Bitting into the Big Apple – Part I

“I Smile because New York City Happened to Me”

-Anonymous

In his Netflix special, Trevor Noah starts by saying “New York! New York! New York!” I often find tend to mimic this randomly on the street, either to myself or to the people next to me. Having completed quarter of a year in the city, it was inevitable that I do a post on all that the unstoppable city has to offer.

Meet you at 50th and Broadway! 

When you first step into the city, all those numbers and avenues can be slightly overwhelming. To those who are new to the city or are yet to visit, here is a breakdown of how the streets and avenues work:

The streets run East to West while the avenues run North to South. 

As you move northward, the street numbers start to ascend. To give you a better idea, 1st street starts at Greenwich Village and the city goes up to 220th Street which is Inwood Section.

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Avenues use a mix of numbers and names. For instance, the hotel I work at Roger Smith is located in 47th and Lexington. Confusing right?

Besides the avenues that are numbered, Lexington, Park and Madison Avenues, run between the 3rd and 5th Avenues.

Fifth Avenue is Manhattan’s central dividing line.  Streets running to its east are titled “east” (i.e. East 46th St), and to its west are titled “west” (i.e. West 46th Street).

Street address numbers begin at Fifth Avenue, and increase as they move outward (the higher the number, the farther to the east or west).

6th Ave. is also called Avenue of the Americas. There can also be other variations that one will notice across the city. For instance:

Broadway, one of Manhattan’s oldest thoroughfares (and the world’s longest) runs perpendicularly as it progresses north from the tip of Manhattan up into the Bronx.  As it criss-crosses the straight avenues, it creates large, open intersections (Union Square, Madison Square, Herald Square, Times Square, Columbus Circle, etc.) (For more information, check out: https://www.walksofnewyork.com/blog/manhattan-streetsmarts).

A to the Q to the R; 4, 5 , 6, maybe even 7? 

Subways, tubes, metros, across the world work differently. Some go by zones, some by color coded lines, some more complex than the others. When in New York, always pay attention to the numbers and letters even though the different lines are color coded.

To help you understand better, lines 4, 5 and 6 are all green lines, but they all take you to different destinations. Hence, it is very important to check the number or in some cases the alphabet of the subway you want to take.

The other important aspect of New York Subway is: Uptown or Downtown.

As you go towards lower street numbers, you will be taking the subway that goes Downtown, and vise versa for Uptown.

Simple right? (There’s always your best friend, Google Maps)

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Purchasing a Metro Card:

Unlike London where you can switch between the Oyster Card, or credit/debit cards and Contactless, New York Subway still requires a Metro Card. They can be bought at vending machines at most stations and can be refilled as and when needed. Any trip costs $2.75, whether it is one stop or 50. If you are taking the Path Trains to New Jersey, it is an additional $2.75 and $5 if you are taking the Air Train from Jamaica Center to JFK Airport.

As of a month ago, some stations have installed contactless and Apple Pay (and made my heart swell). However, you still need to carry the metro card to avoid having to purchase more.

As I used the Subway only over the weekends, I don’t have the special monthly passes or the unlimited ones. These too can be bought depending on your requirements.

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Once you get the hang of the subway, it is convenient to move around the city. However, no better way to explore New York than on foot!

Now that we have explored navigating through the city, here’s a list of my top picks on what to do in the city!

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Parks and Recreation 

The beauty of this city lies in the access to numerous parks. From Prospect Park in Brooklyn to Central Park in Manhattan, they all deserve the same kind of love. One of my favourite things to do is walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, head towards the famous photo spot in Dumbo (for all your instagram worthy pictures) and then head to Brooklyn Bridge Park for the most stunning views of the skyline.

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Bryant Park is another favorite for  relaxed afternoon of eating good food and catching up on reading.

One understands the hype around Central Park only after visiting. What I have come to realize is that never have I been to the same spot more than twice. Each time I go to Central Park, I end up at a new place, and it gives me the satisfaction of having witnessed another piece of New York. Don’t miss Bethesda fountain! I hope that soon enough, I can share some secret and specials spots at the park!

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And if there’s one park I have gone on almost every weekend is Washington Square Park. I ended up going very often to check out the famous N.Y. Dosas run by a Sri Lankan man for over twenty years. On two occasions I returned because the line would have lasted for nearly three hours. But thanks to that , I stumbled upon a Kathi roll place and satisfied my inner Desi with a Paneer Roll!

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Chasing the Skyline

Can one ever truly get enough of the those magnificent structures standing tall, owning the world?

  1. Brooklyn Barge or NYC Transmitter Park
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By far the best one I have seen! There is a reason why I am an aspiring Brooklyn Girl ❤

2. Pier C Park, Hoboken, New Jersey

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Manhattan clearly prefers a Hello from the other side!

3.Staten Island Ferry

 

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4. Brooklyn Bridge

 

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One can never get enough of this epic walk and spectacular views!

5. Rooftops!

 

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Find someone who knows someone, who knows someone with access to private rooftops 😉

 

 

 

6. Top of the Rock

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If like me, you would match rather see the Empire State than the view from the Empire State, I would recommend going to Top of the Rock, the viewing deck at the Rockefeller Center. The 360 degree views are unbeatable and don’t miss the sunset!

7. Penthouse at the Roger Smith Hotel 😉

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Salut! To the fabulous four months in New York! Leaving you with the view I am grateful to be able to witness each day!

Let me know in the comments below what you would like to see covered in Part II!

 

 

 

 

 

Passage to Marseille: French Diaries (Part 1)

“One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are”

– Edith Wharton

And my, have I been lucky with this!

I must have done something right to find people who plan some great adventures with practically no effort from my side except showing up. When I told my dear friend Rohan about moving to Europe, we already knew that there was a travel plan around the corner. To give you a quick background, Rohan and I went to the same school, but spoke to each other only a of couple of years back when a common friend planned a get together. Rohan has been living in France for the past 6 years and as soon as I told him the dates for my spring break, there was an itinerary for the whole week along with links to book the tickets (no guys, I don’t know what I did to deserve this amazing human)

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Having visited the eastern and central parts of France, Rohan thought it would be a great opportunity to explore the southern part. As he has been living in Aix en Provence for the past few years, I couldn’t think of a better person who would help me experience the place like a local. The only obvious thing left to do was get that indispensable little plastic ready.

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Thanks Dad, I appreciate it 😉

Adventure

On 30th March, I had a train from Geneva to Aix-en-Provence with a change in Lyon. I left early from Bluche with the hope of exploring Geneva. And like I had learnt nothing from living in Europe for three months, I forgot to check the weather forecast. Heavy rains in Geneva meant I was walking aimlessly from one corner of the station to another for about four hours, accounting for my first misadventure. I did not even realize there was a shopping complex in the station, beyond the Body Shop and Starbucks stores that I could see (just for a future reference, in case something like this happens to any of you).

Thanks to the Swiss and their impeccable timing, at 17H 20, my train departed for Lyon, and I was beyond happy.

It was short lived.

When the ticket collector approached, I had absolutely nothing to worry about because I had diligently brought a print out of my ticket instead of relying completely on my phone that turns off right when necessary (oh, what would this world be like without power banks?!) I was all smiles until the collector started to scan through that one page of information longer than required. I don’t know if she could see my behavior change from overconfident to nervous wreck because she finally decided to break it to me that my ticket was not valid.

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Naturally, my first thought was ‘I’m going to be debarked from a moving train.’

So I tried to present every possible Identification Card, (I think even my Aadhaar card was in there) to prove to her that the name on the ticket belonged to me. That the date was the day I was traveling. But apparently, nothing was good enough for her because the “QR Code” was missing. Because obviously there is no value for actual text anymore. Come on woman! I am not even out of Switzerland yet!

The only solution I was given was to buy a new ticket!

A new ticket? I already spent 70 euros on the actual one! But 50 euros didn’t seem like much in front of the monster of being debarked.

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However, that’s not where the problem ended. I had a half an hour layover in Lyon, where I had to get the “new” and “valid” ticket printed. So I went to the SNCF office in Gare de Lyon, only to be told that my ACTUAL , NO QR CODE ticket was completely valid and it was totally unnecessary to buy a new one. Now, for those of you who might be wondering why I didn’t just fight with the ticket collector in the first place – because the only scenario that stood out to me was how much money my parents had spent in sending me for a masters and would I rather be deported (I can always be overly dramatic) or shell out another 50 euros.

So in short, misadventures – 2,3,4 were – buying a new ticket, being told there was no need to buy a new ticket, then finally getting the new one printed and running back and forth in Gare de Lyon to get my REFUND. Yes, all in 30 minutes. Did you also know that I had only five minutes to figure out which platform, compartment and seat I had to get to. Quite the achievement, I thought (not really, a french couple were extremely generous to help me figure it out).

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The Glorious New Ticket that helped me make it to Aix-en-Provence.

Hence, guys, ALWAYS, AlWAYS, have the damm QR Code.

And the final misadventure, my TGV of all things was delayed by about 40 minutes, which meant Rohan, the extremely kind and chivalrous soul had to wait for over two hours for me because he got there earlier than expected.

I don’t know if I told him enough, but I was so happy to see him after that long, stressful day (filled with first world problems).

So on my first night in Aix, Rohan gave me a taste of the nightlife there. It was great to be away from Bluche and experience vibrancy! Aix-en-Provence is the perfect blend of a city life and and calmness. With a strong student population, Aix-en-Provence couldn’t be more perfect for youngsters. After meeting Rohan’s friends, who were some of the most warm and welcoming people I have come across! I had one of those days with the right kind of people, the right atmosphere and the right amount of drinks (can never be too many, can there?!)

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The only picture from our not so hazy night – Taken at Barberousse (in case you are in Aix, definitely give it a try)

Day 1: Aix et Marseille 

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The perfect view to wake up to from Rohan’s cute little apartment

Rohan would do exceptionally as a Superhost. He already had a day of adventure planned out. To be very honest, I knew I was in for a surprise, just to what extent – I was about to find out!

The drive from Aix-en-Provence to Marseille was absolutely incredible. Throughout the drive, Rohan kept saying “this is just the teaser, wait for the real thing.” He couldn’t have been more right, because Marseille just kept outdoing itself. Here’s why:

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Warm, Sunny welcome by Marseille
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Brunch with a view! (Old Port, Marseille)

I was in love. Marseille took less than 30 seconds to make it to my list of favorite places. I feel like I could walk for hours in the city, and still not get enough of it. A port city, and the second largest in France, Marseille has been a crossroads of immigration and trade since its founding by the Greeks circa 600 B.C. And right at its heart, the Vieux-Port or Old- Port was our playground for the day.

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Spot the Notre-Dame! – Part I

After brunch, we started walking through the town to get to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde (Time for a hike!)

A symbol of Marseille, the Notre-Dame is a Catholic Basilica, built on the foundations of an ancient fort at the highest natural point in Marseille, a 149 m (489 ft) limestone outcropping on the south side of the Vieux-Port, and happens to be the most visited site in Marseille.

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To the Dame….

 

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Are you ready ?

 

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Lets do this!

AYE, AYE, CAPTAIN! 

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Spot the Notre-Dame – Part II

 

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Are we there yet?

Rohan: This is just the teaser, just wait for the movie! 

Rachna: How can it possibly get better than this? 

And by this, I was referring to:

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We Made It!

Guys, brace yourselves…………

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The Movie

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This magnifique structure offers the greatest panoramic views of the city. The construction of the Basilica began in the year 1852 and lasted for 21 years. There’s a large statue of the Virgin Mary on the bell tower. It was made by the sculptor Lequesne in bronze with gold leaf in the Christofle studios in Paris and put in place in September 1870. Le musée d’art sacré  in Notre-Dame de la Garde opened in 2013 to tell the story of the basilica.

Incredible, isn’t it? Like with most stunning views, I cannot do justice to it with these photographs. Marseille ranks high on my places to visit, and if anyone is planning a trip to France, I urge you to explore the southern part first.

I kept stalling Rohan when he said it was time to head back. I never thought I would try my luck so hard with “Five more minutes, please!” Saying goodbye to a place you fall in love with is never easy, but there is always the hope of going back.

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With an equally fun drive back, the next thing on our agenda was watching a movie with Rohan and his friends. I loved the thought of going to a theatre after months (thanks to Bluche, I need to go to another town to find one!)

After Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, good food at a cafe (and the struggle of finding me vegetarian food) it was time to call it a night.

Day 2: The Calanques

I was already having a tough time getting over the gloriousness of the previous day, and was not sure I could handle more of those insane views. But Rohan being Rohan had already planned something (which I was sure, was going to be nothing short of epic) We also had the pleasure of being accompanied by his friend Matthieu. And yet again, we set out on a picturesque drive.

Nestled between rocky headlands, a string of crystal-clear coves await you. Venturing towards the south of Marseille will lead you to the Provence’s prettiest beaches trapped in the Massif des Calanques.

After hiking for a couple of hours, we found the golden pot at the end of the rainbow.

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Overwhelming would be an underestimation. I was so spellbound by the place that I couldn’t bring myself to say the right words or even react. I just stood there trying to capture every inch of the place in my mind.

I was lucky to have Rohan who could drive me up to the place. Alternatively, for those of you visiting, there are options of taking a boat ride. You can read more about it here or make bookings on this link.

I cannot stress enough on how magnificent this place is, and I hope the pictures give you an idea of why I feel so and why it should make it to your bucket list.

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The unforgettable place with these phenomenal people!

 

Back in Aix-en-Provence, we had the perfect end to my short, yet incredibly sweet trip with a movie night and some good food.

To my dear friend RohanMerci d’être le meilleur hôte! (Hoping Google Translate got it right!)

 

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About the Host: Clearly the best one anyone could have! Rohan is a precious soul that will go out of his way to make sure you have a ball! He has an eye for some of the best places and his love for travel only adds to his passion for showing you a great time! He makes the perfect travel companion and I am so grateful to have explored what has come to become my favourite cities with him!

Merci Beacoup Rohan!

Santé! 

P.S. I will do a quick tips on how and where to book tickets (with QR Codes at the end of Part II)

 

 

Magical Montreux

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.”

– Anonymous

Until the time I moved to Switzerland, I didn’t realize just how much there is to explore in the land of Fondue.

Speaking of Fondue, my dear friend Hemanth (who by the way could have his own travel blog – 15 countries in one year and what not) was visiting from Germany, and it was apparent that I had to take him to try Fondue. But I also wanted him to experience Bluche and one city neither of us had been to. Which brings me to my next destination: Montreux.

The one thing I admire about Switzerland is its infrastructure and connectivity. As opposed to how inaccessible everything usually seems from Bluche, getting from one town to another or one mountain to another is rather easy – thanks to the trains (let’s not forget: expensive)

Luckily enough, we found Super Saver Tickets, that I have mentioned in my earlier blog – To the Chaplin. A ticket that would normally cost around 25- 30 euros was about 5 Euros with the Super Saver Option on SBB.

Once again, how you can go about buying the Super Saver Ticket and optimize on travel plans in Switzerland:

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As always, Patrick was the man behind the itinerary! The three of us set out early in the morning, with our usual drill of taking the funicular down to Sierre and then catching the train to Montreux.

Located on the Lake Geneva shoreline, Montreux instantly captures your heart. Understanding the significance behind the question “How does the weather seem today?”, I came to realize what a difference a sunny day in Europe can make! With the gracious weather that had been offered by the weather God’s, the vibrancy and colors of Montreux really stood out. We were so captivated by the beauty that we started walking along the shoreline with no particular agenda in mind.

There was so much to just stop, look at and admire. It wasn’t one particular thing that was extraordinary, but the way everything came together to become one marvel.

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Note: All images featured in this blog have been captured by the extremely talented Hemanth Mandapati. 

As we walked past different streets we realized we needed to check off the one big thing on our list: The Chillon Castle. Situated between Montreux and Villeneuve, the Castle is one of the first things you notice not just when you walk through the boulevards of Montreux, but also when you are on the train. This historical structure in the canton of Vaud is one of the most visited monuments in Switzerland.

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Spot the Castle!  Part I

What we didn’t realize was how long it was going to take us to walk there and how unprepared we were in terms of finding a cafe with decent food that would help us last through the walk. This is where I would like to point out that it always helps to carry some sandwiches and snacks in your bag!

At one point we were so hungry that we decided if not anything, we can grab some coffee and croissants and be on our way! We found the perfect little cafe with stunning views of Lake Geneva and the Alps.

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3 expensive croissants and coffees later, off we went! And as you would expect this little town nestled on the shoreline with the most picturesque views just kept getting more beautiful. There were so many distractions that delayed us from reaching the Castle. I will just let the pictures do the talking now…

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Our first tryst with European Spring 

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Our friendship in a nutshell

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The moment I fell in love with Montreux

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You see what I mean? And thanks to Hemanth, he does justice to the beauty of the place with his photography skills.

Because we had walked in a different direction from the station to hunt for food, it took us a little longer than expected to get to the Castle.

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Spot the Castle! – Part II

Don’t make any conclusions about the Castle until you enter. Because only once you do, do you get to experience this:

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There is an entrance fee between 10 – 15 Euros (Use your student discount wherever applicable!) Whether or not history interests you, this place is highly recommended.

The first written record of the Castle dates back to 1005. How these structures still stand with all their glory, is beyond me. Its most famous prisoner was probably François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk, prior of St. Victor in Geneva and politician who was imprisoned there from 1530 to 1536 for defending his homeland from the dukes of Savoy.

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The Castle was made popular by Lord Byron, who wrote the poem The Prisoner Of Chillon (1816) about François de Bonivard.

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And if you are a Disney fan, you can instantly relate it to the Castle in Little Mermaid.

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Source: Google Images

You can read more about the Chillon Castle here.

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And some noteworthy shots for your Instgram, outside the Castle 

Once we were able to take in all that the Castle had to offer and taking a breather from the overwhelm of  it all, we had to head to an authentic Swiss place that Patrick had picked out for us. Cutting straight to it, we went to Caveau Des Vignerons, ordered the truffle fondue and beer and to our delight, Hemanth quite enjoyed it! (Since his verdict was all that mattered!)

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Tastes as divine as it looks

Post lunch, we decided to stroll through the town once more to just enjoy it. We just sat by Lake Geneva, talked and just chilled (as simple as that!)

Since we were short on time, we couldn’t explore beyond this. However, if you have the time, I would recommend staying over night and experiencing the town a little more.

Montreux also hosts the world’s second largest Jazz Festival which is just around the corner, starting on June 29th!

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Just saving the best one for the last…

Something I would have definitely loved to do would be to rent a bike and explore the place! So if you get the chance to, please do it! (This applies to a lot of places in Europe!)

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About the Photographer:
Hemanth Mandapati
Hemanth is currently pursuing his masters in Germany. His backpack is his armor, and every other weekend you will see him exploring a new place/country. 
He has seen over 15 countries in the past year in Europe alone. He is the perfect travel companion because of how knowledgeable he can be about things, his willingness to try out new things, and his endless tales about past travels. You can follow more of his work at: https://goo.gl/CXiYu7
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About the planner:
Patrick Anthony
Patrick has the ability to remember any name, any description exactly the way it is. He has an eye for the right places that would serve as the best experiences. And if you are traveling with him, you are in for some great wine and desserts! You can get to know more about him at: https://goo.gl/Bu1tig

Stay Tuned for the next one (I promise it will be sooner than this one!) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To the Chaplin!

“A day without laughter is a day wasted”

Charlie Chaplin

Earlier, in my blog 35 Minutes you have been introduced to my incredible travel companions: Pooja, Patrick and Darez. It’s time I present to you the fourth and very important one: Araya.

If you ever see any stunning photographs on my blog from now on or my social media, it is probably her doing. She has the ability to light up any room she enters and I am grateful that I get to travel with someone who has a number of countries and a ton of fun up her sleeves. Araya and I were about to do our first trip together!

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In case I haven’t already mentioned, getting to any place from Bluche requires quite the planning. To give you an idea: in order to get to any other town/city within Switzerland, we first need to travel to Sierre, since its the closest stop with train station. We usually do this in the Funicular (Great Views for 5.30 Francs!)

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The Funicular that has been our savior in getting around!

 

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You can spot our College as point of Departure and Sierre as Destination (and the cute little Funi)

When we plan our trips we keep in mind the following:

  1. Time of the Funicular from Bluche to Sierre
  2. Time the train leaves from Sierre to our desired destination
  3. The last funicular back to Bluche (Except on Weekends, the last Funicular is usually at 9:15 pm)

The advantage of traveling with Patrick is that he loves to plan things to the dot. The only task you will have to do is book your tickets. He will have the best itinerary in hand so you can trust him blindly and board the train.

 So where were we headed next?

Charlie Chaplin has embraced all of our televisions, brought families together and filled our homes with laughter. It was essential that I go see the place he spent his last few years in. After being denied re-entry into the United States, which had been his home for over 4 decades, (read more about it here) Chaplin, along with his family decided to reside in the town of Vevey, in Canton – Vaud on the North Shore of Lake Geneva.

With the intention of reaching Vevey for breakfast, we got an early start to the day and took the 7:27 AM Funicular.

Departure from Bluche (Funi or Omnibus) 7:27 am

Arrival at Sierre: 7:37 am

Departure from Sierre: 7:50 am

Arrvial at Vevey: 8:54 am

Traveler’s Tip: If you prefer to save on food, its always useful to pack your own box of sandwiches or fruits and peanuts (or whatever you like!)

Lunch box

After munching on sandwiches and croissants on the train, we were ready to explore Vevey when we got there. Our first stop was The Fork of Vevey. Holding the Guinness World Record for the tallest fork in the world, standing at 26 ft. , the Fork was created to mark the Alimentarium (The world’s first food museum’s) 10th Anniversary.  There is also a placard stating The Fork is a symbol of the purity of Lake Geneva.

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Capturing the essence! (I told you, Araya is just too good!)

And right across from The Fork, I spotted the real reason I was there:

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Chaplin, Thanks for the Laughs!

On our way to see The Fork, we stumbled across a flea market with a ton of vintage goodies:

I am not sure how often they have stalls, but in case you are in Vevey and are enthusiastic about owning a vintage collection, I would definitely recommend stopping by, you should find it just across from the station.

Following this, we decided to visit the Alimentarium.  I would suggest anyone traveling to do some research on the place to see if it is of interest to you. With a student discount we payed around 11 CHF, so without it I think it would be over 20 CHF. In case you are interested to know about Nestle and all that they are doing, this would be a good visit. If you are traveling with children, there are fun games inside the museum to enhance their experience.

Vevey is a nice little town to stroll around. Since it was winter, we were still not able to enjoy the colors of the place to its fullest. If you can instead visit during the spring, I am sure you can make the best of it.

The highlight for me on the trip however were the food trucks. After 5 weeks of living in Europe, I spotted Indian Food! (Of course I was missing my spices!)

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Life felt complete

 

Dal Chawal, pickle and Samosa, all at once?! I had clearly hit the jackpot! 

After relishing every bit of it, we decided to walk around and explore the town a little more. Just like most European towns, these places are best explored by foot. What’s interesting was how different Vevey and Lausanne are even though they are all on the same stretch.

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Its always wonderful to find people who share the same amount of fondness for traveling as you! So go out there and find them, and just get going!

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Stay tuned for more on one day trips, budgeted traveling and my shot at getting back to fitness!

SANTÉ!

 

35 Minutes

“Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.”

— Peter Hoeg

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Scene from our Dinner table:

Patrick (The planner of all things): Guys, lets do a day trip to Lausanne!

Pooja: I am in!

Rachna: Yaasss!!!

Darez: *Already Checking the Train schedules*

This is a typical conversation at our dinner table during most days at Les Roches. The convenience of studying in the world’s most beautiful (but expensive) country comes with its own perks.

I have been extremely lucky to have found a wonderful group of friends who have the same set of likes and fondness towards traveling. Patrick is on a study abroad from the US and loves to plan everything to the point. If you ever need an itinerary to travel, he is your guy. He planned out the most wonderful one day trip to Lausanne for us and Darez figured out the schedule for all the trains and the Funicular. Pooja is the one who convinces me to just go for it! If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have experienced half the things! And me, well I try to be good company 😉

Living in Bluche can be a real challenge. To get to any place you first need to get to Sierre. On the 4th of Feb, we got an early morning start to the day by taking the 8:19 Funicular to Sierre.

 

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The Furniculaire that takes us to Sierre

Even if you don’t intend to spend the day at the place, the views that you get from the train are worth the money. The thing about Europe is, there is so much to take in at once, it can be rather overwhelming.

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I stumbled upon the Swiss views that were made famous on DDLJ

 

 

By the time we reached Lausanne it was 10:30 and we were all obviously hungry. Here’s the catch, it was a Sunday! The Swiss take their weekends very seriously, besides an Indian store that we found, and I felt like I had hit the jackpot, everything was closed! It was cold. It was a new place. We were starving.

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First world problems, you see

With frozen hands we managed to locate something on google maps, and to our delight ended up at a restaurant called L’esprit Bistrot with that had some excellent food. Pooja and I are the only vegetarians in the group (vegetarian, in Europe? Yes, its manageable) so we usually order something to share, and I am so lucky to have her because she knows what will taste good. We decided to order the Rosti, and My! My! it was divine.

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And to make life better, we ordered some Hot Chocolate!

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So much for being a fitness blogger eh?

Our plan was to first see the cathedral and walk through old town only to realize we were on the other side of it and it would be a hike to go back up. However, it worked out for the best because our master planner Patrick had already figured out what would be the highlight of our trip.

Lake Geneva was close to the restaurant and we started walking towards it. On our way we got a glimpse of the Olympic Museum, met a German woman who spoke fluent Tamil (my mother tongue) and figured out how to get to the Ferry Station. Because we were going to take the ferry to Evian. 35 Minutes, and Voilà! We would be in France!

I am soon going to run out of adjectives to describe the places, but Evian was beautiful. We took a stroll through the cute, rustic town and almost convinced ourselves to enter the casino. The plan was to go in with 3 Euros and come out with 500 (One can dream)

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Since it was a Sunday, the shops were mostly closed. If you are someone who enjoys shopping, I would definitely recommend going on another day. We found a bakery and got some more food! During our walk through the many lanes, we found the most adorable shop run by an artist: Sonia Laden. To sum up our entire trip, we found the perfect Post Card made by Sonia herself. The colors of Evian blend in to give you a picturesque experience. And through those tiny lanes you can always spot Lake Geneva following you.

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I did not return with a lover though!

With little time left to take our ferry back, we had to unfortunately skip the Hot Wine we were about to order. Back in Lausanne, we spent a decent amount of time exploring the Cathedral and just walking through old town. This is a must do! The walk is an adventure in itself.

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There is always the option of taking the metro if it gets too cold, but I would suggest walking as much as you can because thats the experience you will take back with you (Also, that money can be used to get some Hot Chocolate!)

We ended our day with some delicious Fondue, because Switzerland!

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The restaurant is adjacent to the cathedral and I would highly recommend trying their Curry Cheese Fondue.

Quick Tips for the one day Trip:

  1. Plan Ahead: If you are living in and around, you probably own the Half Card which allows you to buy the tickets at half price. However, if you don’t own one and are visiting, you can always book it in advance through an application called SBB which allows you to book discounted tickets. SBB will also guide you regarding the train schedules and this will make life a whole lot easier!
  2. Layer Up: If you are not used to the cold, make sure you have enough winter clothing to protect you, because towards the night it can get extremely chilly and hard to walk.
  3. Do Evian: In case you haven’t already done France, this could be one more country off your list! The ferry ride is quite the experience too! For us, this part was the highlight (and the Fondue)
  4. Do not overestimate the time you have: Make sure that you calculate the time it takes to walk back to the train station from whichever part of the city you are in.
  5. If possible, go on a weekday: We were ok with going on a Sunday because our schedule allowed that, and we were happy because we didn’t spend time shopping. But even many of the restaurants tend to remain closed, so make sure to choose an alternate day if possible.
  6. Get that Fondue and Hot Wine! 
  7. Find yourself a Pooja, Patrick and Darez 
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The Scheduler, the Go-Getter, The Master Planner, and the one who just enjoys everyone else’s hard work.

Stay tuned for our next one day trip!  

Bonjour from Bluche!

 “The beginning is always today.”

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

 

When you are in the middle of college applications, it feels like nothing can be as stressful as the tedious process of writing different SOP’s and getting those recommendation letters. But once you click submit is when the actual stress kicks in: The Wait! The wait for the results. You open your email a million times a day to check  if you your inbox is welcoming you with “You have been Accepted!”

Oh, the Anxiety!

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September 4th 2017: (The anxiety comes to an end!) 

You are in!
Accepted into Les Roches, Global Hospitality Education, Switzerland

And then the day comes! You read those beautiful words, and think to yourself ‘I have done it!’ But what now? Once you get accepted into your dream college, it almost feels like from the time of the acceptance till the time you get on campus you have no purpose in life. Well, you do, its called shopping (lots of it), and meeting as many people as you can before you relocate to another continent.

I took the time off to travel within India, meet everyone and eat all the food I wouldn’t be getting in a month’s time. I was lucky enough to spend time with family and friends and start my new journey on a beautiful note.

 

Will I make it?

 

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Goodbyes are always hard….

I have mentioned in my earlier posts that I love the airports, and as weird as it is, I find them very calming. So on 17th Jan I was set to leave for Geneva. The one time the airport was supposed to be my best friend it ended being my enemy. There was utter chaos at the Hyderabad airport that night and it seemed like every single person in the city had chosen that day to travel. I have never seen more frustrated passengers and it took me 3 and a half hours to complete everything and make it just in time for the flight.

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On the bright side however, I made a great friend at the airport! Pranay was traveling to LA and we both had a 9 hour layover at Abu Dhabi.

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Deep conversations over whisky 

I know what you are thinking, 9 hours , gosh! But that was the best part of the whole travel experience, because it was Abu Dhabi, making it very symbolic for me.  And also because we spent 6 hours at the lounge 😀

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The flight from Abu Dhabi to Geneva was peaceful with an empty seat next to me.

When I landed and got in line for the immigration I heard someone call out my name  and my heart skipped a beat. To my relief, it was Pooja, my dear friend from college (who will be featured heavily through the next few posts). Everything became instantly better because I found someone who was soon going to become family. 18th night we were all welcomed by a snowy Bluche! It was dark, slippery and I had luggage to carry  (I got by with help from Manos, Shiv and Bharath)

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Ze Superstars!

 

And thats how in one night, we had already formed a mini family. The situation forces you to meet people and do everything to have each other’s back.

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First meal at Market Place, Les Roches

The next one week was filled with meeting everyone, inductions, getting used to the new food and above all the annoying yet magical winter!

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We all try our best to concentrate on the studying 😉
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Ready for Master’s!

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It’s going to be a month at Bluche, and as overwhelming as its been, its also been equally extraordinary. I must admit, we are trying our best to stop pretending like we are not on a holiday and starting acting like we are here to study. I know the pictures will only tell you otherwise. It is such a blessing to be a part of something like this, and I cannot wait to share more with all of you as this journey progresses.

As far as my tryst with fitness is concerned, the walk from my dorm to campus seems like an exercise routine by itself. But the biggest challenge I am facing is the extreme change in diet (my college can’t seem to stop making excellent desserts)

Sometimes, I share!

However, I am finally figuring a way out and trying to incorporate what I used to do back in India. This is the third time I have moved since I started my fitness journey back in 2016, and every time there is something new I learn, and somehow an improved way to do it. It has taken me a month to figure it out, but today I finally woke up, ate a banana the first thing in the morning and worked out on my brand new yoga mat.

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To everyone who has been following my blog, if you have fallen off the fitness wagon because of a new place or a big change in your life, do not let it pull you down, because there is always a way to get back. You just need to keep at it. Do not be hard on yourself, its ok to take the time to figure it all out.

And before I go, here is a sneak peak into what I wake up to everyday….

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Snack time is the Best Time!

‘I spend a lot of time holding the refrigerator door open looking for answers’

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The human species have conveniently fallen into the humongous trap set by marketers of binge eating from packets that look like they have a load of deliciousness inside but in reality consist of all the wrong doings you could do to your body (even though everyone is completely aware about it).

And it is unfortunate that a majority of the world is convinced that snacking can only come in the form of these processed goods. And even if they do believe in other options, it is too time consuming to actually cook your own food (I mean why take the effort, when I can just run to the store next door? )

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So I thought why not do a post on something I often have a tough time working on myself?!

5 Snack options that will make you forget about junk food:

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  1. Sautéed Vegetables

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Ingredients:

1 chopped Carrot

1 chopped Red Bell Pepper

1 chopped Onion

1 Slice Tofu

Steps:

Prep Time: 15 mins , Cook Time: 10 mins

  • Cut the vegetables you need – I have used Tofu , Onion, Carrots and Bell Pepper. Sometimes I add steamed corn and broccoli. The choice is all yours!
  • Pour 1 tbsp of oil in a frying pan
  • Add some cumin seeds
  • Add the vegetables into the pan and Sauté them
  • Add a teaspoon of chilli powder, salt and pepper
  • Sauté until vegetables turn light brown
  • Add a pinch of tabasco sauce if you want more flavor

If possible cut the vegetables before hand (early in the morning) to save you some time.

2. Sweet Potato Wedges, Ranch Dip and Cheese Garlic Bread or Toast:

Screen Shot 2017-11-24 at 12.36.41 PM.pngNote: I don’t encourage processed foods, but you can consume the ranch dip in limited quantity or alternatively choose to make your own dip!

Ingredients:

Sweet Potatoes

2 teaspoons of Salt

2 teaspoons of Pepper

1 teaspoon Chilli Powder

Ranch Dip

Bread

Cheese

Prep Time: 10 Mins , Cook Time – 20 – 25 mins 

  •  Pre Heat the oven at (220 degrees C)
  • Cut the Sweet Potatoes either in circles or in the form of wedges.
  • Prepare a mix of the following in a bowl:

1-2 Tbsps of oil (depending on quantity of sweet potatoes),

2 teaspoons of Salt

2 teaspoons of Pepper

1 teaspoon Chilli Powder

  • Dip the sweet potatoes one by one into the mix and place them on a baking tray.
  • Place the tray in the Pre Heated oven at (220 degrees C) for 20 – 25 minutes until it can be easily pierced with a fork.

Cheese Garlic Toast: 

Ingredients:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. Mix Parmesan cheese, butter, garlic powder, and parsley in a small bowl. Spread the mixture on top of the bread slices.
  3. Bake in preheated oven until butter is melted and bread toasted for 5 – 10 mins 

3. Hummus and Pita Bread:

This is easily my favorite Mid – Day meal!

If you live in India there are a couple of options you can follow:

  •      You can order the Pita Bread and Hummus from Big Basket

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  • You can also check out Snackible , they have some great healthy snack options!
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My recent loot from the store !

Alternatively, you can also choose to make your own hummus, you can find the recipe here.

4. Cut Fruits and Homemade Bhel! 

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Is your mouth watering yet?

Find the recipe for Bhel here.

5. Pita Bread Pizza 

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Ingredients 

1 Pita Bread

1 chopped onion

1 chopped bell pepper

1 cup of Corn Kernels

1 Slice of Cheese

Hummus

Prep Time: 10 Mins, Cook Time: 10 Mins 

  • Sauté the onions, bell pepper and corn in a frying pan for 5 mins
  • Spread the hummus on the pita bread and add a slice of cheese.
  • Once the vegetable are ready add them to the pita bread and place it in the microwave for 3 mins. And Voila you have found your solution for the Pizza you have been craving!
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Happy Snacking! 😀

We just turned One!

“Follow Your Passion; it will lead you to your PURPOSE”

– Oprah Winfrey

My uncle started his apprenticeship when he was 17 to earn a living.  Before my cousin and I could understand the importance of this, he had already completed 25 years of service.  This is just one of the many sacrifices that my family went through. When I read my fathers blog – https://kaveripak.wordpress.com/ which follows the adventures of him and his brother, it makes me wonder what more they would have done if they had all the resources we have now combined with their passion.

The sacrifices made by our family back then has given us the greatest gift – the privilege to follow our ‘Passion.’ 

The first in our house (and our generation) to persistently follow his passion was my cousin Vijay. At 15, he knew that he belonged to the culinary world.

What a blessing it is to have him as a role model. I grew up watching him prove to us time and again that passion coupled with hard work results in nothing less than extraordinary.

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Chef Vijay (Left) – Mentor, Friend, Confidant, Coolest Brother
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A decade later, following his footsteps…..

Being the oldest among the cousins, Vijay has set such a high benchmark for the rest of us that it has triggered us to do better. He taught me that despite what society says or thinks, if you believe in it, if you see something big happening for yourself, just go for it! Its one thing to read about people who have chased their dreams, but to have someone show you everyday is a phenomena in itself.

In May, last year I was telling him about how I really wanted to become a host on Airbnb. Little did I know that it would take place within a month.

June 24th 2017 – marked a year of hosting on Airbnb! And like I said in my previous posts, its important to celebrate yourself.

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Being a host on Airbnb has been an absolute delight! The excitement that comes with opening your doors to fellow travelers is incredible. A happy guest is a testament that I am doing justice to my passion. I wish every time a guest entered the house, I could capture their very first reaction. Nevertheless, I wait for each of their calls like I would from my biggest critique.

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The very first booking from Aparna – I cannot begin to describe how it felt when I received her enquiry! Thank You Aparna, for believing in KMR Villa and helping kickstart my hosting! 
So whats the best part about hosting?

It is the joy of helping others create memories in a place that is so dear to you!

Kripa

Just like the picture depicts, Mr.Kripakaran (Property Manager) who helped buy the property, has been associated with KMR Villa right from the construction stage. Today, he looks after the everyday activities which go into keeping the bed and breakfast up and running.

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Sekar Anna… The Real Star behind KMR Villa

Sekar and his family were looking after the property much before the Villa was even built. His wife, Chandra is responsible for the tea leaves making its way to the tea factories.

Sekar, has a much bigger role to play. Sekar’s first activity every morning is to ensure that the entire town receives water. Thats right, he has to hike 2 km each way on a steep incline to open the water pump that connects the entire village. This is followed by getting breakfast for the guests, and finally putting his heart and soul into maintaining the house. When we initially started we felt that Sekar might find a hard time communicating with guests who do not know Tamil. What has come as a pleasant surprise is how often guests tell me Sekar was the highlight of the trip. The reason behind this being the love and passion he puts into looking after each guest.

And with the help of this wonderful team who turn my dream into reality each day, I am happy to share the one year completion of hosting on Airbnb.

On that note, I want to add that anyone who has received the privilege of following their passion – use it wisely.

Use it to spread a message that goes beyond your own purpose. Use it to help people who need it. It is a rare and expensive gift, and must not be taken for granted. Be Grateful and spread as much joy and kindness as you can. The world could definitely use more of it.

This post is dedicated to all those working hard on chasing their dreams. This is a shout out to everyone who stood up for themselves and chose to take the road not taken. Thank you for believing in yourself and for giving the world so much to look forward to!

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A tribute to my dear Grandpa, in the memory of whom we started hosting on Airbnb!

To book a holiday with KMR Villa, log on to Airbnb: https://goo.gl/2Mpf3k and use code https://www.airbnb.co.in/c/rachnar13 to sign up and earn travel credit on your very first booking!

Look forward to hosting you!

KMR Villa

Where’s all the Food at?

“Omm Nom 

Nom Nom”

-Cookie Monster 

To begin with, I would just like to say a big ‘Thank you’ for following my journey so far.

I am so grateful for the support I have received over the blog and it makes me really happy when someone messages and says its helping them in some way!

So I thought that I would do a quick write up on my meal plan in case you are having a hard time figuring out what to eat and what to avoid.

Note: Since I am not a qualified nutritionist, I am only sharing what I follow; you can always consult a nutritionist before you embark on this journey as that will definitely be more useful and will cater to your needs.

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I try my best to stick to the above, with variations depending on: 1) availability of items and 2) time I have to cook (eg: having Bread Omelette instead or Avocado Toast).

As you can see I have not added Sunday, because I know its that one day we all want to go out and have fun. And we must! Just stay in your limits. Go enjoy your Sunday Brunch, but do not convert your cheat meal into a cheat day.

Here are a few recipes that I hope will help overcome ‘Let’s Eat Out or Order In Cravings!’

   1. Sweet Potato Wedges  instead of French Fries 

       Recipe:

  • Thoroughly wash and then cut 2-3 (increase if you need more serving size) sweet potatoes
  • On a rimmed baking sheet, toss sweet potatoes with garlic, oil, and salt and pepper   Roast until   you see crispy brownish sweet potatoes! (Approx: 30 mins)
  • Serve with shredded cheddar cheese if you want some more flavor!

                 Perfect snack after a long day at work, or your Netflix Binge!

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The one on Google looks better than mine!

2. Makhana(Fox Nut)  instead of Pop Corn 

Well this isn’t really a recipe, I usually buy the packet from a local store and then roast  it.

  • Add 1 tbsp oil into a vessel
  • Add Cumin
  • Add the store bought Makhana
  • Add 1 tsp of Chilli Powder and 1 tbsp of Chaana Masala or Pav Bhajji Masala

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Mix it until it turns a little brown!

You are good to go!

3. Mixed Vegetables with Homemade white sauce and Brown Rice – when you are tired of Roti Sabzi 

   This is easy to make and will save you a lot of time if you cut vegetables the previous        night

   Recipe:

  •  Chop – onions, capsicum, carrots, mushrooms, broccoli (you can even add corn to this)
  •  Toss these into a pan with oil and mix well until it turns golden
  • Add some flour to this, and then milk – (there is no fixed ratio, I just add either depending on the thickness I want)
  • Add some garlic!

And Voilá!

P.S. Don’t forget to cook your rice! (I sometimes do this!)

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You can do the same with whole wheat pasta  – just add the boiled pasta to the mixed vegetables.

4. Nice Cream instead of Ice Cream! 

The hardest craving to curb is dessert cravings! If you aren’t too fond of flavored yoghurt, I hope this is a good alternate for you!

Recipe:

  • Freeze Bananas overnight
  • In the morning, toss the frozen bananas into a blender – add a tsp of coco powder and some milk (avoid adding too much – as this might reduce thickness)

(This recipe is courtesy of my dear friend Prerana)

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I added crushed peanuts – you can add whatever you like – maybe walnuts or strawberries or kiwi!

I am trying my best to experiment with different foods so that way I don’t have to rely on eating out. However, there are a few problems that might come up

  1. Cooking is time consuming!

         This is the biggest drawback, so to make things easier, try and have a few things ready the previous day – chopped vegetables, Atta for your roti, frozen bananas for your dessert 😉

2. Thinking of what to cook

         I think this is more tedious than the actual cooking. To address this – I have a chart on my refrigerator, and depending on the day and ingredients available I fill out my meals the previous night. So in the morning, I know exactly what to cook.

3. Resorting to Processed food as an easy way out!

There will be instances when you need to add a particular sauce to your dish – just remember there are plenty of recipes online to help you do the same; try avoiding processed food as much as possible.

4. But everyone is eating out!!!

   And so can you, just restrict it if possible and if you really want to eat out – choose the healthier , wholesome options! (Or call everyone home and treat them to your awesome food! 😀 )

My Meal Plan does not cover everything I eat, like I said, there are variations. I may try new dishes, sometimes I go overboard, but when I do – I try to religiously follow portion control.

The thing about cooking is it can be stressful and at the same time be a stress buster, the key is to make the process easier so that you can always experience the latter!

Happy Cooking and Happy Eating!

Escape to London…

Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions. 

-Peter Hoeg 

In my early teens, I used to watch these shows on the channel Travel and Living, solely because I was so fascinated by the fact that people were getting paid to travel and taste different cuisines, meet new people and check off everything on their bucket list.

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“If traveling were free, you would never see me again.”

Not only were these trips completely paid for , but this is what the hosts made a living out of (Who doesn’t want that?!).

But clearly, when time came, my choice of career was very different and right now I am caught wishing someone would magically stumble upon my talent of being a tour guide (self-claimed, of course) and offer me my own show!

However, coming back to reality, (alternatively choosing to spend my father’s money) I decided to make a trip to UK to visit my cousin, sister-in-law and my nephew instead of joining my parents to India in the month of May.

I know what you are thinking – she is constantly complaining about her leg pain, and now all of a sudden she wants to travel. But I guess a part of me knew that traveling (and cute guys with thick British accents) would be a great medicine. And I promise you – the tickets were very cheap!

So in between the above photographs, was my ride on Qatar Airways, and I am one of those people who gets excited at the idea of trying out new airlines. What I loved about it was the fact that they saw an opportunity in the way the safety instructions are conveyed to the passengers, which is otherwise ignored by all of us, no matter how much effort the air hostess puts in or how good she looks. But the Airline plays a video which takes place on the soccer field with real players and penalty cards! (Way to grab people’s attention!)

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I made it! (I was doubting this at the immigration)

Isn’t it exciting how one minute you are in the scorching heat of UAE and 9 hours later you are in the pleasant (not so gloomy yet) weather of UK. It was like going from an oven to a refrigerator.

My cousin Vijay had come to pick me up and getting from the airport to Croydon (South London) was a journey in itself, changing all those trains however gave me a teaser of the beautiful country.

The next two weeks were absolutely delightful! Vidya, Vijay and Vedant accompanied me for the majority part of my vacation showing me some of the most interesting and unique places in Londonand there were few places that I explored on my own. The latter was where the learning part came in. It is so important to be able to enjoy your own company. I recently read somewhere that ‘The Cure for too much TO DO is Solitude and Silence.‘ This process of self exploring was made easier by my sister-in law who gave me the inch by inch directions along with tube lines and buses that I would have to take.

So the first stop I made alone was traveling within Croydon itself. I went shopping, well window shopping because Dhirams to Pounds was no more comforting than Rupees to Pounds. But I did buy a butterfly shaped Gingerbread for Vedant, because it was going to be my first time picking him up from his Nursery, and I got a heads up that he likes to be received with treats. As soon as I entered, Vedant came running towards me, announcing that his aunt has come to his class (felt like I got to have my filmy moment!) We had a great ride back home, because I was in company of someone who could talk more than me!

And get this, it was also the day that Vedant learned about the life cycle of the butterfly at play school! (The universe was definitely with me!)

The following day, my destination was Wimbledon! There was a tram from Croydon to Wimbledon, making my journey extremely easy, until I got to Wimbledon and couldn’t find the bus stop I needed to board the bus from(there were like 20!) And of course, of all days the weather had chosen that particular day to betray me. It was extremely cold (please do keep in mind I was coming from UAE) and it had started to drizzle, my shoes were giving me a shoe bite, and to top it all, I literally  paced 20 times from the Tram Station to what I thought could possibly be my bus stop. I called Vidya up, and I failed miserably at explaining the crossroads I was stuck in. And this was all after seeking help from an elderly woman and google maps. I know, so much for wanting to be a tour guide! Finally, I saw a guard (who I swear should be in Hollywood) who took less than 10 seconds to guide me and Phew! I was on my way!

I was welcomed by the sweetest and most humorous guard – who asked me if I wanted a picture taken! (Hell yes I did). Now, let me stress on this a little more, in an era of selfies and DSLR’s, no matter how exciting it is, when you get to Wimbledon you need to take a picture of yourself against the Centre Court. Its a Prerequisite to show that you really did visit the place. The task is a little tricky when everyone has come in a group and are busy clicking pictures of their family and friends and you realize that so much solitude isn’t worth it after all!

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I was left with no choice but to ask a Wimbledon Employee to take this. It was also a reminder that I did play Tennis at some point, met Sania Mirza and could have actually made it here someday (One is allowed to dream)

The next few days I tried to get some office work done, I met a couple of friends from school who were living there, and spent a lot of time with family. My cousin is a senior chef in London, so my fitness goals and Rujuta Divekar’s voice went for a toss whenever I wanted to try something new (DO NOT, I repeat do not ever do that). The mind has a great way of playing tricks on you if you let it, so I convinced myself that the cold was making me hungrier and all the walking was balancing it. This is true to an extent, but what I was trying to achieve was a lifestyle change and not something temporary.

I just want to take a moment to talk about Sky Gardens, the view from the top is Mind Blowing and it should definitely be on your list of things to do if you are ever in London (It is free, but requires a reservation)

 

My very last day in London was the highlight. I found Benjamin, I saw the Tower Bridge open and the cherry on top was dining at Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen, thanks to my darling sister-in law.

So why am I mixing my travel diary and fitness journey?

  1. No matter where you are, and how hard it gets, try your best to stick to your goals. Yes there will be temptations, there will be distractions, but it ultimately comes down to what you want out of it and how far you are willing to go to make it happen.
  2. It is a lifestyle change! You deserve to treat yourself, you are allowed to have that delicious new dessert, just remember to earn it.
  3. Fall in love with taking care of yourself!

Throughout the trip everyone was constantly worried that I might encounter a lot of pain. However, it came as a surprise to all because it was very limited, I was able to walk everywhere and do everything I wanted to (not sky diving or Bungee Jumping though). The only question was will it be the same once I was back in Abu Dhabi, and if not, what was causing it.

P.S. If you are ever traveling alone, offer to take pictures of others so that you can have yours taken.

Until next time folks!