Thursday, 8 January 2015

IT RAINED THAT DAY IN ZURICH

It Rained That Day In Zurich

When it comes to Switzerland, images of Interlaken and Lucerne flood our vivid minds but on our third trip to the country which technically, was 'just' a flight hop, we, that is, my husband and me, decided to spend a full three days in Zurich. We had it all sorted, planning to travel to the neighbouring touristy cities by train each of these three days while our luggage rested conveniently  at some Airport hotel. It had to be Bern and Montreux, I insisted as I had yet to sight the 'Barengraben' and the 'chateau' de chillon'. My husband meanwhile wanted to revisit all the places we had done before( how romantic, one must think, but turned out tickets to the latter were cheaper). So we had plenty of time in our hands and obviously, covering most of these places seemed very very achievable and we weren't ( when I say we, it is mostly I incase of travel plans and aspirations) the types to waste our precious holiday time in Zurich, the financial capital of Switzerland ( yeah! It sounds boring even in the head), especially after several well wishers had warned us about the drab and the dull Zurich. " There isn't anything to do in Zurich", " Why couldn't you catch a direct train to Lucerne and stay there instead", " Three whole days in Zurich, are you guys crazy"....and yet we didn't listen, were here, brimming with enthusiasm to explore Switzerland, we had smartly chosen a central hub, had no worries of chugging the heavy luggage from place to place and planned to take a new direction from here each day.
But what do you do when you wake up on the first morning in the hotel bed and are faced with the looming possibility of having to spend 24 hours in Zurich, Switzerland, as all roads going up to the mountains are closed due to incessant rains. And however crazy you might have pictured us to be, we weren't stupid enough to burn precious swiss franks in train tickets on such a sloppy wet day.
Well, what do you do when it rains in Zurich?! Actually, you are in for a real treat; grab your umbrellas ( in our case, we bought one from the nearest store which happened to be a kid's shop and tried sharing it!), get a Zurich city pass(ask your hotel for one.) and board the first tram to Zurich Zoo. This gem of a  rainforest themed zoological park hidden in the heart of Zurich will enamour you with its lively ambience and eclectic showcasing of exotic animals and their niches and a superb layout. The cherry on the cake is the Masoala Tropical Rain Forest under a geodesic dome where the entire Madagascar biosphere seems to come alive with the musical cacophony of birds flying around, myriads of buzzing, fluttering insects and chameleons and the likes gracing the giant green trees, not to mention the overgrowth of exotic epiphytes and ivys. The gurgling of a waterfall cascading down in the background and soft raindrops pecking your cheeks from an artificial downpour has a mesmerizing effect. The boardwalk through this paradisiacal jungle is a stimulating, exhilarating experience and removes you far far away from that cold blue rainy day of Zurich. Later, you can take a boat cruise on the Zurich lake and a little dance in the rain at the deserted promenade wouldn't hurt either, trust me I am speaking from experience. It was one of the most romantic days of my life, we wandered aimlessly, rode the free trams and city trains( thanks to the all day Zurich pass), drenched ourselves silly and shared umpteenth cuppas of hot tea.  Tomorrow would be another day!!


P.S. IN PICTURES: ZURICH, Mt.TITLIS, LUCERNE










Friday, 2 January 2015

Manitoulin-Discovering Thousand Islands Canada

Where the giants walked: discovering the Manitoulin Island :: Lonely Planet India - http://www.lonelyplanet.in/articles/6857/where-the-giants-walked-discovering-the-manitoulin-island

Sunday, 14 December 2014

IBIZA - THE HYPE AND THE HOOPLA

" I live for the Nights I won't remember, with the Friends I will never forget'', and that sums up all that is Ibiza, the 'Ecstasy Island'. The word Nightlife is synonymous with IBIZA. Innumerable songs have been devoted to this emerald Balaeric Island in Spain, the land where electronic music is said to have originated and the land which is a hotbed of wild parties and crazy clubbing. That Ibiza is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a different story altogether.
 Pardon me if I sound a little aloof, somewhat disengaged, describing without being too attached, discount me, because what else would you expect from someone who is a teetotaler, whose husband has two left feet and who would almost always prefer,if given a choice, to grab a lounger and a book rather than those passes to a Rock Concert in the neighbourhood. But then being the traveller I claim to be ( to be honest, I don't mind the tourist tag any longer), Ibiza had long been on my to do list and so here I was, in the Entertainment Capital of the world, husband and my teenage son in tow ( yeah! I know..)
Ibiza is known for the razzmatazz, the glitzy summer clubbing scene, the wild theme parties but there is so much more to see, to discover and experience. It is like being at two different places in one, the contrasts are stark; the Old Town with its cobblestoned pathways, whitewashed villas, quirky boutique stores, the coastline dotted with innumerable sail boats and a handsome spattering of intimate cafes along the promenade, is a delightful glimpse into the Spanish way of life. The formidable ramparts of the moorish castle look magnificient lit up in the night while the cute little lighthouses are picturepostcardusque.

 The streets are filled with makeshift pubs, flyers luring tourists to nightclubs pasted everywhere, be wary of shady salesmen buzzing you constantly with offers of free drinks with club entry tickets. I should now post the first of the warnings- Go only for reputed clubs like Paccha, Amnesia or Privilege to name a few. Most of the action takes place around two hubs- Ibiza Town , Playa d'en Bossa which has a more cosmopolitan vibe and then there is San Antonio catering to the British uber. The tickets cost anywhere from $30 to $90 while a drink would cost around 20$. BEWARE of fake tickets and hideous sales counters and if you have no choice left in the entire universe, only and only then board the Disco Bus which plies through the night. You can save some money by buying tickets online or opting for PreParties showcasing DJs who would be playing later. Boat parties are another fancy way of cutting your losses. Though, the clubs are open seven nights a week and all seven nights feature different themes and music; the party scene begins to heat up only by May and come October  all tourist centres quieten down a little but not before some flashy closing parties make the round.While Privilege is the largest club, Space and Bora-Bora give you the oppurtunity to party even during the day. Paccha is the oldest club and built like a Tunisian temple, the guest list here boasts of Ursula Andreas and the Rolling Stones. Other than these and a handful more of the swish and swanky ones, I wouldn't suggest the dark, sweaty, overcrowded, asphyxiating dungeons to anyone except hardcore partygoers who are already past discerning the discomfort of it all. Some of the good ones don't fail to impress though, with some mind blowing theme nights replete with street performers, costume parades (be prepared for some very naughty costumes or none at all..) and International dance troupes. The parties go on until dawn, I wouldn't be exaggerating if the noon sun greets you through the glass roof.Ibiza is like a 24X7, round the year festival. The guilt free extravaganza of wild beach parties and in your face exuberance, the carnival like spirit draws you like a magnet, leaves you hypnotized. Being a bystander is not a choice, you have to become a part of it else the strangeness of it all will alienate and disengage you, will leave you feeling awkward and unsure.


  For the fainthearted, let me suggest a leisurely stroll through the charming old town, the Dalt Villa or High Town as it is known, or a romantic boat ride exploring the island with its secret smuggler's coves, salt lakes and long curved sandy beaches.



Take a pick from taking a trip to Formentera, another pristine blue gem some forty minutes away by ferry or visiting the Archaelogical Museum and Clock Tower. Or simply watch the sun paint the sky in several hues of pink as it bids farewell for the day. Find a quiet beach for that, we found Talamanca.


But again, if you are going only for soaking in some Island sun or want to walk through the rich Spanish History, check out Mahon or Mallorca instead ( In my head I might be thinking, ''you must be crazy to do that'' but seriously, if you are not a party freak, Ibiza won't mean the same to you). Also, it is a destination to do with friends, probably the only beachy affair where friends out do romance.
  Ibiza is not your run-of-the-mill destination and expectedly needs special travel plans. A short but usually choppy flight from mainland Spain aboard a low cost carrier is how most people arrive, then there is the option of a painful and long 9-10 hour ferry from Barcelona, though,you can choose to cruise aswell like we did.(P.S. Most of the big luxury cruise liners offering Ibiza on the itinerary, stop overnight and so there is no threat to the party frenzy you had always dreamed of, you still get to wake with that nasty hangover, hit the family beach in case you still care and go for that lazy stroll along the esplanade.) For those looking for a luxury stay can check out La Torre Del Canonigo with amazing views of the coastline of port Eivissa aka Ibiza Town. The Ushuaia and Ushuaia Towers offer a more International vibe.

  Go. Because even Nostradamus wanted you to.

P.S. It is believed that Nostradamus predicted that " Ibiza will be Earth's only refuge after Armageddon". And his prophecy had nothing to do with Ibiza 'culture' but because of something very scientific like prevailing wind patterns.





Friday, 14 March 2014

A FLOATING CARNIVAL : CRUISE VACATION

 When not working, which is more often that not, I spend time deciding where to travel next and to be true most of my efforts in recent past have been limited to finding the next cruise vacation. When most travellers would agree that there exists no such thing as a wholesome family holiday with the scales almost always tipping to one side, with you getting your decade's quota of popcorn in one Disneyland theme park visit or your kids finding themselves in the lap of an 'as strange as foreign' babysitter while you try to make a rush for that hip nightclub; the cruise lover in me would beg to differ. Pick a good reputed cruise liner and sit back to enjoy the loony, the noisy, the sultry, the seductive; from hip and happening to laid back and chillaxed experience of the Travelling Hotel, as I prefer to call it.

No hassle of working the luggage from place to place, no worry of arranging local transfers, a new destination each day and thrilling activities to keep the night young; throw in a selection of land excursions, onboard activities, extensive menu and endless shopping oppurtunities- the perfect recipe for a blockbuster holiday is for you to savour!!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Most cruise liners nowadays give you great offers and believe you me, if you have the time to visit the online site every other day, the deals are a steal, especially a month or so before the cruise dates, prices also vary according to the cruising dates. Me and my husband, now that we consider ourselves no less than cruise pros ( just 4-5 cruise voyages young) , even choose our cruise destination as per the bargain offered ; bartering our Scandinavian dream for an Alaskan adventure if the 'situation' so demands, for, once you have delved deep in the life and style of a cruiser, there is no looking back and shifting the destination seems no big a compromise. From rooms with a view,dramatic public spaces, custom crafted accents, and an effusive welcome all over the place to gigs, art auctions, scintillating performances, deep blue pools, jacuzzi and lounges and lavish buffet spread; you are spoilt for choice.


All the elements of a blissful holiday come together in perfect symphony; the atmosphere, the romance; days spent sauntering through the exotic locales the cruise docks at, evenings spent on dock sipping a drink as sunset scatters languid, lemony light over the bay and finally, unwinding under starry nights or maybe, if you are a night owl- in a swank bar onboard with melody and martinis filling you up. Life is a beach when you choose to cruise, dawdling around ancient civilizations,bizzare skyscrapers, serene islands and rustic countryside;phones off the hook,  going caving, snorkelling, getting up close to sea creatures, riding cheap trams and HOHO buses to your heart's content, ogling at vintage collectibles at chic stores or just getting a taste of local cuisine and craft and clicking numerous selfies before returning to the thrilling exciting flamboyant life of stellar casinos, swank bars and crazy parties onboard.

You can take a pick from the exotic Greek odysseys, Spanish escapes, crazy Caribbean beaches, exotic Norwegian Fjords, Magnificent Alaskan glaciers to spectacular Scottish destinations; nowadays there are Hobby Cruises on the platter too, what with an exclusive Knitting cruise, Exploring Nova for the self confessed geeks and intellectuals and a Culinary Wine and Delights cruise for the foodie in you. A cruise ship is not just another mode of transport , its another life, another world - A dream world which leaves that unique flavour of content contrasting with the lingering greed for another taste.






P.S. While cruise is a great way to take a holiday, combining a land tour with it seems a better option. We mostly take 2-3 days extra at the port of disembarkation and sometimes a stretch at the hop destination if the flight is via a new country. Some of the countries are better covered by cruise, like Greece while others like Spain would need a more exhaustive itinerary.

'Cruise Tours', which are a combination of land stays and cruise customised by the cruise companies, are a waste of time and money and totally avoidable while Shore excursions which are optional should be purchased once onboard. Sometimes you get a better deal onboard, at other times you discover that the shore excursion you opted for is meaningless or maybe not interesting enough. Then there could be those who would find other ways and means to explore the destinations in a cheaper and more personalised way.

Cruise life is big and extravagant but talk about the cabins.....your bath back home could well be bigger than the entire stateroom. So consider this. as you have to spend the rest of the week or two in structures similar to portacabins( ok! that's bit of an overstretching of facts but umm!). I suggest take a short 2-3 day sampler cruise before you get more adventurous and embark on a longer voyage.

At times the ship doesn't dock at the shore but is tendered, they take you to land by tender boats which is quite acceptable, though, the days when the docking shore is way away from the main city and they charge a mandatory transfer fee for that- that's when the whining starts and rightly so.

Packing light is not an option; one because you can't and second because there are formal evenings and 'Portrait Days' where you need to strut your stuff. So from crazy beach wear, breezy lounge wear to elegant evening dresses - you need them all. Don't forget  bold accessories, heirloom jewellery( champagne art auctions and you wanna go in Tees, huh!!), sandals and the works. All I can suggest is to pack nothing much for the poor husband, he is poor anyways!!. They have Tuxedos on rent but ask the rent and you can live in Hawaii for a year with that kind of money.

Before booking your next cruise trip, do a thorough research because the recent reports of Norovirus outbreak in 3 cruise liners do disturb a little. The problem though, has been only reported from the Caribbean circuit.




Saturday, 8 February 2014

SURAJKUND CRAFTS FAIR- INDIA IN A HEARTBEAT ( Photofeature )

Surajkund Crafts Fair- India In A Heartbeat

The Surajkund International Crafts Fair is being eagerly awaited . The yearly crafts mela held every year in February at Surajkund near Delhi started as a quixotic endeavour to promote the indigenous artisans of India, but over the years it has come to be more than just a showcase for India's rich handicrafts and adroit craftsmen; India comes alive every year at this festival of vibrant culturati,epicurean cuisine and kitshy crafts. The thatched huts, colourful festoons and flashy costume parades add to the quaint charm of the ethnic ambience recreated beautifully. Surajkund fair takes you places, reverberates with unparalleled flamboyance and vitality; it lures you, surprises you, satiates you because it mirrors the spirit and soul of India, it is quintessentially INDIA, with every nook and cranny exploding with riotous colours and exuberating with unbridled energy. The formidable replicas of monuments from around the country leave you awestruck and the richness of palette is seductive.Rich silks, gossamer shawls, intricate wood carvings and interesting home decor options leave you spoilt for choice and lip-smacking authentic flavours of traditional food, make you drool. Also on the platter are display kiosks of countries like Afghanistan, Srilanka, Tazakistan, Belarus with some interesting stuff. Visit Surajkund from 1-15 February to grab India in a nutshell, trust me I have been going for as long as I can remember and still can't get enough of it!!