. Wear waterproof shoes with good grip. I wore boots but without any grip. But thankfully, I did not fall.
  6. There is nothing inside the park to eat. Or at least I did not see any café or restaurant. We carried potato fry and bread to make sandwiches. So, stock up accordingly.
6

Travelogue : Death Valley

Thanksgiving. Long weekend. Get out of town. That’s the mantra we seem to be following these days. Any long weekend or vacation spent at home is akin to a crime.

My holidays started pretty much when a very old friend from college Sayali came over to my part of the country to catch up on our friendship and enjoy her vacation. We had a blast, went to Las Vegas, clubbed, gambled, boozed and did the usual Vegassy stuff. After coming back to Orange County, we visited the local beaches which were too cold to be enjoyed thoroughly. Yet we had a great time sitting on top of the lifeguard’s post and talking.

Thanksgiving dinner was had at my buddy Shawn and Alicia’s where food was served to us in quantities that will put an elephant’s diet to shame. I am still eating leftovers and I am still set for two more meals.

IMG_8470.JPG

One of the very exciting things that I did was to go to the Death Valley National Park with Abhi and Nisha. It is one of the largest national parks in the country and is a huge expanse of flat lands and mountains, a lot of it actually below the sea level. The say that Death Valley is the land of extremes. The temperatures range from 120 F in summers to 20 F in winters, which is around 48 C and sub-zero. Also, you get to see extremely beautiful night skies with the milky band. It was a few nights after full moon, yet we could see a gazillion stars just at 7 pm. My skin tingles at the thought of a moonless night over there. And a date. Meh.

We stayed at the Panamint Springs Resort which is a family owned resort with a few rooms, pre-built tents, RV hookup sites and campgrounds. It is an old and basic arrangement but worked very well for us. The restaurant had vegetarian options in pizzas and burgers and a couple of appetizers. Nothing fancy considering that it was a friggin’ remote location with ZERO cell service. Yep. No internet. No phone. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

We stayed in the lodge on Friday night after a 4 hour drive from OC to Panamints springs area. The drive was rough with a lot of unpaved roads as would be commonplace in such an area. In the next couple of days, we enjoyed quite a few Death Valley massages as Abhi called ‘em gravel-ey roads. We ate and slept, prepared for a an early day. We had some sumptuous buffet breakfast on both the days with pancakes, scrambled eggs, cereal, croissants and such. On Saturday, we set out to cover most of the sightseeing in the area.

There are two things worth mentioning. First, I was awed by the sand dunes. They were so beautiful! Now, I have an itch to go back to Rajasthan in India to see the desertlands. For the nerds interested, scenes from Star Wars have been shot at those Sand Dunes in the Death Valley. We walked quite a bit in those dunes to get to a nice high point and then returned with scoops of sand in our shoes, socks, jeans, yep.

The second point of interest that I loved was Badwater. It is a highly salty marshy area with encrusted soil on top as of now because of the heat and is about 300 ft below sea level. The history says that a traveler thought it was a good spot for his mule to have a sip of water but the mule refused to drink it. So, he named it Badwater. The water is so saline that only a few special aquatic creatures like this bunch of weird snails can survive there. To maintain ecological balance, straying off the boardwalk is not permitted. By the way, there is also a Badwater marathon for idiots who like to run in extreme weather conditions and die. Count me out.

Leaving you guys with some pictures I took during the trip.

Pointers:

  1. September-November seems to be a great time and so is spring. Any other time will ensure that you will either boil or freeze to death.
  2. Come prepared for some walking and bring your hiking shoes. Each point is atleast half a mile away from the parking lot with some good hiking loops around.
  3. Bring plenty of water. Don’t be too fussy about food if you are a vegetarian and be prepared to eat same meals. It is not a place to expect buffets.
  4. If you are a social media or smartphone addict, you are screwed.
  5. Bring all your camera equipment. The place is indeed beautiful for photography and astronomy enthusiasts.
  6. Book lodging or camping grounds well in advance. It seems to get full real fast, especially for long weekends.
  7. Do an estimate of the amount of daylight you will have and the places you want to see. Pace yourself accordingly.
  8. Forget everything above and let Abhi and Nisha plan, so that you can sleep in the backseat. 😀
25

Travelogue : Turkey : Istanbul

The ultimate Turkey travelogue is here!

After Cappa, we were all set to catch a flight to Istanbulllllll baby! I was mad excited about that one and I did not let the late flight play spoilsport. We reached Istanbul around 2 hours late than my expected timing. The craziness of Istanbul and the men started right away. Men in Istanbul are flirts and that’s just an understatement. The shuttle driver while going tour hotel,  called me to sit in the front, asked me if I was ‘Hindistani’, said mashallah to me a few times and made me take my sunglasses off because he wanted to see my face! I tolerated all that only because he was giving me a legit tour of all the places we were passing.

We got to the hotel, and met the 15 yr old daughter of the AirBnB owner, Ecenoor, to be called Ej, who made Moo and me fall in love with her. She had a funny way of doing Umm-hmm when we asked her anything, had the most beautiful golden brown straight hair, and milky skin, and, err,….. so on. After chilling in the room for a bit and re-arranging the space to ensure we could open our bags and walk around, we left for the Sultanahmet square. It was barely a 10 min walk for us and the most important places in Istanbul are located here. We had the Sultanahmet mosque on our agenda for that day, also popularly known as the Blue Mosque, the reason being the intricate mosaic work with blue tiles. It was stunning! Just, stunning! Such a huge mosque, high ceilings, intricate art work! It was so beautiful. We went crazy clicking pictures there. On our way out we had a crazy encounter with this creepiest person who touched me inappropriately and had suggestions to party at night with him and his cousin. Ewww. The string of crazy encounters continued with shop-keepers, restaurant servers, random security guards, taxi drivers.

Day 2 in Istanbul, started with an itchy throat. I did not pay much attention to it and moved on. We had planned on seeing the Topkapi palace early in the morning and the city’s main mosques after. We had breakfast and started to walk towards Topkapi palace. Like I mentioned before, most important locations are at a stone’s throw from each other in the Sultanahmet square. But at one point, I decided to ask this seemingly normal looking old man of around 60-65 who told us to follow him and that he will lead us to where we had to be. After a quick glance to ensure enough people in the surrounding areas for safety, we started following him. He spoke to us about ‘Hindistan’, Hema Malini, about him being from Iran and other random things, seemingly jovially. While walking, we came across a junction where Moo spotted a park and a sign that said Topkapi palace. So we stopped there and told the man that err, we have reached. He said ok ok and held out his hand for Moo to shake. As soon as she took it, he lunged towards her with the weirdest pouty kissy face to give her a kiss! She leaned back horrified and I wrenched his arm away from her and both of us pushed him away. It was awful!!! In order to not make a scene, we said bye to him and I tolerated a hand shake where again I had to pull my hand away from him. We ended up having a big laugh about it later. The side view of his pout is burnt into my memory now. Arrrgghh. We have had the strangest encounters ever in Istanbul with the men.

Topkapi Palace was beautiful but very tiring! The palace was home to the Sultans of Ottoman Empire and their queens. My dad told me later that he had seen the movie Topkapi from 1960s which is about a diamond robbery. Indeed, Topkapi palace had a jewelery collection with huge diamonds. But to be honest, some of them did not have the facets that make a diamond shiny and I felt rather under-whelmed on seeing them. But, I will not mind if you decide to gift me one of those. I will adjust.

After Topkapi, we checked out some mosques in the Eminonu area which were walking distances from each other. While walking to the mosques we crossed the Egyptian market, Spice Bazar and the small internal Istanbul bylanes. It really felt like we were walking in the old town area of Pune. The activity, street food, hustle and bustle is so similar to home.

The last stop was Grand Bazar. On the way to GB, Moo and I took a cab and turned on Google Maps for good measure. That led us to realize that our cab was cheating us and we ended up yelling big time at him and paid only 20 lira vs the 40 he was demanding. By then, my itchy throat was feeling like a cat’s scratch post and was full-fledged hurting. We shopped, bargained, felt cheated, felt glorious, and felt extremely drained out  by the end of our Grand Bazar experience. It is huge, people! There are so many shops, so many trinkets, sweets, lamps, it is unbelievable! Of course the shop keepers flirt big time! In order to get magnets for cheap I had to endure getting propositioned for marriage, being told weird things about my lips and being questioned about my v*rg*nity. Goodbye self-respect. Going back to the hotel from GB also involved yelling royally at 2 cab drivers.

Day 3 in Istanbul started with a visit to Hagia Sophia or the Ayasofya. That place made me feel like I was a part of Dan Brown’s book.  It is a huge museum which was a church in the 500s and then a mosque in 1400s and finally restored and converted into a museum by Ataturk in 1930s after secularization. It is the only place I have seen which has Christian mosaics and frescos along with verses from the Holy Quran, side by side. The chapel was H-U-G-E! It was impossible for us to capture the entire ceiling in one go. The domes were decorated so beautifully! It was all just visually so stunning.

The next stop was the Basilica Cistern. The cisterns were used to provide water to the city during the Roman period. It was eerily creepy yet so strangely fascinating. There was water still in there with these giant fat fishes floating around. Somehow I had the chills the whole time we were down there. There are two pillars in there with Medusa’s heads that were not discovered until restoration in the 1980s.

One big surprise was that Vince texted that he and Proctor had just reached Istanbul last night and they would be free to hang out. Moo and I were planning to do the Bosporus cruise after lunch and we asked them to join us. Like every other water body in Turkey, the Bosporus is also a very striking shade of blue! The cruise was so relaxing! We had a pretty good time clicking tons of pictures, and generally enjoying the views. We even sneaked in a nap towards the end of the cruise on their comfy benches inside the boat. Yep.

We had dinner after in one of the many street restaurants over there which involved a huge confusion over the bill and the money we paid and tax and tips. But we chugged along.

Day 4 was our last day in Istanbul and we decided to take the train and check out the other side of the town and Dolmabahce palace. That is the palace which later also became Ataturk’s part time residence in Istanbul and where he eventually passed away after battling Cancer. The palace has been converted into a museum. As with other historical buildings in Turkey, even Dolmabahce features exquisite decoration and intricately painted ceilings and walls. It houses gifts exchanged with other empires and countries in form of Baccarat crystals, chandeliers, carpets, and paintings. A lot of political diplomacy could be seen at play in the pictures and paintings and the gifts. The grounds were lush green, well-manicured and looked out to the gorgeous Bosporus. I would not mind living there at all!

While we were there, the weather decided to play spoil sport and it started raining. But I really, really wanted to have this local street food Kumpir(a loaded baked potato) and Turkish waffles in the Ortokoy area and so we headed out over there, braving the storms, err, the drizzle. The Kumpir was heaven, but the waffle, was O-M-G! It was beyond delicious! So rich, and so yummy! All for 15 lira each which is like $5.

We headed back to our familiar Sultanahmet area back after and spent the evening strolling here and there and rounding it off with our last dinner of Lentil soup.

The next day, I said bye to Moo early in the morning to catch my shuttle to the airport. I felt bitter-sweet leaving Istanbul. They say that you feel sadness about leaving a place, not just because you will miss the place, but you will miss the person you were, the age you were at and the state of mind you had. I couldn’t agree more.

Turkiye, it’s been real. And it would be a real pleasure if I get to see you again. Till then, hello new lands!

Tips :

  1. 3 days in Istanbul are not enough if you get tired easily. 4 days should be good to be able to space out all places of historical importance.
  2. Go to the Spice Bazaar to buy most of your Turkish Delights(sweets) and spices. Rest of the goods are similarly priced in Grand Bazaar.
  3. Your bargaining must be at its A-game. Otherwise you are going to kick yourself. There shouldn’t be room for  hesitance in your voice. I think I am good at it. Always offer 1/3rd of the price they quote.
  4. Do go for a Tukish Bath/Hamam. I missed that and I feel bad about it. Don’t feel shy. Who knows you there? 🙂
  5. The cabs are expensive if you are alone or 2 people. For 3-5 persons, it is a better deal than public transport wrt to costs and comfort.
  6. I will not suggest Istanbul as a part of a leisurely vacation unless you don’t care about historical sites.
  7. Try and stay in the Sultanahmet area if you are touristy, and stay in the Beyoglu area if you like street cafes, bars and nightlife. You will have access to train stations from both places.
  8. Vegetarian food is available but not the greatest variety. Don’t expect a royal meal and don’t get fussy. Do try the desserts.
  9. Have the Turkish tea and coffee if they offer it in stores and such. It is a nice experience to sit and chat over tea. I am not too fond of tea, but I rolled with it. Like they say, When in Rome, do the Romans, do as the Romans do.
  10. Keep your eyes, ears and nose open. Take in ALL the sensory delights. 🙂 Turkey is amazing.
24

Travelogue : Turkey : Cappadocia

So, continuing the adventures of PB and Moo in lands far, far away, on our magic carpet(SunExpress airlines), we flew off to Kayseri Airport to get to Cappadocia/Kappadokya/Goreme, and any other name you want to call it. At this point, I want to mention the itinerary I prepared and how beautiful it was. I had taken printouts of flight tickets, hotel bookings, places to see, food, timings and arranged it neatly, had put color coded sticky notes and arranged it acc to the days. After my itinerary was complete, I felt like a certified nerd, or a professional holiday planner. I prefer the latter and I see myself dressed as Sonam Kapoor for some reason with a bright orange planner. I digress.

So when we were planning the itinerary, we were planning to go to Pamukkale for a day from Antalya . But Moo, made one single request and I had to honor it. She really, really wanted to do a hot air balloon ride. I had wanted to do it too but was in a double mind about it. Thanks to her request, I decided to fit in a night in Cappadocia instead of Pamukkale and check one item off my bucket list as well. So we landed in Goreme after our plane ride to Kayseri and a shuttle to Goreme. Goreme is gorgeous! It is such an unexpected landscape! If you remember my Bryce canyon pictures, it has similar structures but not orange, and rising from around you, and not in a valley. Like, we were pretty much in between those structures. The hotels are also called cave hotels and if you have a higher budget, you can live in one of those. But we had constricted ourselves to a per night limit and the idea that a cavey structure may house lizards, put us off the real cave rooms. After checking in, we had lunch, and went off to check out the Goreme Open Air Museum. It is a Unesco heritage site which was a Byzantine monastery. There are clusters of churches, chapels, housings inside of the caves and rock cut outs. They are extremely interesting with respect to the history.

Boy, was it hot that day! We felt like we were walking in a microwave with the sun baking us. I felt like a drained out battery and we kept hiding in the caves from the sun. At one point, Moo and I got into some cave room which looked like it was a kitchen and plopped down for about 20 minutes with some tourists flitting in and out, but we refused to budge. It was the best escape from the sun. And that day, I had for some reason decided to carry my zoom lens as well, which was adding to the bulk of the scarf/hat/backpack. We couldn’t even take too many pictures of us because for every pic, we had to take out 3 things atleast from our heads or necks at which point I gave up. 😀

Finally when it had cooled a tiny bit, we left the museum to walk back to the hotel. On our way back, we came across this adorable pottery shop where there were 2 trees covered in blue glassy evil eyes, and old earthen pots. The tree covered in blue was so beautiful, aah, I loved it! Finally, we had some energy back into us and we spent that in taking our pictures. Moo was drawn to alien looking zoozoos which I was kinda terrified of. Eeks. We had dinner after and called it a night since we had a rather early start the next day. It was still so hot, that I slept with a thin towel on me instead of a bedsheet. Haha

The hot air balloon ride called for a insanely early morning alarm, but you know what? Right from clambering into the wicker basket, the lift off, the soaring across the skies watching the sunrise, the intentionally bumpy landing, to popping the champagne after the ride, it was all so magical, so dreamy. I had never thought that watching the sun rise from 850 m high up in the sky could be this intense. The view was nothing short of spectacular and I will let the pictures do the talking here.

PS : There will be a part 3.

14

Travelogue : Turkey : Ankara + Antalya

I am back! *Jazz hands like Karan Johar*

It is September 2015. My birthday month, and never before have I had such an exciting start to my birthday month ever! I am loving 2015 so far. After the meh-ness of last year and half, 2015 has brought new and unexpected things for me. I have run races, climbed hikes, traveled and have so far thoroughly enjoyed myself. I hope the trail of happiness continues. 😀

Turkey was phenomenal! Oh, what a country! I am going to write down as much as I can remember but that is going to cover barely 30% of the memories I have in created. When I met up with the SDSU group in Ankara, we called it ‘CSEL going International’. CSEL= Combustion and Solar Laboratory. We like to call ourselves CSEL fo lyfe. Lol. We had been invited to our Turkish friend Murat’s wedding who was marrying his GF of 3 years Becca. Becca’s all American family also hung out with us and we had a really good time.

I had a 13 hour flight to Istanbul and an hour flight to Ankara. Murat was picking me up at the airport. As soon as we saw each other, we RAN and bear hugged each other. We just couldn’t stop laughing that we were meeting after 3 years! Showing up for his wedding in Turkey felt so surreal! He kept giving me hugs, we were that happy! We had another hour to kill at the airport so that we could pick up 2 of his friends as well who were flying in from San Diego. After a hearty dinner of, err, burger king bean burger, we plopped down on massage chairs at the airport and that was awkward to say the least. We were like two giggling school girls. As a result, Murat was telling everyone that PB is so funny! And when asked why, his reply was just… she’s so funny! 😀

After his friends came, we went over to the hotel, and I went off to sleep at about 11 pm. I slept like a baby till about 10 am till his friend Vince texted me to come down for b’fast. We ate, I went to my room, chilled pretty much for the whole day till the gang came down from their 3 days in Istanbul. Then we got ready and headed to Murat’s parents’ restaurant for the bridal party. It was one crazy affair! We were treated like super honorable guests and I have never been paid so much attention in my life. Like, not even by my parents. Murat and Becca entered to fireworks and traditional dancing. Murat was doing this move that we thought is thanks to his bad dancing skill, but we learned eventually it is a legit step. They love one kind of dance form which we named pinky finger dance. They basically form a circle with people connected using their pinkies and they do this 1-2-3-4-kick-4-3-2-1-kick step. The WHOLE TIME! I was okay with it until I started getting pulled on both sides by my pinkie which was hurting like a b***** by the end of the night. Food was catered by his restaurant and was really yummy with plenty of veggie options(I would like to think so!)

The next day, my jet lag decided to kick in and I was awake at 5 am! I was lost as to what to do and then I heard it! There is something very beautiful about the Fazr Azan. I lay awake listening to it and then I just got up, started watching random stuff on my iPhone. I was so bored that I ate breakfast twice, once alone and once with the rest of the group. Becca’s sisters said that they too were awake and I should have knocked on their doors. They were bored out of their wits as well. Later after breakfast, we went out for sightseeing where we saw the Ankara Castle and this super interesting museum with old engineering artifacts. We walked back to the hotel at lunch time and the manager could not have been a better host! He drove us to a restaurant of his recommendation, insisted that he will pick us up in an hour, then drive us to Ataturk’s mausoleum and arranged a guide for us. Like I said, people in Ankara know how to host their guests. Ataturk’s Mausoleum was the highlight of my Ankara sightseeing. I learnt so much about the Ottoman Empire and Turkey’s history that I had no idea about. Mustafa Kamal Pasha Ataturk was a visionary who merged European culture with Islamic traditions to create a modern, free-thinking society. From what we saw and learned, he was a feminist and one of his adopted daughters was the first female pilot of Turkey in 1930s. The way Turkey moves, it’s society and culture, shows what a liberal thinking country it is, which is very interesting for an Islamic country. My dad had asked if I could get a book on him, so I bought him ‘The Great Speech’ from the museum store.

Moo was flying in that day and I met her after coming back from the mausoleum. It was a happy, happy re-union for us. Somehow both of us end up meeting more regularly than any other friends. In the last 3 years, this is 4th time that we have met. Not a bad record at all! She came like Santa bringing gifts from parents and friends. I got a top and a cute chotu backpack from Dhaka from Ani and Moo and a dress from the boys, Shibs, Saipan and Hazra. Folks back home sent me sweets. Yay for birthday gifts! 😀

We spent the next day exploring some parts of Turkey too. We came back to the hotel after lunch time to start getting ready for the wedding. We took tons of pictures and selfies after cleaning, scrubbing and decking ourselves up. The wedding venue was gorgeous!

The wedding was a mixture of American and Turkish styles with the vows being read out and the bride in a stunning white dress and all that. There was a ritual where guests who were family lined up and were pinning gold to the bride and groom and giving Becca bangles. I could have sworn she looked like an Indian bride, albeit in white, by the end of it. There was delicious food, really rich deserts, a performance by whirling dervishes(I was kinda underwhelmed) and some more pinky dancing. The real party happened after the wedding where we drove off to a club and danced straight from 11 pm to 3 am. Now I don’t go clubbing too often, but when I do, I go all out. My shoes were off, and I was glued to the dance floor. At some point I ended up earning Vince’s tie around my neck. 😉

We came back to the hotel to finish packing since we had a flight to catch in exactly 4 hours. I could have sworn my suitcase had exploded, there was so much stuff! I think I had an hour of sleep pretty much. We headed over to Antalya on the southern coastline of Turkey. When I say the water was really blue, I am NOT kidding around! It was the most brilliantly blue shade of the sea I have ever seen. So pristine! We spent 2 days in Antalya exploring the bazaars in Kaleici, ruins of Aspendos, swimming in the sea and my favorite part, boating in Koprulu Kanyon. Unfortunately, we couldn’t carry our cameras because of the water, but we could rely on Karen’s GoPro. The guide got us into an inflatable raft and we canoed against the tide to reach this gorgeous spring water natural pool on top of a rock. It had waist deep ice cold water. I got into it and I friggin’ couldn’t breathe for half a minute or so! But sooooo fun!

We spent the evening on the beach swimming in the water and called it a day. CSELers left for US that night and Moo and I left Antalya for our next set of adventures the following morning.

Tips:

  1. Ankara doesn’t have a lot in terms of attractions, so 2 days should be enough.
  2. Ataturk’s mausoleum is really high on my must-see list. I learnt so much about the Ottoman Empire and the birth of Turkey.
  3. Taxis are fine in Ankara since every must see place is close by to each other, but Antalya, you definitely need a car. We drove to places which were like an hour apart from each other and that would be hard in taxis.
  4. The rest of the wedding party went southwards from Antalya to Kas and if you have more time and budget, I would suggest to do that because there are some amazing boat tours, and hidden underwater cities to see, and the beaches are less commercial.
  5. If you are booking accommodations on your own, through AirBnB and such, make sure that there are atleast 25 reviews and preferably guest pictures. Do not hesitate to ask clearly how far the beach or the main attraction is wrt walking or cabs.
  6. Make sure to carry and wear plenty of sunscreen and hats/caps because the ruins are all out in the open with almost no shade.

PS : This is just Part 1. Part 2 will cover my shenanigans in Cappadocia and Istanbul.

21

Travelogue : Zion National Park

I did not shower at all over the weekend, and I survived. Okie, now since that is out of the way, let me tell you about my fabulous camping and hiking trip that I took over the long weekend. The smell of burning wood in my hair has finally been replaced by lavender from my shampoo, but the moments are still fresh.

Abhi and Nish were planning a camp trip to Zion National Park, Utah since a month or two. Initially I was not going to go since they were going to hike up the super-badass Angel’s landing and I was so sure it wasn’t my cup of tea. The other flimsy reasons included that I had already seen Zion 3 years ago and a couple of other things. But when I was in San Diego a couple of weeks back, I heard that there may be a chance that they will move to another city and that tugged at my heartstrings, and I was in!

Angel's landing (Google images)

We were a group of 6 people, Abhi and Nish, DD and Maddie(DD is Abhi and Nish’s friend since years and Maddie is his GF), and Abhi’s friend from work, who wants to be known as Ted on the blog, because he thinks his life story’s like Ted from How I met your mother with all the heartbreaks and that jazz. I told him if I imagine his heart, it’s like a taped up balloon. Sheesh. 😀

We were supposed to start at 3 pm on Thursday from San Diego and they were supposed to pick me, DD and Maddie up at 4 pm from my home in OC. A late car delivery where our reservation was not honored( a la Seinfeld), gruesome city traffic and stupid things like that insured us being late by 3 hours pretty much. We were still too excited to get bothered by that, so it was all forgotten until the prospect of reaching our booked hotel at 5 am to wake up at 9 am again loomed on us. We had decided to stay the night at Cedar City to avoid experimenting with tents in the dark which was an awesome bit of decision making by Abhi and Nish. So after about 4 hours of sleep for the ‘night’ and our last shower for the weekend, we left for our campground in Dixie National Forest. That day was very eventful with trying to figure out the way a tent works, the right side of a rain-flap, the purpose of vestibule and all that fun stuff to get a roof over our heads.

Veggie burgers

Veggie burgers

Paneer tikka and veggie patties on our little grill.

Paneer tikka and veggie patties on our little grill.

Wilderness

Wilderness

We went around the town for a bit after that. We got back at around 6 pm all excited to make our first meal on fire. Boy, did that fire take forever to start! We had some friendly tent neighbors who saw the 6 of us cluelessly huddle over some smoking coals and they gave some lighter fuel because our firestarter bricks were clearly big duds. This help was met with a mixture of amusement and gratefulness. Some male egos were bruised as well because apparently starting a fire is the most basic talent of cave-men. 😀 We tucked into a hearty meal of burgers, Paneer Tikka and some wine. Of course the alcohol was courtesy me. The food was mind-blowing. If you have Nish with you, rest assured, you will never die hungry and unsatisfied! After wrapping up everything else, we turned in for the night, only to get up again at 4 am to get to Zion National Park as early as we could.

The morning arrived and I felt like I had swallowed a bucket of butterflies. I was freaking out and I was so scared about my hike. I was pretty sure I was going to die, or fall and break a limb or something. I had utter lack of confidence, but DD had done the same hike before and he kept assuring me that I will be able to do it. We reached Zion and took the shuttle to the point where the hike begins. I am so grateful to the weather gods that there was a cloud cover. So even with 90 deg F, we weren’t dying of heat. There was a good breeze and it kept our energy up. The hike is actually just 5 miles or so, roundtrip, but since it is a straight up elevation, it becomes tedious. We were taking tiny pauses every few minutes to catch our breath. Now Abhi is a health nut who is into hiking as well, and I think Ted is too, so they were pretty okay. Nisha and I were dying and DD and Maddie were left a li’l behind since they were taking it easy climbing up. But even then, I think I did pretty well compared to the dud I was 3 years back about outdoorsy activities. For sure, it was easier because Ted offered to help carry my backpack full of water bottles. Shawn(my buddy at work) had told me not to sit down because then it makes it hard for me to continue. He is totally taking credit for training me in these last 2 years and building up my stamina. He wants me to buy him lunch now. Ya, right!. So, we went up and stopped at Scout’s lookout which is the final point for someone who doesn’t want to do the killer last half mile. We sat for a few minutes, took some pictures, watered us up and started on the final hike again. I don’t want to write too much about it and will let the pictures do the talking (I will add more eventually). Ted helped me a ton by making sure I don’t fall off or trip. I got totally laughed at while going down because I was sitting down and slithering down the rocks like a snake, as my friends claimed. But hey, between my dignity and my life, I would choose the latter. 😀

At the TOP

At the TOP

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Challenge accomplished!

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Walter’s wiggles, a part of the trail to Scout’s lookout.

I feel totally badass that I did it and I am extremely proud of myself. I had seen plenty of videos on Youtube that had scared the living daylights out of me and I had decided to play it by the ear about doing it or not. But at that moment, I just wanted to do it. Remember my last post? The whole ‘seize the moment’ thing I am daring myself to do? I think the hike was a part of that crazy, mental plan.

We were EXHAUSTED after the hike. We had bhel (sort of an indian street food) for lunch and went to check out the Virgin River and some parts of the Narrows hike. The water was cold and sooooo good. I wanted to go deep into it but we had to leave too. So with a very heavy heart, a bid adieu to Zion. Okay, *drama queen*.

Now I did say we were exhausted and aching all over, and to add to our woes, it started raining. I think it’s a trend with me. California is drought stricken. Last year when I went to Portland, the city welcomed me with a good soak. In this trip also, I had to get caught in the rain at the campground. We had a fab time trying to light our little fire with all the moisture around but we managed, in about a couple of hours and literally gallons of our newly bought lighter fuel. After it was dark, DD went fuel happy on the fire and he(okay, us) found it very entertaining to see the fire roaring up like that. Has anyone done that weird thing where you spray deodorant on your leg, over your jeans actually and light it for a few seconds? Yep, I am that idiot who used to do it.

But I loved that night. It was our last night over there. It was cold, it was rainy, yet, something felt really nice and cozy about the whole environment. It was my first time camping, and I am a convert.

We even stopped at Bryce Canyons where the xBF, Abhi and a couple of our other friends had gone 3 years back. In fact, Abhi’s contact pic on my phone is from our Bryce trip and so is my wordpress display pic. It made me a little nostalgic, getting reminded of the old days, but I did snap out of it easier than earlier. Those were some fun times.

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon

The drive back was of course horrendous because the entire world is on the road trying to get back to home after a long weekend. But, MY SENSE OF HUMOR, and a bit of madness by others made it all worth it. My back is frozen, my calves are stiff and my b*tt hurts like a b*tch. But I am all smiley and happy inside. Fady, a buddy at work, even commented that I have a smile plastered on my face.

Each time I go to Canyons, I fall in love with them. I think I left a li’l piece of my heart behind in Utah, and I will be back to get it. 🙂

13

Travelogue : Portlandia adventures

Hola Amigos!

I am sitting at work, with my legs on the voltage regulator/emergency power thingy. They feel like lead! I have a terrible vacation hangover and I need a vacation to recover from the vacation.

I went to the gorgeous city of Portland in Oregon, nestled midst the lush greenery of American north west. I cannot describe how pretty the place was. As some of you might be aware, California is in an extreme drought season because of very low rains in the last 3 years. So it is quite brown and dry and the recent forest fires have made it even worse and scary. So landing at the Portland airport was such a fresh green experience. There were really tall, green trees all around. Mini forests surrounded us all over. We even got bone drenched in rain in our mile and half walk to the hotel from the bus stop! Our very first hour in town on Saturday. Is that how Portland welcomes Californians? We will never know! 😀

On Sunday morning, we rented bikes for 24 hours and did a nice ride along the waterfront. We did our own brewery tour and went to many, many microbrewery tours in downtown and the South-East. I stuck to tasters throughout and got the max bang out of my buck without getting drunk. I had no intention of riding a bike drunk on the narrow streets. The breweries in Portland are very famous for their quirky flavors. Since I do not like stouts or pale ales or anything dark and bitter, I stuck to my fruities and florals and a little bit of citrus and coffee here and there.

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So much beer, so little time….

On Monday, we rented a car and went to the very famous Multnomah falls. They were so so so beautiful! The area was so lush, breezy and the light spray of water in the air felt so refreshing, I cannot even describe. We did a nice hike up the mountain to get to the top of the falls. That was something! We reached the river which feeds the falls. The water was icy cold but I loved splashing my feet about. There was a Labrador Retriever there playing fetch with his human. He was running, splashing, swimming to get his wooden branch or whatever that was. It was adorable!

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On Tuesday, we finally got to have Voodoo doughnuts, which is a must stop shop for visitors. The doughnuts there are beyond divinity! Usually the wait in line is almost an hour, but I planned on going there on Tuesday morning when most tourists would have left. So we had to wait just over 5 minutes.

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Another highly recommended place would be Salt and Straw ice cream. I am out of words to describe my flavors. Almond brittle with salt caramel and a scoop of honey lavender. Sheer genius, whoever came up with the lavender flavor.

My legs refuse to move sort of and my butt hurts beyond words from all the cycling and hiking, but so worth it!

One cool thing about Portland is there is no sales tax! Aaand, there is a huge bookstore called Powell’s. It is like Crosswords X 3 and has 3-4 levels and a basement. I bought 3 Lord of the rings used books for around $15. Not bad at all.

The city is famous for bikes. Half of the roads, however narrow they are, are reserved for trams and bikes. It is extremely safe to ride about town because bikers have the right of way throughout. I highly suggest renting bikes rather than cars. They have bikes with carriages and child seats as well.

The most important thing about the trip was, I got to get out and do something! My last trip was to Atlanta to see Moo, and I hadn’t done anything after that. If I don’t do anything and don’t get out, I start getting anxious. So it was a welcome break from the trappings of the routine. But I have to admit, I missed the xBF a lot. I was thinking about him all the time. What he would have done, what he would have eaten, how he would have been the control freak to plan everything and would have lead us everywhere. Me and Abhi and all would have just played ‘follow the leader’ blindly with him in charge. I couldn’t help missing him while cycling, at the falls, while dining or drinking. Anyhoo….

If you are planning on a Portland trip, get in touch. I will tell you about the places in much more detail and the do’s and don’ts.