Author Archives: Richa

Ramazan at Istanbul, Turkey

One of the biggest questions while visiting a Muslim country is – Is it a good time to visit during the holy month of Ramazan. While several countries have food restrictions during this season in terms of eating while outside and establishments remaining shut, there were no restrictions in Turkey during this season. Infact, looking back, I was lucky to have gone in the season of Ramazan to Istanbul and my worries that we would get nothing to eat were blown away as Ramadan became the highlight of my trip!

Just outside the Blue mosque is the Hippodrome square. Normally quite lively, this square was even livelier on a Ramazan evening as hordes of families camped out with their fast-breaking picnic baskets all over the place. This is the biggest congregation I have seen in such an organized fashion to break the Fast at Iftar. Thousands of people gathered with picnic baskets of food spreading out on benches, lawns and wherever there was space waiting for the sun to set. With the advent of summer, the sun didn’t set till well after eight and yet most people waited on cheerfully in anticipation of the feast that awaited them. What was also interesting to see was their enthusiasm and patience to go to the place to reserve a spot and wait for the next 2-3 hours for the sun to go down. This after all day of going without food and water during the peak summer. Hats off to them certainly.

While the fasters attacked their food, a host of other activities including music concerts, live performances played in the background and a fair like atmosphere prevailed at the hippodrome square and other popular gardens and squares..

Although I am a vegetarian, I can certainly say that people who eat all kinds of meat are in time for a veritable feast for amazing kebabs and Ramadan special delicacies. Even while most employees at restaurants were on a fast themselves, their service to those who weren’t did not cease before Iftar which is certainly very  creditable given that they have to look at food all day long and yet not be tempted to eat. Ramadan special menus and iftar menus were put up at every restaurant in time, all of which were jam-packed as the time for Iftar neared.

If you are planning a trip during Ramadan, I will certainly say go for it in Istanbul to enjoy the wonderful atmosphere there is. That being said, in the interiors and more conservative parts of Turkey towards the eastern and central side, it may not be that easy to get food outside or eat outside. One needs to plan ahead for exigencies.

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Ramzan @ Turkey with the Blue Mosque in the background

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Picnicking for Iftar @ Istanbul, Turkey

Iftar at Istanbul, Turkey

Iftar at Istanbul, Turkey

Categories: Europe, Turkey | Tags: , | 3 Comments

Grand Mosque photo blog – Part 2 – The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman

Continuing with my series on the Grand Mosques, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque at Muscat, Sultanate of Oman, is the fantastic architectural piece, quintessentially Arabic laced with Egyptian and Persian architectural elements.

Named after the nation’s ruler, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, the mosque is a must-see for all travelers in Muscat. Built in the suburb of Al-Ghubra, this large mosque occupying 40,000 square meters cannot be missed as you travel on the adjacent main roads. With a spectacular dome and minarets, it is pretty impressive from outside, and even more stunning from the inside. Built to accommodate 20,000 worshippers in its two large halls and courtyard, the mosque is one of the largest in the middle-east.

As was the case with other grand mosques, this mosque also required appropriate dressing to visit it. A Headscarf is mandatory for women as are fully covered hands and legs.

Gorgeous landscaped gardens encircle this mosque. As you enter the main hall through its tasteful arches and spacious corridor, once inside, everywhere you look, is opulence, craftsmanship and grandeur.

The mosque is built of chiefly Indian Sandstone. Inside of the main prayer hall, the walls are made of marble adorned by geometrical motifs, flower and leaf designs.  The main prayer hall is a massive 74.4×74.4m with the central dome rising to 50m.

The carpet you stand on is purported to be the second largest in the world and apparently took a long four years to weave by 600 women! Woven in 28 shades of vegetable dyes, this massive carpet weighs 21 tonnes, has 1.7Million knots and covers 70 x 60 m of the praying area of the grand hall all in one humongous piece.  The chandelier is another highlight and is 14 meters tall and adds to the grandeur. All around you can see marble designs, beautifully inscribed Quranic verses and stained glass art adorning the inside walls, ceilings and floor of the mosque. The corridors are embellished with arches and house the mosque’s various facilities such as a large library

Here are some photos of this truly grand monument.

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque


The Main hall

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque  up close

The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque dome and chandelier


Adorning Panels

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Read about the Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque here. My next post on this series will be out soon!

For a virtual tour check out and see the beauty for yourself! But before you go, do let me know how you are liking this series on the Grand mosques in the comments below.

Categories: Asia, Oman | Tags: | 5 Comments

Idle Thoughts of a Desi Mind

This post is republished from my other blog Although this is written a few years back  and I am back to India now, I think this still holds true!
Well, it’s been almost half a year since I moved to the US from India, and I continue to marvel at the differences between the two countries.  I guess, I am about to say what every Desi who comes to this land goes through. 
On Conversions
The first thing that hit me in a week was the number of conversions I kept doing to get my perspective right.  Fahrenheit to Celsius, Miles to Kilometers, Pounds to Kgs, Ounces to Grams, Dollars to Rupees, Gallons to liters…  I know we are used to the difference in the spellings now, with due thanks to Bill Gates who points out not coloUrfully but colorfully in red and all of a sudden I was flummoxed when everyone resorted in India to saying XYZeee instead of XYZed that I had learnt years back! Here even the switches get turned on the wrong way..On is up and Off is down!
On Beggars
Our local beggars endeavor to be as pathetic as possible singing sad songs in pathetic voices and generally making everyone feel guilty about being better off. Believe it when I tell you, here beggars wear weird costumes and have smirks on their faces with placards which say ‘Gimme $5 for a glass of beer!’ or ‘I need my Dope’ or sit with a dirty dog with a placard saying ‘Help me care for my dog’ and yes, they mutter maybe ‘Ass****’ at each person, loud enough to hear if you pass them without giving them anything.  Local train beggars aren’t dissimilar to our Local buggers.  They come with their musical instruments and make speeches and stories all starting with ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. I am homeless.  Please help me’.  Of course, this being a far richer country, the numbers are far less than what we have.  But it’s funny to see ads of ‘Please donate a used car for the poor’.  I could use one of the donations!
On Prices
And now for my long pent up emotions on the horrendous prices here, even though I have recuperated from the shock now.  People back home said we would be really rich in the US!  But consider this. Back in India we were supposedly in the upper middle class having a 3bhk, a car, never used the local train, and had 2 maids to cook twice a day, pack our lunches, clean up, tidy up and do everything that enabled us to lounge around only watching TV.  And here, we live in a 1BHK, have a four wheeler..uh, I mean 2 bicycles, no maids (if you discount the dishwasher) and commute in the packed subway trains.  Now that life on the other side of the ocean was certainly comfortable!
I reckon getting past the currency conversion from the $ to the Rupee was a challenge given the fact that ‘everything is so cheap back home!’  It started with the bread being $4 (Rs200) for a loaf (@#* I paid Rs 20 back home!), onions being $2 a pound (Rs 200 for a kilo) (@#&; Governments have been brought down back home because of the rising onion prices!), well you get the idea.  I won’t even speak about the unspeakable amounts we pay as rent!  Okay, even if you don’t convert, sometimes the rates that are charged for some piffling labor are downright absurd.  There was a cleaning ad saying they would clean up rugs or carpets really well and remove all stains etc in just $150 (Rs 7500).  Well!  I could get a new carpet for that price!  In fact there is no concept of MRP or any sort of standard pricing.  It all depends on the rate the store wants to fleece people!  You could get the same brand for half at some other store or for 1/10th online.  Perhaps it is because I am around one of US’s most expensive cities.
On Healthcare
Well, I am one of those really unfortunate people who are underinsured due to ignorance, and now may have to shell out some $500 (Rs 25,000) for a single sitting to have an ear cleaned!  A doctor charges a cool $150 (Rs 7,500) to prescribe an OTC balm for an aching hand.  I have not known a more screwed up healthcare system than that exists out here. Wikipedia told me that it is in US that 62% of all personal bankruptcies are due to Medical Debt.  I don’t blame them.  If an uninsured or underinsured person were to fall ill, he would sell everything he has to pay it off or die of a cardiac arrest on seeing the bill!  Well, there is health insurance, and since 85% of the people have health insurance, all doctors charge astronomical amounts, and because they charge astronomical amounts people have to rely on health insurance. And, since the docs get sued all the time, they have to make up for the money they spend on litigation!  So, I guess, being a lawyer is the best profession there is in the US!  I am now contemplating a flight to and fro from India to have my ear cleaned!  It might just be cheaper.
On Labor
The other thing that struck me, was the fact that despite the unemployment numbers being supposedly high, the labor rates here continue to be just phenomenal.  There is little wonder that there are so many drop outs in America.  I hear that truck drivers make around $100,000 to $200,000 a year in this country!  I mean that’s really wow!  They certainly can compete with educated PhDs flaunting all their degrees or investment bankers or make even more! Babysitters charge some $15 an hour in cash, that’s around $32,000 tax free. Women who earn around $50,000 a year, which is a decent amount, quit as their babysitters charge more!  I think all the girls on H4 out here who cannot really work, but do like kids should offer their services in this field!  It never amazed me in American TV serials when they showed plumbers and handymen living in the best of the suburban houses with manicured lawns..(if you are guessing, that’s Desperate Housewives)! Now as my building doorman drives down in his car wearing a tie and a designer suit, I have ceased to wonder!  What I don’t understand is, why can’t the unemployed unskilled workers, just offer their services for a lower wage?  I am sure there will be a lot of people willing to employ them.  The unemployment rate will certainly go down.
On Cabbies
Something that is similar though is the sport of fighting with the Cab driver. There was this cabbie who wanted to charge a cool 100 dollar bucks (~Rs 5,000) for a 25 min ride with one stop on the way, the unreasonableness being, he would charge $50 without having to stop! Add to that, the ridiculous ‘tips’ that are mandatory to the tune of 20-30% of the total fare.  No wonder, people prefer renting cars and driving around the whole day for a maximum of $100.  Most cabbies are either Pakistanis, or Indians or Bangladeshis and the seats are dirtier and mustier than in Mumbai.
On Shopping
Finally, once I entered the acceptance mode after the denial, anger and resignation stages of shock of prices, I discovered shopping was a pleasure here, thanks to the huge departmental stores around here.  There is no dearth of brands and consumers are spoiled for choice in every category.  Furniture, cosmetics, Electronic goods and all the capital investments that go into a new home are relatively still cheap because mostly everything is Made in China. The awesome part is you can always return goods, no questions asked for up to 90 days!
On Gadgets
Thanks to the technological advancements here, most happening products such as the iphone, ipad, e-readers, Wii, GPS Navigators and other cool gadgets get first released in the US, and then trickle down much later to India.  It’s pretty cool to be connected on 3G everywhere and the large number of wifi hotspots there are.  I can’t wait for 3G to get to India and download books on my Kindle e-reader as easily as I do here.   Browsing the internet is a pleasure, since the ultra fast speeds allow me to stream videos really fast, watch movies on Netflix etc. 
On People
People are so much more civilized here.  The very Indians who wouldn’t blink before they discarded chocolate wrappers from their car window, pick up their dog’s shit with gloved hands (that part is really ewwwwwwwwwww for me) and discard it wherever designated.  Even though the subway is really crowded, no one really jostles to get in or cause any stampede to get out.  People don’t spit on roads or consider the outside of their homes as the garbage can.  They are always polite and smile and hold doors and the smiling does not arouse any suspiciousness. Everyone is interested in sports and not everyone wants to become an engineer or a doctor. 
On Dogs
Talking about dogs in the previous blurb, US is a dog obsessed country.  I have never seen dogs pampered as much as they are here.  There are dog birthday parties, dog sitters, dog walkers, dog designer clothes, prams for dogs, beauty products, cosmetics, and accessories for dogs, dog beauty parlors, dog restaurants, dog toy shops, dog playgrounds…It really gets disgusting the amount of pampering that goes on!
On Sports
One thing that is apparent is the evident enthusiasm of everyone in sports.  Each match is attended with gusto and the subways overflow even when there are obscure local matches and there are Cheerleaders for most matches. Even the sports Americans play are different from what the rest of the world plays.  While the world calls Football, Football, the Americans call a game they play with their hands, as football, and the actual football is relegated as Soccer. And that American Football is actually almost like Rugby, but with extra protective gears, helmets and padding. I’ve heard few Europeans call it a sissy sport.  While the world played cricket, they invented Baseball.  In Baseball, they have something called as a World Series in which the local teams compete with each other and the winner becomes a World Champion! No wonder many Americans think they are the world in themselves and everyone else is an alien! Thankfully, basketball which is another popular game here is still the same.
On Roads
In India I used to look left and then right before crossing.  By the time I realized my mistake, I shifted here, and I now look right and then left which is like all other things opposite to what it is in India.  I guess I can attribute whatever misfortunes I might have to the curses of the motorists in both the countries!  However, the roads here are truly beautiful.  The infrastructure is simply superb, the highways are a pleasure to drive on, and connectivity is great. And the good news is there are good clean restrooms to stop by.  That is so very difficult back home to find! It is sad that we can boast of a few good highways, such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.  Imagine all of India being connected from every village with such roads. Travelling would be so much easier.

On Natural Beauty
The country on the whole is so gorgeous and there always huge forests they call National Parks around everywhere in the country, an endless number of weekend getaways and a host of weekend activities to indulge in. With the fact that this is such a huge country, there is so much to see and appreciate.  The terrain varies from the rugged Colorado Desert to the blue water beaches of Florida to the verdant greenery elsewhere. I certainly can’t get enough of the beauty around me!
All in All
All in all, I reckon, living in each country has its pros and cons.  As I remove my rose tinted glasses to look at India, I reckon I can point out fallacies there for all my criticisms above with the rising inflation and low transparency and a million other reasons in our governing system.  Each country has its pros and cons.  While I miss the culture that I grew up in, I have grown to appreciate the country I am currently residing in.  Fulfilling the American Dream is still aspired by many, and I don’t blame them. After all, it is a beautiful country with much to explore and excellent facilities and infrastructure to explore it.  Cleanliness and less pollution add to better living. It is quite an experience to live in the multicultural vibrancy of this country.  India isn’t quite there yet, but I am optimistic, with all the leaps  taken towards development, will one day fructify and it will be a more pleasant place to live in. Right now, I reckon, I will just indulge in everything that India doesn’t offer, and then when I don’t have time to do that, I shall come back and live a life of luxury with maids and cooks and drivers to serve me!
Categories: Americas, Other Travel Blah, United States | Tags: , , , | 22 Comments

Grand Mosque photo blog – Part 1 – The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

This blog is the first part of a photo-series in the amazing Grand Mosques that I have seen.  This weeks blog shows the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi.

Known as the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, this mosque is the largest mosque in the United Arab Emirates. Pristine and white, it looks almost too beautiful to  be true. With shining white minarets, domes and turrets, the design is sheer magnificence.

It was a hot day when I went to the mosque (though not as hot by UAE standards in December) and the white of the mosque blazed in the morning sun. After going through the courtyard, the verandahs and looping through the pillars, we found ourselves inside to gaze on the huge chandeliers, sink our legs into the deep soft carpet and experience the peace. Without further ado, here are some pictures.

The first look

The first look

Inner Courtyard - Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Inner Courtyard – Sheikh Zayed Mosque

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque - Fantabulous Domes, Turrets and Minarets

The Sheikh Zayed Mosque – Fantabulous Domes, Turrets and Minarets

Ornamental Pillars - The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Ornamental Pillars – The Sheikh Zayed Mosque

Ornamental walls and windows

Ornamental walls and windows

Prayer Hall..see the Chandelier.. touted to of the most beautiful chandeliers ever

Prayer Hall..see the Chandelier.. touted to of the most beautiful chandeliers ever

Quick tip: Visitors are allowed in the mosque only if they are covered appropriately (read fully covered clothes and a headscarf for women). Entrance for worship and visitors is kept separate so that the worshipers can pray peacefully.

Categories: Abu Dhabi (UAE), Asia | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

The Roman Colosseum and a School Project

The Roman Colosseum is one of the Seven Wonders of the world and exalted to be one of the most lofty structures ever built. When I was at school, as a part of a history project, I had resolved to build a model of the Colosseum which back then was another historical monument I had to mug up about. As we studied the structure, the windows, the shape of the ruins, the more monumental the DIY project became! I remember several failed attempts at making a simple model of this building which included foolish attempts at cutting up a bucket to get the round shape, curling up a cardpaper which looked too one dimensional, using all kinds of thermocol to no avail, creating moulds that would not break for a POP model and finally using the brilliant technique of paper mache to create that three-dimensional structure that wouldn’t collapse with a breeze! And ever since then, I have wondered how they built the real thing so well! And I guess, that little school project was one of the reasons why I always wanted to visit Rome!

But, well, onto the real thing, when we were at Rome, we wanted to save the best for the last (or a Free Sunday) to see this amazing structure. We scheduled our visit on the first Sunday of the month to gain free access to the Colosseum. Worrying about snaking long lines, we hurried to the Colosseum, a few stones throw away from our apartment bright and early and were at the gate at 8 am where people had started lining up already. 20 minutes later, we were inside after all the free ticket and security formalities were completed. We took the audio guides for the Colosseum to understand points in the building.

About an hour was enough to see the inside of the colosseum. Although much of the middle portion is in ruins, it was still interesting to imagine the gladiators of the days that are past enter make their dramatic entries into the field where the blood of many a brave man was shed. Scenes from the movies on Gladiator obviously came to mind listened to the roar of the lions and the shrieks of the victims.

We went around for about an hour, took some nice pictures and were out on our way to the next stop not before we saw the serpentine lines and thanked our stars we were well on time to see the greatest highlight of the city and the country.

Alongside the Colosseum are other historical structures – the Roman Forum and the Palatine hill.  Well, those are another story to tell. So will leave you with a few pictures of this truly wondrous structure.

The Roman Colosseum


Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

Gleaming Whites on Glimmering Waters – The Narmada

Rippling waters, gleaming cliffs, a cool breeze and imagination galore…that is what the boat ride on river Narmada is all about.

Continuing with my previous blog on the pictursque Bheda Ghat near Jabalpur, a trip here is incomplete without a boat ride on the river Narmada. This was a boat ride unlike any other I had ever taken before.

Boat rides have always been fun and more so, if the views from the boat ride are scenic. Some memorable boat rides I have taken were the river Hudson showing off the glamorous skyline of New York, the river Potomac in Washington displaying pretty Cherry blossoms in full bloom, and the Chicago river cruise to see iconic buildings and bridges. On Indian lakes and back waters, common sights are people washing clothes and bathing on the banks of the river, trees swaying in the wind, little villages on the banks and farms on the banks of the rivers. The Narmada ride showed me none of these! It instead showed me what I had never seen before…

We glided into the tranquil waters of the Narmada away from the noise of the dock and as the boatman rowed us away, we entered magical waters, tranquil and sublime. Gone were the farms and villages. No scenes of washing clothes and bathing assailed us. As we floated down the ethereal river, large cliffs and mountains loomed large…no ordinary cliffs, but cliffs of solid Marble. As we went deeper inside, the marble became whiter and the cliffs higher.

The Marble rock formations were the highlight of the day and as we floated down the waters, the rock formations assumed interesting shapes left to our imagination and interpretation. In some formations we saw the Nandi bull paying obeisance to Shiva on another rock. A tiger loomed large on another rock while a hermit in marble sat meditating on one more. As we went further along, the boatman and guide became more and more animated as he regaled us with tales of Bollywood romancing (on) the river. It was a mercy that the river had been spared largely by litterbugs and the river was mostly clean with strict instructions from the boatmen to not dirty their livelihood.

The 50 minute boat ride takes tourists to the Bandar kodini point where the rocks are so close that a monkey can jump from one cliff to another.

This boat ride can also be taken at night. I can only imagine how heavenly it must be to be on shimmering waters, with glistening marble cliffs, a starry sky, and a full moon…

Here are some pictures..


The River Narmada


Rock formations on the River Narmada


Between narrow marble cliffs

The River Narmada

Gliding along the River Narmada


Rock formations on the River Narmada

Categories: India, Madhya Pradesh | Tags: | 6 Comments

Wedding bells and River Warbles

Top post on, the community of Indian Bloggers

It was wedding season and a big gang of us were visiting the city of Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh for a fun wedding.  North Indian weddings are usually in the evenings leaving the day free, with the main wedding going on till wee hours in the morning. We reached a day before the wedding after a long train journey from Mumbai to Jabalpur. After a night of partying at the Sangeet a day prior to the wedding, we decided to visit the nearby Bheda Ghat and see the river Narmada.

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Categories: India, Madhya Pradesh | Tags: | 10 Comments

Rome: The Galleria Borghese

Villa Borghese is one of Rome’s favorite gardens and the famous Galleria Borghese is situated in these picturesque gardens.

A long wak in the Villa Borghese

A long wak in the Villa Borghese

I have to admit that I am not an expert at Art at any level and neither do I claim to understand much of it. But I do appreciate all the Art in its myriad forms. Italy with its bounty of museums and cathedrals was certainly a place I eagerly looked forward to exploring.

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Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Towering high in Dubai

Tall buildings. Tall buildings, Tall buildings. Well. Those were the things foremost on my mind when I visited Dubai for the first time. After I left, I realized, Dubai was a mélange of so much more than just TALL BUlLDINGS!

Towering high

Towering high in Dubai – As seen from the Dubai Marina promenade

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Categories: Asia, Dubai | Tags: , , | 11 Comments

A wrong turn that led to the right place – The Piazza del Popolo

On the way from the Spanish Steps to the Galleria Borghese which was our next stop, a long walk that had taken the wrong direction took us to some right places. On the negative side, we ended up walking far more than we bargained for, but, on the positive side we chanced on a few things that we enjoyed too…but now isn’t it true, that you can always see more and more, the more you explore!

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Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , | 8 Comments

The Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain

The Spanish Steps

We decided to visit one of Rome’s famous landmarks – The Spanish steps. The subject of several movies that made it popular, these steps are one of Rome’s many symbols. While the tourists went to see the steps themselves, for the Romans it is a popular shopping hangout.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in a Roman Holiday courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Let us start at the top of the Spanish Steps.

At the top -start at Piazza di Trinita dei Monti.  The Church of Trinita dei Monti that dominates this square is a French church in the city built in 1503 and modified over time. Earlier, a slope brought people down to the square below before the steps were built.

And now about the Spanish Steps themselves – You may want to ask why are the Spanish Steps in Rome?  Well, the Piazza di Spagna or the Spanish square at the bottom has the Spanish Embassy which was based there since 1967 and therefore the name. The steps were built by Francisco de Sanctis as a result of a contest held by Pope Innnocent XIII after arguments of over a 100 years on how to build the steps! The staircase has 135 steps and is the widest staircase in Europe. The twelve flights of stairs built entirely in Travertine by Fransesco De Sanctis between 1723 and 1726, widen and narrow in varied stages but in line with rococo architectural concepts.  You may be tempted to eat on the Spanish steps, but please don’t! It is forbidden and you don’t want to pay a hefty fine!

Spanish Steps Top Down

Spanish Steps Top Down

A horse carriage ride anyone?

A horse carriage ride anyone? ..Although the poor horse can’t open his mouth and has an eye patch.

The Piazza di Spagna is the square at the bottom when you descend. This square is more of two triangles like an hourglass and not really a square! If you look up the Church of Trinita dei Monti looms large in the backdrop of the steps as you descend making for a picturesque setting. There are also side ramps or more stairs that run alongside.  At the center of Piazza di Spagna is the Fontana della Barcaccia set against the backdrop of the steps. Unfortunately this fountain was all covered when we were there and we couldn’t see it. Below is a  picture though.

Fontana Barcaccia, The Spanish Steps and finally Church Trinita Dei Monti..all in one pic! Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Fontana della Baraccia I mention above means ‘Ugly Boat’. It was built by Pietro Bernini (father of the more famous architecht Gian Lorenzo Bernini). This boat is a representation of a sinking boat leaking water at the stern and prow.

Let me let you into a secret now. For all the romanticism around the Spanish steps, I only found hype. It was a crowded place, with all the room on the steps taken with photographing tourists. A few horse carriages and the portrait artists at the top were nice. But what was nicer was to escape the hordes into smaller alleys near the steps with little restaurants and gelaterias.  Well, if it hadn’t been for the huge number of steps I have climbed to reach the top of various temples in India, I might have found the Spanish steps a big deal. They make for many a postcard of Italy and should be best enjoyed at wee morning hours or late night before the hordes of tourists descend on them making them pretty invisible in the throng.

The crowded Spanish Steps

The crowded Spanish Steps

We went to the next famous place nearby- the Trevi fountain, with more anticipation after the initial disappointment at the Spanish steps.  The fountain was no doubt the grandest I have ever seen in a fountain, but..Alas! It was being repaired and was reduced to a shadow of its real self and amidst all that scaffolding, I could barely gauge the magnificence that it was. It is supposed to remain closed till October 2015. But here are a few pictures I have sourced for you to see it in all its true glory –

The Glorious Trevi Fountain courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain in its caged glory

Next: How we took the wrong turn but got good surprises.

Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Richa Roams in Rome!

I’ve got to admit first that I have been really wanting to use the title I did! And now for a series on the Roman Holiday…

It was a fine September day when we landed at Italy from our flight from Mumbai to Rome via Cairo on a Egypt Air flight. Although we craned our necks looking out over Cairo to spot the pyramids, Alas! we saw nothing but the desert and dust! Thankfully SSS wasn’t too uncomfortable during the flight and barely troubled us!

There is a 3.5 hour lag in Italian and Indian time. By the time we reached the apartment we had booked, it was night in India and SSS was asleep. Our kind host at the apartment where we were staying had arranged for food and milk for her and even a baby cot for her. Tired out, as we were, we were fast asleep before we knew it as we looked forward to the next day.

So much to do!

I have never been a fan of ‘places to see’. What I do live by though is ‘places to experience’. However, looking back, I realize Rome is one of those places where you want to see everything and experience it all as well! And it can get mighty difficult to balance it out unless you stay there for over a month! Be it long walks in a quiet neighborhood each different from the other, explore authentic Italian food places in Rome, do a wine tour, travel in the trains and buses and live like locals, enjoy the melodies from the quaint churches, watch the pigeons flutter at the fountain…All the ‘experience’ is challenged by the need to run from one Roman pillar to another Roman post..from the Vatican city to the Colosseum to one museum after another..and yet, there is still so much to do and see that it gets overwhelming. So in this blog, I am going to tell you how best you can experience the city and see some of it as well!

It was a chilly morning as we started out after a home-made breakfast. We were off to see the Spanish steps, the Gallery Borghese and the Trevi fountain in our itinerary.

Walking around and first impressions

We decided to walk to our destination. As it turned out, it was quite a long walk, but one that we really enjoyed. The vibe of a place can be best felt through a leisurely walk through it.  We ambled along smelling the coffee and fresh bread smells that wafted through cafes, passed joggers who had finished their morning jog, and ofcourse hordes of tourists referring to maps like us and looking around in wonder. We noted some of the crumbling architecture of Rome, how the new and the old buildings co-mingled- none , the better than the other. Outside seating of restaurants were being set up and looked inviting.  We passed a couple of churches on the way, passing those little fountains on the way. It was hard not to stop and look at every insignificant place that looked interesting and to cut a long walk short, we walked for over 2 hours for what should have been a 45 minute walk!

Fish Fountain

Fish Fountain

Colorful buildings.. old and new

Colorful buildings.. old and new

Roman Alley

Roman Alley

Chasing pigeons

Chasing pigeons

Buildings Buildings



Tip – Airport transfer: For the airport transfer we just took a taxi although there are cheaper options of using a bus or the train. It cost us €48 which was about €20 more than we would have paid for other modes of transport. But well worth it considering we were tired out and weren’t in a mood to lug the luggage looking for the apartment!  The Leonardo Express train leaves every 30 minutes to the central Termini station and costs €14. The Terravision bus is another comfortable option and costs only €4 but leaves less frequently after every 60 minutes.

Categories: Europe, Italy | Tags: , , , | 8 Comments

Travelling with a Toddler: Part 3 – Sightseeing

Continuing the ‘Travelling with a Toddler’ series, here is the concluding part on Sightseeing and everything else you need to know.


Most developed countries have decent footpaths and walkways, so it is a great idea to carry a pram (stroller) while you sightsee. It is very likely that you will be out for long hours, and your baby may be able to sleep in it. A good quality stroller that has a good suspension system for bad roads and one that reclines fully and half way for her to sleep comfortably is an absolute must.

You are going on a vacation with your kid. Don’t just visit museums and churches that she understands little of and will be impatient to leave! Also take her to the nearby park, the beach or wherever else she would enjoy too! Ask the tourism office for kid-friendly places and they will tell you a host of places. We took SSS to little parks in the neighborhood wherever we were, lounged around in open squares where she enjoyed playing and gave her space and time to enjoy her vacation too!



Other pointers

  1. The most important of them all – Go slow! If there are ten things you need to see in 2 days, rest assured you will be able to do only 4 or 5! Either extend your trip or prioritize the places you want to see. Between your baby’s nap times, food times, play time and tired time, you certainly won’t be able to see it all! You can also consider splitting a few places with your travel partner such as climbing 400 steps of a cathedral where it may not be a great idea to take her. Let him see what interests him while you look after the baby and you see what you like while he takes care of her. And..we took her up those 300 odd steps in St Peter’s Basilica and I don’t know how I made it!
  2. First aid/Medicines – Talk to your pediatrician and find out what medicines you should carry if required in a foreign country. Also carry the receipts for these if they are required in customs.
  3. Pack light – It is highly probably that your kid’s bag is heavier than your own with extra clothes, toys and diapers! You need to compensate by packing light for your own baggage!
  4. Buy at your destination – Don’t pack what you can buy at your destination. Such as extra diapers apart from those you will require while travelling and for a day more, certain food stuff etc.
  5. Time zone changes – For a substantial difference in time zones you will have to give her two-three days to adjust to a new timezone. Manage your schedule accordingly.

I hope this series was helpful if you are planning to travel with a kid. Although, as someone said, it may scare others into not travelling with a baby! Happy Travelling!

Do check out my other two articles on Travelling with a Toddler –

1. Travelling with a Toddler – Travel

2. Travelling with a Toddler – Food and Accomodation

Categories: Italy, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

Travelling with a Toddler – Part 2: Food and Accomodation

Continued from my previous blog on Travelling with a Toddler – Part 1 where I talk about how to travel/commute with a toddler.


Coming on to the next important thing is food. You may be giving your baby only homecooked meals and don’t want to subject her delicate tummy to restaurant food everyday. Can you do that on a trip out? Yes!,To a certain extent you can. It is simple. Don’t book hotel stays. Book home stays with kitchen facilities! That is what we did and I could give atleast 1-2 home cooked meals before our tour and after our tour ended for the evening to SSS.

If you are travelling internationally, you may want to carry a few basic ingredients from home that may not be available where you are travelling and even small cooking vessels if they are not readily available. I carried a small pressure cooker which we used for her food for all our stay, some wheat flour for rotis and Indian spices. You can visit a local super market and buy a few basic vegetables, and plenty of fruits too.  This is when it is not a bad idea to use all those yummy baby food jars that are available in the market. Also carry baby cereal that can be instantly made with hot water. I carried a couple of Cerelac flavors.

Milk:  Carry formula milk or breast-feed if you are staying at a hotel. If you have a kitchen or a microwave, you could even buy milk from a super market if that is what she drinks. While you are out and it is time for her milk, the easiest way is to pop into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of warm milk for the baby. It is that simple!

Lastly, don’t overdo the home cooked food! You are on a vacation and so is she! Let her enjoy some cheesy pasta and pizza too! And a little Gelato or those candies won’t hurt either!

Candy in Italy

Candy in Italy


Food and accommodation go hand- in-hand, since I have recommended you stay at home-stays with kitchen facilities. However, the kind of place you stay at is important too. If you would like to stay in a full fledged hotel instead of a home-stay, then you need to make sure it is kid-friendly. We booked most of our stay through for fabulous home-stays where we had the whole apartment to ourselves in lovely neighborhoods.

  1. Make sure that the hotel staff can cook baby meals for your baby and will sterilize any milk-bottles you may need.
  2. Ensure that the hotel is clean.
  3. You don’t want to tire out your child with excessive travelling, and may want to explore options that are nearest to your sight-seeing places so you can hop down quickly for her to have a peaceful nap.
  4. Kid facilities such as a swimming pool, small garden and a place with activities for kids will be nice too!

Do read my other two articles on Travelling with a Toddler –

1. Travelling with a Toddler – Travel

2. Travelling with a Toddler – Sightseeing


Categories: Europe, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Travelling with a Toddler – Part 1 – Travel

Many of my friends have lauded me for being ‘brave’ enough to travel with a toddler. Now, obviously I had my personal selfish reasons to be ‘brave’ enough to undertake the trip, the chief one being fulfilling that wanderlust that had been kept at bay for a good 1-2 years during pregnancy and till she grew old enough to travel!  And the fact that she didn’t require a ticket (atleast not till she turned 2) didn’t play any role in me not waiting for that trip to happen!

To all such moms with toddlers who may fear undertaking that long trip outside home, it is really not all that difficult! But yes, a lot of planning needs to be done to ensure that all goes well and the little one is at ease.

For starters, think about a few major things and how you need to tackle each one of them.

  1. Travel
  2. Food
  3. Accommodation
  4. Sight-seeing

Inflight travel with a baby:

Before the flight

  1. Inform the airline that you will be travelling with a baby beforehand. They may provide you with the first row seats with more leg space and a bassinet for her to sleep in. Trust me, your flight will be much easier with that extra space during a long flight.
  2. Travel bag – Make sure you carry several diapers, wipes and a couple of changes in clothes. Dress her in some layers for flights can be cold.
  3. Entertainment Entertainment Entertainment! If you think if you require that during the flight, think about that restless toddler who needs it at all times in her waking hours! Those old toys are not going to be entertaining enough to keep her at her seat. And you can’t pack large toys either in your baggage. So, shop and pack several small treats that will keep her busy. Package them all so she spends time opening each one and getting surprised! Give her a new toy only when she gets bored of the old one! Some suggestions for toys to take on the flight are small cars, key chains in various shapes, small board books with pictures, small nesting toys, flash cards, colorful necklaces etc. If your kid is old enough, you could take a coloring book, puzzle book etc s well. You will ofcourse also be able to use some resources at hand such as the inflight magazines, the food tray table, the opening and shutting window shades, and hopefully co-passengers who will entertain your child!
  4. Food – Think about what you will be giving your kid to eat in flight. Carry a home cooked meal for atleast one meal. You can also carry cereal for which the flight attendant will be able to provide you hot water with incase she does not like the food served during the flight. Cheerios, cheese-links, pulpy fruits, and biscuits can be used to satiate hunger pangs during snack times as well. The key is to carry only food she likes!

Engrossed in the world of animals!

During the flight

  1. It is a great idea to travel during her nap time so she sleeps through some of the flight atleast.
  2. Take-off and landing times can be challenging for kids and babies with changes in air pressure. Give them something to suck on or eat so they keep swallowing thereby causing less discomfort in their ears
  3. Entertain her through the flight. When she really gets bored of sitting, be prepared to walk up and down the aisles with her when they are not busy

Other modes of transport with a baby

I would recommend train travel to bus or travelling by car for long distances since a train accords more space to move around and is faster as compared to traveling by road.  If you have to travel by bus be prepared to sit in cramped seats and face her tantrums or hope she falls asleep during the bus journey!

What are your experiences if you have traveled with a baby or toddler? Share them in your comments…

Continued in the next part here..

Categories: Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , | 18 Comments

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