Tag Archives: India

Christmas preparations: cards

Phew, over fifty Christmas cards on their way to friends and family mainly in Finland, France, the US and India.

As I was searching our closets for cards and envelopes (I keep a stock) I stumbled upon these cards that I had bought in Calcutta during our last trip to India. I was going to choose some to be sent away but fascinated by their beauty, I then changed my mind. What exquisite tiny pieces of art they are! I want to keep them! I photographed them and took time to admire the handicraft while wondering who had made them and what the stories behind are. I felt that these cards are like carpets: their ornaments tell a story; a story the person who made them wants to tell. Happiness, sorrow, hope, dreams –what else?

IMG_5895.JPG

Flowers and the person behind the flowers. 

Maybe after all I will frame and hang them on the baby room’s wall.

I am not quite sure which one I prefer. Maybe the holy, lime-green hand of hamsa. What about you?

IMG_5894

Aren’t these cards absolutely splendid? Only in incredible India!

Note: Cards made and sold by Calcutta Rescue (www.calcuttarescue.org). If you are in Calcutta, do not miss them at the Fairlawn Hotel every Thursday between 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. They take orders too!

 

A Virtual Blog Tour

A Virtual Blog Tour is a project that asks each participant to compose a one-time post to be published on a specific Monday. Its purpose is to introduce different bloggers through a series of questions about the creative process and what inspires us to do what we do. The same set of questions will introduce a blogger to another blogger’s readers, as well as the wider blogging community.

***

Last Monday Vasilis from Traveller’s Tree sent me an invitation to join a Virtual Blog Tour and here I am, one week later, participating (see my answers in the end of this post) and about to introduce the next participant, Sarah from

However, before moving to South Korea where Sarah lives, a few words about Vasilis. Vasilis introduces himself as “Dad bitten by the wanderlust bug. Exploring the planet with his family”. He is a Greek man born in Athens who after studying paleontology in Japan made it to the other side of the world, Finland. I don’t know much about Vasilis, but what I know is that he takes cool photos and that he has interesting comments and analysis about Finland, my country of origin. He moved to Finland around the same time when I permanently left Finland, and I admit being intrigued by his life in Finland. Or rather by his observations should I say! Life of an expat is always interesting to another expat… So, thank you Vasilis for inviting me to a Virtual Blog Tour, keep Traveller’s Tree growing and be happy in Finland!

Finnish lake somewhere in the Mäntyharju district (Photo copied from An ode to a Finnish lake at Traveller’s Tree)

***

Now, let’s move to the other side of the world, South Korea, where Sarah has been writing her blog since March 2011. When I first saw this photo of her I said to myself “she looks like a kind, happy person”. And I started following her. IMG_3641-001

Similarly to Vasilis, my relationship with Sarah is purely virtual. I know very little of her, but I like reading her posts because she is another expat living abroad. She writes about food, restaurants, travels, weekend visits, her husband and friends. These photos below are from her 4th of July diving trip to the East Coast of South Korea. Beautiful shots, aren’t they!

<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <div class="shashinFancyboxCaption"><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <div class="shashinFancyboxCaptionClose"><a href="#" onclick="jQuery.fancybox.close();"><img alt="Close" src="http://i2.wp.com/backpackbees.com/wp-content/plugins/shashin/public/display/fancybox/closelabel.gif?w=620" height="22" width="66"></a></div><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <div class="shashinLinkToOriginalPhoto"><a href="https://picasaweb.google.com/117324836928195166847/2014_07_044thOfJuly#6032892790593469826">View at Picasa</a></div></p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <p>Image 1 of 1</div>

Ever since I tasted my first bibimbap in Paris I have been fascinated about South Korea, so through  I get my weekly dose of a country I have not yet visited. I appreciate the fact that Sarah is a regular writer and that her posts are quite lengthy. I don’t mean to say that blog posts should always be long (mine certainly aren’t!) but I admire the fact that Sarah finds time and energy to create long posts and at a regular basis. We all know that writing is not always simple and it certainly doesn’t come without effort. Even if I may have some idea about her motivation, I am curious to know more about her and I am looking forward to Sarah’s answers to the questions below (where you also find my answers)! Welcome Sarah!

***

1. What am I working on?

I am working on moving my mind from Finland to France. My body was transported to Paris last Saturday night but my mind is elsewhere and resisting. Our holiday in Finland was really very lovely and the summer house is one of those places where one can get lost forever; get lost in the rhythm of sauna, swimming, wood cutting and cooking (what else would one need in life?). Unfortunately I had to return to Paris but I would have liked to stay longer (tears).

In terms of my blog work, I will write more posts about the summer house and Helsinki because Helsinki is a fantastic capital to visit, ansd because our summer house is a paradise on earth (quoting a young French boy who visited it some years ago)! Some posts from last year can be found here: The Midsummer Weekend in Finland and more is to come!

Midsummer, Finland

I also want to finish my series about my first trip to India, Rajasthan, and write more about my fourth trip that took place in April this year (especially about Fabulous Ayurvedic Treatments).

I  love India and I hate when people observe this huge, diversified country purely through violence and you-know-what. I want to show that nothing in India is so black and white as it seems, and that beyond the surface that we think is brutal, dirty and primitive one can find extraordinary beauty, wisdom and sophistication.

I am also working on other personal projects but let’s limit this answer to the blog world.

2. How does my work differ from others in it’s genre?

Pearlspotting is a travel and lifestyle blog. I have traveled in more than 70 countries (and worked in many of them) and my writing is based on the accumulative experience of visiting the world and everything it contains. Happiness, joy, sadness, astonishment, beauty, cruelty, injustice, etc.

For living I write about economic development of emerging markets, and I believe this professional experience provides me with a good foundation to understand other sectors such as for example tourism.

In my blog, I do not really list typical places to visit –there are enough of those guide books. I try to guide people toward experiences and feelings; towards some kind of a fusion where travel becomes lifestyle and lifestyle becomes travel, and where travel doesn’t always need to be geographical…

3. Why do I write/create what I do?

In the beginning Pearlspotting was about a desire to create (a basic human need!) by writing and taking photos. Very soon I realized that having a blog makes me very happy. Writing about food, wine, restaurants, travel, design, architecture, religion etc. in a positive light sort of became a self therapy, and as my husband now jokes, Pearlspotting has made me fall in love with Paris again!

wedding in Paris by the Seine

So, to put it simply, living abroad is not always easy but writing a blog has made it nearly wonderful (lol).

Secondly, I also write because I want to memorize experiences I have had around the world. Sometimes it is a way of showing respect and gratitude toward people I have met during my travels. For example, The man who lived is a sad story about someone I met in Sudan and who passed away. On the happier end, I wrote a post about lovely Cretan bakery owners I met last summer. They were so kind and their products were so delicious that they had to be immortalized in Sfakian delights.

4. How does your writing creative process work?

First of all, I write about positive things. If I eat at a bad restaurant, I do not write about it. It is rare that you find negativity in my blog. You may find sadness and longing, but not a lot of criticism. Why? Because life is hard enough as it is and I want to focus on positive aspects! In the beginning this positivity aspect was not so conscious but I do now keep it in the back of my mind every time I write a new post.

I know that I should probably schedule my posts to be published at 9 in the morning but I am a night person… I often write in the evening and I often publish at night (like tonight).

I always read over what I have written, but I rarely wait until the next day. Some posts take longer than others, like for example the aforementioned story about my friend in Sudan, and Understanding Finland by Art and Helsinki by Food.

Sometimes I just take a look at the view from our balcony, see a beautiful sunset, take a photo and publish a post with a short text (for example That Parisian view). It depends!

Parisian balcony in spring

I try to write as much as I can, sometimes every day and always at least once a week.

***

Well, my answers became longer than planned but I hope you liked reading about my thoughts. It is now time to send this post out so that Sarah from can start preparing her post! Good night for now.

PS Do not forget to follow Pearlspotting on Facebook and Instagram!

Adventurous Arrival in Varanasi

If you read  you may remember that our departure from Delhi was a bit adventurous, to say the least. Instead of Khajuraho we decided to fly to Varanasi and this was decided two hours before the flight’s take off. We do regret skipping Khajuraho, the site of famous erotic temples, but will certainly do it next time.

Flying toward Varanasi, the holy Hindu city along the Ganger River made me a bit nervous. I tried to get a glimpse of the sacred river from the airplane, but it got dark too soon. Seeing the Ganges River would have in some strange way assured me (of what?).SpiceJet from Delhi to VaranasiUpon landing we got talking to a young Indian man, living in the US, who had brought his grandmother to Varanasi. He started making phone calls to different hotels (we all agreed that the point of staying in Varanasi is to be located by the river). We got two rooms at Scindia Guest House, recommended by Eyewitness India Guidebook, and jumped into a taxi. Varanasi, here we come!

The ride to the guest house was long and polluted. It reminded me of Hyderabad –a fantastic city in many ways but oh so bad in pollution! We must have driven for more than an hour and the Ganges was still hiding from me. Suddenly the car stopped and the driver pointed “walk that way”. We were puzzled and asked which way exactly…. After some negotiation he agreed to show us the way, and we begun a 30-minute walk.Cows in VaranasiI don’t know how you say cow shit in a polite way, so excuse my language, but as we were walking and pulling our luggage, I did wonder if local laundry service would accept to clean our by-now-very-colorful-luggage. Don’t we all just love cows? But what would India be without them?

Eventually, after turning about 500 times left and right (we would have NEVER found the guest house alone) we arrived. Scindia Guest House stood there, right in front of the Ganges River, as Eyewitness had promised. It looked very run down, but we had no choice. It was very dark and very late. My husband and I got a river-side room and ordered two rice plates. Scindia Guest HouseWe were told to be careful when opening the balcony door because apparently “the monkeys like to come inside if you leave the door open”. Wow. Imagine waking up next to a monkey! Or two! I was still feeling a bit sick but the idea of monkeys excited me. Little I knew that upon our arrival the monkeys had already been watching me from all over.

After a well-rested night I visited the balcony but the monkeys were nowhere. All I could see was the majestic Ganges River. Varanasi, the Ganges RiverMeanwhile my husband went to the reception. This is when I started hearing screaming noises. Is someone being killed was my first thought. I opened the front door and I saw them: monkeys and more monkeys! There was a metal fence between me and them, which was good because they were big and did not look happy. Some of them were in the middle of their beauty treatments.Monkeys in VaranasiI joined my husband at the reception and had a chat with one of the hotel workers. I thought that his features were very different from other “Indian” features that I had seen before. Mentality wise he felt different, too, and somehow I felt closer to Calcutta. I was definitely visiting a new region, witnessing once again the diversity of India. Man in VaranasiThe moment I tried to go outside of the hotel, this elderly gentleman warned me “please be very careful of the monkeys”. Scared but curious I took a careful look outside and everywhere I looked (left, right, straight, down, above) there were monkeys. Not only entire monkeys but also monkey arms and legs hanging above the door etc.

For several reasons (monkeys, lack of a proper restaurant and customers, run-down building, etc.) we decided to move to another hotel. After negotiating a water taxi we said good bye to Scindia Guest House and moved to Alka Hotel, also located by the river. Later on we were told that Scindia Guest House had illegally built more rooms (and a terrace for the restaurant), and that the local authorities had torn a large part of the construction down. This explained the sad look. Scindia Guest HouseAfter a rough start we learned to love Varanasi. We spent a total of five nights there, exploring Hinduism and Buddhism. We loved the old town –one of the most charming old towns I have ever seen, and felt that Varanasi is indeed inhabited by many old souls.

In fact, Varanasi left such an impression on me that I will definitely write more about it. When the time is right.

Other posts about Varanasi:

Second part of the trip begins in Varanasi

 

Problem of Travelling

I think the problem of travelling is easily explained: the more you travel, the more you want. And the more you experience, the more you realize that the list of places to visit is endless. Furthermore, you want to experience new destinations, but eventually you also want to return to places you already know because your experience piles up and you want to see how you would now feel about an X place. See what I mean?

Yesterday I was emptying some of my memory cards and saw the photos I took in Varanasi. Even if the place is so obscure to say the least, I would like to return there. After all, I am not much wiser today than I was when I wrote Purpose of Varanasi, and to me this alone is a sign of “unfinished business, an urgency to go back to figure something out”. Places with a soul tend to have that effect…

Today I was on a more cheerful mood so I started missing Southern France. Avignon where the Popes lived for a short period, gypsy town Saintes-Maries de la Mer, world-famous Saint Tropez and charming Menton. I have done these places several times and what a road trip that is! South of France, NiceIt is likely that I will travel next week, so in overall, I am not doing so badly. But I would not say no to hopping on a TGV train tomorrow for a weekend trip either!

What about you? Toward the end of each trip, do you start to have that itching feeling of rushing home, or do you secretly (or openly) wish you could continue forever?

 

Golden Star: Delicious Gujarati Thali

During our last visit to Bombay our friends suggested to have Gujarati thali for lunch and mentioned a restaurant name Golden Star. It did not take very long to convince us –another regional thali, another culinary experience. Sounds good to us!

There are two Golden Star restaurants in Bombay, and we visited the one near Air India office. The restaurant seemed very popular, full of locals, and we were lucky to get a table after a few minutes’ waiting. We learnt that people are fond of this simple but cosy restaurant for good reasons: there is a specialty every day and the meals are unlimited. “We serve as long as you can eat” is written on Golden Star’s business card…  Golden Star, BombayOur friend ordered for us and we started to be showered by different thalis of outstanding variety, served by proud young boys. Everything looked amazing and we could not wait to take the first bite. The waiters kept returning to our table to bring more food, and it was a pleasure to watch them. The manager came to talk to us, too, explaining that most dishes are from Gujarat, but some one would find in Rajasthan, too.

Eventually our plate (or should I say table) was full and our friend begun explaining what we were about to eat. A crash course to Indian food’s richness was about to start: dal bati (wheat rolls and lentils), kachori chaat (friend dumplings mixed with yogurt and chutney), spinach and corn curry, rajma (lentils and vegetables curry), shaak (Gujarati name for potato brinjal curry), and cauliflower and pea curry.Golden Star, BombayTo add more complexity to the meal, we tasted every single chutney and pickle from coriander, tamarind and garlic chutney to mango pickle. Amazing and so tasty. Golden Star, BombayBut this was not all; then there were the breads! Bajra rotta (pearl millet flour), deep fried puri, papad, papadi and thin rotli with ghee. Each bread had its purpose, and had to be eaten with a specific dish. The magic of Indian kitchen.

Oh, and then there was also the famous mango aam ras puree! The waiters kept serving us more and more, and we did not decline the offer…Golden Thali, BombayThe meal included sweets (that were served at the same time in the beginning) but this is where my notes and memory get a bit blurry… We did have orange dholkla (steamed dumpling), batata vada (fried potato dumpling), sweet malpua (wheat-flour fritter fried in ghee and dipped in safron, sugar and syrup), but this is all I remember.

I am sure I am forgetting half of the dishes we ate, and I am not in a position to explain how you should eat your Gujarati thali, but I do know that the waiters at Golden Star are very friendly! So, do exit your comfort zone of butter chicken and palak paneer, and experience a Gurajati thali. You won’t be disappointed!

Note: Gujarati food is often vegetarian (many Jains live in that region) and a mixture of sweet, salty and spicy. The cuisine is known to be on the sweeter side (at least sweeter than other regional cuisines of India), but we did not really see any difference. I am not a big fan of sugar in general and I loved the food.

 

Golden Star Thalihttp://www.goldenstarthali.com

Airport Meets Art and Design

If your most recent flight to Mumbai landed prior to January 2014, then probably all you remember is an old airport with long queues and lack of world-class facilities. But if your latest trip took place later, then you know that Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport‘s newest terminal (T2) is a beautiful oasis of art and design. Mumbai Airport Terminal 2Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (Chicago-based architects also behind Burj Khalifa, Dubai), Terminal 2 is a true mix of Indian heritage and modernity. We had a chance to spend some time in this terminal just before catching our Emirates A380 flight to Dubai, and highly appreciated our brief visit. The terminal was spacious, white, clean and full of light, and I loved the pillars. In addition, the terminal is home to the world’s largest public art program! Including images of Bollywood stars, of course.Mumbai Airport, Terminal 2What I absolutely loved was the carpet that according to its manufacturer, Brintons from the UK, is inspired by the peacock, India’s national bird. Such lovely colors, such beautiful designs. Walking on this carpet made our departure from India a bit less sad.Brintons carpet in Mumbai, terminal 2From the practical point of view it was –well– very practical! There was no waiting and trolleys were available everywhere. Time between entering the terminal and reaching the departure gate was about 20 minutes. Wow.

Despite the fact that everything worked smoothly, many shops were still closed. For example, I could not buy English-language books because I could not find a book shop (I certainly hope there will be one!). Regarding the restaurant facilities, we did not use any, but I hear that all big names, “usual suspects”, are or will be there. Personally I hope that I will still be able to eat a good old onion rava masala dosa, and that whoever is responsible on distributing the licences loves Indian food as much as I do. Viva dosas, idlies and upma!!

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill: http://www.som.com/projects/chhatrapati_shivaji_international_airport__terminal_2

Brintons: http://www.brintons.net/apac/en/project-wall/chhatrapati-shivaji-international-airport-t2-mumbai-india/

Neemrana Fort-Palace: Architectural Pearl

If you recall the India travel series I wrote earlier this year, you may remember that  is one of my favorite hotels in the world. If I renewed my wedding vows, I would probably do it at the Neemrana Fort-Palace hotel. Right in the middle of history, charm, elegance and Rajasthani hospitality!

During my last trip to India in April this year I had a chance to return to Neemrana Fort-Palace for one night. It was a wonderful visit and we were pleased to realize that in spite of the extension works (there are now two swimming pools and 65 rooms) the hotel still feels very intimate. Just look at these labyrinths, verandas, patios and towers all over the property!Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceAt the time of our stay the hotel was occupied mainly by Indian families (most foreigners stop visiting Rajasthan by April as it gets too hot) so we had the upper pool to ourselves. In fact the original pool (at the lower level) can accommodate children, whereas the newer, upper pool, is reserved for adults. Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceOnce the sun started to set, we descended to the lower levels of the hotel complex. The view toward the valley was spectacular, and with a little bit of imagination we could have imagined a camel (or elephant?) caravan travelling in the horizon.Neemrana Fort-PalaceNeemrana Fort-PalaceBefore heading to our lovely, comfortable beds in our Aman Vilas room we enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner with Indian Sula wine (red). It was my parents’ last night in India and I don’t think their stay could have ended in a more royal way.

Neemrana Fort-Palace, hope to see you soon again!

***

Should you want to read more about the Neemrana Fort-Palace history, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/history and http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/philosophy

For a virtual visit of wonderfully decorated rooms, go here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/rooms

Lastly, for a memorable stay, reservations are made here: http://fort-palace.neemranahotels.com/contact-us