Monday, January 27, 2014

Australia happened.

So ... my previous blog talked about how I bought the ticket to Australia in spite of what seemed a 'non ideal' situation to make a travel plan abroad. I can't thank myself, and of course my friends Gowri and Swathy, enough, for finally booking the tickets! It was a fantastic holiday!

I took off from work for two whole weeks what seemed like a year when I returned! Once we booked the tickets, Gow and I called each other several times, exchanged many mails and messages about what we should do, where we should go, what to prioritize, and every conversation would end with 'OMG, i can't believe we are doing this. Yay!'. And, we had the best host! - Swathy was so excited! - we were the first ones from home (India) visiting her for this long, including her family! She created a list of 'things to do' and an excel sheet on google docs. I love how she categorized things to do into 1:adventure\places to visit, 2:Bars to visit in Melbourne,3:Food places to eat at! and 4:Shopping! We were super kicked with the list and the funny bar names ('Sorry Grandma!'). Gow and I added to the excel sheet after a lot of research and discussions. We had a whole month and half to plan and we were doing the best! At the end of all the planning, this is what the sheet looked like :)
Swath lived in Melbourne. So our base was Melbourne and we decided to visit Sydney for the fact that its Sydney! and also to Goldcoast since we wanted a beach-y few days. So we had 6 days in Melbourne, Melbourne ->Sydney, 2 days in Sydney, Sydney -> Goldcoast, 3 days in Goldcoast, Goldcoast -> Melbourne, 3 days in Melbourne and back to India. I alone was travelling back to India though. Gow was heading for a week to New Zealand. Only Gow and I were travelling to Sydney. Swathy was joining us straight at Goldcoast. 

We had exactly 2 days to spend in Sydney. This definitely was one thing I wish we had it different. We wanted to cut our stay cost in Sydney and believed this would suffice with the few things we were doing in the city and a day at Jenolan caves, but later found a beautiful place to stay at Gow's very hospitable relatives' home. What messed our plan was when our afternoon flight to Sydney from Melbourne was cancelled by dearest Tiger Airways for no real reason. A flight an hour later after ours was on schedule to go to Sydney! So they offered us to travel the next day - that would give us just 1 night in Sydney and increase our cab travel cost by twice since we had to go home and come back to the airport, or we could wait for the next flight an hour later, or the next one 3.5 hours later and hope for last minute availability. After many angry customers making no difference to the very composed staff, Gow and I decided to take a chance with 6 more competitors to STAY and WAIT! We were so bummed but we had no choice than to take a chance.2 seats were available for the first flight and it was taken by a one who said she would lose her job if she didn't go, and the other was going to surprise his girlfriend. It didn't matter that we spent all our savings to come from India and had just 2 days to spend in Sydney. We shut up and waited patiently not wanting to make any scene. But we were rewarded for the patience! The next flight 3 hours later had enough seats to accommodate all of the 6 of us who were waiting! We had a huge smile, quietly thanked the rest of the angry passengers who decided not to wait and rushed before we thought they announced otherwise!
So we called our host at Sydney and informed them of the change, hopped on to the flight, put on our eye blinders, spoke nothing to each other and slept! 

We were picked up in Sydney and taken to a beautiful home facing the bay, the family served us a hearty Indian meal and very diplomatically questioned our decision to spend just TWO days in Sydney :) and very enthusiastically made a lot happen for us in those 1.5 remaining days. We visited the Jenolan caves, Bondi Beach, Darling Harbour, watched a movie at Imax, saw some scenic spots from driveways, ate macaroons from McCafe and learnt of the legendary 'Tim Tam Dunk'! We couldn't have done so much without our lovely host who did above and beyond for us to see as much Sydney as we could in that short span <3
The Tim Tam Dunk\Tim Tam Slam is a method of using these biscuits as a straw to suck up a hot drink (coffee) and then eating it before it explodes. The biscuit is a stroke of genius -chocolate cream inside a chocolate-covered chocolate biscuit!
After a very hectic and disciplined holiday at Sydney sticking to time and plan, we were off to Goldcoast for nothing but relaxation. Okay, it was more than that. We rewarded ourselves with 'Lavish'! So this was Goldcoast - Reach a beautiful sea facing serviced apartment, SLEEP, wake up, walk to the beach road, eat, lay on the beach, walk back home, Await Swathy's arrival, head out for a ladies night at a pub, walk home, sleep, wake up, head to Wet 'n' Wild water amusement park (not a great plan), do few fun rides 'cuz even though its a weekday, its a school holiday and hence very crowded, come back home AND, <here comes the lavish>, get dressed to hop on to a freaking 'Hummer Limo' (Thanks Gow for this awesome plan) that was going to drive us around GC for a while and then drop us off at the first pub that would start our pub hop for the night.
There are lot of pub crawls and limo drives that happen around GC and Brisbane. We booked one with the Wicked pub Crawl company. We wanted a pink Hummer Limo, but had to settle for a black one ;) but nevertheless, served us for a very rich memory, quite literally! We enjoyed the time inside the limo with wine, music and as many pics as we could take while being chauffeured around like some rich celebrity kids. Of course once that was done, we were back down walking to the pubs :(
The next day we went Snorkelling in the cold waters in Goldcoast. If the waves were stronger, we could drift our way to New Zealand :). The snorkelling though was a bit of a disappointment as we could not spot much fish and the water was very unclear. I compared this to my first snorkelling experience in Srilanka in the beach and that one was amazing. Anyways, after the snorkelling, we had a good lunch and were ready to go back to Good Ol' Melbourne that had somehow become 'home' to us by now.
I spoke about Sydney and Goldcoast. But 'Melbourne' was quite something. It was 'familiar' even at the first sight. It was welcoming, and warm (the sentimental warm, definitely not warm by climate - they called it the start of summer, there was no heat whatsoever! damn!!) Gow and I absolutely loved Melbourne. Swathy gave us a great first day at Mel, introducing us to the 'Myki' card which we held onto very dearly till we left, the local tram and train, the library, the RMIT campus, and also got us a local sim to keep her informed of our whereabouts while she was at work. We spent very non touristy time in Melbourne and that's what got us bonded to this lovely city. We learnt which routes to take on the tram; accompanied Swathy to her rowing club, saw a bunch of men and women running and rowing and decided to run back on the roadside track to make us feel better about binging all along in our holiday!; visited the DFO, Direct Factory Outlet for shopping; watched tiny penguins that quietly come out in the evenings at St. Kilda's Pier on a very windy evening; had yummy thai food and tried my first Sushi  and wasabi (vegetarian ofcourse); visited some fun pubs - 'Somewhere', 'Lala land', 'Lucky Coq'; shopped for the cheapest wines at the store (budget holiday remember?); visited the Queen Vic market.
The highlights however were the stuff we did around Melbourne, in the state of Victoria. We had Swathy's very sweet friend who drove us all the way to near Mornington to take us for a Horse ride around the winery after a sumptuous lunch, and also for the very relaxing Natural Springs in the evening to soothe our bodies from the cold. The Peninsula Hot spring was just the most beautiful spa experience ever. We could be there for 3 hours, that was long enough time, and we hopped from one small springs pool to another. I relished the experience hardly talking and literally sinking in the hot mineral water. BEST.EVER! Thank you Servane and Swath for taking us there! The Horseback winery ride was another amazing experience. We were given very basic instructions, they assumed we would be sensible and learn, you know, on-the-job! So we sat in our horses, mine was called 'Hercules' (woohoo), Gow's was called 'Bugsy', Swath's was called 'Dodo', Servane's was called 'Twistee'. There were about a dozen others who were riding along with us on other horses, but as luck would have it, Gow's and my horse - Bugsy and Hercules were the LAZIEST. Bugsy to add to it loved Eating! So Gow and I had a tuf time keeping the pace, had to kick them quite a no. of times, and Bugsy would continue to arrogantly eat. But it added to a very good story with all the expressions of irritation we could see on Gow's face. Haha. Great memories. We were riding for almost two hours with two winery stops, where we could taste Cider and Wine and bask in the breathtaking views. We bought these packages through Groupon Australia. I would suggest you to look up the local groupon website of the place you are travelling to find good deals that you can plan on! We also visited a sanctuary nearby and could feed kangaroos, wallabys and pet a cute Koala!
So that was our Australia trip of September 2013. Here is a summary of -
What worked great for us:
  • Cheap Air flight tickets - the carrier doesn't really matter. Plan in advance, take off a day or two more, do a transit. Fly cheap.
  • Custom and Great planning - Excel sheets that were edited across 3 geos with quite an amount of detail, lot of googling, lot of excitement, finally peaceful consensus!
  • Accommodation taken care of - An awesome friend with a great apartment that could fit us both
Highlights of the trip:
  • Horse Riding around the wineries
  • The Dip at the Natural Hot Springs in Mornington
  • Hummer Limo Drive at Goldcoast=)
  • Darling Harbour Visit in Sydney
  • Koala petting and Kangaroo Feeding
  • Spending all that time together after many years!
Why I would visit Australia again:
  • To spend a week long vacation at Great Barrier Reef, Cairns - Dive, Snorkel, Bask in the sea!.
  • To do Shark Cage Diving at Port Lincoln, near Adelaide! - To have my heart skip more than just a beat, what the hell, love isn't happening anyway!
  • To drive a car through the Great Ocean Road in State Victoria - and also to Philip Islands to see the penguins!
  • To backpack to Perth in Western Australia.
  • To take a cruise to Tasmania
Down Under got our spirits High! All Hail!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

'Cuz I bought a god damn Ticket!

Another great travel blog post that I came across today - and I read it guilt free! The first few words would have pricked me if I hadn't bought tickets for a trip that I plan to go with my bud a couple of months down the line! (More on that later :)) But today as I read that blog, I felt proud. I am in quite an amount of financial crunch but I still decided to go when the plan seemed to fall in place. I did not back out because I had less money. I looked at it as an investment - an investment in experience\happiness and my love to travel. I reiterated to myself that "money is going to come some day. I have saved when needed, and this travel is something I've wanted to do for so long, and that I can make it all work out just fine."  I convinced myself I don't have to justify to others on the reason I planned this travel when I could rather save it for something more important. To me, I am confident I can balance and not wallow if I am put in a tough situation of financial crisis. I also know there are things that are more important than this trip. But for now, this trip is important to me 'cuz its a wish, and when you wish for something, you don't scrape it off when the opportunity comes to you! As for rest of my unknown problems, I will cross the bridge when I come to it.

I loved the blog because it talks about how people make excuses for not being able to travel, which is so true! I am glad I try my best to not fall into that category. I'll quote here a subset of excuses listed in Satori's blog, the excuses that I have heard the most and my two cents on those.

Excuse 1: Travelling is expensive! - Analyse your 'routine' expenditure. I am sure there are atleast 5 things you can try to cut down money on. Save! Spend that on something you love to do! If you love to travel, you should love it enough to spend less on lavish food\shopping.

Excuse 2: I don’t have friends who can travel with me. And I don’t want to travel alone. - I agree that its the silliest of excuses! Travelling alone might be the first step for you to become a more friendly\more approachable person. I have met such wonderful people while travelling alone, and had such great conversations. Travelling alone lets you know there is so much that you don't know yet. It lets you believe more in 'Good'. The fact that there is still humanity. There are people who will help you. There are strangers who make you smile. Enjoy being alone. Learn to talk to strangers. Be excited to travel alone. The sense of liberation can't be expressed in words. Favor yourself by feeling that once.

My most fond memory of not caring for company was when I wanted to skydive. It wasn't something that I had thought for long. But I had a crazy nerve to do it when I was in the US. I searched, found a place online, gathered my guts to drive alone on the freeway that Saturday morning (I had started driving just two days earlier in the US. I was more scared to drive the car on the American roads than to skydive!), looked up the map a hundred times the night before I headed out to the skydiving school, and somehow did it! I met some lovely people there, did a tandem jump, was full of smiles and called my parents back in India to let them know I just jumped off a plane 13500 feet high! To me, it was one of the craziest things I've ever done. I pray I will beat myself doing more crazier stuff because I don't wanna settle. I want to have that zeal for adventure even when I'm fifty :)

Excuse 3: But I can’t just quit my job. What happens if I don’t get a job when I get back? - I partially fall under this category. Like the average person, my job security is important to me. Its my bread and butter. But I believe I can work in the bounds of my job to make the most possible travel happen. I dream that one day I will have a primary job that will give me a sabbatical often enough for me to travel every year! I dream with belief and one day I believe the dream will come true. But until then, let's bite down at reality - we have jobs, but we have allotted leave don't we? Most of the work culture these days focus on employee work life balance. If you can complete your work expectations well in time, and communicate yourself clearly on your leave plans, there can't be anyone to stop. It works that way, only as much as you want it to work that way, meaning, it depends on how you manage the talks. Stay responsible and people won't question you. And take off from work guilt free. Make yourself good at the work you do. No one can then mock at your 'absence for an adventurous travel'. If you still worry about the perception, teach yourself that there are more important things in life than your job. You ought to learn to let go of responsibilities at work sometimes, learn to delegate, let go of the insecurity of being away and take off for some travel in life. If you don't plan better, and prioritize what's important to you, your boss or company is not going to care more to make your life well balanced. So talk out openly to your superiors at work, plan your work, plan your days off, and plan your trip in those bounds. You'll get back to work a happier person.

"Travel is never a matter of money but of courage.  I spent a large part of my youth traveling the world as a hippie. And what money did I have then? None. I barely had enough to pay for my fare. But I still consider those to have been the best years of my youth.The great lessons I learned has been precisely those that my journeys had taught me.”
-Paulo Coelho

 In a nutshell, prioritize your love to travel! In today's world of high end jobs and daily socialism, its easy to forget to spend time on more substantial experiences. We forget too easy and we regret more easily. Which of  these excuses do you use the most? Work on them. Life is too short to be spent on just routine living. You are too young to settle in one place. Travel the world and you'll love yourself for letting you experience it!

Friday, June 14, 2013

There is Nothing like Cycling

I took off today to cycle for half an hour. Of course the driving reason was the guilt of not exercising enough. But as I started cycling, it reminded me that there was more to it, just like the feeling when swimming after months; or of the deep feeling when sitting on a boat and balancing with the oars - the feeling of content and natural luxury; and a smile on my face that is present for no apparent reason. I write this with a slight fear of expressing in less impact, of a cycling experience that was so enriching that my words may not justify. 

I swished past the main road that was bullied with traffic, into the first street that I could. There was an immediate change in the peace within me. I cycled for about thirty minutes in an area within 2 parallel roads that I usually cover by walk in five minutes. Thanks to the unplanned layouts, I could not comprehend where exactly I was within those two roads. I cycled on the streets taking turns as it led; only bounded by a park and three busy main roads. It was magical. The fact that a step away from the noisy roads I use daily, there was this land so peaceful, rowed with beautiful houses, each surrounded by large trees and plush greenery, and few men and women walking around like props in a scenic painting; and that I was experiencing through this distance, on a cycle that was perfect in speed as opposed to a walk that would make me slow down or quit soon, or on a vehicle that didn't allow me to go in the pace needed to devour this beauty, is what made this experience so special.

When I left home to cycle, I was missing my iPod and wondered how I would cycle long without any music to listen to. How could I be motivated to cycle with the noises of the honks and the motors on the road? I am only glad now that my iPod had run out of charge. The quiet roads with many trees set in Bangalore's uniquely beautiful weather did the magic. The amount of humidity, the amount of breeze, the amount of chillness in the wind were so right, as if it had been chemically mixed in some known proportions that could bring the climate to this perfection.
The silence from the usual life around, these natural noises that go unexposed in most of our days was my music for the evening. There couldn't have been music better than this to enjoy the cycling.

For some time in between, I felt like I was riding through the pages of a book named ‘Buildings of Architectural beauties’. I had my free session of architectural class as I watched through the many houses, each differently built with different materials and different designs, but all somehow spelled simplicity. Maybe it was a theme in that area, or maybe it was the green that was preserved unlike the commercialized main roads. I understood now on why Bangalore was named Garden City. It’s a shame how apparent city’s growth has led to many treeless roads in Bangalore that have lost this reasoning.

On one of the buildings, I read an advertising board with written ‘One Life, Live it’. I smiled now consciously. So true isn't it? Simple and cliched, but how often is this forgotten! We crib for things that don’t matter in another few hours, we sulk for things in our truest opinion we couldn't justify; We carry heavy hearts with unnecessary vengeance, sadness that had to be long forgotten and desires that we hesitate to work towards; We forget to do the small things that give us joy and worry on bigger goals that we more often trouble ourselves to achieve. We forget balance in whole, we forget too easy. Just like how I had forgotten to cycle. It’s been more than two years since I bought my cycle. In the first year I had done not more than one long distance cycling, but at least I cycled often. In the second year, I had ample excuses to not cycle more than once a year, that seem so shameful to state now. And now here I am again, starting to cycle and if it can make me write this, I can’t believe how much I've missed out on not cycling enough. This small joy has made my evening, and I softly in my heart, take a vow to not take a long break from it ever. 

There are ‘nothing like many things’ in this world. Cycling is one of them. Each activity brings to you a new experience, a new learning and a new joy. While you try to live your ‘one life’ to make the best out of it, don’t forget to include Cycling on the checklist! And I hope I can someday plan a trip that includes Cycling as the main activity :)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Travel Young ... Let it define the rest of your life.

This article has blown me away... I loved every word. It makes me dream to become one like him. To feel like a traveler from deep within. To feel that spirit entwined in me that I can confidently tag myself as a traveler,not just an amateur. Reading this may put you at guilt, but its a good thing. It might be the right trigger to wake up the sleeping love to travel. By sharing his article, I hope I can remind few more people of all the reasons he has mentioned to start travelling young; to make it a habit; to make you more human.

Enjoy reading! ... Here are few excerpts that might spark you to read the complete article:

" 'Yeah, but …' This phrase is lethal. It makes it sound like we have the best of intentions, when really we are just too scared to do what we should. It allows us to be cowards while sounding noble. Most people I know who waited to travel the world never did it.Conversely, plenty of people who waited for grad school or a steady job still did those things after they traveled."

"“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle once said. While I don’t want to sound all gloom-and-doom, and I believe your life can turn around at any moment, there is an important lesson here: life is a result of intentional habits. So I decided to do the things that were most important to me first, not last."

"Youth is a time of total empowerment. You get to do what you want. As you mature and gain new responsibilities, you have to be very intentional about making sure you don’t lose sight of what’s important. The best way to do that is to make investments in your life so that you can have an effect on who you are in your later years.

I did this by traveling. Not for the sake of being a tourist, but to discover the beauty of life — to remember that I am not complete."

"You should take the time to see the world and taste the fullness of life. Traveling will change you like little else can. You won’t always be young. And life won’t always be just about you. So travel, young person. Experience the world for all it’s worth. Become a person of culture, adventure, and compassion. While you still can"

Now, what are you waiting for ?


My best friend and I had been planning for an abroad trip for long and suddenly out of nowhere it all started, and materialized. It was Thailand! 3 more of our friends and we had the gang to start on our plan!
We had a short time to plan, and as much as I am not fond of going for packaged deals, we did. None of us had enough time to plan out every single detail from scratch. And we wanted this to happen. Whatever happened we were going to make this happen :) So we compromised on true traveler tasks and took help from makemytrip. Luckily we weren't with any other group and could also tweak the itinerary to suit our requirements - Shopping, budgeted and some water sports :) We stuck to Pattaya and Thailand. Would've loved to go to Phuket for the real thailand beaches. But again, had to choose between Pattaya and Phuket. We went ahead with Pattaya based on budget and time limitation. 
It was such a fun trip! I wish I have time to write down more details later. For now, I am going to put down here a poem-sort-of's that I wrote the day we headed to Thailand from Chennai :) :

The passports have stamps
We've packed our bags
We are off from work
and all places of murk
We are gonna have some fun
Won't matter if its in the blazing sun
We will chill on the bay
And shop crazily in the day
We'll make this one
An awesome holiday
Kingdom of Thailand,
We are on our way!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

'Marry a boy who travels' - I wish!

Today I read this article by a writer Lena Day :

As I read this, I was impressed by how well she collated her thoughts, and a part of me was also envious that these are the exact thoughts that run in my mind, but never thought to write it down so beautifully as she has. When I think of the kind of guy I would like to be married to, I usually start with the adjective 'free spirited' as I call it in my mind, mostly as a result of the travel exposure that he has had in his life. Someone who loves to travel more than I do. Wouldn't that just be ideal :)? Sigh ... anyways, coming back to Lena's blog, you should read it! 

Here are a few excerpts from her blog that I loved the most!

"Find a boy who travels because you deserve a life of adventure and possibility. You deserve to live light and embrace simplicity. You deserve to look at life through the eyes of youth and with your arms wide open. Because this is where you will find joy. And better, you will find joy together. And if you can't find him, travel. Go. Embrace it. Explore the world for yourself because dreams are the stuff reality is made from.

Marry a boy who travels and he’ll teach your children the beauty of a single stone, the history of the Incas and he will instill in them the bravery of possibility. He will explain to them that masking opportunity there is fear. He will teach them to concur it.

And when you're old you'll sit with your grandchildren poring over your photo albums and chest of worldly treasures while they too insert themselves into your photographs, sparked by the beauty of the world and inspired by your life in it."

She has beautifully woven with her words the dream of every girl who loves to travel. Years later, I hope I can write back to say that I indeed found such a man in my life :)
Till then let's travel!

Monday, October 8, 2012

One for Mom

It's been on my mind for long to want Amma to have a break - break from the routine and monotony of life and the stresses. A vacation she very deeply need and hasn't had in a very very long time. It's always been on my mind. But little did I do anything towards it. So when she decided to extend her stay at Bangalore after attending a family occasion, it hit me that this was the chance for me to give her that holiday. It just needed 2 nights to survey, plan and make the bookings. It had to be something out of Bangalore or Chennai but nearby. Mom loves the beach. What more relaxing than a holiday where you can chill at a beach and do nothing else?  Goa wasn't under consideration - too expensive, too hyped. Also, been there. Gokarna - great beach holiday but too much trekking that mom won’t enjoy. Also, been there twice last year in 2011. It had to be a new place. I decided 'twas something in Kerala. Not too far away and perfect for the entire things mom loves - beach, ayurvedic massage, and hammocks! Well, except shopping :) Allepey was on the wishlist but I ruled it out because of no beach. Beach took over even a beautiful boathouse stay. Two other reasons that I didn’t combine Alleppey was my smaller budget and short span of stay. I wanted it to be relaxing rather than a packed agenda to visit many places.

I was time constrained to plan this trip. With more time I could’ve explored more but I had to decide fast since there was not much time left for the train tickets. Every Indian knows the pain of getting tatkal tickets! I didn’t want to take a chance, had to be an advanced booking. So I went with my first option of a beach holiday and looked up online like I do for any small query in my head. Lonely planet and other sites were great help. I solely banked on the reviews and went ahead. One month later here I am writing on my way back home.

I had an awesome holiday at Manaltheeram ayurvedic beach village in Chowara, Trivandrum, Kerala. In effective, it was just  24 hrs at the resort - the beach, swimming pool, hammocks, an awesome massage, a beautiful place to stay topped with very hospitable resort staff!   We were welcomed with a garland and a tender coconut drink in a very Hawaiian fashion. Mum was excited since she figured we were heading to a resort only few minutes prior to us reaching there. Even the road to the resort added to the mystery. After the warm welcome, we were taken to our cottage that stood high amongst other beautiful mud houses and tall coconut trees overlooking an exotic beach at the height of about 2 storeys below. A stretch of green lawn with a swing, a hammock and the outdoor restaurant lay between the sights of the beach from the rooms. Oh so lovely!! Even the pictures on the site did not justify the beauty of this place. That was it. I felt satisfaction for executing this surprise successfully for mom. Well I almost spoilt it with my laid back plan to start to the railway station in Bangalore just an hour before our train. What was i thinking!?!?! I was so tensed. Thanks to a good auto driver and my friends who checked for me that the train would stop in cantonment. We changed direction midway to cantonment station which was the second stop after majestic and we reached twenty minutes earlier than the arrival time! Exciting, satisfying and memorable. That's what the holiday was. Love You Amma! :*)