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Game of Thrones Walking Tours by Dubrovnik Walking Tours

There are only ten weeks in a year that I look forward to a Monday – when the new season of Game of Thrones airs. (I’m from India you see.. prime time airing in the US is almost 4am here) So, it came as no surprise that when Hubby and I booked our trip to Croatia this year, visiting the Game of Thrones filming locations formed a major part of our itinerary. Our trip started with Dubrovnik, perfect start to our quest to locate the filming location me thinks. It is common knowledge that Dubrovnik Old Town is Kings Landing, and just to make sure that we didn’t miss any of our favourite shot spots, we had Dubrovnik Walking Tours come to our rescue. Come to our rescue they did and how! The team ensured that our appetite to see and learn more about the filming of the famous show does not go insatiate.

We met our group at the at the Onofrio’s fountain. It was a hot day, but that did not impair the excitement that kept building as we were introduced to Stompa, our tour guide. Stompa, a self-proclaimed GOT fanatic, who has read the books and watched the series several times, has also been an extra on two of the episodes of the series. Now, with those qualifications, I think we were sorted (especially since there was that little promise of some inside dish!) With the receivers in place and introductions done, we were ready to dive into the world of Game of Thrones.

The tour was divided into two parts, one where the interior shots of Red Keep were filmed – at the Fort of St. Laurence and Dubrovnik Old Town which truly embraced Kings Landing. We visited the locations where scenes from Season 2, 3, and 5 were shot. The best part about the tour is that you don’t have to wait too long (ahem.. walk that long) to see the locations. The town is quite small and has been used extensively for the series. Big big thumbs up for an impatient person like me. But in this post I will concentrate on the most recognizable scenes from the series. For all the gossip, you’ll need Stompa.

Let’s do this!

‘Kill Them All!’ – Season 2

Our first stop just a few meters from our meeting point. It is near the Pile Gate where one of the scenes of the second season was shot. In the series, after Marcella gets sent to Dorne, Joffrey gets attacked as he is walking back to Red Keep. In his psychopathic anger he yells ‘Kill him! Kill them all!’ which almost gets him killed and Sansa raped and killed. The first part of the scene is shot at the Pile Gate which is the entrance of the Old Town. Watching the scene again, this place is so recognizable. There is hardly any CGI to tweak the location. What a treat!

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In the same sequence, as Sansa makes a run for it and the scene cuts to an interior portion of St. Lawrence’s fort. This is probably the first time we see the human side of The Hound when he comes to Sansa’s rescue… and of course, the wonderful Tyrion yelling at Joffrey and eventually slapping him! Bwahahaha! #momentofpurejoy

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‘Watch Out for Her with Him’ – Season 3

On the way to St. Lawrence’s fort, you come across a pier which any ‘thronie’ will have no problem in recognizing. It is the pier where Littlefinger and Sansa have a conversation with Shae looking out after her. You will also recognize it with the number of people trying to take pictures in the same pose (*guilty face*). There is a little bay right next to this pier is which is Blackwater Bay. Truth be told, it is quite underwhelming to see that little nook, but at the same time, quite amazing what CGI does.

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‘Kill the Bastards’ – Season 2

This is a blink and miss scene in the first episode. I had to put this in because the location is so cute! This is when all Robert Baratheon’s bastards were hunted and killed. A brutal scene for a really cute filming location. The actual location also reminded me of the hobbit homes in Lord of the Rings.

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 Joffrey’s Naming Ceremony – Season 2

Season 2 opens with Joffrey’s naming ceremony which is almost entirely shot in St. Lawrence Fort. Getting to the fortress can be a bit of a challenge for a hot summer’s day, but this is the Red Keep. You’ve got to earn it. The views from the fort, that’s your prize.

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‘Knowledge is Power’ ‘Power is Power’ – Season 2

You have got to love Cersei sometimes. She knows what she wants and this is just a little teaser to show that Cersei knows no mercy. I love this confrontation scene between Littlefinger and Cersei. This entire scene is shot in the courtyard of the fort. The lanterns that have been used extensively through scenes that are shot here belong to the fort. When we visited, the Dubrovnik summer festival was going on and was lined with seating. It did intrude in the pictures we wanted to take, but just imagine sitting in this beautiful space watching theatre as the sun goes down.. goosebumps!

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‘Shame’ – Season 5

This is probably the most iconic scenes of Game of Thrones. This is the first time that Cersei is brought down to her knees, and how! This sequence was shot in a few different locations and we had our wonderful Stompa guide us through that. Guess what? Our very own Stompa was one of the extras on this scene.

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Finale! 

We ended the walk in a true Game of Thrones season finale style… with a picture on the throne of course!

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My Two Cents – This is a great tour for someone who loves Game of Thrones. Although it is easy to find information online about the shooting locations, it is the nuances and detailed information about the show, the story, the locations, the filming and of course, the little anecdotes that makes this tour an absolute must do in Dubrovnik. It is also a great way to see Dubrovnik Old Town. The tour takes you around a lot of places which includes the major scenes (some of which I put up in this post) and quite a few of the smaller scenes as well. Just goes to show that the tour has been well researched and you would’ve never known of these locations if someone had not pointed it out to you. Of course, there are a few more locations of that the series has filmed at in Dubrovnik, but covering that would not be possible for a walking tour.

If you want to take the Game of Thrones experience a little further (like us) you can always walk to the Belvedere Hotel to see the spot where the duel between Oberyn and the Mountain was shot and also take a trip to Lokrum island to see Qarth. The scene where Daenerys is trying to find her dragons at the House of Undying, is at the walls of Dubrovnik Old Town. A set was erected at a parking lot for Joffrey’s wedding scene. Turns out, Stompa’s friends were extras on that scene and watched with absolute pleasure when Joffrey died. This can be you extended GOT tour.

Having Stompa take us around and show us the sights was delightful. She knew so much about the series. Walking around with a whole bunch of Game of Thrones fanatics, you can imagine how she got bombarded with questions. She was extremely patient and answered all the questions. She shared her own experience on working with the show and her friend’s experiences as well. So watch out for her in the ‘Shame’ episode and the episode with Oberyn and The Mountain’s duel. She is peasant number 20.

The icing on the cake, of course, is the picture you take on the iron throne at the end of the tour.

A big big thank you to Dubrovnik Walking Tours to host my husband and me for this tour. The opinions, of course, are all mine! 

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Walking Tours Around Europe

I love the culture of walking tours in Europe. For the longest time, I believed that I was too cool for a guided tour, but sometimes you need someone telling you what you’re looking at. Of course, it get that much more exciting with tit bits of juicy information thrown in and the details of the trip find a permanent place in your memory. It sure is a great way to entertain friends with when you get back home and narrate stories about your trip.

My first experience with a free walking tour was in Rome when my friends and I went to the Roman Forum. Our guide was so good that we booked with her to go the Vatican City as well, and thank god we did! She was so friendly, warm, and full of information. That is what I love about the guides. They really seem to love their jobs. In the many walking tours I have been to since, I have never come across a guide who didn’t seem passionate about their city. Each one was better than the other.

Viraj and I have developed a system on our trips. The first day is dedicated to the walking tours where we get an overview about the city. Like in Barcelona, the morning was spent in Gothic Town learning about the history of the city while the afternoon was spent learning about Gaudi and his work around the city. We spent the next two days visiting the places we liked the most on the tour.

Since I love walking tours so much, I thought it would be great to catalogue some of the best walking tours I have been to. This post is aimed to be a resource of sorts for anyone who is travelling and would like to go on one of the walking tours. I have been fortunate to have some fellow travelers and bloggers share their experiences as well.

Before we get to the tours, there are a few things that you must keep in mind… general etiquette if you must!

General Information

  • Although it is not important to book your spots online, I recommend that you do book your spots earlier. If anything, it will make sure that you reach the right place at the right time.
  • Most of the walking tours start from a central place in the city which is easy to get to. So find out which is the most popular piazza in your city and head there. More than often, you will see a bunch of tour operators out there with the guides either wearing bright jackets or holding bright umbrellas. It would be hard to miss that!
  • The walking tours, as they are ‘free’, none of the entries to museums or any other place of interest are covered. The guides will take you there and talk about it, and then you can decide whether you want to spend your money at the place or not.

Audience Behaviour – It’s pretty simple. Don’t ruin the tour for you and the people around you. Listen to what your guide has to say first before bombarding them with your questions. The guides are always super friendly and love questions. Just wait until they have finished talking and then you can always approach them to ask your questions. Also, do not be a show off. No one likes a show off.

Tipping – It is important to remember that the guides survive on tips. Hence, tip appropriately for their hard work. Viraj and I always tip about 10 euros per person, or 15 between us. If it is a longer walk, then you must tip accordingly. The worst thing you can do is to walk away halfway. That is most disrespectful to the guide.

Finally, lets get to those tours!

Paris, France – CultureFish! Tours

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‘Paris is always a good idea’ said Audrey Hepburn in Sabrina, and how true that is! When I went to Paris, I wanted to experience the famous Parisian romance the way it is projected in the movies and books. I wanted to walk the streets, sip wine sitting in the gardens below the Eiffel Tower and even have espresso and croissant in a café. Lucky for me, Paris did not disappoint. The best way to connect with the city is on foot, and what better place to feel the romance of the city than in Montmartre – The center of the artist’s quarters. Our two hours with Culturefish! tours brought Montmartre alive! Walking through the streets, you are actually walking through the paintings of famous artists like Utrillo and peeking into what all the famous artist’s lives had been. How can it not get exciting to see which pub Picasso used to hang out at, or the apartment where Van Gogh lived, or the places where the who’s – who of the art world studied, worked and partied?

The thing that sets Culturefish! tours apart from the other tours is that while on the tour, they also talk about Parisian culture. People make a city, and understanding the people gives you a well rounded experience of a city. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour with Culturefish! tours and I highly recommend it when you visit Paris.

Viraj and I went for the Montemartre tour. Culturefish! also has a tour that takes you through the center of the city, called ‘The Heart of Paris’. You could do these two tours on the first day that you visit Paris and be well acquainted with the city in one day.

London, United Kingdom – Sandeman’s New London Tours

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‘In 2.5 hours we saw the major sights like Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and St. James’s Park.  We also had front row seats to the changing of the guard ceremony. I had no idea that this would be part of the tour.  I was so impressed! Our tour guide knew exactly where to take us and at what time the guards would pass by. There were only a few tourists around and it felt like such an exclusive event. This tour exceeded my expectations and speaks to the experiences a walking tour can offer.’

By Danielle Des from The Thought Card

Amsterdam, Netherlands – Eating Amsterdam Food Tours

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‘My favorite walking tour I’ve been on was in Amsterdam and it was their Walking Food Tour! They served so many delicious and culturally diverse plates that are unique to Amsterdam, while also giving information on the city’s rich history. There was also a surprise boat tour and we got to eat Amsterdam’s famous cheeses and bar food while cruising down the canals. I have written more about the tour here. The tour did sponsor the post, but it is my real life favorite tour I’ve ever been on!’

By Ashliegh from The Darling Daily

Prague, Czech Republic – Sandeman’s New Prague Tours

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Pic Courtesy – Kassie

“Prague is a city that’s best seen by foot and thankfully has an amazing free walking tour that takes you through all the main sites of the city– from the Astronomical Clock to the Charles Bridge. Its the perfect tour if you are short on time but really want to see all Prague has to offer! The tour guides are amazing and work on tips so if you enjoyed the tour be sure to let them know through a donation.”

 by Kassie from The Fly Away Life

Barcelona, Spain – Travel Bound Walking Tours

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We joined the Travel Bound Walking Tours in Barcelona to take a guided walk through the Gothic Quarter of the city. This was our first morning in Barcelona and worked really well for us as it gave us a good orientation of the city. We met at the famous Travel Bar and soon after we were off exploring the the beauty of the Gothic Town and learning about Barcelona’s history. The present day Barcelona is beautifully intertwined with the historical Gothic Town which makes walking the narrow streets of this area so exciting. In the two hours of our tour, we covered the Gothic Quarter, saw Roman remains, walked around Picasso’s museum, saw some amazing street art, walked down La Rambla and ended near Columbus’s famous statue. We also got to see one of the shooting locations for Vicky Christina Barcelona, one of Viraj and my favourite movies.  We were so excited after our trip to Barcelona that we watched the movie again once we got back home!

Madrid, Spain – Sademan’s New Madrid

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The walking tour in Madrid was perhaps one of the best tours that we have been to so far. The entire credit for this goes to our amazing tour guide. Unfortunately I do not remember her name. Never have we come across a guide who had been so passionate. Viraj and I had just a day in Madrid and with our amazing guide, we believed we had seen everything and learnt everything we could about Madrid. Along with the ‘everything-we’ve-got-to-see-in-Madrid’ spots, we saw ‘the oldest restaurant in the world’, the restaurant where Ernst Hemingway did NOT drink in, the restaurant where the ‘Spanish version of the Robin Hood’ hid his booty. Sademan’s Tours have a reputation of having the best walking tours, and the one in Madrid did not disappoint.

PS – Our guide told us how the tapas originated in the most engaging way, and till date, whenever I have to tell that story, I tell it exactly like how she did.

These are just a few of the walking tours that are operated around Europe. Have you been to a walking tour that you have loved? This post is waiting for your contribution and comments.

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This post is open for contributions (and revisions) from the walking tours that you have been to. If you would like to contribute, head to the Contact Me page or feel free to drop me a mail at abitofthisandalotofthat@gmail.com. Looking forward to hearing from you! 

 

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Things to Do in Ibiza … in Off Season

Eey-bee-tha! A place that is synonymous with ‘PAR-TEH!!’ and had been on the top of my ever-ready-to-PAR-TEH-enthu-cutlet Hubby’s dream destinations. While planning our trips, we usually split the destinations between the two of us. We’re responsible for the entire itinerary of  those places. There is no way that could have featured on my list! It was completely Viraj’s baby. At the Barcelona airport, it was such a delight to see the usually calm and composed Viraj not being able to contain his excitement as the boarding was called. He was so excited that the first picture he took for the trip was…

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 Definitely excited right?

The trip,however, was a little different from what we had imagined it to be. We went in the shoulder season, just a week before all the major clubs were to open and completely missed out on the night life that Ibiza is so famous for. What we got instead, was the experience of a beautiful Mediterranean island which has a lot more to offer but has been overshadowed by its party scene. (Shhh… I  was secretly a bit happy that not much of the partying happened. Yeaaa…. I’m super lazy! I love lazy holidays).

If you do go to Ibiza in the off season, or would like to see a few more things than the clubs, here are a few things you would check out.

Explore Sant Antoni 

Chances are that when you visit Ibiza, you’ll be staying at Sant Antoni. It is on the other side of the island from where the airport is and is the place where all the party people.. non party people.. people in general stay. Sant Antoni is a cute little town and has quite a few places to see. The most prominent landmark of Sant Antoni is the ‘Egg of Columbus’, which marks the entry to the town. Locals believe that Christopher Columbus was born there and is a tribute to him. The sculpture may look a little funny, an egg with a ship inside it, but with a little big of research, I learnt that it has a very interesting story behind it. Christopher Columbus, having been told that discovering the Americas was inevitable and no great accomplishment, challenges his critics to make an egg stand on its tip. After his challengers give up, Columbus does it himself by tapping the egg on the table to flatten its tip.’ (Source Wikipedia) Hence, the egg .. and the ship, of course, is Santa Maria, the largest of the three ships used by Columbus on his voyage. 

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Right after the ‘Egg of Columbus’ is the gorgeous harbour side promenade, Passeig de ses Fonts. The promenade is lined with restaurants and clubs with a beautiful view of the bay. This is another place to enjoy the famous Ibiza sunsets, whether it be as you hang out in one of the restaurants along the promenade or just chilling on one of the benches along the length.

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A photo posted by Pooja Deshpande (@abitofpooja_andalotofthat) on

East End, although just a few streets wide and across, is where the Sant Anoti’s night life is. The main street front properties are primarily restaurants while the inner streets are full of clubs and pubs. Our favourite place was Tropi Trance Bar. There were very few people along the streets, but I assume, in season, it would get quite crowded. The music at the Bar was just amazing and it really didn’t matter that it was not crowded at all. The second night we were at East End, we decided to try out a few other places as well, but couldn’t help it, we enjoyed Tropi so much that we had to go back there. So if you’re in Ibiza, do give this bar a visit.

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The promenade give you ample opportunity for photography

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Non-Expert Two Cents: Sant Antoni is THE place to stay in Ibiza. You can stay near East End or a place around it. Remember to hire a bike if you plan to do a bit of exploring. There is a bus stop at Sant Antoni that will take you to the main Ibiza Town as well. During season time, there are party buses that ply that take you to the various clubs, but getting around the island is a bit tough in off-season. Having said that, the best way to explore Sant Antoni is on foot. Stroll along the promenade, walk up to the Sunset Strip and enjoy the sunset and party it up or have a nice meal at East End. Sant Antoni has got you covered. 

Sant Antoni harbour is also a good place if you would like to go on short cruises or try out some water sports. The last day we were in Ibiza, the winds were so strong that the entire harbour was full of wind surfers. Such a wonderful sight to see! 

Witness the Most Theatrical Sunset at Cafe del Mar

Viraj and I went to Bali for our honeymoon over three years ago. Sunsets for couples are super romantic and it can’t get more romantic than pretty sunsets on your honeymoon. We were sunset cursed on the trip. Not once were we able to enjoy a good sunset. Perhaps the sunset Gods were waiting for us to get to Ibiza and gifted us with the most amazing sunset for our patience.

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A photo posted by Pooja Deshpande (@abitofpooja_andalotofthat) on

We got to Cafe del Mar in time to secure a good spot to witness the sunset. Although the place is really expensive, how can you not have a drink? You’re at THE Cafe del Mar after all! With the beautiful lounge-y music playing in the background, we noticed people streaming in, photographers setting up their tripods and cameras, waiting… Viraj’s camera was all ready as well. Before we knew it, the music had changed to a dramatic soundtrack while everyone’s eyes followed the sun go down. The sunset and the music hit their crescendo in such perfect theatrical harmony that the entire audience could not help but break out into roaring applause.

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Non-Expert Two Cents: Get to Cafe del Mar early to secure a spot right at the edge, else you will have tonnes of people blocking your view for ‘that shot’. Right next to the outdoor seating area, wooden steps have been constructed like theater seating to view the sunset. If you want to see just the sunset, that would be a good place to go without having to spend money on the expensive drinks. (Shhh….Although there was a sign that said that you’re not allowed to bring your own alcohol, we saw quite a few people sneak their drinks in). Having said that, I do think that the first time you go to Cafe del Mar for the sunset, being in the property is a wonderful experience. Sitting outside at the steps, the music gets diluted with the music of the other neighboring establishments and you might not have the true Cafe del Mar sunset experience. 

Hit the Beaches

Ibiza lined with exquisite beaches! With its fine sand and crystal clear blue water, the beaches are inviting to say the least! We were in Ibiza at the end of April so the weather allowed us to bum on the beach during the day. It was nice and toasty under the sun, with just that right amount of cool breeze. It got a bit cold in the shade though and once the sun went down. (That could be just for me. I believe that I have an optimal functioning temperature i.e. between 21-26 deg Celsius. Anything less and I have to layer up and even a degree warmer, you will be lucky not to hear me complain about how hot it is.)

You can check out the list of beaches in Ibiza here.

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We went to Port des Torrent, which was supposed to be ‘right next to’ where we were staying. After a king sized breakfast, we set out on foot because it was just a ‘five-minute’ walk. We skipped along expecting to be there any minute, but we never were. The excitement started to dwindle and the bounce in our step was nowhere to be found. As we trudged along, we stopped every ten minutes to ask for directions because we were so sure that we were lost. No matter whom we asked, there was one constant reply.. ‘Ohh, just a five-minute walk straight along this road’. The five minute walk turned out to be a 45 min walk… one way! And thus was formulated our ‘Just a Five Minute Walk in Ibiza’ Theory. Nothing is as close as it seems, and remember to hire a bike!

Port des Torrent was worth the walk. The beach was a bit small, but since it was off-season, it was not crowded. Viraj has a policy that irrespective of which beach he goes to, he has to get into the water, and get into the water he did. It was freeeeeeezing! I really don’t know how he does it. I barely managed to get my toes wet.

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Non-Expert Two Cents: I felt that going to the beach during this season was definitely worth it. The weather was good, and the beaches were not crowded at all. I would strongly recommend stocking up on the sun block and hiring that bike. We could only make it to one beach because of that very reason. 

Day trip to Formentera

This was the best find for the trip EV-AAAHH!!! What a gorgeous island Formentera is. If you think beaches in Ibiza are beautiful, you will get blown away by the gorgeousness of the beaches in Formentera. Just have a look…

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I promise you, this is not a picture I have downloaded from the internet. It is a picture that Viraj took. Does that excite you already?

On the map, Formentera looks like a piece of land that has melted away from Ibiza. The more I look at the map of Ibiza and Formentera, it looks like the separation is still in motion. The very irregular shape of the island gives the opportunity for long stretches of white sandy beaches. It’s not like there is much to do on the island, but sometimes that is exactly what you need – to not have a plan and be laaaaazy! I love it that not many people know about this paradise on earth. I found it to be a perfect balance of development and yet have the charm of being secluded and untouched. Perhaps that is due to its inaccessibility. You can get there only by boat from Ibiza. I hope it continues to be like that for a while, for I know that the secret is out and it won’t be long before a lot more of us start going there.

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Non-Expert Two Cents: I would recommend Formentera for a day trip. There is a fair bit to explore on the island. With a scooter and some time management, you can cover most of it in one day. I will be writing a post shortly about our day trip to the island and that should help you plan your trip out. However, if you would like to stay on for a night, perhaps a little longer, there are a few nice places to stay as well. Some of the beach side restaurants have sundowner parties in season as well. 

Walk the Lanes of the Old Town

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The minute you land in Ibiza Town, it is difficult to ignore the Old Town area. With the foot of the hill adorned with buildings painted white and Dalt Vila looking over like a watch tower, it can’t get more old school European. The winding narrow cobbled streets make it all the more romantic. I wonder why we didn’t spend much time there. I guess we have to leave something for next time! (Hubby is pretty determined that there will be a next time.. we didn’t get to hit hose clubs remember?) Since I didn’t go up to Dalt Vila, you can read about it here. Definitely make it a point to go and tell me how it was.

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Non Expert Two Cents: Go to the old town when you have some time to spare. We did it in a hurry and I guess that’s why we were not able to soak in the actual beauty of the place. The streets are lined with beautiful romantic looking cafes (read expensive) and shops (read expensive). Amidst this old school romance that is the Old Town, you can spot a lot of quirky Europe as well. What am I talking about? You will have to go there and find out!     

Hierbas!

Who can resist free samples of liqueur at the airport? Viraj and I sure can’t. Especially when the liqueur is poured from a really funky bottle with herbs in it. And thus was our discovery of Hierbas. A beautiful aniseed-ish digestif from Ibiza. It is said that monks who were already living in the Balearic islands had been producing this liqueur in the Middle Ages. If you like Sambuca and Ozuo, there is a high possibility that you will like this one as well. In fact I liked it more than the other two. The drink goes down very smoothly as it is sweetish, but not as sweet as Sambuca and it does not have the little harsh aftertaste like Ouzo. The perfect blend!

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Non-Expert Two Cents: Don’t think… just have! If you don’t like it, you can always gift it to me 😀

I really enjoyed the laid back vibe of Ibiza when we visited. I really would love to go back and see the other version of this crazy little party capital. Have you been to this crazy little party capital? What is on your list of things to do in Ibiza? I would love to know..

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Linking this post to the Monday Escapes Series hosted by the lovely ladies over at Packing my Suitcase and My Travel Monkey

Packing my Suitcase
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A few Beaches of South Goa You Shouldn’t Miss

For Viraj and me, a trip to Goa is almost like a pilgrimage trip. We try to visit once a year and pay our respects to the places we love the most. Actually, the love for Goa and the ‘Goa life‘ resonates more deeply with Viraj. He has been going ever so often since he was in college, whether it be well planned trips or spur of the moment trips… he actually calls himself a ‘Goa slut’. I have to admit, being married to one, has made me one as well. All these trips, however, have always been to North Goa. As a rule, we always stayed somewhere near Candolim, had our dinners at Suza Lobo and Brittos, bummed around in Anjuna and Curlies and partied like there is no tomorrow in and around Cape Town Cafe.

A few months ago Viraj got a message from one of his college buddies inviting us for his wedding… in Goa! Viraj and I did not waste any time in applying for our holidays and planning our trip. Since the wedding was on a weekend, we decided to take a few days off and enjoy the ‘Goa life’ and then attend the wedding.

Unfortunately, as fate would have it, Viraj got stuck with work and I decided to head out to Goa and do a little exploring on my own. Since the wedding was in Velsao, South Goa, it was the perfect opportunity to (finally!) visit the wonderful beaches of South Goa that I had always heard of.

Here are a few of the beaches that I visited and a fort thrown in just for good measure 😛

Fatrade Beach

I got to this beach by accident. When I made my hotel booking, I thought I was staying at Varca. It is only when I got to the cab at the airport that I discovered that the hotel I had booked at, was at a place called Fatrade, which is a little south of Varca.

I had landed in Dabolim airport quite early and reached the hotel by 9 am, while the check in wasn’t until noon. In order to kill time, I head off to the beach which was a five minute walk from my hotel (I booked it that way!) Having been to Goa several times before, you expect the beach to be crowded and lined with beach shacks, but this beach was nothing like it. There were just three shacks in sight with very few people, sand as fine as talcum powder and water as clear as Di Caprio’s eyes! Well.. almost anyway. It is unlike any beach I had ever been to in Goa. The big fat grim did not leave my face for a long long time. I felt like Columbus who had discovered America! A new land full of promises.

This beach soon became ‘my’ beach. It was right next to my hotel and at the end of the day when I was done with exploring other parts of South Goa, I would come back to ‘my’ beach and watch the sunset. I made friends with the shack staff and ended up watching the India-West Indies T-20 Semi Finals there as well. Although a disappointing end to the match, the place is anything but disappointing.

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Non-Expert Two Cents : This beach is frequented by people who stay around that area. Since there are a lot of foreigners living in resorts nearby, the beach has very few locals in the morning. In the evening, however, around sunset, is when the crowd comes in. There are a very few shacks and not many dining options in the area. Fatrade is one of those areas where you would stay at if you’re planning to stay in Goa for an extended period of time and enjoy the non-crazy-I-want-to-drink-till-I-drop Goa. 

Cavelossim Beach, Mobor Beach, Betul Beach

The first time that I had ever gone to Goa, it was with my parents and my cousins when I was still in school. It was a holiday that my parents had planned before I hit the books hard for my 12th standard. We stayed at a resort in Cavelossim and frequented the neighborhood beach. I was just about fourteen at the time and that was the only time I had been to south Goa before my most recent trip. One of the most distinct memories of that beach we hung out at was that at the end of that beach, there was a place where the fresh water and the sea meet. It was a beautiful sight and I wanted to go back there and see it again.

I parked my rented bike at Cavelossim and was welcomed by a sight that I did not expect! The quiet beach now had shacks full to the brim with people. I couldn’t help but call my brother and tell him about how the place had changed. Don’t get me wrong, the change was not bad.. but a change is a change. Soon enough, I started my walk to the end of the beach to see the point of confluence. Not too long into the walk I realized that I had made a big mistake! The place where I wanted to get to was far far away. It took me over an hour to get to the point of confluence which can be roughly translated to almost a 5km walk in the hot afternoon sun. Not something that I was prepared for. 

From Calevelossim, I had crossed Mobor Beach and then gotten to Betul Beach, which is where the point of confluence is. I wish I had done my research a little better. However, I had three beaches under my belt in an hour, so I guess it was all OK. On my way back, I did not waste anytime in treating myself to Kings beer and officially starting the drinking part of my Goa trip.

Beach and a biplane… #bitofthisandalotofthat #traveldiaries #defexpo2016 #goagram #biplane #instagoa

A video posted by Pooja Deshpande (@abitofpooja_andalotofthat) on

Non-Expert Two Cents : The area around Cavelossim and Mobor is lined with very high end resorts like Radisson, Leela, Holiday Inn and the likes. The beach has lots of families enjoying their holiday and the area around is lined with shops that target the tourists. Mobor is much more quiet and Betul does not have anything at all. For a little bit of life, Cavelossim it is. I went there for dinner one night (a shack called Dom’s Beach Shack) and I had a wonderful time! It was all about entertaining the guests. They had a DJ who played a good mix of current hits, retro classics and Bollywood. Everyone happy! They had a fire dancer, fire works… everything to ensure that the guests had a good time! If you are in the area, do pay this shack a little visit for all the fun. 

Colva Beach

Post my nice long afternoon walk and the few beers, I was ready to hit the next beach. It was Colva next for which I had to head back north. It was about a is 25 minute bike ride to head to Colva. As I got to the beach front, I realized that this is a very commercial part of the beach that I had gotten to. Almost like the Baga and Calangute that I was trying to avoid. I didn’t even get off my bike and head towards the northern side of Colva beach, which I reached soon enough with the help of a few helpful people on the road who gave me good directions.

I parked my bike and head to another quiet beach with very few shacks and very few people. Just what I was looking for.

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Non-Expert Two Cents : The main Colva beach is a place that is frequented by the locals and hence all the excitement in the evenings. Personally, I was looking for something quiet and head to the northern end of the beach strip. Although I did find a place that I liked, I wouldn’t go to Colva unless I was in the neighborhood and wanted to head to the beach. No great shakes really. 

Palolem

I finally made it to Palolem!! Lalalala!! After hearing so much about it! I had initially planned to stay at Palolem, but it is so far away from the Airport that I decided to stay at Varca.. ahem.. Fatrade instead. Irrespective of anything, a trip to Palolem had to be made. I woke up decently in time the following morning and mentally prepared myself for the long ride ahead. It took me an hour’s bike ride to get to Palolem from Fatrade, and trust me, it was all worth it.  Not only was the ride worth it because the beach was so nice, but the route itself was really breathtaking. We Bangalorians crave for good roads, and Goa offers you smooth beautiful roads without potholes and speed breakers at the drop of a hat combined with scenic views as you ride up the hills, into the forests, and as you start your decent to sea level, the beautiful blue waters. After a day of sitting on beaches with nothing (as in few people and shacks.. which I was looking for actually), it was great to go to a beach with the right amount of everything. Beautiful clean beach, nice water, just the right amount of people bumming around the beach, good sized shacks with good music… it was just perfect!

The almost white sand, the clean water and coconut palms, this is what picture post cards are made of. As I walked along the beach, I saw a shack called ‘Cafe del Mar’ and without a doubt, that was where I was headed. It reminded me of my trip to Varkala actually where the ‘Cafe del Mar’ shack there was the best one we had visited. (There is something in the name perhaps, what say Mr. Bard? )

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I had planned to get a lot of reading done during my trip and carried my book everywhere I went, but as I sat in the shack, with the book in my hand, I couldn’t concentrate on the book. There is nothing as mesmerizing as the the sound of the waves, the beauty of the blue skies and the blue waters, the gentle breeze and the taste of cold beer on your tongue. In that moment you know that life.. well.. life is gooood!

(Haha! A little filmy right?)

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Beer, Book and the Beach… This is THE life!

Non-Expert Two Cents : Palolem is one the most popular places in South Goa. It’s got a sort of a hippy feel to it. It’s got quite a lazy feeling to it unlike the beaches of North Goa. It is clean and beautiful. You do have a bit of the local rif-raf crowd asking for ‘one selfie madam’, but by this time we all know how to deal with that unwanted attention. There is a good bit of water sports that is on offer here. Have you heard of the Butterfly Beach? It is a secluded beach, apparently super pretty and the only way to get there is by hiring a boat from Palolem. I had wanted to go there, but decided that I should leave some adventures for Viraj and me to share together when we hit his side of Goa next. I hear some of the shacks get quite active in the evening with good parties as well. Not all that quiet on the southern front I see… but you get my drift. Palolem is a good mix of everything in Goa. No wonder it is so popular! 

Cabo de Rama Fort 

With much reluctance, I left Palolem. I had a few other places I had to get to before I head back to my beach. The next stop was Cabo de Rama fort. I know this post is about beaches, but when you have a pretty fort, you’ve got to put that on your itinerary. Getting to the fort was not that difficult. (Although I did see a few people struggling to find the place along the way.)

I have to say, the roads in Goa make going from one place to another so much easier. All through the ride I was thinking of my Sundari. It has been years since I got her out and I felt so guilty for neglecting her all this time. However, Riding in Goa vs riding in Bangalore, among the traffic, the mountains and gorges (read speed breakers and potholes) are two completely different things.

I get to the fort just before closing time. At first sight, the fort looks quite unimpressive. A shoddy white plaster finish for the entrance does not a good fort make. It does not get any better with the small moat around the fort walls or when you enter and see a new-ish looking church. I felt quite let down when I entered the fort premises. Thankfully, the fort-ish looking fort was just a left turn away. The think high walls, the view of the sea, isn’t this what you picture when you say ‘fort’? The fort actually has a very interesting history. According to some sources, Lord Rama took shelter here with his wife Sita, hence the name ‘Rama’. Who would’ve thunk? Over centuries many occupied the fort and the final occupants of the fort were the Portuguese who abandoned it when they left Goa.

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Church of Santo Antonio Image Source

Non-Expert Two Cents: The fort is quite serene without too much activity, or too much to explore. It is covered with trees which will make you believe that Lord Rama did take refuge there for a bit. Also, the church there (which I called the new-ish looking church) is the church of Santo Antonio and has been restored over the years and is still used extensively by the locals. Big Thumbs Up there! This isolated fort offers a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea at one end and the coconut palm lined shore at the other. The crashing of the water on the big boulders and the Cabo de Rama beach at the further end are added bonuses for finding the  hidden place. Even from the height that I was at, I could’ve sworn that I could see through the water and the boulders at the sea bed. The water is that clear here. Although there isn’t much to do here, the fort deserves a visit for sure. 

Beaches on my itinerary for my next trip

Cola – I saw the signs on the way and had planned to go there, but I found Goa notorious with signs. It said take a left where there was no road and there was no left turn for miles! I guess I missed it somewhere.

Cabo de Rama – The approach to this one, again, was something I could not figure out, and perhaps didn’t try so hard. Will make it a point to go there next time.

Butterfly Beach – A secluded beach just off Palolem, you need a boat to get there. According to what I’ve read, this beach is super pretty and I’ve reserved it for when I travel to South Goa with Viraj.

Agonda – This beach is right next to Palolem. A friend of mine went to this beach the week after I went to Goa and absolutely loved its laid back charm. Needless to say.. the explorer has her radar up!

How much do you love Goa? South or North? Are there some beaches that are not on my list and are an absolute must-visit? Let me know!!!

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Linking this post to Lyn’s The Weekly Postcard

A Hole In My Shoe
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Happy Birthday #BlogAlong!

One Year!

Can you believe it?? I can’t! It truly is amazing how time flies. I feel like one of those old ladies who keeps reciting… ‘Where did time fly?’ I guess time does fly when you’re having fun right? Upasna, Shruti and I are truly having fun every month with the #BlogAlong and we would like to thank each any everyone who has participated from the bottom of our hearts!

The first #BlogAlong started with our favourite party go-to’s. As I was going through the posts that Shruti and Upasna had written for our inaugural link up, it felt like our posts sort of formed a good party host sequence. ‘Shruti goes to her favourite liquor store, Dan Murphy’s to stock up for the party, I mix the drinks with my special being the Spiced Mojito, and Upasna has the hungry bellies under control with her quick fix Party Snacks.’ Who knew that the tree of us would be super party hosts that work so well in sync.. and it took me a year to figure that one out!

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One of my favourite topics to write in the year was about the ‘Travel Must Packs‘. The best part about writing that post was that I was actually travelling while I wrote about the things I carry. Sometimes you need that reality check to realize how not a light traveler you are. Fortunately for me, I am not the only one… Bwahahaha!!!! It is not only my travel kit that includes an overflowing vanity kit and that makes me feel sooooo much better!!! Check out what in inside our participant’s bags here.

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We had some amazing people link up some amazing posts over the year. The posts took us took us to various cities, introduced us to some great food, and into their hearts. With every post that was shared, we learnt and discovered something new. Here are some of my favourite reads over the year..

Grandma’s Kitchen: A Taste of My Childhood by Anna from Slightly Astray – We were talking about food that speaks to our souls in July, and how can Granny’s food not speak to your soul?!? Check out this post for a mouth-watering journey into Anna’s Granny’s kitchen.

Looking for Free Advice – Talk to a Married Woman by Aditi from Lyf&Spice – A rib tickling account.. well, it’s not really an account but something Indian women face as soon as they hit their mid 20s. The sole purpose of life thus becoming – find a good partner and get married. Read along for a few laughs.

Perth’s Iconic Buildings by Lynn from A Hole in my Shoe – This comes from the architect in me. Lynn talks about the Council House and the building is just booootiful!

Good Food in Vina del Mar by Laia from Dream Travel Girl – I was so excited to have a post about Chile linked up to the #BlogAlong. I had no idea about this beautiful little town Vina del Mar and after seeing the pictures and reading about the place (especially the pictures of the mouth-watering food that Laia has put up in the post) Chile is high on my Bucket Travel List. Only if it wasn’t so difficult to get to Chile from India… sigh!

This is just a few of the brilliant posts that were shared with us over the year. Check out the rest of them on the main #BlogAlong page.

Cheers to us and our lovely fellow bloggers.. Here’s to many more!!

😀

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This post is a part of the 3Girls and a #BlogAlong hosted by Upasna from Life on My Plate, Shruti or Msz Knowitall and me. As we’re celebrating our birthday, it’s Open House this month… and it gets better… the link up is open alllllllllll month-long! Yes you heard it right.. 31 days 😀 So do not think twice and link up! 

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The Perfect Cuppa with Beanstalk & Leaves

A morning is not complete without a mug of coffee. Neither is mid morning or evening. The aroma of the freshly brewed coffee followed by the its strong bittersweet taste that lingers on your tongue feels so divine that sometimes it could be considered sinful. You never know how the day is going to pan out for you, but with that first sip of coffee in the morning, what you do know is that at least the beginning of the day, has been good.

I come from a family of tea drinkers, and amidst the tea drinkers, there is a coffee drinker – my mother. That is where I get my coffee addiction from. Just like her, I need to start the day with a cup of coffee and some quiet, and then I’m ready to conquer the world!

Growing up, coffee was just a drink to get you started in the morning, usually a bit of a stimulus before you hit your books. In time, with all the fancy coffee shops springing up here and there, it became am excuse to hang out with friends. I remember on several occasions, having a single cup of coffee over hours as my friends and I sat in coffee shops chatting away. For my mother and me, it has always been something that we would have our ‘mother-daughter’ time over. After all these years, even though I have moved out of my parents house, gotten married, and started a home of my own with my husband, having coffee together remains a sacred tradition between the two of us. A fresh cup of coffee is prepared, sometimes at my place, sometimes at hers and quite often over the phone, and we have our long catch up *cough* gossip *cough* sessions over coffee.  Coffee is such a central part of my life. In fact, I drink a cuppa while I write at this very moment. I guess that’s why the words seems to flow…

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About a year ago, during one of the usual Friday night/ Saturday night drinking sessions (can’t be sure which night exactly) my friend Vivek, told us that he’s starting a new venture – a coffee venture. Imagine my excitement! Since that day, I had been pestering Vivek to invite me for one of his coffee tasting sessions. Although I love coffee, and staying in Bangalore, so close to Coorg and Chickmaglur, the areas in Karnataka where most of the coffee is grown, I don’t know much about coffee. Perhaps this would be a way for me to understand my favourite drink a little more.

Soon enough, Vivek introduced us to his partner Ashish and their prized possession, Beanstalk & Leaves.

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I was really excited for the two of them as they launched their product and were ready to sell. That means that I, too, could get a taste of their coffee and I did when they were selling at High Street 66 last month.

The opportunity to learn a bit more about Beanstalk & Leaves came beckoning last week as I was invited to their ‘headquarters’. The office, looking out on to Kaikondrahalli Lake, is a perfect place when you want to make something that takes you away from the crazy day, even if just for a minute and gives you the sense of peace and serenity. With the lingering aroma of freshly ground coffee beans in the air of their apartment office-manufacturing unit and the quirky posters of Mughal-e-aazam, and caricatures of themselves as coffee super heroes adorning the walls, you know these guys have a good sense of humour and their product will be as personal to them as the place they work at. (Yes, that’s an architect talking! )

The love for coffee is what brought Ashish and Vivek together. In the year that they developed Beanstalk & Leaves, they learnt that although they are selling a luxury brand, they didn’t want to be out of reach from people who love coffee and are willing to experiment with flavours. They want to bridge the gap between the connoisseurs who know the components of coffee in and out and people like me, whose palette can decipher and differentiate the ‘I Love This!’ from the ‘Meh! Whatever’ but cannot break it down. That, to me, this is what makes their coffee so lovable. It feels approachable, friendly and unpretentious, while feeling luxurious at the same time.

The boys have really understood what kind of coffee you need at different times of the day and have released their first three blends accordingly.

Velvet Dew is the mild coffee you have when you need to relax and unwind.

Shot Gun as the name suggests, is a really strong blend to give you that kick.. and quite a kick it is might I add. Perfect for the afternoon cuppa when you need that stimulation.

Smooth Operator is my favourite blend so far. It is strong and has an after taste of chocolate. Coffee and chocolate together, I mean.. how could you ever go wrong with that? I liked it so much that I actually try to wake up five minutes early in the morning to brew some fresh coffee and not throw in the instant in my morning cuppa. (I wake up at 6 am everyday FYI, so I must really enjoy this!)

Their blends have a character that defines them so well. I cannot wait for them to release their other blends, which, according to the conversation we had the other day, seem really promising. Can’t disclose the ideas just yet folks, but I assure you, it is really exciting!

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Gone are those days when you have coffee just to wake you up in the morning and you buy the coffee that you get in the store next door. We are all learning and experimenting with new products, new flavours and new experiences. Beanstalk n Leaves would be something I would call affordable luxury. You don’t have to think twice about buying the product as it will not burn a hole in your pocket and you are assured of a good cup of coffee anytime of the day or night! You can feel the personal touch with each sip that you take and you know that a lot of work has gone into bringing that perfect blend to your door step. All you need to do is just sit back and enjoy it… one sip at a time.

Check them out in their habitat

If you want to feel special and have them make a cup of coffee for you, head up to their stall at the Soul Sante on March 13th at the ITPB Cricket Ground in Whitefield. You can also checkout their website here and follow them on Facebook here to keep up with them. They are on coffee remember? They will be whizzing by at a million miles an hour. You don’t want to miss out on anything!

I think I have found my fix.. what about you?

#whatsyourfix

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Varkala.. Cheat Sheet

If you have had the patience to go through my incessant rambling about the weekend spent in Varkala, in the two posts – The Lazy -Pazy Weekend at Varkala and The Lazy -Pazy Weekend at Varkala Continues…, I salute you. You really do have some insane patience or you are jobless! Jokes apart, a big big thank you to you! If you are pressed for time, here is a Varkala Cheat Sheet with some information that might help you plan your trip to the gorgeous place. The plan is to entice you with the beauty of the little town with the two previous posts and this is more of a practical guide on the how to’s and what to’s when you get there.

Varkala is a small coastal town in Kerala, about 50kms north of their capital city, Trivandrum.

How to Get There

By Air: Trivandrum Intl Airport is the closest airport. You can hire a cab from there to take you to Varkala town which should cost you around Rs. 1600 one way. The drive is about an hour and a half long.

By Train: Varkala town has a railway station which is well connected to most major cities in India.

By Road: Varkala is well connected to major cities by interstate busses. You can also take a bus from your city to Trivandrum and take a local bus from there to Varkala town.

Weather

No surprises there. Varkala is hot hot hot and humid humid humid! The best time to travel to Varkala is, of course, in the winter months i.e. December – February. However, we went in mid-Feb and I was dying in the heat and humidity. It rains in Varkala during the monsoon months of June, July and August, which needless to say, are the off-season months.

Where to Stay

Although we stayed in a wonderful place, far away from the main tourist-y place of Varkala, I would suggest staying at one of the many many hotels that line the North Cliff promenade. The walk to the North Cliff was nice, but it was difficult to do at night. If you do like being out at night, then staying at North Cliff is the wisest thing to do.

My friends from All Things Trippy strongly recommended Thanal Beach Resort and I would recommend Maadathil Cottages if you want to stay away from the hustle-bustle of the North Cliff and enjoy some quiet.

What to Do

Beaches: Coastal town = Beaches.. duh! You must visit the main Varkala beach for its huge waves and super fine sand. Post the customary visit, do make it to the Black Beach as it is away from the main beach and will give you the sense of being on a private beach. I assure you, it will be worth the walk. I hear Kappil Beach is also very good although I didn’t go there this time. It is on my agenda for my next trip.

North Cliff: The life of Varkala is in the North Cliff. The shops, the restaurants, everything! You can keep walking up and down numerous times a day, till all the restaurants and people walking with you become familiar, but it still will not be enough.

Shopping: The North Cliff is lined with shops that would confuse you of where you are. It is pretty much the same stuff that you see in Goa, or even in the touristy places in Himachal. The shops are targeted to the foreigners that come to India and want to take a bit of the country with them. You can find a few nice things if you have the patience, but don’t be fooled for a second thinking this is cheap shopping. It is only cheap if you’re good at bargaining (which I am not!).

Sight-Seeing: Although I didn’t do much sight-seeing in Varkala, there are a few places that should be on your list. Varkala Lighthouse and Anjengo Fort are a must (prioritize the lighthouse).  You can read about my visit to the fort and lighthouse hereJanardhana Swami Temple is over 2000 years old and is one of the main attractions in Varkala.

Adventure Sports: The large curly waves in the sea is the reason why surfing is quite popular in Varkala. There are a few places where you can sign up and learn surfing. Soul & Surf is the most popular among them. The cliff also enables paragliding, although I didn’t see anyone para-glide when I was visiting. Swimming in the sea, of course, is quite risky because of the strong underwater currents. You can swim only in the areas that are demarcated as safe zones.

Yoga: Varkala is a haven for all those who practice Yoga. There are classes for beginners, intermediate, advanced and everyone in between. There are sunrise Yoga classes, sunset Yoga classes, basically you will find anything that fits your fancy.

Ayurvedic Massages: You are in Kerala. How can you not get a massage? I mean.. seriously!

Where to Eat

The North Cliff is lined with restaurants that offer a varied variety of food. From Traditional Kerala sea food feast to German Bakeries to Tibetian food, you can have anything your heart desires. For me, I loved Cafe del Mar (you can read about it in the post here). Extremely good food and great service. The other places we went to was Rock n Roll Cafe, Trattorias, and The Big Apple Cafe (good place for the hippy vibe). What we missed out on but looked promising were Darjeeling Cafe, Bohemian Art Cafe, and Coffee Temple (supposed to have some great coffee), which will be on the list the next time we go.

If you’re into sea food, you will fall in love with this place. I say that confidently because I do not eat sea food on a regular basis, but I really did enjoy what I had. The fresh catch is displayed outside the restaurant every evening and you can have what you like. We saw all kinds of fish being served from red snapper to Tuna, swordfish and shark too!

Tips for the Trip

Night Life: There isn’t really a night life in Varkala if you’re looking for it. Saturday night at Rock n Roll cafe seemed pretty happening, but that was it. Sunday night was pretty slow and all the shops seemed to be shutting down much earlier than usual.

Alcohol: Although alcohol is not supposed to be served in restaurants, it is served in almost all the places. Remember to carry your own brand of alcohol if you’re particular about that stuff, pre game in your hotel room and head out. The only thing Hubby and I could drink in the restaurants was beer and for some reason none of the places have premium, they all have strong beer.

Getting Around: We got around on foot pretty much the entire time. The one time we had to use an auto, it set us back Rs. 200. Pretty steep right? But that is how it is. There are bikes for hire if you’re planning to stay longer than just a weekend, but beware, the roads are quite confusing and it could get very easy to get lost in the narrow winding roads of Varkala.

So this is my expert advise if you would like to visit Varkala. I would love it if you have any tips and tricks that I could add to this list and I do plan to update this list if and when I visit Varkala again. If you have been to this charming town, do share your experiences with me.

Till then… Happy Travelling!

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Lazy- Pazy Weekend at Varkala.. Continues…

Welcome back to the Lazy-Pazy Weekend at Varkala. As I was going through the previous post, I realized how much Hubby and I covered in one day. With most of the main attractions covered in the first day, it was time to kick the laziness into high gear!

(Psst.. if you need no convincing about the place and need to go NOW, you can check out the Varkala Cheat Sheet to help you plan you trip.)

There is no better feeling than walking up to the sounds of the sea and gorgeous sunshine to go with it. (Except when you’re hung over :P, fortunately due to lack of availability of alcohol in the town, I woke up feeling as fresh as ever). I woke up fairly early (for weekend standards), not wanting to waste the morning in bed. Umm.. confession time… I woke up early the next morning so that we don’t miss out on the breakfast. Arrgh… there you go. I said it! When you have free breakfast included in your package, it is criminal to miss it out. Also, it is the most important meal of the day, right?

Off I went in the quest for the morning meal, when I was greeted by the friendly and ever helpful staff. We had quite an elaborate breakfast menu to choose from. With the choices made, for Hubby and me, I sat back in my chair at the dining area, with my toes in the sand bed that they had created, and started enjoying the morning. Before I knew it, the breakfast was ready. It was simple eggs and bread, but I felt like royalty sitting there in the lap of luxury enjoying myself.

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With the breakfast devoured, we started talking to the staff of Maadathil cottages. The resort is run by a family where the father oversees the property and the three brothers have their responsibility assigned to them. One takes care of the booking and reservations, one the kitchen while the third is in charge of the housekeeping. Since Maadthil Cottages is slightly far away from the main Varkala Cliff, the maximum number of visitors are foreigners who enjoy bumming around the beach and catching some tan.

We soon gave our order for lunch, Kerala Style Shrimp Curry with rice (places like this it is always better to give early orders so that lunch is ready when you want it), and also asked them to arrange a couple of bottles of beer for us. After our chat, Hubby and I started wandering around the property. We found a great place which was slightly higher than the rest of the property. Sitting there gave a wonderful vantage point of the sea and the shore line. This spot became one of our favourite spots on the property.

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Did u say hello to our friend here?? He knows how to life THE life…

After a bit of loitering around, Hubby decided to get back into bed, and I head back to my favourite cane chair for a bit of reading. I kept wishing that I had my laptop on me that weekend as I’m sure I would have been able to translate my thoughts into words so well right there and then, and perhaps this post would be a little different. But then again, a little filter to my random thought is good too 🙂 

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The view from my cane chair.. not too bad eh?

With the reading and relaxing, all I needed then was a mug of beer, unfortunately as I had mentioned earlier, alcohol isn’t allowed to be stored in restaurants and resorts and has to be ordered specially. Hubby and I had asked the manager to organize a few bottles for us earlier and as luck would have it, the bootlegger came just in time as if he was reading my mind. I put the bottles in the fridge that we had in the room and opened the coldest one of the lot. Aaaahh!!! Now life is perfect! I think Hubby heard/smelled/ sensed that somewhere there was a bottle of beer that had been opened, and it was time to wake up. He emerged from the door, in his sunglasses, ready for the afternoon drink.

Soon our lunch was ready and we head out to the dining area.

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I really surprised myself in Varkala by enjoying sea food. The squid curry, although it did smell a little bit at first, tasted really good. The smell did not bother me for long. Perhaps that’s the advantage of eating alfresco, the smell that might cause you some amount of discomfort, gets carried away.

An afternoon of beer and good food, has to be followed by a nap, and this time it was my turn. I snuggled into bed and fell asleep as soon as my head touched the pillow. In what seemed like ten minutes after I fell asleep, I was woken up by Hubby. Turns out that I had slept for almost an hour. All refreshed,  it was time to hit the beach, and not just our beach, it was time for some beach hopping!

The beach that belonged to the neighbouring resort looked interesting with a lot more people enjoying the waves, and was the first on our list. The beach was a little bigger than the one we had, but the sand was not as fine or as black as ours. Although I got into the water for sometime, but it just did not feel right. Whom are we kidding? Our beach is the best-est!!! We’re just that spoilt! Without wasting any more precious time, we got back to where our hearts truly belonged, thus ending the ‘beach hopping’ that we had planned to do. We settled down on ‘our’ beach, Hubby got a bottle of beer and we watched the waves get bigger, the sky display its brilliance by turn into various hues of orange and pink as the sun went down.

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Our beach

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That night we were back at the North Cliff for dinner post our customary 40 min walk to the North Cliff for dinner. It was a Sunday night and surprisingly very quiet on the North cliff. So quiet that it made us wonder if the places were even open that day. I guess it was just the ‘Sunday Night’ thing. People would’ve gone home after the weekend, getting ready to get back to their desks or their books. Fortunately we had one more day before we joined that club.

We had dinner at Trattorias Restaurant that night (another recommendation by Karishma). The place was one of the few places that was buzzing with activity and that is a sure sign of how good the place is. We sat back, ordered our beer and Thai Curry and Pad Thai for dinner thereafter. The Thai Curry that Hubby had was .. umm.. sort of so-so, but I really enjoyed the Pad Thai. Not one of the best I’ve had, but definitely quite good.

The one big mistake I made was that I ate too much that night and that got the better of me. I got tired and sleepy and forced poor Hubby to call it a night. We took an auto back and it cost us 200 bucks! Tip for the future… autos are not an option in Varkala. They are ridiculously expensive.

The next morning I woke up with the sounds of birds, chirping away noisily. I got out of the room and saw a whole bunch of birds (don’t ask me which ones, I’m so bad at that! I guess they are the ones that eat fish, which is why they were all over the beach), going crazy. As soon as I got to the edge of the beach, it was a beautiful sight.. the fishermen had come in with their morning catch and were selling it to the locals. Picture perfect, don’t you think?

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I did enjoy sometime alone in the morning, walking aimlessly around the property, lounging around on the hammocks and catching up on some reading with a hot steaming cup of coffee. I was living the dream! For a few hours at least, we had a 5 p.m. flight. Arrrgh! Fortunately that gave us the morning to enjoy the solitude of Varkala.

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Hubby woke up when I was halfway through my coffee and it was time for another super feast of breakfast – brunch.

Time sure flies really fast when you’re having a good time. Soon it was time to pack up and leave. However, we had one pit stop before we got to the airport – the Varkala Lighthouse. Hubby and I decided to leave for the airport an hour early so that we could get to the lighthouse and have enough time to climb on top and spend some time there. We had read a bit about it and all that we had read encouraged us strongly to pay this lighthouse a visit. Our cab came right on time, and post a sad farewell, and with a heavy heart, we left the serenity of Maadathil Cottages.

The drive to the lighthouse was about half an hour. We quickly jumped out of the cab and got to the lighthouse office and were greeted with a rude shock. The office was closed! The opening time for the lighthouse is between 3pm -5pm and we had reached fifteen minutes early. We decided to kill time and visit the Anjengo Fort, which is across the road from the lighthouse.

Anjengo Fort is a 17th century fort which has seen Portuguese, Dutch and finally the British powers through its existence. You can read a bit about the fort here. The interesting part about the fort is that it is tiiiinnnnnyyyy!!! I guess that is what remains of the fort after all these years. It took us exactly ten minutes to cover the extents of the fort, leisurely! Having said that, it did give me some really good photo ops. So can’t complain much.

 

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Once we were done exploring the fort, we were still five minutes early for the opening of the lighthouse. Fortunately, with a little bit of pleading, the gentleman at the office opened the lighthouse and let us go. We took off our shoes, stepped in, and looked up… we had a loooooottt of steps to climb. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Sure, I think I’m fit, but I actually am not. Also, the heat at the humidity were not helping.. at all!!! Anyhow, we were there and we were doing this! 

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This is what we had to climb!

Looks can be deceptive sometimes. The climb actually wasn’t that bad. I was able to do it without stops and it really didn’t take very long. As we had read, the view from the top was worth every step we climbed. I will not waste your time trying to describe it, take a deep breath and have a look at the pictures below. I’m sure it’s going to take your breath away!

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The sea and the backwaters
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The Fort from the top

Pictures really do speak a thousand words, don’t they? We were so mesmerized by the view that we almost forgot about the cab driver waiting for us and the flight that we had to catch. I guess it was a good thing that we left Varkala with this being the last thing we saw. Talk about saying good-bye with a bang!

Nothing can ever prepare you for the beauty of the hidden gems in your own country. In a country as big as India, with its ever-changing landscapes, cultures and traditions, there is always one gem right next to you waiting to be discovered. You cannot thank your stars enough that you’re born in a country that has so much to see, so much to offer and so much that you can be a part of. All you need to do is pack your bags and get ready for the next mystery to unfold before of you.

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This post is a part of the 3Girls and a #BlogAlong hosted by Upasna from Life on My Plate, Shruti or Msz Knowitall and me. This month’s theme is Travel! Let’s hear about your favourite places, or the place you just visited, how about the place you hated! Let’s kick the wanderlust into high gear! Come join in on all the fun!

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Also linking this post to Lyn’s #The Weekly Postcard

A Hole In My Shoe

Varkala Title

Lazy – Pazy Weekend at Varkala

Oh Varkala… where have you been all this time?? I cannot believe that you were just over three hours away from me.. for almost thirteen years since I’ve been in Bangalore.. and I had absolutely no idea of your existence! A big big thanks to my friends Karishma and Aman (from All Things Trippy) who enticed me with their pictures on Facebook and Instagram so much that I had no choice but to plan a trip to Varkala. Hubby and I, both, love beach vacations and what better way to celebrate our three years of togetherness than a weekend getaway! With the tickets all booked and hotel reservations made way ahead of time, waiting for the weekend of the trip was the biggest torture ever!

Although we were in Varkala for just about three days, there is so much that I would like to share about the place that I have structured the post in two parts. Do bear with my prolonged jibber-jabber.. I just cannot stop talking about it!

If you are a pressed for time and need the lowdown right away, you can check out the Varkala Cheat Sheet.

Varkala is about 50kms from the capital of Kerala, Trivandrum. You can get there by bus, train or by road. We got our hosts at the resort we were staying at, to organize a cab for us to take us to the beach town. As we started our hour and a half long drive to Varkala, we immediately got a glimpse of the sea and Hubby and I were shocked to see the colour of the water. Never in any of our visits around the coastline of mainland India, have either of us seen blue water. (Although I hear that the Arabian Sea at Diu is blue.. but neither Hubby or I have been there) The glimpse of the sea turned out to be such a tease for as we drove on, I knew we were somewhere close to the coastline, but we never got another glimpse of the sea, and the drive felt so long. In retrospect, perhaps that was all a part of the plan. An hour and a half later, we finally entered the main Varkala town. Now, the roads of Kerala almost always have just two lanes and the bye lanes of Varkala, well, they have just about one. That didn’t seem to deter our driver as he expertly navigated his way through the tiny streets. After what felt like over a hundred twists and turns, the trees thinned out, the buildings cleared out, and the vision before us took our breath away! The beautiful blue water of the Arabian Sea seen from a cliff side lined with beautiful coconut palms… how can you not fall in love at first sight?

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We finally reached our resort, Maadathil Cottages, which is a few kilometers away from the main North Cliff, where most of the tourists stay. According to me, anniversary time called for some pampering, and this resort seemed like the perfect place. We were ushered to our cute little cottage constructed in true Kerala architectural style. Hubby, enticed by the sight of the comfortable bed, and the fact that he had woken up in the middle of the night to catch the flight (that’s 6.15 am FYI) jumped into bed for a quick nap before heading out.

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Our cottage at Maadathil

Making most of this opportunity, I decided to explore a bit. Maadathil cottages has about eight cottages, all facing an open area lined with coconut palms and the sea thereafter. The hammocks and the sun decks line the open area promise the most relaxed time under the dance of sun and shade. In case that was not enough, lo and behold… they have a private beach! *waaaaat?*  Well, the beach was really small and on the Black Beach stretch, but it is at your disposal, along with a few other guests from the resort of course. I, however, found my favourite spot on the comfortable cane chair at the porch. It was time to catch up on some reading. Concentrating on the book was so difficult. I was mesmerized by the beautiful blue sky, the coconut palms, the water and the fact that I was there among it all. The sound of the sea was hypnotizing. I wouldn’t describe the sound of the sea that day as a roar as you normally would. It was more like a lazy growl of a well fed lion that is followed by a giant yawn and a belly scratch, as he tumbles to the other side and continues his snooze.

My lazy wandering thoughts were suddenly brought back to reality when Hubby walked out of the room, nice and rested, also prompted by the grumbling belly, ready to hit the North Cliff. (Reality.. The sea, the laziness… I love relating that to reality!) North Cliff is the main touristy area of Varkala and was almost a 3km walk from where we were staying. The walk was quite like an obstacle course along the coastline. From sandy beaches, to hotel frontages, the landscape making us climb up and down, a government fishery, also a little stream (of disgusting dirty water unfortunately) on which was a tiny bridge made of two bamboo trunks and one trunk on the side to form the railing. It was pretty scary for a person with issues with her center of gravity. However, the sea never left our side and the visuals around us kept getting prettier and prettier and I couldn’t keep myself from stopping every five minutes to take pictures.

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What wasn’t on our side was the weather. It was really hot and quite humid. We finally got to the North Cliff and headed for Cafe` del Mar – one of the places Karishma insisted that we go to while in Varkala. Cafe` del Mar was at the other end of the walk along the cliff. I think that turned out well for us as we got to walk along the cliff. The path is lined with hotels, shops and restaurants mostly targeted to the international hippy crowd. It was so surprising to see that there were hardly any Indian tourists and it was so many foreigners. The entire time Hubby and I were discussing that we, too, learnt about Varkala only the year before, and it is so surprising that not many Indians know about this cute little beach-side haven. We assumed that Goa would also have been like this before it got as commercial as it is today. From places offering Yoga classes, Ayurvedic massages, to hippy souvenirs and clothes sold in almost every shop along the North Cliff promenade, everything tales about how much the hippy backpackers seem to love this place.

Finally, after almost fourty minutes of walking in the hot sun, we saw Cafe del Mar. We quickly found a place, under the fan mind you, and were ready for our beer. In Kerala, serving alcohol is not permitted except for in a few places that are approved by the Government. That, however, does not stop anyone from serving beer or any other alcohol. The alcohol is stocked in some hidden place, brought to the table with the bottle wrapped in newspaper, and served in large coffee mugs. Quite amusing for Hubby and me, but who cares. A hot afternoon deserves a chilled beer, and a chilled beer we got!

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Happy Hubby with his ‘coffee’ *cough*beer*cough*

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Hubby insisted that there is no way that we could not have sea food when you’re sure that it will be super fresh. He was absolutely right. Unfortunately, the skeptic that I am, unsure of any sea food that goes in my belly, I ordered the plate of humus and bread.. you know.. just in case. My problem with sea food this the smell and the overbearing taste that drums it into your senses that ‘you are eating sea food mister’! Fortunately for me, Cafe del Mar took this up as a personal challenge and ensured that the first dish of sea food I had in Varkala was astounding. The prawns were so fresh and did not smell at all. I found myself picking up one piece of prawns after another. I could feel my Bengali mother in law getting prouder of me with every bite that I took.

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They call it Grilled Chicken something something on the menu, but what it is, is Malai Tikka… And what amazing Malai Tikka it is!

As we sat around in the restaurant, enjoying the beer and getting hypnotized by the view, Hubby and I saw something far into the sea. Initially I thought it was someone swimming and started telling Hubby that it would be so unsafe to swim so far out into the sea. Varkala is known for its strong currents after all. People are so careless sometimes… yada yada yada… when suddenly we saw a few more bobbing heads in the sea. Suddenly it struck us that these were not people swimming, they were dolphins or whales! I wish we had super strong vision or at least a pair of binoculars with us. This is the first time that I have seen whales, even though it was from a great distance. What a stroke of luck!

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We met Super Mario at Cafe del Mar!

With ourbellies full, whale sighting done, we were ready to head to the main Varkala Beach.

Varkala Beach is at the base of a 30 foot cliff with the most fine sand I have ever felt. The famous view of the cliff and the beach is from the helipad at the end of the cliff-side walk.

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There are steps along the cliff that take you to the beach. After being to Goa so many times, it is nice to come to a beach which does not feel commercial, although the beach was fairly crowded when we went. The vibe, however, was completely different with people chilling, swimmers swimming, people reading, and the Yoga enthusiasts practicing! (I couldn’t take my eyes off these three women who were practicing headstands.)

The currents in the sea are supposed to be quite strong in Varkala, hence swimming in the sea is restricted to a certain area marked by flags. It was good to see that there were lifeguards our there to make sure that people were following the rules. Hubby has this thing – no matter which beach he goes to, he always has to get into the water there. It was no different here. We found a spot for me to sit while Hubby headed to into the water.

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Ten minutes later Hubby was back, all happy and excited. ‘The water is so warm’ he informed me, and got me super excited to go in myself. For some reason, I had not carried my bathing suit and insisted that we go back to our resort so that I could get changed and enjoy the water too. Once Hubby was dried off, we headed back to our private beach (how I like the sound of that!) and watch the sunset from there. Another 40 minute long walk and we were back and this time it was Hubby who waited it out on the beach while I played with the waves.

The sand at the beach that we were at was black. I guess that’s why it is called the Black Beach! The peculiar thing, however, was that it was completely black at certain places while at others, it just formed a coat of black sand while the sand underneath was the usual brown colour. Nature has its own quirks I guess. The beaches at Varkala, for now, are my favourite for I have never been to a beach where there are no pebbles, no sea weed that gets tangled in your legs when you’re in the water and gives you the creepy terrifying feeling, just plain beautiful fine sand, and beautiful clear water.

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The black sand

Once the sun was down, we were showered and cleaned up and ready to paint the town red! Just one little glitch… we had to walk the 40 minute walk all over again! It gets better.. we had to do the walk… in the dark.. *gasp*! Thank God for technology and smart phones and the flashlights they come with. We did the walk and we did it in the dark and we did it with the flashlights. I made it a point not to look here and there for my talents for self-spooking-with-no-reason are legendary! But with the beautiful starry sky and the moonlight shimmering in the sea, there was no reason to get spooked.

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The promenade at night

We walked up and down the North Cliff promenade deciding where to go. Saturday night at the promenade was really vibrant. The shops still open till late into the night, music streaming out from the restaurants… decisions! decisions! Why are you so tough to make?!? Fortunately, The Big Apple Cafe came to our rescue. We heard live music and the band was playing some nice rock classics. Hubby and I are big time suckers for rock classics and going to this restaurant was a no brainer. After a bit of waiting and a bit of shifting around, we finally found a place at the furthest end of the restaurant with the best view… also read as the place where we were able to get some of the sea breeze. It was so hot and humid! The restaurant has a very hippy-ish culture reinforced with the hippy group performing. The guy who was singing was really really good! The service, however, was a disaster! It took them 20 minutes each time to get us one can of beer and over an hour to get our starters. Let me add here that when the food did come, it was pretty good. Hubby and I, unfortunately, as city dwellers and adapted to quick service, couldn’t take it anymore and finally left.

We headed to Rock n` Roll Cafe thereafter. We had been eyeing the place for quite a while as it started getting busier and busier and the music louder and louder. Unlike the other places which were targeted to foreigners and had the hippy laid back vibe, Rock n Roll Cafe was choc-a-block with Indian college students looking for a party. Hubby and I sat around in one corner, feeling all old and brought our third anniversary in. In true Desh-Mitra fashion, we trekked our way back to the resort once there was no beer left to serve.

Phew! I know the title of this post is ‘Lazy-Pazy Weekend’ and that was a long long post already. For the rest of the Varkala laziness adventure, check out Lazy-Pazy Weekend at Varkala.. Continues…

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Linking this post to Lyn’s #The Weekly Postcard and Ting’s Monday Escapes #29

A Hole In My Shoe
Travel Monkey
Contours

Run-a-versary with Contours Women’s Day Run

Growing up in a fauji home, fitness has always been a part of my life. Badminton, cricket, swimming, name it! I had played it all. There was a time when I picked up Golf as well. Unfortunately, all that came a sudden stop when we moved from the fauji lifestyle to adopt the big city life in Bangalore. Sports no longer was played a role as important as it was before. The only sport I had in those days was kicking myself around from school to the innumerable tuition classes.

By the time I finished college and started working, I jumped on the gym bandwagon to keep myself fit. Somehow, my heart wasn’t in it. I kept at it as my lifestyle was changing and that was the only way I could think of to keep fit. A few kilometers on the treadmill for warm up, twenty minutes on the cross trainer and then some weights, few group classes thrown in here and there, it was ok,… perhaps a little repetitive for the ever distracted me. That’s when I decided to participate in the TCS 10k, for it gave me something to work towards. Unfortunately, the drive wasn’t as strong and I soon lost interest.

Exactly two years back, over one of the usual Saturday night get together, one of my friends told me that she was participating in the Pinkathon. She was to run 5 kilometers the following day. I was so in awe of her and I don’t know what it was, it was like a life purpose was tugging on to me and the entire night I couldn’t think about anything else.

The following day, I registered for the Contours Day Women’s Day Run 2014. I knew that unless I registered, I wouldn’t take it seriously and running would remain as ‘something I’ve always wanted to do’. At that time, I didn’t know that my life was about to change.

Now, the CWDR was just a week away, and all the running I had done was just a few kilometers here and there. That one week, I did all the research I could, trained as much as I could and the morning of March 02, 2014, I was ready for my first 5k. Nervously, I lined up with everyone at the start line. Wished my buddies luck and I leaped off into the unknown. The first few hundred meters, I found myself scrutinizing everything around me trying to fit it. Could people see that I was a first timer? Am I doing this right? What if I can’t finish? I kept moving forward despite the uncertainty of my run. Slowly, but steadily, as I crossed the kilometer markers, I found myself growing more and more confident. At some point, I remember, my sole of my shoe started wearing out. (Yes, they were pretty old shoes. I didn’t know the importance of what kind of shoes to use at that time. I did lean eventually) However, that didn’t deter my spirits. I just put one foot in front of the other, smiled confidently to myself, until the finish line was visible…

As I crossed the finish line, I was awarded my first run medal. With that piece of bling around my neck, I walked quietly to an open space where I could cool down and do my stretches. Before I knew it, a wave of emotions took over me. There I was, not just one among the hundreds of runners out there. I had achieved something extraordinary for myself. I had acieved something that I had been wanting to for a long long time. There I was… with no excuses this time. I had made the effort, pushed myself and that day I stood proud and tall. Now that I have been running for almost two years and 5km is not a big deal anymore, but that day it was the world to me. I felt like a monster! Bwahahaha! I have never had a moment so emotional even after I did my first half marathon.

Winners with their medals 🙂

A photo posted by Pooja Deshpande (@abitofpooja_andalotofthat) on

Goofing around!!

A photo posted by Pooja Deshpande (@abitofpooja_andalotofthat) on

The first 5k run in early March 2014 paved the way for my first 10k at the TCS run, followed by my first half marathon in October that year. I felt like I found a part of me that I felt I was missing. Running to me is not about losing weight. It about staying fit and taking care of myself. You automatically think about what goes into your mouth and how that will affect your progress. It is a me vs me sport. The more you push yourself, the better you get. I also wrote a little post on my blog about why I like to run after my first half marathon. (You could check it out here )

Runniversary with my awesome girl @saloniphutela who got me into running.. Love u babes! #cwdr2015 #rundiaries #runnersforlife

A photo posted by Pooja Deshpande (@abitofpooja_andalotofthat) on

In less than a month, it’ll be two years since that first run of mine. I could never thank my friend enough for inspiring me to take that leap and Contours for being around at the most opportune moment. *wink* Had it been any longer than one week from the day that I registered, I know that the drive would have worn off. Today, two years down, I have completed two half marathons, a bunch of 10k runs, and raked up on many many kms of running. I do get asked many a times, ‘Isn’t it boring just running, and running and running?’ There is only one answer to that questions… NO! Every run is meditative. Every run is an achievement. 5, 10, 15, 20… no matter what the distance is. The only way you will know that  is if you fasten those laces and hit the road!

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This post is a part of the 3Girls and a #BlogAlong hosted by Upasna from Life on My Plate, Shruti or Msz Knowitall and me.  It is the season of louurrrveee and we want to know what you louuurrveee… Be it travel, reading, eating, cooking, running in my case. This month’s theme is All about Love! Come join in on all the fun!
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