Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Winter Wonderland

WE INTERRUPT THIS TRAVEL POST TO BRING YOU... well, another travel post, but hang on, this one is SO exciting! Not that the India trip wasn't exciting...  but this, this one as Pickwick would put it was EPIC!
Right, so where were we? In Romania, of course - We're kind of running low on the Baa-Lamb's holidays to be anywhere else. And of course, the kids, being kids, had decided that they were going to spend the entire half terms being horribly sick and laid up in bed. Which means:
1. The house was full of cranky, sick people itching to get out
2. Until our car actually left the driveway, we weren't actually sure the kids wold be well enough to make the trip.
So, if you've read the previous blogs, You'll know that the Baa-lamb is a meticulous planner. We don't do unplanned trips. well, I do, but not him. So, come Friday, we we headed up to Râmnicu Vâlcea. What we thought would be a quaint little town turned out to be quite a nice stopover. The next morning, for the first time ever in Romania, we actually got a meat-free breakfast that didn't involve just toast and cereal. Beautiful.  I think I actually saw a tiny tear escape from the baa-lambs eye. I also saw him furiously updating something and giving it two thumbs up on tripadvisor - The husband's friend, philosopher and guide. 
The drive to Ramnicu Valcea

Ramnicu Valcea- our stopver

Now that we were here, we thought it only fair to visit the salt mines at Ocnele Mari, just about half an hour away. Quite frankly I didn't know what to make of it. It was all rather cool when we were taken underground by bus and deposited in the massive underground caves, but the place, oddly had:
Museum exhibits that had nothing to do with the mines
Mannequins wearing ancient mining equipment
Vendors selling orange tea
Salt beds for renting
A children's play area with salt instead of sand (which I though was rather cool)
Christmas exhibits
An ancient village scene setting
A hut made of bales of straw
Seating and Swings scattered about
More children's areas where they could drive tiny trucks or jump on trampolines (for a small sum of money)
A restaurant which was closed when we arrived (with no one having any idea when it opened)
A Chapel

Now I understand that these mines are supposed to have medicinal properties and spending time with children underground for any length of time is tough, but I'm not sure this is the way to go about it. Still, I quite enjoyed the experience - especially when the kids were playing in the salt-sand, I could actually taste the salt in the air. Quite fun. Like smelling a beach, only underground.
The wooden panel outside the Chapel

mining equipment of unknown age and origin

The cool striations visible on the walls. The floor looked like it was made of marble. 
 After that, while I was in favour of heading straight to our destination, The kids (the big one included) were pretty insistent on visiting a nearby zoo. I suppose the lectures on watching cages animals will have to wait another day. I simply couldn't take the joy away from their faces while the watched a Siberian Tiger charging towards them or a Llama sticking her tongue out while posing for pictures.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

A very hungry Siberian. Thank God for plexiglass.
Finally, after waving goodbye to all the animals, and leaving me to wallow in my guilt, we set off towards Balea Cascada. We needed to go to Balea Lac, but Roads beyond the Cascada were closed, so we'd have to go by cable car from there. If you're thinking that the names sound vaguely familiar, you're right - It has been mentioned in a previous post. And if you're wondering why we'd visit the same place again, its because Balea Lac is home to the Hotel of Ice! But wait, before we head there, let me show you some of the landscape during our drive. And just to compare how the place looked a few months ago, go here and here and here.

Having parked the car in a safe spot and geared up suitably for the cold - which in my case was about 3 layers of clothes followed by a snow jacket and pants, snow gloves, snow boots and hat, and the case of the husband was a jacket and jeans (and a pair of gloves, safely stowed away in the jacket, never to be worn)
we set off in the cable care towards Balea Lac.
The solitary snowman visible from the cable car
 And wow. We were blown away by the beauty. And the wind. We we blown about just a little bit by the winds. Ahana was practically parasailing. Still, it was a sunny day, and we were standing on six meters of solid ice - or so we were told. 

The Ice Hotel itself was a collection of a couple of large igloos, a Chapel (yes, one HAS to have a Chapel), and a vault-like structure - which was the main restaurant and bar, leading off into smaller vaults, which served as rooms. The rooms themselves, were based this year on the star signs (I have no clue if this changes yearly, but it was fun running off to click pictures of yourself in 'your' room.) Pickwick, whose first introduction it was to star signs, after confirming his sign was last seen clambering all over the Ram sculpture before running off to play in the snow. The bossy baby, after perfecting the art of photobombing toddled off to join her brother and promptly lost her glove in the snow. The Baa-lamb, after gently prying the camera away from my face led me to the top of the mountain and we sat for a while absorbing the beauty and serenity. But only for a while. After which our faces were starting to get numb and the bossy baby started protesting about the loss of her glove. It was time to head indoors to the warm chalet until the evening, when we'd return for a couple of drinks at the ice-bar and bed.
Inside the Chapel of ice. complete with a donation box near the door. 

The Restaurant/ Bar

Pickwick and his Ram

Disclaimer: I have not Photoshopped these colours. These are the actual colours.
The outside views weren't too shabby either...
The ice hotel complex

Twilight at Balea Lac

Neither was the walk in the morning when we had the place all to ourselves (us being the early risers who wanted to beat the rush to the bathroom at the Chalet :)) How was the night, you ask me? Well, having being happily warmed by some vin fiert and a shot of Bailley's, you begin to enjoy the bar, with its love for 60's rock and roll music. You even get used to the curtains, instead of a door at the entrance of your room. But sleeping in a sleeping bag zipped up to your chin and under 3 additional layers of blankets takes a bit of getting used to, especially if, like me, you are a mover and shaker in your dreams. you end up moving and shaking those layers off. Not a good idea in a room of ice.

Would I do this again? In a heartbeat! This was one trip I'm not going to forget in a hurry...although I'm in no rush to relive our drive back to Bucharest battling bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Via Delhi

Its been a while since a travel post. Not because we haven't been travelling, oh no! Its because our most recent trip was to India. North India, to be precise, and I had so much to share, I was quite frankly overwhelmed and didn't know where to start. So, inspired by Pickwick's posts, I decided to split the trip into the pitstops we took along the way. Also, these set of posts are going to be quite heavily architectural, so if unparallelled beauty in stone are not your thing, turn away now.
Right, We didn't have too much time in Delhi, it was supposed to be a brief stopover on our way to Agra, to show the kids the Taj (and for us, both our parents insisted we'd seen it when we were not even two, my parents further insisting I took a swan dive in the water fountain in front of the taj and thus spent most my trip there in shirts and underpants. A tale that was recounted by the grandparents to Pickwick much to his delight). So we decided to spend our day dropping in at the Qutub Complex - a journey made easily enough by the Delhi Metro, however, as with all things in India, what they forgot to mention was that the metro station wasn't really walking distance from the Qutub Complex. Oh no. That would be far too easy. So we need to take a Rickshaw (tuk-tuk for my foreign friends) from there to the complex. Short distance - If the Rickshaw - wallah isn't trying to hardsell the local markets to you or take you through shops where he's promised a commission. *sigh* So much for Atithi Devo Bhava
But the complex itself was marvellous! Pickwick was excited to see what he called 'India's first skyscraper' and the little one was just excited to see parrots roosting in the ruins. Me, I was freezing, but couldn't get over the architecture and the inscriptions, and the inscriptions on the amazing rust-resistant Iron Pillar.
The 'ancient India sky-scraper'

The iron pillar- originally a Dhwaja -Sthamba from a hindu temple

Inscriptions at the complex. Not in terribly good shape, although I heard the ASI is trying. 

The things that fascinated my little one. 

And the things that fascinated me :)
Another short-Rickshaw- metro- cycle rickshaw (yes those marvelous contraptions that run on human pedal-power) later, we find ourselves outside the Red Fort - which, for reasons unknown was shut to the public. Nevermind. We didn't lose the opportunity for a history lesson for the kids, and the whole 'Tryst with destiny' speech. and felt ourselves swell with national pride... for all of 30 seconds before we were glared at by a family of fellow Indian tourists for dallying at the spot for too long and ruining their photo-op, all the while trying to politely shoo away a bunch of vendors trying to sell us postcards.
The Indian Tiranga
Oh-kaay, time for another behind-numbing rickshaw ride- to Jama Masjid this time. Where we were greeted with more pigeons than people. Seriously. What is with those birds? Anyways,  if you've read my posts before, you know how much my kids love to chase these... winged things around. Apparently, at the Jama Masjid, wrong move. No chasing the birds. But apparently when they're sitting all peacefully, it is perfectly okay for one of those Masjid Caretakers to clap loudly so the startled birds take off as one, do a perfect circle around the masjid in formation and then resume eating their grain. *slow clap* (no literally, not too loudly in case we get shushed and chastised again)
military-formation birds-in-training

We did have time for Momos, and Desi Parathas long the way, and then it was on to Agra, and the Taj!

Monday, February 02, 2015

Leave Them Kids Alone!

I am not usually a parent who rants. I believe every parent has their own style of parenting which they trust is in the best interest of their children. So it’s largely live and let live. After all I’m hardly a role model for the ideal mum. I shout when I get upset (which is quite often) and I sometimes DO take the easy way out after a particularly hard day if it’s going to get my kid tucked into bed early.
image courtesy: http://www.jennifermariepuglia.com/
But recently I came across this event on one of the many online mummy fora I’m a member of (To assuage all the guilt of yelling at the kids when rushing about for school, I suppose) which had me foaming at the mouth. This claims to be the ‘India Kids Fashion Week’- the name itself suggests that it’s wrong on so many levels I wouldn't know where to begin.  But, I thought,  maybe, I read wrong, this may be an event for the trade in the kids fashion industry (which in itself had my hackles up, but hey, I may be in a minority here, after all, Baby Gap seems to laughing all the way to the bank), which meant it catered largely to adults. And to be fair, this is what the ‘About us’ said. It creates a ‘win-win’ situation for everyone concerned.
Right then. By ‘everyone concerned’ do they mean the kids involved as well? Because I'm struggling a see a single ‘win’ in this entire sordid contest for the participating kids. From what I understand (again, I have garnered this from the website), parents pay a fee for their child to be an entrant in this fashion event – ostensibly for training and personality development. Because surely a four year old needs to be trained to have a personality to carry off a frock. Or shorts. Because of course we think clothes and fashion at the age of four (or fourteen, or even forty for that matter) is an integral part of building our self-esteem and developing our personality. 
The ‘agreement’ on the website further goes on to state that the agency is in no way responsible for any mishaps or injury to the participants of this misbegotten venture and will not be liable for any compensation or insurance. Now granted this may be standard wording thought of by the company lawyer to cover their collective behinds when the shit hits the fan, but why isn't this sending off alarm bells in ear-shattering volumes in the parents’ heads?  And oh, here’s another gem I'm quoting directly from this ‘Agreement’ : “… I am also agreeing that in a competition the winning or losing is a part and my child will only be judged and rewarded if he is giving a healthy competition to the fellow competitors on the base of confidence…” Brilliant. So if my child didn't have self-esteem issues before the competition, I'm most definitely going to try my darndest to give him/ her one before the competition is through. Because YOLO, dude! Perfect. 

Now I know what some of the mums are thinking – how is this different from the junior talent contests and the competitive exams that we force young children to sit through in our country. And you’re right. Perhaps those are equally traumatic. And detrimental to the well-being of the children. But one does not lessen the deplorable nature of the other. And so, here I am, raising my voice as the concerned  mother of a four year old who doesn't need to be judged by how she can carry off a piece of garment.  I'm raising my voice as a concerned member of society who doesn't like the message these events are sending to our kids.