What can I say about a year which was filled with a baby‘s gummy smiles, flowers, and fulfilling a lot of dreams? That it has been incredible! or perhaps momentous. The fact is that 2017 for me has been simply joyful and it is one of the happiest years of my life till now. To begin with, our apple of the eye, baby Akash turned one and he has been a delight ever since he was born. He took to traveling like fish takes to water and has been on the move since he has 4 weeks old. Thus, he has been with us everytime we have been on the road and from India, Northern Cyprus, Italy, Spain, France, and Egypt, the three of us has been on quite a ride. So here is a brief snapshot of 2017 on the map.
We started our new year 2017 at the beautiful princely state of Rajasthan. The lake city of Udaipur with its magical floating palaces was our base and we explored the pristine surrounding countryside for a few days. On that trip, one of my long awaited travel wishes came true and I finally got to see Kumbhalgarh Fort with my own eyes. We also visited the magnificent Ranakpur temple, which was also on my travel bucket list for long and it was an awe-inspiring experience. I have seen many grand monuments during my more than decade-long travel and very few have matched the exquisite perfection of Ranakpur Jain temple. Imagine pure white marble towering clusters of temples covered with elaborate carvings and golden rays of the winter sun filtering through countless detailed columns. The light tinted the dazzling monuments with honey gold and people in colourful Indian costumes flitted about this exquisite light and shade like multitudes of butterflies. That was the highlight of that trip, and Udaipur‘s crowd, noise, and roaring local life made us cut it short. Needless to say, we did not like Udaipur much, though Ranakpur would forever remain embedded in my memory.
2017 seemed to be a year of fulfilling travel wishlists for me. On the brand new year, I succeeded in making my third travel wish come true. It came in the form of the Red Lotus Sea in Udon Thani province of Thailand and I have been aiming to see it with my own eyes for many years. This year, I finally won a coveted calendar shoot assignment sponsored by a Bangkok ad agency and the job took me on a whirlwind 2 days trip of exotic Thailand. My first location was a massive lake at Udon Thani which was covered with masses of blooming red lilies. Aptly called the Red Lotus Sea, the experience was a visual delight and I came back to Bangkok feeling extremely lucky. That assignment also included filming the Bangkok flower market, an exclusive visit to the Thai royal pottery studio at Benjarong village along with an interview of one of Jim Thompson‘s oldest silk making apprentice. An artist, who still remembered the charismatic art collector, he showed me the details which went into making fine Thai silk, while talking about Jim Thompson‘s mysterious disappearance in the Cameroon Highlands in Malaysia. If ever a travel experience can give you goosebumps of thrill, then that interview would fall into that category. All throughout our conversation, I got up close and personal snippets of Jim Thompson, from a man who had been one of his closest associates in Thailand. Maybe it was a bit embellished or perhaps as true as a grain of salt, but that interview was as unforgettable as the sight of millions of red lilies at Udon Thani in Thailand.
You may like: Pretty porcelain of Benjarong
After dedicating the first two months of 2017 to Asia, we decided to explore home turf for most of the year. In March, we embarked on a 30 days pan Europe road trip and our first stop was France. We spent some lovely early spring days at a friend‘s country house in Dordogne and all around us, lush green meadows rolled. Being spring, the weather was still unpredictable and damp, but flowers covered every inch of the land. Cherries, apples, and almonds bloomed riotously and magnolias were masses of flowers. Rhododendrons also burst out with big opened buds and rustic traditional French farms were filled with squealing newborn born animals. In France, we also visited the medieval walled city of Carcassone along with the quaint fishing village of Anglet. The shifting giant sand dunes of Dune de Pilat were the highlight of France and their sheer size took our breaths away.
Suggested Read: Mixed impressions of Carcassonne
The main destination of our road trip was Spain and we made our first Spanish stop at Figueres. Known for the mindblowing Dali museum, we headed out to the food capital of Girona where we spent some very nice days with a friendly Airbnb hostess. That was our first Airbnb experience and we have been fans of local stays ever since. In fact, 2017 helped us broaden our travel styles and we became more budget-friendly, relaxed, and organized travelers. Of course, our last minute impromptu trips continued throughout the year, but we enjoyed the pleasure of slow traveling as well. In Spain, we did a lot of driving and enjoyed vast expanses of this diverse European nation by car. Cartagena, Almeria, Granada, Cuenca, and Saragossa were also on our Spain itinerary and we were mesmerized by the magnificence of Alhambra. Food took over as the top travel experience of 2017 and we have enjoyed Spain on our plates. From sampling tapas, legs of hams, fried seafood, enormous platters of paella, to sipping loads of sangria, we have eaten our way across Spain.
Recommended Read: Things to do in Girona in 48 hours
We discovered beautiful Bucharest sometime in spring. It was during a long transit on our way to Northern Cyprus and we both fell in love with the complex Romanian capital. That was also our first visit to Romania and Bucharest surprised with its treasure trove of attractions. The city was neither like the glitzy Budapest nor rundown like many erstwhile Soviet Union strongholds, and it had an enigmatic character of its own. There was a lot of snow at the time of our visit and Bucharest‘s grand architecture of the Old Town was covered with a white mantle. But somehow, that only increased their charm and the entire city was a panoramic smorgasbord of graffiti sprayed crumbling walls, lead-colored sky, and crumbling grand mansions. Here and there were harsh glimpses of its Soviet past, expensive chic shops, and beautiful old monasteries. Though we spent only half a day there, Bucharest piqued our interest in Romania and we would return to explore this mysterious nation soon.
Check out: Why Bucharest should be in your travel bucket list ?
Northern Cyprus was a dramatic tale of the last divided capital in the world. Nicosia was rudely cut off in half by a border which separated Southern Cyprus from the Turkish controlled Northern Cyprus and the stark difference could make anyone shudder. The southern part was typically European with wide smooth roads, glitz, glamour and clean controlled environment. We landed at the southern Cyprus airport of Lanarca and cruised down glassy smooth roads until the ugly border to Northern Cyprus arrived and after that, it seemed like a complete time travel. Northern Cyprus was unbelievably beautiful, very Ottoman in its character, and was as decaying as a controversial territory could be. There were beautiful monuments, grand bazaars, castles, monasteries, beaches, ruins, and a spooky ghost town of Varusha. Would we go back to Northern Cyprus again? Yes, we definitely return to the unfortunate territory in a heartbeat, though praying to the then undivided capital. Here‘s hoping for peace and unity to Cyprus.
You may also like: Northern Cyprus Photo Essay
We began our 2017 fower trail at Belgium‘s Hallerbos Bluebell Forest. For those of you who have no idea, every spring vast tracts of a forest in Belgium gets carpeted with millions of iridescent bluebell flowers. The result is an unforgettable sight and on clear days, sunrays pour in through young neon green oak leaves on the violet forest floor in a most magical way. That short day trip made beautiful memories of a lifetime.
See the magical bluebell forest of Belgium
Our 2017 flower trail continued to Holland where we went tulip hunting. It was in April and the tulips were already on their way out. The famous technicoloured Dutch countryside was pancake flat and brown, devoid of much blooms and just as we were considering the day trip to be an epic fail, Keukenhof Gardens happened. The famous garden was crowded with excited tourists and tulips filled every inch of its expanse. They came in many varieties, colours, and sizes and it was one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen. Apart from tulips, there were a few late blooming cherries, hyacinths, narcissi, daffodils, and magnolias.
You may also like: Trailing tulips in Holland
Summer came soon after with a few health complications and our travels took a backseat. That did not stop us from taking short weekend getaways and once we went exploring the lovely city of Ghent. The grungy, lively, and magnificent Belgian town of Ghent was love at first sight for us and we spent some of our happiest moments there. The weather gods were kind to us with blue skies and sunshine and at nights a big yellow moon kept us company. In Ghent we stayed at an old convent which was converted into a posh youth hostel and we loved walking around the cobbled lanes, which held some of Europe‘s most beautiful architecture.
Check out: Ghent street art photo essay
Italy was the first destination where I traveled solo with baby Akash and we had a lot of fun. It was just before the peak of summer turned Venice (our destination) into a stinking tourist hell and we enjoyed some quality Mama-Baby exploration time there. Akash was unbelievably easy to handle and I found the Venetians to be one of the friendliest people in the world. Apart from getting awed by the iconic floating city, Akash and I visited the frescoes town of Padua, the outlying islands of Burano, Murano, and Torcello and spent one whole lovely day being beach bums at Lido. Would I travel alone with my Maverickchick again? Anytime, and whenever possible. Venice was also another destination on my bucket list which I ticked off in 2017.
BACK TO HOLLAND
We spent our end of summer making several weekend getaways to Holland. The weather was perfect for car trips and the Dutch countryside was lush and blooming. The student town of Groningen was a fun overnight stay, and I ticked off yet another on bucket list by visiting the village of Geithoorn. Known as the “Venice of Holland”, Geithoorn was pretty with its tranquil canals, flower-filled houses, and tree-shaded boat rides. On our way to Geithoorn, we saw the lesser known, but very interesting star-shaped Fort Bourtagne. Don‘t believe me on the star-shaped monument? Well, check out yourself here.
Germany took a bit of a backseat when it came to our travels and except for a striking day trip to the monochromatic village of Freudenberg, we only visited Hamburg. A gorgeous Hanseatic city, Hamburg has always been one of my favourite German cities and I love its brash, yet cultured, naughty, punk-loving, straightforward nature. We spent some very lovely fall days there feeding swans on the Alster, walking around the old warehouse area, and eating some rare Hamburg cuisine. Fishbrötchen became my daily staple and one evening, Akash and I had a lot of fun exploring the naughty red light district of St Pauli. We spent our final fall days by the Rhine at Bad Honnef, before taking the leap of faith and moving with bags, baby, and barrel to Africa.
This was the highlight of 2017 and we have shifted homes from Cologne, Germany to Cairo in Egypt. I seem to have a thing for cities which start with the letter “C” and from Calcutta, Cologne, and Cairo, it has been quite a ride. Incidentally, all the three cities bear a resemblance in their freedom and culture loving “I don’t care what you think” attitude and that is what makes me love them more. The people of all the three cities are friendly, warm, and generous and while Calcutta and Cairo are synonymous with chaotic metros, Cologne is more like a little village, where everybody knows everyone. Anyway, our Cairo move happened in October and now live in an island called Gezira right in the middle of the Nile. The river flows in front of our balcony and every day we experience brilliant sunsets and sunrises. After a few culture shocks, we have settled down in the Egyptian capital city nicely and I can even speak a few words of Arabic now. Egyptian food is to die for and on weekend we explore this massive North African metropolis. You can read more about our new life in Cairo in the brand new expat life series called Cairo Chronicles, which gives glimpses of our life here in Egypt.
THE END AND THE BEGINNING
We will be ending 2017 and greeting a whole new year at the Upper Egypt destination of Aswan. We have plans to explore Aswan, with a day trip to Abu Simbel and that will yet another long-pending item on my travel wishlist. 2017 has been a year of fulfillment and next time, don‘t pay attention when they say “Be careful what you wish for”. This year has taught me to aim for the moon and even when I missed, I landed among the stars. Have a great new 2018 folks. Wishing you all lots of love, peace, and happiness. See you soon in 2018 and stay tuned for lots of brand new travel experiences.
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RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE