All posts by Anita

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A Malaga moment

When I look back at my Europe trip, I have so many moments and sights that stand out. So many things to write about – just looking back is a bit daunting. But I’m trying to organise everything and share useful information in nuggets, along with tips and travel information. Hopefully, over the next few months I’ll get to share some of it.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this lovely view of Malaga with me. It was a cloudy day to start with. My host was quite disappointed by the weather I was getting to witness (it’s never like this, she kept telling me). But I set off anyway on a bit of sightseeing. I borrowed her son’s cycle and decided to explore the city on two wheels. At the end of my gallivanting, the skies cleared quite a bit and I decided to climb to the Castle of Gibralfaro. Even though I wasn’t optimistic about the views that day, I started off. It was a good decision. As the evening set in, suddenly I got a display of some brilliant colours – orange, purple, yellow – the sky was on fire!

The sea-side city of Malaga awash with brilliant colours as the sun sets

The sea-side city of Malaga awash with brilliant colours as the sun sets

Malaga is on the southern tip of Spain, and apparently one of the oldest cities in the world. It also has some of the warmest summers in Europe. I spent quite a few happy days there and can recommend a visit to Malaga to anyone who is heading to that part of the world. It is also the place where I lost my passport, but I’ll reserve that story for another day.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the view!

letterfrombangalore

Published: “Letter from Bangalore”

A piece I wrote for the magazine, “Vision – fresh perspectives from Dubai“, published by Touchline, October edition.

It’s published quarterly in the English language, and has a print run of 60,000. It features reporting on business, culture and life in the emirate, high profile interviews with influential thought leaders, In-depth special reports and notes from different parts of the world.

I did a piece on the cycling in Bangalore (my favourite topic!) and how, despite the lack of roads and infrastructure, enthusiastic Bangaloreans have sparked off a revolution on two wheels.

Read the piece here — LETTER FROM BANGALORE.

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Walking around Aarschot, dreaming of noodles

I spent a week in the town of Aarschot. If you’re wondering where that is, it’s very close to Leuven (a university town), around 50 from Brussels. It’s a city and municipality in the province of Flemish Brabant, in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The town of Aarschot, with a population of 27,864 (in 2006)

My home for a week was a caravan in the home of a farming couple and their two children. My caravan mate was a lovely girl from England and I was glad I had some company. I hadn’t really lived in a caravan before and this was a different experience for me. (But I’m saving that story for later).

Aarschot turned out to be a much larger town than I initially thought so. I had an impression that it will be a smallish town the size of my locality in Bangalore. But it turned out that I was wrong. The town is actually quite large and has a nice big square with different restaurants around it. On weekends, there is some activity as people come out to enjoy the sun and some of the famous Belgian beer.

A walk in town: Aarschot
A small and neat town, great to walk around. Also has cycling tracks

A walk in town: Aarschot
I love this – it’s a bread machine! So you can pick up your dinner on the walk home…

But otherwise, it’s pretty quiet as I discovered while setting out for a walk with my caravan mate, Lou. We decided to explore the natural “reserve” area, a few kilometres down from where we were staying. From there, we’d venture into town and maybe grab a glass of wine.

A walk in town: Aarschot
Off we go, Lou and I

I like seeing places on foot. Or bicycle. You can stop and stare. Do unplanned things. And generally get a feel of the place. Something you wouldn’t get if you were whizzing past in a car. Or a bus.

A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
Quiet picturesque roads, where we encountered a few cyclists and a nice trail leading to a green forested area

The natural reserve (I am really not sure it was one, but calling it that for reference) turned out to be a rather pretty area. We walked on the edge of it, I think. Met some cyclists on the way, but we were the only walkers.

A walk in town: Aarschot
Means, watch out for cyclists!

A walk in town: Aarschot
Lou running up the slope as we enter the green forested area

We went in for a bit and then decided to turn around towards the main city centre in search of food. Lou was a bit suspicious of my direction skills, but I had the map with me. A distinct advantage.

A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
The town is quiet, with flower lined roads, signs and routes for cyclists and a large square where most of the restaurants are located

We walked through the pretty streets of Aarschot and got a bit lost. Some of the streets didn’t have any names. Or they had hidden them well enough. So there were periods of time, when we stood at a crossing and didn’t really know where we were. This is where cathedrals play an important role as a GPS. Using the tall tower, you can make your way towards it. So, as soon as I espied the tower, I knew we could head in that general direction. We did, and landed up at the town square.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The main square where most of the action is!

The sun dappled square was quite busy since it was a holiday and people were enjoying their beers and drinks in the warm afternoon sun. We basked in the sun ourselves for a bit; had a glass of well deserved wine.

A walk in town: Aarschot

We stopped to enjoy a glass of wine at a cafe in the city centre

And then set off in search of Asian food. Well, I was dreaming of noodles (I have these cravings sometimes) while Lou said she’d be happy with fries. We didn’t land up getting either. Roamed around a bit looking for an Asian place. Every town, city and village has to have an Asian place. Surely.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The Beginhof in Aarschot, a very beautiful stone building

A walk in town: Aarschot
City roads of Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot
Do we want Indian? Not me!

We weren’t about to give up though Lou was getting quite swayed by the thought of “frites”. But that particular day, there were no frites in Belgium. Well, at least not in Aarschot. In our vicinity anyway. We walked around to the station area and finally sighted a Chinese restaurant. By then we were tired and hungry.

Dreaming of noodles, I ordered my “nasi goreng” (not a Chinese dish I know, and I had no idea why it was there) from the menu. Around 15 minutes later two plates of rice arrived on the table. That’s when I realised my mistake. Obviously, even my recent trip to Malaysia hadn’t helped differentiate between “mee” and “nasi”. Ah, well. Nobody’s perfect.

So, of course, my noodle dreams had to be shelved for another day. We enjoyed our food, never the less. And then walked back to our life. And the caravan.

More pictures from Aarschot

More from the Europe wanderings:
Swiss summer
Of missed flights

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Why cities shouldn’t have more than one airport

I rush to the Vueling airlines desk at Brussels airport. Rather breathless. Trying on my best “distressed” look face. Actually, I don’t need to try. I am rather distressed. I have been looking forward to landing in Spain. And it seems the universe colluded. Against me.

Earlier this morning, I wake up really early (like 5 am), trying not to disturb the three other sleeping occupants of my hostel room. Got ready in around 20 minutes and snuck out of the room. I double checked with the guy at the desk as to which station would be closest to the airport. The north, he said confidently.

So I made my way to Brussels Nord station, towing my luggage along. At the counter I ask for a ticket to the airport. He gives me one and says I’d have to get down at the last stop and take a bus. “The train doesn’t go to the airport.” Sounds fine, I think.

He points me to the train and the platform number. I run and make it just as the doors close. Phew!

Around 30 minutes later, the train pulls up at the last stop from where there’s a bus saying “Aeroport”. Excited, that I am getting closer, I jump in.

A rather long journey of around 30 minutes and finally we are deposited at the “airport”. I rush in and find huge queues. For Ryan Air. Right. Whatever happened to all the other airlines? I go to the information desk. He looks at my ticket and says, “This is Charleroi airport, you need to go to Brussels airport.” Uh… right. You know the feeling you get when you reach an airport, and then find out it’s not the right airport? That’s what I’m feeling.

And how far is this other airport? Well, there is an express service for Euro 2000, he says. At this point, I nearly fall off my imaginary chair.

I rush outside. The next bus back is only in around 40 minutes. The cabs don’t go till they have 8 passengers. And there as no way it’s going to be filled soon. I have no option. I pay 2 euros for Internet access (most places don’t have free WiFi or have some deal like “15 minutes free, if you register and bequeath your property to us”) so I can change my flight, but it’s too late. It is 830 am so do I still have an outside chance? Then I find out that the bus takes an hour to reach Brussels Midi, from where I need to take another train to the correct airport. Zavertem, by the way, is the name. Heavens. If only I’d committed that name to my memory and said it to everyone on my way.

I decide to give it one last shot. Rush to a cab and ask if he can take me as fast as possible to the airport. ‘Get in,’ he says and then drives through some side roads (in exactly the style they show in the movies) and then onto the auto route to the airport. I know it’s a losing battle, but what’s the harm in trying? In the movies at least, they usually make it.

Reached the airport at exactly 10 am with 20 minutes to go. Rush to the counter. The lady there checks, but I know it’s too late. They won’t allow me to board now. “If only you had 1 piece of luggage,” she indicates. Ya right, I’ve been travelling for well over a month, missy. Of course, I don’t say it aloud.

So there it is. I am prepared for everything. Except two airports. And looking back, nowhere did anyone ask (the guy at the hostel, the guy at the ticket counter at the station) which one I needed to get to. Of course, I can’t blame them. I should have probably confirmed it by it’s name. But at 630 am in the morning, I was more intent on getting to the airport, than “the” airport.

One would think that after all this travelling, I shouldn’t make this seemingly silly mistake. But we all live and learn. So here I am, stranded in Brussels airport and thinking that cities should be banned from having two airports. Why do they do these kind of things and just confuse the hell out of us? The the last minute prices of tickets don’t help matters.

One more lesson to learn on the road. Get the name of the airport next time. If possible etch it on your forehead. And say it many times. It’s definitely an expensive mistake to make. Especially in Europe.

(PS: To end the story, my final destination was Malaga, but since the flights to this place on the same day was very expensive, I flew to Madrid and then took a train to Malaga.)

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A few different ways to enjoy Switzerland

It’s difficult not to enjoy Switzerland. Not only is it picture perfect, it is one of the safest countries in the world. Where you can go off on a trek into the mountains pretty much by yourself. Or travel from one part of the country to another without too many worries about your safety.

Lake view
A view of the lake on my first trip in 2005

Geneva and Zurich happen to ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world. (And as a result, Switzerland also happens to be the most expensive country in the world to live in).

I’ve been in Switzerland since the first week of August and I must say that I’m enjoying it more than my first time. For one, I have more days in hand. And rather than rushing around, I’ve had the opportunity to soak in some cultural experiences, walk around some amazingly scenic trails in the Swiss mountains, experienced living in a small village and devoured inordinately large amounts of cheese and wine. My quota for the year, is definitely over.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A traditional dish called raclette. Among other things, it has a lot of cheese.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Enjoying the beautiful green mountains

But what better way to enjoy a country? Here are a few…

Trekking around the mountains

They’re almost painfully beautiful. Well, the pain is partly because the climbs are tough in parts. But the views more than make up for all the effort and hard work. In my first week, I got whisked away to the mountains and I wasn’t going to complain. Though I was informed this has been a really dismal summer by Swiss standards, we were lucky enough to get a few days of sunshine and clear weather.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Views from the chalet we stayed in

We stayed in a cosy chalet up in the village of Gryon, a town located around an hour’s drive from the city of Lausanne. From there, it was a matter of planning where to start the trek from, where to end, pack our picnic lunches and then set off. We did 3 treks into the mountains and each one was memorable in it’s own way.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The village of Gryon is the perfect place to base yourself for treks around the area

To be able to walk out into the mountains without a care in the world is a feeling unmatched. The routes are really well marked and it’s unlikely you’ll get lost unless you’re really bad with directions. Someone commented how it seemed so safe – just both of us traipsing through the countryside. And yes, it is actually. At no point did we feel unsafe. With a walking map in hand, and an excellent guide in Stephanie, who was brought up climbing the mountains around the area, I couldn’t have been in better hands.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Gushing alpine streams accompany you on many portions of your walks

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Nothing like a dose of fresh mountain air

The three treks we did:
1) Pont-de-Nant

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The approximately 8km trek begins with a gradual climb and then gets slightly steeper, goes up to a view point and then descends through some tall trees on the other side

2) La Croix des Chaux-Bretaye

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Around 15 kms, we hiked to a peak called La Croix des Chaux at 2012 metres. From there, we hiked through some narrow paths and valleys to the village of Taveyanne, climbed to Ensex and ended the trek in a small picturesque village called Bretaye.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Don’t miss a walk around the lake in the village of Bretaye

3) Javerne-La Tourche

Enjoying a Swiss summer
View from the top of the climb at a point called La Tourche, and we did around 8 kms to and from a high altitude pasture called Javerne.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A couple enjoying the view from the top

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Stephanie and I enjoying the trek to La Tourche

Switzerland’s walking and trekking routes are really well marked and you can check out these websites for more information.
My Switzerland
Wandersite
Walking Switzerland

Enjoying a Swiss summer Enjoying a Swiss summer

Biking on beautiful scenic roads

It’s almost a sin not to be able to ride on these roads. I look with a certain amount of envy at cyclists enjoying the beautiful countryside roads, with hardly any traffic. Also, most cars give a wide berth here and besides there aren’t too many of them on the back roads. I’ve encountered quite a few cycle friendly trails. One particular one I’d like to do one day is the Vallee de Joux area. With some nice climbs, scenic routes and amazing views, I’ve marked this area for future reference! Otherwise too, summer is a great time for cycling with the weather just right. Not too warm and not too cold. I almost regret not getting my folding cycle along with me.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Cyclist enjoying a perfect day

Cycling in Switzerland
Mountain bike land

Of bovine pleasures: visiting a dairy farm

I am loving the cows here. Not to take away from our beautiful specimens back home in India. But they’re extra large in size.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A good looking specimen, if you ask me!

They also are quite curious. And they are adorned with these beautiful bells. When you’re walking in the countryside, it’s not unusual to hear their synchronised ringing from a long distance, the sound echoing through the countryside.

High on alpine pastures, are these charming dairy farms that look inaccessible and remote. And they probably are, by Swiss standards. We passed by quite a few on some of our treks.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Grazing their hearts out. And enjoying their daily dose of fresh air and grass

On another occasion, we dropped in at one of the farms and got a glimpse of the mechanised “milking”, and a taste of the excellent cheese with a glass of wine. As we settled into the bench outside, sipping on wine and nibbling on cheese, I looked out into the sun dappled valley, with the cows letting out an occasional moo, the bells ringing and just nothing else in sight but the green mountains beyond. What an idyllic place to be.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The cows looking a bit curious at the human intruder on their blissful chewing

Gruyere is a famous brand in these parts

Life in a Swiss village

With their community centres, their churches, and pretty wooden houses, it was a delight to experience life in a small Swiss village called Le Vaud. I have to go back to the hustle bustle and chaos of Silk Board and Bangalore after this is over, so I’m determined to relish every moment.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
Life in the cosy village of Le Vaud proved to be a far cry from the chaotic Silk Board. And no, not complaining! It was much welcome relief for a weary “honked out” Bangalorean

I discovered some inside roads ideal for running and walking. You hardly bump into a soul. In the centre, there’s a grocery shop, a boulangerie and an auberge communal for those looking to rest for a night or two.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
I welcomed these empty roads like a fish takes to water! And no, I am not missing our honking drivers

A really nice feature in these towns are communal “basins” or water fountains where you can go and refill your water. They seem to be always running and are probably fed by underground streams. The next village, around 2-3 kms down the road is called Bassins and has around 6-7 of these basins or fountains. With pretty flower pots adorning these spaces, they make for a nice sight.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The communal fountain, served by an underground stream I suspect

I walked, ran, watched the hills and the snow capped peaks on a clear day, across the lake. Said “bonjour” to dozens of people on the road. Ate some really delicious food, thanks to my lovely hosts. And enjoyed walking up the hills in the evening, watching the skies change colour over the lake. Back in chaotic Bangalore crossing Madivala market, I’ll remember these moments.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
A beautiful summer’s day in Le Vaud

Tasting the local wine and cheese

Happy cows seem to make for delicious cheese. And of course, what better drink to wash it down than some local wine. Whether it’s a rosé, a white or a red, make sure you’re not empty handed when eating your cheese and bread. My bread intake has gone up drastically over the last couple of weeks, something I don’t much care for back home. At the dairy farm we visited, there’s a room where the cheese is made and another where it’s stored. I take a glimpse inside this room and it’s like a vaulted chamber with a very precious commodity – cheese.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The cheese chamber – here is where it all comes from

Wine is more popular than water. I think. And I’m not complaining since it’s my drink of choice.

Enjoying a Swiss summer
My love for wine only got stronger

Enjoying a Swiss summer
The fondue has more cheese than I eat in a year. But I finished it at one go. You have to give me points for assimilating.

So the Swiss summer is turning out nicely. The doses of cheese and wine have done wonders to my now forgotten diet, which I was asked to chuck out the minute I landed in Switzerland. Right now, I’m doing what I would advise all of you to do – give in and enjoy the summer!

The Swiss Summer album

(NOTE: Cover photo courtesy: Stephanie Booth)

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My favourite portraits from Vietnam

I’m a little scared of street photography. Timid actually. In fact, I think a lot about taking pictures of people. (Unless, it’s for a assignment, which is a totally different matter).

I’ve seen street and candid photographers at work and I’m really impressed. I’ve seen those who go up right upto a person and start clicking immediately. I’ve seen others who have no fear and just shoot anyone and anything.

For me, I always try and ensure my “subject” doesn’t mind. Or is not offended. However, the problem in this case is that in the process, the “moment” is often lost. Or the shot is not right anymore since I’ve been doing too much thinking.

On my recent trip to Vietnam, I decided that I was going to do more portraits. At least attempt to.

The lenses I used were: 70-300 mm (courtesy Bookmylens.com) and the 24-70 mm, a great lens from my own collection. These were the only two lenses I relied on. The 24-70 mm is definitely one of my favourites. The 70-300 mm helps when you want to shoot from a distance. The only disadvantage is that it doesn’t do well in low light situations. But otherwise, quite useful for street photography.

Here are some of my favourites.

1. Black Hmong tribal lady with a baby

She walked with us the entire duration of the Sapa trek with her baby on her back. Not once did the baby complain (nor did she). This was during a trek we did from Sapa town, down into the valley to a home stay.

Mother and baby

2. Lady with the fan

When we visited the Ethnology Museum in Hanoi, we were walking around with our guide looking around at the different dwellings of the indigenous tribals of the country when we met a big group of visitors. They were all from a neighbouring village and it seems like their day out in town!

Lady with the fan

3. Cat at the temple

This rather cool cat was lounging around at the Hoan Kiem lake in Hanoi. With my special affinity for the feline species, I get easily distracted when I see a gorgeous specimen like this one. And he (she?) was happy with all the attention. Soon, some kids also noticed the cat and we had a bit of a cat appreciation party right there.

The cat at the temple

4. Lady making rice paper

It’s a fine and delicate art, this one. Imagine making paper thin wisps (so thin, you can barely see it) over a hot griddle and then taking them out carefully and drying them. If it was me, I’d have lumps of rice all over and no paper, that’s for sure. This was taken during our trip to the Mekong Delta, where as a part of the package you get to see a coconut (sweet) production facility, buy some candies and also watch the making of rice paper.

The lady making the rice paper

5. Lady on the motorbike with the hat

Everyone wears it. Especially in the smaller villages and towns. It’s made out of bamboo or palm and is incredibly light. Which was surprising since I actually perceived it to be much heavier. It’s not only a style statement, it also keep out the sun, which the Vietnamese are extremely sensitive to (as I discovered; they wear face masks all the time).

The lady on the motorbike

6. Friends on the river

During our trip on the Mekong Delta, at some point of time our boat stopped. Stalled. In the middle of the water. So while our captain (or driver?) made arrangements for another boat to bring in a replacement engine, everyone relaxed and sat around waiting. I noticed this bunch of 3 friends, obviously enjoying themselves at one end of the boat.

Hanging out: Friends enjoying themselves

7. The lady who rowed our boat

While on the Mekong, after lunch we were transferred to those smaller row boats with around 2-3 passengers each, so we could negotiate the narrower streams that flow into the delta. This was an enjoyable part of the trip and we were in the capable hands of this quite frail looking lady. However, she managed the 3 of us large (compared to Vietnamese standards) Indian women rather well!

The lady who rowed our boat

8. The lady who didn’t

This was a lady who rowed another group. She was extremely thrilled since she seemed to have been tipped in dollars. So afterwards, she sat on the shore, smiling broadly at her tips for the day and showing it off.

The lady who didn't!

9. The girl on the unusual ride

Well, definitely not your usual ride to school. Or to the supermarket. But this little girl seemed really comfortable on the back of this rather large bullock. Probably something she does everyday.

A nice ride, wouldn't you agree?

10. The girl playing with water

After a rather tough and long trek through some mushy parts and ups and down, in Sapa, we stopped at this rather gorgeous waterfalls. Where everyone relaxed, enjoyed the view and took a long break. One of the girls accompanying us was happily playing in the water with her friend.

The girl playing with water

11. The lady who embroiders

At the same point, higher up on one of the rocks was this lady who was seemingly quite focused on her work for the day. Embroidery. It’s something tribal women do even while walking, sitting and possibly even in their sleep – they are so good at it!

The lady who embroidered

12. The baby with the cute hat

Now isn’t that the loveliest cap? Spotted these few kids playing around at our lunch stop while on our Sapa trek. This little kid was one amongst them. He was happily playing and looked up for a while. And then his hand went into a sign. Was he sending his blessings? :-)

The boy with the lovely cap

13. The lady who sews

Yes, did I mention it already? The women love to sew and do it all the time. It’s rarely that they sit idle. Most of their attire is all sewn by themselves and the work is gorgeous. I mean, I can’t sew to save my life so I think it’s really beautiful. This lady is wearing a really nice shirt (overcoat?) and even the bag on her side is extremely pretty. And of course, she’s still busy sewing – her next new coat perhaps?

The lady intent on sewing

These portraits are from a June 2014 trip to Vietnam where I covered Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon), Mekong Delta, Hanoi, Sapa Valley and Halong Bay.