Category Archives: On travel

Musings and reflections on travel and travelling

Travel nights & the homecoming of terror

When we travel, we nearly always arise early to seize the day and catch a stunning sunrise or two. However, we’ve observed that we tend to retire early as well, and there’s only so much stargazing one can do. After all, most attractions aren’t open beyond sundown and there wouldn’t be much point in stumbling around in the darkness either! Many offbeat locations don’t offer much by way of night life so inevitably, we find ourselves holed up in our rooms by 9 or 10 PM, our tummies replete with a good dinner. On many of these travel nights, one show that has kept us faithful and riveting company is the American television series House of Cards (hence the featured image of the United States Capitol).

Just last night, we watched the much awaited first episode (chapter 53) of Season 5 and it was as if there had never been a season break in the show! Now, a lot has happened in this fast-paced political dream over the last four seasons. And if like us, you don’t have the time to sit through the last few episodes to refresh your memory, read some plot summaries online instead. However, into the very first minute of the new episode, we were hooked and at no point did we have to Google anything to understand the story.

Alert: Spoilers ahead

House of cards season 5
Source: Indiblogger.in

So S05E01 begins at the point where Frank and Claire are back together, contesting the elections even as they divert the backlash from Tom Hammerschmidt’s article with a declaration of war on terror. If you recall, the veteran journalist from the Washington Herald had done a damaging exposé piece on Frank’s crimes. And in the meanwhile, two domestic terrorists from the United States had beheaded an innocent man, giving Frank an alternative weapon with which to sway the masses. In this episode, a stunning turn of events is revealed with regards to the capture of Joshua Masterson.

We enjoyed watching the strange familiarity between Claire and Tom Yates yet again. Yates was the writer hired by Frank Underwood to write a book on his employment project ‘America Works’. And it was most gratifying to see Frank and Claire as a united front again, although some chinks in their relationship remain. For us, the main selling point of this show has always been their unshakeable bond, which seemed immune from all the murky waters they dabbled in as part of their professional lives. Although this bond seemed a thing of the past in season 4, we are hopeful that it is revived completely in season 5.

While there’s a lot of turmoil in terms of Frank’s candidacy for President of USA in season 5’s opening episode, a lot has also returned to normalcy. Doug is back by Frank’s side, Catherine Durant is toeing the line again and the Republican candidate Will Conway and his wife Hannah aren’t exactly in the clear either. The episode reveals a terrible yet fascinating manipulation of a tragic event and a global monster for personal gain. But will Frank’s play on terrorism pay off enough to make him President again? We’ll just have to wait and watch.

Frank Underwood is coming to India with the television premiere of House Of Cards Season 5 on Saturday, 3rd June, 5 PM onwards, only on Zee Café! #HOConZCafe

Planning to visit the White House?

White House by Diego Cambiaso
White House by Diego Cambiaso

After seeing so much of the White House and the United States Capitol in reel life, we’re pretty keen to see them in all their real life glory. While one can’t simply walk into the White House, one can definitely submit a tour request through one’s home country embassy in Washington DC. This has to be done at least 21 days in advance, and a maximum of three months before your planned visit. If your request is approved, there will be an intense security screening, following which you can enjoy a 45 minute self guided tour of America’s centre of power.

United_States_Capitol_-_west_front

It is easier to visit the United States Capitol (pictured at the start of this post). Simply go to the Capitol Visitor Center, located underground on the east side of the Capitol and visit the exhibition hall, shop and restaurant. But if you want to explore the historic areas of the building (which are the real treasures), you have to be part of a guided tour. These will take you through the Crypt, the Rotunda, and National Statuary Hall as well.

What else do we do on travel nights?

We might take a walk, plan the next day’s sightseeing or make calls to our families back home. Now it’s your turn to tell us! Go on, leave a comment.

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The world is #MoreIndianThanYouThink

I’ve been researching Bali and Indonesia thoroughly for my upcoming honeymoon. And I’ve come across a lot of scary literature about the corruption, thievery and chaos rampant in the country. But there’s one common thread in all the advisories. They all say that if you’re from India, you may not have much cause to worry. We Indians are among the toughest lot, you see. We’ve already clawed, pushed and sweet-talked our way through the trickiest of skirmishes. And it would take a LOT to challenge our hardened guts.

Crowded trains? No problem. We’re used to it.

So many people, lost in their own worlds.

No road signs? Piece of cake.

Road trip to Kaudia Forest, Kanatal in an SUV

Pickpocketers on the loose? Been there, done that.

Pickpockets

Crying babies on an airplane? It’s all right, we understand.

7a8be-lufthansa_b735_d-abiw

Okay, the last one may not be entirely true but we Indians certainly have an admirable tolerance for noise, unruliness and things going wrong in general. Maybe that’s why we excel in so many fields, despite battling so many disadvantages that the First World countries have never experienced. And amidst all of this, there’s our culture – soft and squishy as a mother’s embrace and in stark contrast to the hardships many of us face every day. India is really like a coconut – tough on the outside but sweet and welcoming once you’ve made it past all the roadblocks. Lufthansa, a German airline, has somehow managed to capture this essence of our country in its marketing campaigns and advertisements. Their team knows that the world is #MoreIndianThanYouThink. Here is their latest commercial, themed around our favourite religion – cricket.

I’m writing this post a day after many netizens in India took offence to an alleged comment by Snapchat’s CEO, where he called India ‘too poor to use Snapchat’. India may be poor but there are so many of us here, that even if only a fraction of the population constitutes potential customers, it’s still a very significant number. Lufthansa is definitely not making the mistake of ignoring India. Rather, all their thoughtful customisations in flights from India point to their respect for our global standing and consideration for our sweet-as-halwa cultural habits. You and I may be really global in our outlooks but let’s face it, we’re still Indian at our core. Even decades of living in a foreign country fails to blunt our sense of ‘jugaad’ and our craving for dal. Let’s imagine that your proudly desi mumma is flying to see you in Trump country on a Lufthansa flight.

She doesn’t care for ‘hi’ and ‘bye’. It’s all good – Lufthansa crew are trained to greet her with a perfectly executed ‘Namaste’ and a smile that actually feels real.

Namaste

She believes in using the Matrubhasha. Lufthansa’s crew are all ready to charm her with their fluency in Hindi and adept use of ‘aap’ and ‘jee zaroor’.

Lufthansa #MoreIndianThanYouThink

She doesn’t do rolls and baked beans. Great, because she’s going to be treated to expertly cooked paneer sabzi, roti and pulao on Lufthansa flights.

Lufthansa #MoreIndianThanYouThink

She can’t get enough of KJo films. Lufthansa knows that angrezi and experimental films are not for everyone. So they’ve stocked enough Bollywood films to last an entire flight and more.

In flight entertainment

And I have a sneaky feeling you won’t find too many crying babies on Lufthansa flights. All those smiling faces ought to allay their crankiness, right?

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Review: One Awesome Roadtrip by Johnny English

My favourite travel book is ‘In Xanadu’ by William Dalrymple. The story of his travels across Jerusalem and Mongolia is arresting because of the context – he’s actually retracing the route taken by Marco Polo, better known as The Silk Route – and the added drama of his evolving relationship with his travel partner, not to mention the fact that many of the areas on his route are dangerous and inaccessible. These three elements make it much more than just the recounting of an itinerary. They make it better than fiction. Johnny English’s story does not have a historical context but it does have his personal history with the places and the titbits about his wife and travel companion thrown in. If you have never been to the United States of America, this book will serve as an interesting introduction to some of its cities. And if you have been on a road trip from New York City to Houston like English, you can compare notes.

Review: One Awesome Roadtrip by Johnny English

Published by Notion Press, the book is divided into six chapters spanning 117 pages and a different segment for each day. Overall, it’s a 31 day road trip that English and his South African (as he often reminds us) wife Rosetta. The story could easily have extended over more pages by slowing down the narrative and adding more life to it. Instead, the book reads like a hurried journey through English’s travels. However, that might be a good thing for readers who don’t enjoy an excess of description and are using the book more as a guide than introspective reading material. I am still uncertain which one to slot the book in – at times, it reads like a guide, full of practical information regarding routes, prices, booking resources and timings. On other occasions, the author does ruminate upon long drives and friends met along the way. Matters might be made simpler if the story and the information were separated, rather like the Lonely Planet magazine articles where you first have an inspiring and descriptive write-up, followed by a practical guide with all the information you’d need to plan your own trip. That way, you first entice the reader and then you inform them. Nevertheless, one does get used to English’s style after a few pages. Over the course of his travels across cities and towns like Chicago, Florida, Chattanooga and New Orleans, English and his wife stay in a variety of Airbnbs with mixed experiences. He concludes that motels might be a safer alternative in America unless you go for more expensive Airbnbs.

America has a whopping 5000 breweries as of November 2016 (and counting)
America has a whopping 5000 breweries as of November 2016 (and counting)

English definitely likes his beer and one of the biggest discoveries he makes during the trip is America’s penchant for craft beer. The book is a veritable treasure trove of the best bars in America. English comes across as a traveller who is finicky about the details and about getting a good run for his money. If your travel style is something like that, you’ll have a lot to glean from the book. He goes into detail about which attractions are worth visiting and which aren’t. The weather often plays havoc in his plans in the form of unexpected downpours termed as ‘flash floods’. That’s something we don’t see often in India where monsoon has a designated slot in the calendar. But unseasonal rains are common in several parts of the world. The back of the book says that English developed a passion for travelling early on in his life as his parents separated when he was young and he spent a lot of time in Australia as a teenager to spend time with his father. It would’ve been nice if English had elaborated upon these experiences in the book.

Chicago's skyline
Chicago’s skyline

The journey doesn’t take place entirely on the road. For the initial part of the journey, English relies on public transport. In his opinion, long distance trains in America are not very convenient due to their strange timings that can have you arriving at your destination late at night or departing in the wee hours. In that huge country, one often has to take flights to travel between cities and these tend to have long layovers. Thus, your itinerary is then slave to the flight routes. If you are particular about where you want to go, the road is your best friend. English advises against travelling by United Airlines as they charge extra for baggage.

There is no ‘contents’ page in the book with a listing of chapters and corresponding destinations, which might’ve been useful. But I’ll do that for you:

Chapter 1

Day 1-3: New York City
Day 4: Niagara Falls

Chapter 2

Day 5-7: Chicago

Chapter 3

Day 8-11: New Orleans

Chapter 4

Day 12: The Florida Panhandle
Day 13: Tampa
Day 14-15: Miami
Day 16: Key West
Day 17: Jacksonville

Chapter 5

Day 18-19: Charleston
Day 20-21: Chattanooga
Day 22-23: Memphis
Day 24: El Dorado

Chapter 6

Day 25-26: Galveston
Day 27: San Antonio
Day 28-30: Austin
Day 31: Houston

Bourbon Street, New Orleans
Bourbon Street, New Orleans

That’s 18 cities in 31 days – quite a tiring itinerary, I’d have to say. I was extremely interested in reading about English’s experience in New Orleans since I’ve seen much of the city in a show called Vampire Diaries. In the show, it seems to be a vibrant city full of French and African cultural influences, streets that come alive with live Jazz in the night and an intriguing history of witchcraft. So, I was quite disappointed to note that English wasn’t in the least impressed with the city. He does however spend four days in New Orleans, which is the maximum duration that he spends in any city during the road trip.

The Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls
The Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls

Did you know that the Niagara Falls is shared by America and Canada? There is an interesting episode in the book where English and his wife attempt to drive over to the Canadian side but are stopped by officials as they don’t have a Canadian visa. A few times, the author gets a room upgrade as well which leaves him and his wife positively ecstatic. He’s also particularly taken by The Science and Industry Museum in Chicago which has four levels of simulated reality and life-sized exhibits. Chicago is one of his favourite cities on this road trip and one discovers several interesting facts about the city. For instance, it has the largest post office in the world, dating back to the 1920s. English highly recommends the La Quinta Hotel in Chicago, then called the Chicago Lakeshore.

Broad Street, Charleston
Broad Street, Charleston

The realisation that the United States is a truly enormous country dawns upon English when he loses an entire hour while crossing from Navarre Beach to Panama City. In Miami, he enjoys an Indian village tour and alligator wrestling show for $10. The city of Charleston turns out to be a particularly enjoyable stop on his road trip, with its beautiful harbour and interesting markets. English also encounters several quirky laws such as the one in Washington that says you may not bite off another person’s leg. And then in Arizona, if you steal soap, your punishment is to wash yourself until the bar is completely used up!

One Awesome Roadtrip by Johnny English

In conclusion, One Awesome Roadtrip is definitely worth a quick read. But I’d love to see English attempt a slow travel account next time. Then again, maybe I’ll beat him to it!

One Awesome Roadtrip

Author: Johnny English
ISBN 9789352062492
Type : Paperback
Pages: 135
Price: Rs 299 / Rs 199 (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Notion Press

Purchase it here.

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Ricky Ponting is Tasmania’s brand ambassador

Ricky Ponting is in town and his visit has nothing to do with cricket. The former Test captain of the Australian cricket team was present at The Taj Land’s End in Bandra last week along Will Hodgman, Premier, Tasmanian Government and John Fitzgerald, CEO, Tasmania Tourism to talk about Tasmania’s potential as a tourist destination. The event was preceded by the launch of ASAM Executive Leadership Program which is a unique Flagship 5 day residential executive leadership program in Tasmania in 2017 where participants will learn from Australia’s most successful leaders.

Ricky Ponting and John Fitzgerald, CEO, Tasmania Tourism
Ricky Ponting and John Fitzgerald, CEO, Tasmania Tourism

Although he lives in Melbourne now, Ponting returns to Tasmania every chance he gets. Talking about why his hometown has such a special place in his heart, he says, “I still travel around Australia and the world a lot. But nothing beats home. The beautiful clean air, breath-taking scenery, the incredible food and wine, brilliant golf courses, lifelong friends and of course, my family make it special.” As one of the internationally best known faces of Australia, Ponting is a well thought-out choice for Tasmania’s brand ambassador. “I am so humbled to be an ambassador for Tasmania. Every day I do my best to promote all the incredible parts of my home state and now to have an official role means so much to me,” he says.

Autumn in Tasmania
Autumn on the Derwent River in Tasmania

We have all heard about the Tasmanian devil. But there is so much more to this island state located off Australia’s southern coast. Matthew Groom, Minister for State Growth, Tasmania, elaborates, “It’s Australia’s best kept secret, it’s got the cleanest air and water in the world, half of Tasmania is protected, including a World Heritage Area which is spectacular. It’s got beautiful food and wine, recognised as among the best in Australia. And it’s a very warm and welcoming place. So Tasmania is a great option for anyone contemplating an Australian holiday.”

A Tasmanian devil demanding lunch
A Tasmanian devil demanding lunch

The state’s best known mascot, the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial, has been endangered in recent times. But Groom says its condition has improved, “The Tasmanian devil is our national animal and we’re making great strides in saving it since it suffered a great disease that impacted its population. We’ve been undertaking research with institutions around the world to save the Tasmanian devil and they’ve been very successful. But we have plenty of them still in the wild, along with lots of other interesting animals.” Another strange species unique to this island is the thylacine or Tasmanian tiger, distinguished by its stripes.

Lake St Clair, Tasmania
Lake St Clair, Tasmania

If you’ve seen the cult show Lost, you’ve heard John Locke wax eloquent about bushwalking, an activity specific to Australia that broadly involves walking experiences in natural or green areas. Bushwalking is a popular activity in Tasmania as well, thanks to its mountainous landscapes and rich biodiversity. But if you do plan to embark on a bushwalk, make sure you have a local guide along because it’s all too easy to get lost in the wilderness. You can also camp overnight at state parks and nature reserves for an unforgettable travel experience.

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My wanderlust list for 2016

I realise that we are two months into the year, but there’s no law against posting a wanderlust list in March. Besides you know what they say about wishes – let the Universe know and they shall manifest (subject to terms and conditions)! Hoping that the forces are listening, here is a list of destinations to explore in 2016:

  1. Ladakh (India)

Sangam.ladakh

I have been up north but the beauty of Leh-Ladakh in Kashmir is undeniable. Although I’ve travelled across India, I don’t think there’s any place as beautiful as these inaccessible, mountainous areas. Their impossibly lovely landscapes, lakes and fields call out to me and I hope to take a Ladakh tour when the weather is more forgiving. According to those well versed in Ladakh tourism, June to September is the best time to visit the region.

  1. Japan

Chidorigafuchi_sakura

Japan has been on my wanderlust list ever since I laid eyes on its picturesque gardens and gorgeous cherry blossoms that carpet the streets and parks during flowering season. And then I discovered Haruki Murakami who acquainted me with its prefectures and admirable modern culture. Travel to this country has turned out to be painstakingly expensive, so I’ll need a sponsor to make a trip there. I can’t wait to ride their flawless metros and make it to the outlands.

  1. Turkey

BLUE MOSQUE, ISTANBUL

Who doesn’t want to go to Turkey? Both the tourism board and tour operators have done a great job of acquainting travellers with delightful places like Antalya and Cappadocia. Turkey with its alluring melange of Arabian and European influences is definitely on my wanderlust. As a lover of history and architecture, I am keen on visiting the Temple of Artemis and Hagia Sophia in Istanbul; not to mention picking up beautiful souvenirs in the Grand Bazaar.

  1. Ireland

Ireland_Dublin_Night

How can I not lust after Ireland when it has served as the arresting venue for a show as grandiose as Game of Thrones? Mention Ireland and you are transported to a land of steep cliffs, boisterous seas, Irish whiskey and endless green pastures. I have been to London and the English countryside but I have not yet been able to slake my thirst for Ireland. The Giant’s Causeway, Blarney Castle and the Titanic monument at Belfast are some of the attractions I want to visit.

  1. Russia

Russia - St Petersburg

I have a friend living in St. Petersburg and he has ensured that I am not a stranger to the glorious land of Russia. Every street, building, and park in Moscow and St. Petersburg seems to be straight out of a fairy tale. Russia is on my lust list for its Kremlins, the charming Mediterranean coastline of Crimea, the snowy landscapes and mountains of Kamchatka and the beautiful colonnades and squares of St. Petersburg.

Until 2014, whenever people asked me about my travel bucket list, I was always at a loss. The truth is, you have to see some of the world in order to start craving for the rest of it. 2015 did that for me. And most likely, my feet will be pretty busy in 2016 as well.

What’s on your wanderlust list this year? Leave a comment and let me know.

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