Kerala Backwaters – Why it is a Must Do?


Kerala, a state in the south of India, often referred to as God’s Own Country is a haven for every kind of traveler. While the state offers hill stations, wild life sanctuaries and wellness holidays, there is no image more descriptive of Kerala than the backwaters. Having visited Kerala 2-3 times in the past our weekend sojourn in the backwaters in Kumarakom left us rejuvenated and recharged.

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Kerala Backwaters

 

It is also one of the most easily accessible places from Mumbai for you to take advantage of a long weekend. Kumarakom is only a 2 hour drive from Cochin, and there are several flights to the city from Mumbai making it a convenient destination for a quick getaway.

Almost every image you see of Kerala in the advertising and communication is not contrived but an honest depiction of day-to-day life. Whether it be the House boats, canoes, locals fishing or the Chinese Fishing Nets, you do feel you are in a Kerala Tourism ad no matter which part of Kerala you are in (except the cities of course)

 

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A Canoe in the backwaters 

A holiday in the backwaters has to be agenda-less because there isn’t much to do but appreciate the beauty of the backwaters, relax, throw in a couple of massages and of course indulge in some great local cuisine. Following are my tips to enjoy a weekend in the backwaters.

Choose your Hotel by the backwaters

No better way to enjoy the backwaters than to step out to them. The backwaters are lined with hotels and the best part is they are not only five star properties but you can choose one within your budget and enjoy the view.

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Zuri Kumarakom

We stayed at Zuri in Kumarakom and absolutely loved the property. While there are cottages that open out to the backwaters, there is also a lagoon that comes into the property and there are cottages along side that lagoon. We stayed in one of those.

Walking to the backwaters is barely 200 metres. You can enjoy early mornings when there is peace and quiet or enjoy the daily ride into the sunset. You can enjoy Local snacks and tea on the lawn before you enjoy the golden hour on lake Vembanad.

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Evening snacks at Zuri Kumarakom 

Sunset on Lake Vembanad 

Watching the sunset is indeed a fabulous experience, and magical in every sense. Watching the big ball of red go down is easily the best way to devote at least one hour of your day.

 

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Sunset on Lake Vembanad 

 

 A day on the Houseboat 

We did not stay on the houseboat, but that’s what people tend to do. I did want to enjoy the house boat, but honestly cannot imagine myself  being in one all day. However if you do choose to stay on one, they are pretty self sufficient.  A floating hotel room complete with a bed room, kitchen and about 2-3 staff to steer the boat as well as cook on the boat.

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Cruising on the backwaters 

 

We did a 3-4 hour ride along with a meal, which was perfect for us. The lazy lilting boat makes you pause. You cannot do much, there aren’t any other distractions except absorbing the beauty of the lake. The waters have a silky satin sheen to them and once in a while you see another house boat pass you by or someone catching fish. All surrounded by Lush green and an odd bird sighting.

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Man Fishing as we cruise 

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The famous Chinese Fishing Nets 

 

In the midst of all this, we were served a homely kerala meal. This was easily my most authentic meal through the holiday.

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Meal on board the House boat 

Appams and More

Local food is a big part of the holiday that I look forward to. Having my fill of local delicacies and finding them forms a large part of my agenda. When in Kerala enjoy the appams and the stew as much as you can. If you are non-vegetarian the options are a lot more.

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Appam and Veg Curry 

 

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Kerala Meal

 

I was happy getting my fill of Appam and Stew. What I really looked forward to was the dessert. The Ada Pradaman is  traditional kerala payasam and much to my delight made it to several restaurant menus too. It is prepared with Ada, Jaggery and Coconut Milk and spells Bliss in every spoon.

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Ada Pradaman 

 

My only regret was not getting my hands on Kadala Curry and Puttu. I think I will have to make it mysel. Hmph!

A visit to the bird sanctuary. 

We made a visit to the bird sanctuary. It spells adventure and we made the mistake of going there in the afternoon. It is HOT and has many couples who find refuge in corners. It is a 2 km walk till the edge and a little bit more to the viewing tower. Since I am no bird watching expert and also the time of the year we went in was April we did not see any birds. However we did enjoy the walk in the wilderness.

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Bird Sanctuary 

 

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Watch Tower 

Also, all was fine until we saw a snake slither in the grass, and all we wanted to do after was get out of there as fast as we can. There are no warning signs but I guess it must be safe, since a lot of locals seemed fairly comfortable hanging out in the wilderness. But if you are reading this consider yourself warned.

Some Tips. 

  1. You do not need a cab. We made friends with a local auto driver, as we walked out of our hotel. He took us around and would come back when we needed to be picked up.
  2. The houseboat rides that you find online and in your hotel are ridiculously priced. We found a house boat for hire board in a local tea/ bakery for house boat rides and the guy hooked us up on a deal of 1500 per hour including lunch. The other quotes we were getting was 8500 upwards per head. So try not to get swayed by the houseboat experience.
  3. There are snakes, even cobras non chalantly slithering about, so beware. We saw a yellow cobra right ahead of our cab and we waited to let it pass.
  4. When it is hot stay hydrated, carry your bottles of water.

 

 

 

 

 

Food You Must Eat In Budapest


Budapest is one of those rare cities where the ancient and the modern paradoxes are visible to the naked eye in panoramic view. There are several vantage points in Buda where you can see Pest, and similarly from Pest you can see imperial Buda. Interestingly the young twin city, used to be two different cities separated by the Danube.

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Buda has an air of old world charm and wealth, while Pest is flat and has a more modern vibe. The majestic chain bridge is as recent as 1853. That  however, is fodder for another blog, this one is going to concentrate on Food. Finding Local Food is high on my travel agenda, and all other activities are planned around meals and where we are going to eat them. I am an eggetarian, so I am going to tell you about my Top 5 founds in Budapest which did not involve Meat.

 

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We found great places to eat on both the Buda and Pest sides.

 

Coffee Shops Fit For Kings

I visited Cafe Gerbeaud and Cafe New  York in Budapest. The latter is referred to as the most beautiful cafe in the world and the pictures down will tell you why. Cafe Gerbeaud is regarded as being touristy, but even if it was, what I did eat there was phenomenal. Let them eat cake” just my mantra for life… as I sat in the opulent Cafe Gerbeaud you totally get what the fuss is about. Greedy us, we tried their esterhazy, the gerbaud and the dobos slice with vanilla ice cream. They were all hungarian delicacies and my favorite was the Gerbaud Cake. It is a layered apricot and walnut cake, a family recipe. My second favorite was the dobos torte which was also a layered sponge cake with chocolate. These are all the best delicacies of the coffee house and all the burpees I will have to do after this are worth it! The platter was perfect and we had it all.

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We went to Cafe New York for breakfast. They have a breakfast buffet as well as an a la carte menu. The food wasn’t bad at all, but I do not remember anything in particular except that the place was breathtakingly gorgeous and at some point violinists were serenading us. I would go for the ambience and little else.

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You can tell that the coffee house culture was an elite pastime, and all the restored coffee houses post the war retain all the charm that you would rightly expect. It is an experience I would not miss at all, and the best part is I saw a lot of locals as well, so you may not be walking into a tourist trap.

Paprika

Most restaurants do a Non-Vegetarian Paprika, however I found a restaurant in Budapest that serves vegetarian Paprika. Kantin in the Pest Side in the Andrassy Neighborhood served us Mushroom Paprika with Gnocchi.

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I must warn the purist vegetarian that, it is like ordering Egg curry in Karaikudi in Chennai, I have been the lucky recipient of some chicken shreds in both places. However, I am the kind of person who will keep the meat aside and continue eating, So here’s a warning. Keep that in mind and you may want to warn the staff that you are a strict vegetarian . I did enjoy it, while I did find it fairly heavy as a dish, but after a day of walking I was happy to wolf down most of it.

 

 Vegetarian Food Michelin Style

Most announcements of travel are often met with a “but you are vegetarian! what will you eat” – I had me a superb meal at a Hungarian restaurant with no customizations at all. Yes, None. Nancsi Neni was our chosen restaurant for a good meal that was of Michelin standards.

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Nancsi Neni is in Budapest and is a farmhouse that has been converted into a restaurant. Its is on the higway and at least 45 minutes away from the Fishermen’s Bastion. We took a tram and a bus to get to this place. It has also received a Michelin bib gourmand award

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I had a delicious rice and peas, very similar to our good old pulao with grilled zucchini, a peas and carrot soup which was clear and very very tasty, and nothing like the creamy pea soup we get back home. I honestly prefer this over the pureed creamy soups we so often get back home. Of course my favorite dessert of the trip is the Palacinky with curd cheese and that is what I had here too! That by the way was my guilty indulgence even in Prague.

 

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Chimney Cakes

Chimney Cakes, Tredlnik, kürtőskalács, Kurtos they have many names and I saw a lot of them in Prague and Budapest. This is a traditional hungarian / czech delicacy. It used to be a wedding treat, but now it is made most for tourists and has become an everyday affair.

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The best ones in Budapest are made at Molnár’s Kürtőskalács Kávézó but don’t be in a hurry. They make them fresh and sometimes you have to wait 20-30 mins. I had all the time in the world, but I saw a father and little boy who seemed quite keen on one, and he kept coming back to check on it.

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I saw the smallest batches being made at Molnar, and it’s best had Fresh and warm. You can choose your toppings, but the plain almond or the almond and chocolate ones are the best! Not too sweet, by themselves you can make them as evil and as sugary as you would like! I prefer the non ice cream simpler versions actually. The mass produced ones I found too sweet and sickening. Good thing is you can do a half and half too!

 

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This was my culinary journey in Budapest. I would love to hear about yours too… And if this blog helps you make plans, won’t you leave a comment about it 🙂

Why Ubud in Bali is A Must See destination


Imagine being in a place where you can count the different hues of green and thats the most important thing in your life, all this while sipping some exquisite coffee… It was Bali for New Years.  Does it bring images of crowds and partying? Well an intimate getaway is also possible in the middle of madness, and that’s what we managed. We chose Ubud, and I will tell you why it was the best decision we made.

 

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Ubud is a tropical paradise and nestled in abundant green because of the rain forests and the rice fields. The eyes easily adjust to lush green, and say thank you because on every odd day I only treat them to concrete, smog and some days we see clear blue skies. I am sharing my favorite things to do in Ubud, Bali.

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I was struck by the familiarity between Bali and India. There is a temple at every corner, and the locals are constantly offering incense as well as a prasad like offering to the gods. A familiar Ganesha, Arjuna, Rama and Hanuman greet you every few steps. It is odd that while it reminded me a lot of South India it had a unique flavor of it’s own.

The Rice Fields

We chose to stay at Alila Ubud that has the rice fields on one side and the rain forests on the other. The property is pretty much bang in the middle of them both and since we had a really really short visit, staying in the middle of it gave us a great experience. Actually in Ubud you are never far from one.

 

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Rice Fields

 

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View from the Sari Organik Restaurant 

Driving through Ubud gave me a sense of deja vu, if you have driven between cities in Tamil Nadu you will be familiar with Rice fields that exist as far as the eye can see. Driving village to village evoked the same vibe.

Nung Nung Waterfall

The most popular waterfall in Bali is Tegenungan Waterfall, we however went to the Nung Nung falls. We had gone to Ulun Danu Bretan temple and these falls are a scenic 40 min drive. Several hair pin bends and tropical highways take you to the Nung Nung Falls. The charming part is the compete lack of crowd and when you reach the falls you understand why.

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NungNung Falls 

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To reach Nung Nung falls you have to climb down close to 500 steps. It is a steep climb down and up. But if you like less crowds and are feeling fit then I would recommend this for sure. Our guide insisted that we go to these falls, he very innocently said that you have to go “up and down” and I did not think much of it. No HIIT session or WOD can prepare you for this. However I would not change a thing.

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views while climbing back up from Nung Nung Falls

Temples

Bali temples have a very distinct structure, the entrance is ornate and like Indian temples they seem to have their own version of the gopuram. We saw rows of temples when we were being driven to our destination and we were told that most of them were family temples, which meant that they were for the family only. Temples open to the public were different.

 

Ulun Danu Bretan

 

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We went to the Ulun Danu Bretan temple, because of it’s beautiful location. Located on the Bretan lake, the Shiva Parvati temple is a tourist attraction and it’s it is easy to understand why. But if tourist hubs are not your scene then it is Unlikely, that it can hold your attention for long.

 

Music and Dance

Music and Dance is an integral part of celebration. Balinese Dance is a sheer delight to watch. Again the concepts are very similar to Indian dance concepts that borrow from mythology or nature, and since we share the Ramayana and Mahabharata some of the sequences are completely mythological in nature.

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Coffee

So I went to Bali, I saw a Luwak too, but I could not bring myself to try the Luwak coffee. However two coffee places that I strongly recommend are Anomaly Coffee and Seniman coffee. The coffee was par excellence, and I was dying to go back for seconds. Unfortunately we did not have time to go back, but the perfect coffee taste is still etched in my taste buds. It was strong, full and felt absolutely smooth on the palate.

 

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Food

Indulging in local fare, every opportunity will leave you happy and content. While you will find the odd Nasi Goreng in a few menus in the city, you are unlikely to find too much Indonesian fare. We ate several versions of the Nasi. My personal favorite was the Nasi Bakar, which was cooked rice, spices and veggies  rolled into a banana leaf and grilled.  It is best to get your fill when you are in Ubud, because once you are back you will only have memories of great local fare.

 

 

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Bali Buda 

Soya and soya constructs are integral parts of their diets and make for tasty fare. Some of the restaurants where we had memorable meals were Bali Buda, The Plantation restaurant in Alila Ubud, Copper and Watercress.

 

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Copper – Ubud 

 

 

My personal favorite was also the Jamu, a local concoction of turmeric, ginger and other flavorings. I had this at every chance available.

 

Ubud is a place that is ideal for a calm getaway. Slow paced, easy and great food. We got around most of the town with a cab, and walking. You need to carry rupaiah with you, most places do not accept International currencies. I am told this is not the right place to use your card, so it is best to carry cash. You find a lot of exchange counters offering decent prices.

What would you add to this list?

 

 

 

 

 

 

My List of Top fun things to do in Prague


 

While I did my homework on what to do in Prague, I came across the quote that “Prague is the Paris of the 90’s . It got me curious, considering it does have a mini version of the Eiffel Tower too, I delved a bit deeper. Really the comparison was to the Paris of the 1920s that was bursting with artists, inspiration, writers and much art and beauty. Well, they got that right.

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Prague has a very obvious fairy tale, old world quality about it. It has something for every kind of traveler too. I have listed the top things to do in Prague that I would recommend that you do not leave without doing.

1. Charles bridge in the morning 

You will inevitably walk on a crowded Charles Bridge several times to get to one place or another if you are in Mala Strana or old town. I however, strongly recommend a visit in the morning. The bridge is empty, you have it to yourself or are sharing it with fitness and photography enthusiasts, and there are very few so it’s a total win for you there. There is no other time that you will not be jostled on the steps I am posing on.

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2. John Lennon wall

It stands as a symbol of peace and love, but the history behind it is interesting. It began with a tribute to the singer post his death, and the young people of the city covered it with more graffiti and messages, as the czech regime at the time had banned lot of pop music and entertainment. The wall that is owned by the Knights of Malta was whitewashed several times, but was always found repainted with graffiti and Lennon tributes, that they gave up.

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This is a visually striking wall, and makes for superb instagram pictures, which in today’s times translates to a lot of crowd. I cannot reiterate this enough – but go early to beat the crowds 🙂

3. Kafka in Prague

Whether you have read Kafka or not, you may have used the term “kafkaesque” to simply denote something dark, illogical, nightmarish or uncomfortable imagery. A visit to the museum is recommended simply because you understand the struggles of a man with a tough childhood, who was perhaps unlucky in love, bogged down by the tussle of going to work and simply wanting to pursue his passion.

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The museum tour is a self guided one, but easily one of the most engaging, interesting museums I have ever been to. They played with light,  the placement, An Audio Visual element, narrow paths – the works. It took you into his world, and his mind. Whether you read Kafka or not this is a museum visit that will remain with you.

 

4. Prague’s own Eiffel…oops Petrin Tower 

Built as a look out tower and a transmission tower, Petrin looks very similar to the Eiffel Tower. 299 steps will take you to the top and the height it is said is similar to that of the Eiffel Tower In Paris.

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You can take the Funicular up to Petrin Hill. Find a good spot, you can see all of Prague as you go up to the foot. You land in a garden, which is landscaped beautifully. You can climb the observation tower. There are two decks. I climbed up to just one, because the height did me in. However, if you are one, who is not afraid of heights, you can climb on. And if you did, do share pictures with me. 🙂

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5. The World’s most Beautiful Library

I would recommend planning a visit to the Strahov Monsatery along with Petrin tower. A short scenis walk will take you to the monastery. There are a couple of cafes where you can sit back and enjoy a meal in the outdoors or simply have a drink while you soak a different angle of Prague.

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Why you must visit? To see two of the world’s most beautiful libraries. That is not an exaggeration, but the Strahov Monastery library has made it to a few lists. Unfortunately you cannot enter the halls, but you can see both the majestic libraries. Artistic frescoes, and 1000’s of manuscripts that go back to the 12th Century.

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6. World war 2 tour

Like Most of Europe, even Prague has a World War history. It was taken over by the Nazis, with the government having fled to France and Britain. There are a few tours that take you through the history of the capture, the cruelty of the Nazi regime and the underground movement.

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It is a 2 hour walking tour and takes you to through the streets of old Prague and even the Underground cellars, under the astronomical clock that served as a hospital during the war, and a hideout for the rebels.

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Whether you are a history buff or not, this is a very informative tour and you surely come out knowing  a little bit more than you did earlier.

 

7. Sculptures around the City 

In addition to being a beautiful city, Prague has sculptures that are world famous. They are memorable and disturbing.

In the old town, only difficult to miss because there is always a crowd looking up is a statue of the hanging man, Freud debating whether to hold on to the rod or let go. This is designed by David Cerny and a representation of the psychoanalysts constant struggles

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The Kafka monument, is a representation of a Mini Kafka on the shoulders of a headless suit. This is located in the Jewish Quarter where he spent most of his life.

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The memorial to the victims of communism is a representation of the seven stages of living in a totalitarian state. It really represents the degeneration of man in the society and is a sad sight, especially because it hits the reality of how the generation truly believed that their life was going to change for the better and that promise simply degenerated.

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We could’nt make it to see Cerny’s Babies on the Zizkov Tower, but caught three of them guarding the Kampa museum. We saw a Manolo Blahnik exhibition there, you may want to check what is up while you are there.

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8. Views For Days 

Prague has many parks, and open spaces where you can make your own little picnic. Walking is most fun, a lot of these places are a climb up but totally worth it for the view.

Letna Park has a beer garden, and if you time it right, you can get a lovely table at the edge and have a view of the city.

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Vyserhad is a lovely park as well, it has a church but more importantly it has a huge park and various spots where you can set up a picnic, play with your dog or simply drink in the view.

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The Prague Castle is also something that you are most likely to do whilst you are there. My favorite part about it was the View, which you see below. The castle has a lot to offer, especially the St.Vitus cathedral which is synonymous with the skyline. I also enjoyed a military exhibit they had, since over the years it also served as a base especially during the war.

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I have only covered my favorite things to do in Prague, the city of course is a culinary delight and has a plethora of options for every kind of traveler. Since, it has a rich history even in the post modern era it really is a delightful combination of modern and classic. One can choose the kind of experience they want. I firmly believe after each travel you take a bit of the city back with you for eternity and we have surely taken a large part of Prague back with us.

I would love to hear what you liked about the city, so we can compare notes. 🙂

Lip Smacking Prague…Here’s what to eat!


Prague is a beautiful city, It has a magical, fairy tale like quality to it. It really comes from the identical  sloping red roofs, powder towers and the spires. It is really easy to get lost in its beauty, when you don’t see that many tourists around, but let’s accept it every princess has to eat. Finding local food to eat is definitely high on my list of things to do on a holiday and being vegetarian I need to do my home work a little bit more thoroughly.

 

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Here is my list of favorite lip smacking Prague food.

Kulajda

Kulajda (Pronounced ku-ly-da) is potato soup. This however is unlike any potato soup that I have eaten. It is thick, but not as thick as pureed potato that passes off as soup. A generous dose of dill, mushroom and a poached egg on the top. There is something easy about the soup, without the overwhelming starchiness of most potato dishes. I had this whenever I could get the opportunity, since I was certain that I wasn’t going to find this on menus anywhere. The best ones I had were at TriSoleti and Guston

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Palacinky

Palacinky is a czech speciality and to keep it simple, is essentially a crepe. I had my favorite one at the Lokal Inn. Lokal is one of Prague’s best restaurants for authentic czech food. I had one with Curd cheese baked with eggs and I would definitely add it to my list of favorite foods. You do get crepes in several places with different kinds of fillings, this one at lokal was surely my favorite.

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Cafe Savoy

Cafe Savoy is listed on every Prague food list and it is easy to understand why. I would recommend reservations here. We had to go back the the next day, since they were full and had about 90 mins waiting. Firstly the grandeur of the coffee shop has a wonderful old world charm about it. You really feel like you are part of something historical and luxurious. However, the food matches up to the hype. We enjoyed an utterly delectable Half boiled egg in a cup, with generous shavings of parmesan. This really evoked childhood memories for me. Half boiled eggs were a ritual and I loved the drama of the half boiled egg cup, it was more fun than eating an omelette.

 

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Cafe Savoy is also very famous for its desserts. Their section is drool worthy, but alas the stomach can only stomach that much. Thankfully they do mini portions. We tried the Karamelovy veternik another czech dessert. It has a hard pastry like shell with a creamy caramel filling in the centre. I hope you have the opportunity to try more. Do tell me what you liked, so that I can take notes for next time.

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Guston Burger

This was one place where we saw no tourists. Just the kind of place that locals would visit. It is Zizkov which is the modern part of the city. This place is famous for it’s burgers. As a vegetarian I find burgers very unappetizing, but this was really wholesome. It had a chunk of roasted tofu, aubergine, lettuce, tomatoes. The super interesting part is that they also do a “lettuce” version of the burger. The burger is massive, and honestly I could not finish it. The waiter did tell me later that a lot of “girls” like the lettuce version and I should have gone for that. I must really prove my carb love to him another time.

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Ice Cream

 

No one ever looked sad eating ice cream, but the struggle to eat something so exquisite is real. Amorino in Mala Strana in Prague churns out Gelato Flowers. At the end of  an exhausting walk around old town Amorino is the perfect place to treat at least two of your senses. You can choose as many flavours as you want, and they make your own personalized flower. You just have to choose the size

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Fresh Fruit

You will always find me where the berries are. Fresh fruit is found in abundance and I love to snack on fresh produces. So do yourself a favour, find em berries and I find them great as a snack or even to quench your thirst or battle that tiredness because of the walking. We found several fresh fruit stalls across the city

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Tredlnik

What will fire your curiosity is the cylindrical, bread like item that everyone is eating around the tourist part of the city. Some eat it plain, and with ice cream or whipped cream. Honestly, since we went to Budapest after, I ate the better tasting Tredlnik there. However, if you are planning to eat it then have the one at Good Food Bakery. It does have the comfort of sweet, carb loaded bread.

 

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This is just some of the yummy food I ate there. Do share with me what you ate when you went there, or if my blog helped you. I do hope you enjoyed reading this.

Cotswolds, making the most of it in a day


The Cotswolds is every Jane Austen Village, Bronte Sisters novel, Downton Abbey, episode come to life. While Oxford was the city we were visiting, we were just too close to the Cotswolds and more importantly to a slice of Downton Abbey therefore we decided to make a day of it.  While when we had planned out holiday Highclere Castle was not open for a visit, but a lot of the show has been shot in a lot of villages in the Cotswolds. One such village was Swinbrook.

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If offbeat, and unique things to do is high on your list then do read on. We made our way to Burford which is regarded often as the gateway to the Cotswolds. We took a bus from Oxford to Burford. The medieval village is beautiful, retains a lot of old world charm, the stone houses, the river and the shopping. The little village had some interesting vintage stores, where one could buy wool, books and even cheese.

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My favorite however was Huffkins. Their speciality is the Lardy Cake. I still dream of it, and I have tasted nothing like it. Enjoyed with a hot cup of tea, the lardy cake is is an English Tea Bread, that is generously enriched  with dry fruit, sugar and of course the key ingredient lard. While it sounds like a blob of fat settled on  your hips, this is one of those dishes where the calories are worth it.

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huffkins lardy cake

While this was a pitstop our final destination was to be Swinbrook and more specifically Swan Inn. This was where lady Sybil’s elopement with Branson was shot. Therefore the Downton Abbey connection. Also the gorgeous inn has a world class restaurant which we wanted to visit. Our plan was to take a cab from Burford and back. Well these ambitious cab plans were laughed off, by the tourist office who said that we must Walk down. Yes – Walk down since the village has no cabs. So be prepared for this when you visit the Cotswold. It would have been a lovely idea, except it was a cold windy day in the Cotswolds. 6 degrees!

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We decided to do what any self respecting heroine in a Jane Austen novel would do – and walked. Best decision we ever made and one of the most unforgettable experiences in my life. We did not see a soul for miles, well we heard some hunting dogs bark (that was scary) . But I am going to let these pictures do the talking. It is a 2.4 Mile walk each way and honestly I would not have enjoyed it as much any other way.

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burford village

Swinbrook

Well the village was less commercial and a lot more quaint than Burford. This was the epitome of a sleepy village. We had reached around lunch time, and we did not see any one in the village at all, till we reached what seemed like the centre of the buzz. Some snippets of the village below, so that you get an idea of the pristine gorgeousness I speak of.

Village home

 

Swinbrook lake

Swan Inn and Lunch

Swan Inn

Swan Inn, had a fabulous vibe to it. Very elite, everyone was talking quietly and it seemed like the noisiest thing in the restaurant was the clinking of wine glasses. Worked for me, we shared a wholesome meal. Arjun had steak, while I enjoyed a Quinoa salad, fresh veggies with feta and a red onion and orange dressing. The piece de resistance for me was the dessert which was the Yorkshire Rhubarb and berry compote, fool sable breton. Not a chocolate aficionado when it comes to dessert, I loved the difference in flavour and texture with this one.

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All in all, our trip to the Cotswolds was barely a teaser of what glory a full fledged holiday there can be. This is the most that we  could fit in, in one day but it has certainly whet our appetite for a longer haul – hopefully sooner rather than later.

queens bench

And of course – some tribute to the Queen will greet you even in the wild

I spy with my London Eye – London Things To Do


I love visiting cities on holiday, but I am constantly torn between ticking off touristy things off my list and simply observing way of life or doing things that people in that city do when they take time off. Three days in London, and I had to sample a little bit of different experiences because only that much immersion is possible in 3 .

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Being A Tourist

I feel all major cities have a similar vibe – people rushing to work, lots of buzz but when a city has hundreds of years of history like London does, it pretty much screams at you from every corner. The architecture, the people, the memories of books that you have read, movies that you have seen that come rushing to you at almost every corner bear a sense of familiarity and comfort.

Our trip was organized by Mercury Travels, and right from the time we landed to the time we left parts of our trip were planned to our convenience. Firstly the location where we were staying was perfect. We stayed at the Best Western Plus in Kensington Place, which is a great location to explore London. the 24 hour bus No 10 I think passes  right outside the hotel so you can always get back as late as you would like. A comfortable walking distance to the Kensington Gardens and Royal Albert Hall, we were thrilled with the location and the hotel.

 

Royal Albert Hall

Royal Albert Hall

Kensington

Be a Tourist

Hop on and Hop Off

I did my first ever Hop and Hop off tour, and I must say that it was a lot of fun, especially because the guides have a penchant for typical English humour which I find extremely entertaining. It is also a great way to see the city and the convenience of being able to, as the name suggests hop on and hop off is welcome.

Trafalgar

Trafalgar Square

 

Queens Theatre

Dunamis London

Dunamis – By  ArtistBushra Fakhoury

Prince Albert

St James Park

The River Thames Cruise

We decided to do the River Thames Cruise, but even though it was spring in typical London style the skies were grey and it was cold. While the London Eye is also really exciting, we decided to give it a miss as we had very little time. The cruise is enjoyable, but you must be prepared for the rains or the cold, but however sit back and enjoy the ride. The guide on this tour also was extremely witty and had interesting anecdotes to share about the royal family.

 

thames tour

The London Eye

 

London Bridge

The London Bridge

St. Pauls Cathedral

An iconic building in London, and the second largest church in UK, prompted us to add it on our list. The clincher for us was the climb up to the whispering gallery. I cannot put my finger on it, but there is something really adventurous about climbing up towers and churches from paths that people did from hundreds of years ago. I always think to myself how inconvenient the passage would have been for someone who was overweight. They do not allow pictures inside and you can’t really climb up to the dome with views of the city, so do not go expecting that. The baroque architecture however is incentive enough to climb up and worth spending time at.

 

St Pauls Cathedral

St.Pauls Cathedral behind me – See the dome?

Catch a Show at West End

We watched an American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre  – a broadway musical it was an extravagant production. While it had all the classic charm, it had a superb modern vibe to it as well. A Tony award winner, it left us mesmerised. The poster however was reminiscent of La La Land.

An American in Paris

Hang Out at Notting Hill

Let’s just call this the perfect neighborhood. Candy Doors, Manicured Gardens, Immaculate creepers framing doors and houses. I found that the neighborhood had a unique combination of contemporary designs and old world charm. Of course I can only imagine how painful it must be for residents who have pictures of their homes taken constantly. Well, I was guilty of that too! Lots of shopping, a flea market – my personal favorite was definitely the very Lewis Carollish Biscuit Shop called Biscuiteers. They also serve Hot chocolate and coffee while their specialty is essentially icing workshops and very exclusive icing on biscuits.

 

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Nottin g Hill 1

 

Biscuiteers

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Some Non Touristy Things to Do

Drink Tea, Have a Pint, Sip on Gin and Find some Hipster Coffee Like Locals do.

While Tea is a tradition, and very honestly I completely get the English obsession with tea. In the weather it is magically refreshing and it is a delight to make a ritual of it.

Whittard of Chelsea – we discovered this place in Covent Garden, and I had a chilli tea, which was really different from anything that I had before. They serve over 100 types of tea and some sinful cakes to go with it. I ordered the carrot cake and was very very satisfied

 

Whiitard of Chelsea

Chill at a Pub

London has many Pubs, and when it rains its the perfect place to take shelter and even when it doesn’t it’s a cool place to people watch. Interestingly many pubs don’t even bother with serving food, so be very clear about your eating plans, if like me meals are critical for you. The pubs worked perfectly as the country is obsessed with ale and gin, essentially something for him and her respectively.

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George prwell Dog and Duck

London Pub

Admiral Dubcan

Coffee…

No trip of mine is complete without sampling coffee, I make a decent effort to read up on the good ones. While my attempts were rubbished since UK is essentially a tea drinking nation, if there are lines for coffee before the coffee shop opens then definitely its caught on. I managed to sample a few places and lets just say I was not dissapointed. I visited “FucKoffee” and Kaffeine. I had a lot more on my list but they were shut on May 1st

Fuckofee

 

Picnic in a Park.

I had been keen on eating at Ottolenghi’s restaurant, but the restaurant was packed and when on holiday you do not have the luxury of a long wait so we made a picnic of it. They had really nice tables where we sat down for a meal, at some point it started to drizzle as well. This impromptu picnic was one of our best meals. Ottolenghi’s food is the kind you cannot stop thinking of, and the sheer simplicity of sitting at a park is an experience to cherish.

Notting Hill Picnic

 

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Unwind at Covent Garden.

Covent Garden really seemed like the place where almost all of London came to bring the weekend in, and its a great place for you to do the same as well. Again a lot of choices, many things to do and just hang out.

 

Covent Garden

 

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Walk A Lot

The best way to discover a city is to walk as much as you can, the city is busy and it’s not that easy a walk but it is definitely the most enchanting way to drink in the city. It’s a good idea because if you tire there is always a pub to chill in.

Sunny Day

Oxford street

An Empty Oxford street

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Just London

I am going to end my blog with a few things to keep in mind when you travel to London, which honestly I wish I knew before I went.

  1. The Oyster Card is super convenient and allows you to use the Tube and the Bus, so my advice would be to take it
  2. Shopping closes early during the weekend, 5pm is when they shut.
  3. Also check if its a national holiday when you are there, we were there on May 1st and a lot of  pubs and coffee shops that we wanted to visit were shut for the day
  4. Uber is easy to use, and you get some really cool data deals from India so it is a very viable option, though we never got around to using it.
  5. Stay on the right side of the escalator when shopping or at the metro station, you send a clear signal that you are not a local if you don’t
  6. You must book in advance if you want to eat at a good Michelin Star restaurant (No Shit Sherlock) also since I am vegetarian we really had a limited choice since several menus are pre-set.

 

I would love to hear what you thought of this, do hit me with feedback and also suggestions on what to do when I am there next.