Thursday, November 20, 2014

9 Things That Indians All Over The World Are Forever Explaining To Their Friends!

Going to an international school for the most part is a privilege my kids are lucky to have. They adore their friends, who are from different parts of the world, and the number of languages you hear during drop-off are astounding! But occasionally, you can’t help but sit back and marvel at how Rudyard Kipling and Danny Boyle have ruined India for an average European. Here’s a sample:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A trip to the Carpathians

The husband is a meticulous planner. Especially when it comes to holidays. No, really, we're talking months, even years in advance. But, just occasionally he will decide to break the pattern and do an impulsive one. Thats was this was. Very spur-of-the moment (that is planned just about 5 days in advance).
Sibiu. A good 5 hour drive away. Luck - and traffic was on our side and we made it in four. Our apartment, just a few minutes walk form the main square was very comfortable. and I wasn't quite the eager beaver to go exploring. Still, there was a full moon. And We did travel four hours to be here. Sibiu was beautiful in the evening light. positively aglow, the main square - or the Piata Mare, as it is called.

But, driving, kids demanding ice cream and last-minute packing took its toll on us. We were asleep before our head hit the pillow. 
Breakfast and a early start saw us hitting to read again, this time, out to Balea Falls, The sky was have a conversation with the mountains. And when nature speaks, you listen.

We reached Balea Falls and the lady at the only shop that was open there informed us that the falls were just a kilometre away on foot. That's not too bad, we thought. The kids were certainly gung-ho about it all. Until we were some way up the trail. Well, calling it trail would be a mild exaggeration. 
Yup. That's the 'trail' . Pretty sheer drop on the right. Strewn with logs and boulders along the way. The kids, of course LOVED it.
The trail had my heart hammering pretty hard, half the time praying the kids make it through in one piece, the other half, thanks to a lack of fitness that would make a couch potato proud. 
The falls weren't gushing to their full extent. They do that only in the spring when the Balea Glacier melts. But it was a pretty decent waterfall anyways. mainly because it remains so unspoilt. The water was crystal clear and ice cold. One wished one had the foresight to get a couple of wine coolers along. But on the other hand, the trek down wasn't really meant to be undertaken in a wine-induced haze.   

After we made our way back down. we feasted on Gogoși, from the shop we spotted going up. Nice. much like chocolate or cheese-filled bhatura, if I were to describe it. We also gathered from the chap that the Transfăgărășan road was actually open upto Balea lake. (It is usually closed in the winter), and we wasted no time in tightening our seatbelts and setting forth to the lake.

This trip, strangely was as much abut the journey as the destination, and what a good thing that was, considering the amount of time we spent in the car. But we weren't complaining. Here's why:
The world-famous Transfagarasan road. One more tick off the bucket list
The Autumn colours in all their glory. 
Balea Lake was beautiful and serene. The kids wasted no time in trying out various gross noises so it would echo across the lake. Me, I didn't want to leave the place. Despite it being pretty freezing. 
If you look carefully, you can see half the lake (towards the mountains) with a thin covering of ice
 We eventually made it back to earth, Eventually,

Sunday. The day we needed to head back home. *sigh*. So, the morning was spent walking around the pretty little town of Sibiu. Where a fellow Indian spotted us (Actually heard us, before he spotted us, with the kids screaming and me yelling at them to quit screaming.) and asked us about the sites. He was slightly disappointed to know that we were as new to all this as him, and that Google was a better bet than us. We did tell him to try the Gogoși though. 
So, here's what the morning looked like.
How can any city tour be complete unless we chase Pigeons?

Piata Mare

The bridge of lies. No clue why we have locks here as well. 

We were sipping on coffee, watching the kids chase pigeons when Arun suddenly has this idea. He wanted to head back via a short detour. Via Vidradu to be exact. Which wouldn't exactly be a short detour. It would be positively the other way. I blame the coffee and the husband's sunny smile for rashly agreeing to this adventure. 
En route we came across:
Andrei and his flock of sheep
A dusty dirt track that was supposedly a major arterial road, people waving to us (and looking at us strangely for being foolish enough to traverse those roads on any vehicle that wasn't and SUV), cows, hens, ducks, turkeys, dogs, cats and pigs, all wanting to throw themselves under our wheels.
A road that was closed for this event:
The policeman informed us that it was a sort of rememberance day for the village ancestors - who I'm guessing is the Gentleman posing with sword resplendent in silver
Very picturesque valleys

Very impressive roads
  And I must say I was sorely tempted to ask Arun to turn back several times during this journey. But I'm so glad we didn't. Because here's the view that greeted us at Vidradu Dam (Which the sat- nav insisted was still a good 25 minutes away)

 We drove back to Bucharest in absolute silence. Both of us still savouring the sights of the weekend, reluctant to get back to the daily grind (the kids were probably dreaming of video games and cartoons, and none of this natural beauty nonsense).  
So much beauty, so many places to see...and yet, people as me why I love living here. 

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

'Are we in Asia or Europe?'

... that was the most frequently asked question by my son when we were in Istanbul. Apparently the fact that we were in a city that straddled two continents simply blew his mind. But apart from the whole Continental Identity crisis, the city has so much more to offer.
Lets start with the mosques - and the Hagia Sophia: first a church, and a mosque for a brief period of time. Each one beautiful. Each vying with the other in terms of grandeur.
We went on a Friday, so the blue mosque was shut in the morning for visitors.  The Hagia Sophia was just a stone's throw away, so that's where we went first. Of course, as luck would have it, it was rainy and windy, so any place that involved spending large amounts of time indoors was welcomed by the family.
Now forgive me if I get a bit too enthusiastic about the description in the captions. But reading about Byzantine architecture and seeing it are two completely different things!
The mirhab in the centre was added when it was used as a mosque, but the Virgin Mary and Baby jesus Mosaic visible above the Apse is much older.(9th Century)

Yes, yes, I know it's just scaffolding, but the architect in me just got a bit carried away. 

The image on Santa Maria and baby Jesus made of mosaic in the upper gallery, these were earlier covered or painted over during its use as a mosque and later restored after it was converted into a museusm. 

We decided we just had enough time to visit the Grand Bazaar before a spot of lunch. Slight error in judgement on the part of the baa-lamb I think. He ought to know by now that once I enter a market, wild horses cannot drag me away from there unless everything has been seen, investigated, mulled over and sampled. And what a lot there was to please the eye!

Don't you just love the Ottoman Lamps and Sheeshas?

Porcelains, mosaics, ottoman lamps, musical instruments, trinkets featuring the 'evil eye'. *sigh* I'm sure Arun was sending up a silent prayer that we had baggage restrictions that prevented us from doing much shopping of any kind. Right. after a feast for the eyes, were were ready to feast our tums! IStanbul is one place where us vegetarians can happily delve into mezze platters, teas and yoghurt dips with gay abandon. And don't even get me started on the desserts. My favourite was the super sweet but delish Kunefe with a dollop of Dondurma (turkish icecream). Oh, yumm!! (I'm sorry I was so absorbed with the stuff that I forgot to click a picture before I polished it all off)

Yummy apple tea to keep it all down. 
With all of us duly fortified with such deliciousness, we headed on over to the Sultan Ahmet mosque or the Blue mosque. The kids (the biggest one included) were happy to clown around while I went slightly crazy with the camera and all the ooohing and aahing.

Even the stain glass has hues of blue. 
The dome interiors. beautiful. Sorely missed a zoom lens, though,
The best I could do without the zoom lens. Yes. I'm going to keep cribbing about the zoom lens for a bit. Live with it. 
Next stop - Istiklal Caddesi. The journey there wasn't without adventure, though. Thats because the map we had, kept showing us M1 stops. Which one would logically assume meant a Metro Line. And thus we spent a good hour walking to-and-fro Sultan Ahmet street looking for a metro (The baa-lamb, being a male, staunchly refused to ask for instructions/ directions or anything of the sort). Of course, having traipsed the length and breadth of the Street, we realised that we were supposed to take a tram (M1 being a tram line), and another and a funicular. Of course, this meant Child 2 threw a wobbly (heck, I was ready to throw a wobbly) and Daddy had to play jester, people pleaser, policeman and overall entertainer. Well, it was worth it, if only for a visit to Mado, for the amazing food, especially the desserts. It was also the place where child 2 drew the first of her many Turkish admirers. Which daddy found cute. For now. If he will still find it cute a decade later shall be seen.  :)
This is the only working coach of the old-style tram which runs form Taksim square to the other end of Istiklal Caddesi
The rains obviously not dampening the spirits of the happy shoppers

The following day, we made it to Topkapi, and I was sorely disappointed that we had just half a day for the palace. The place, the views, and eye-wateringly bejewelled ornaments and armour certainly deserved more than a day. However, this was not a place for a restless 8 year old, as he made so abundantly clear to me every 15 minutes during the entire duration of my visit.
This was the only thing my boy thoroughly enjoyed- mainly because I told him this tree was haunted and probably comes alive at night. 
Another quick lunch (Okay, so it was a not-so-quick lunch. I took my time with the mezze.) and it was cruise time for us- which we were told was the best way to see the sites. Apparently, we weren't the only ones to be told this. It looked like us and every other tourist in the city was making a beeline for the docks. We were being herded like Pied Piper's rats down alleyways to the boarding gate. Still,one must keep an open mind when visiting a city, and we decided to board one of the sturdier looking ferries to tour the Bosphorus. Apparently with an English tour guide. Hurrah. If only we could understand him. Don't get me wrong, his english was fine. It was his Megaphone that was the issue. Our chap insisted on screaming into it. so all that came out of it was incomprehensible noise. We managed to get the gist of it though by piecing together odd bits that the other tourists had understood- kind of like a massive game of Chinese Whispers. Good fun.

Gulls. Obviously they think bread is tastier than fish. Also easier to catch. 

the Clouds breaking over the mainland

The Bosphorus bridge
Jellyfish. This was a rather large one, spotted as we docked right next to the shore. 

And yes, it did afford a splendid view of the City's star attractions. It also excited Child 1 very, very much to say 'Now we are between Europe and Asia. To my left, Europe. To my right, Asia.' Yes. He is a bit quirky. Must get it from his father.

The evening was reserved for another lesser known, but bigger mosque- the Suleymaniye Mosque. This is situated on top of a rather steep hill and Child 2 in a spectacular fashion insisted that her 'tiny' feet just wouldn't carry her any further. Not for all the 'icecweem' in the world. Cue Daddy the Superhero, who swooped her up on his strong shoulders and carried her all the way uphill. *Snort* Really, men are such softies. The mosque is quieter and actually not as aesthetically appealing (to me) as the Blue mosque, but beautiful nonetheless.
The new mosque in the foreground with the Suleymaiye behind it.

The interiors were quite similar to the blue mosque as well, only bigger. 
Istanbul is running amok with cats. All very polite and well-fed. 

As we made our way back home, we took a detour through the spice market. A smorgasbord of sights, sounds and smells.
It's a miracle I didn't lose sight of the family. And the kids were sensible enough to hang on to the more responsible adult. 

Sponges. And Spices. 
More spices...
and more sponges
And as we head back to Bucharest, I leave you with the fun side of Istanbul. Enjoy. 

A Sultan and his Begum spend some quality time with their i-Pad

No, no... we did NOT go on this boat for the cruise. But we could have. If we wanted to.

Book bench. Nice, but completely random. 

Don't know if you can see the shoe seller in the background happy to flash 'V's as he photobombs
We are definitely going back for another visit. Even if its just for the Kunefe.