All my tales of Arabia. If I find a genie there I will let you know. ;)
Though seriously at least the urban landscape of Arabia is so far from the Arabian Tales. I really should go there and dig up a bit so I find some of the mystery and magic that Arabia promises to any serious story listener. :)
I had just finished my first long distance cycling trip. Solo cycling & camping from Berlin to Copenhagen, 550 kms in 17 days. 17 days in the European countryside, a dreamy solitude. I was to now spend a week with my parents in the country they really wanted to visit – Switzerland.
Having enjoyed and cherished my solo cycling travels to the maximum I really wondered how I would find a similar joy and thrill in the Swiss Mountains. I usually prefer going for offbeat more quaint and unknown type of places rather than most tourist-popular Switzerland – so I was not sure how touristy this country would be. I was already unpleasantly aware of how expensive it was – having found all accommodation already booked or 3 times more expensive than most other places in Europe.Continue reading
With the ongoing 4 year civil war and the push from ISIS-islamic terror group from neighbouring Iraq, there is a huge flow of normal people wanting peace in Syria moving towards Europe. They are trying to get a bit of decent life for themselves and their families. Almost 4,000 are crossing into Hungary daily – in the hopes of getting to Germany or further and applying there for asylum.
The rules regarding applying for asylum is tricky. Europe’s Schengen – no border control zone – had a Dublin convention for refugees but the sheer numbers now have made it useless. So Hungary is in a frontline position taking in refugees – but then what?
When I was in Budapest, I went down to the Keleti station. This is where most of the refugees in Budapest amass – in the hopes of taking a train to their desired country. It is not that simple because they do not have the necessary visas obviously. The government has as yet failed to clarify any humane process for these people to follow. So Keleti station becomes a choking point every few days with thousands of refugees. The government has been making stop gap measures like sending buses to transport them to the border and so on.
Currently the Hungary-Austria-German border is open and Germany is taking in refugees but this cannot go on indefinitely.
Here I am quickly jotting down my observations of a quick visit to the Keleti train station in Budapest while I was there two days back. This is on 7th September, around 6.30pm to maybe 7.00pm. I don’t know whether it may actually help anyone but to a lot of people following the news – this may provide a glimpse into the place.
The time I visited was one of the lull phases. Most refugees had moved out and the other lot had not yet come. So this will mostly be a look at the place – some photos and little story.
Keleti station has an impressive facade and yet minimal when you enter.
The refugee area is one level lower than street level. And you can stand on the street and look down into it. Many people standing about and looking down.
I don’t know whether they were refugees or Hungary onlookers or homeless – guess a mix of all. There were also curious (and concerned) visitors like myself. Media vans and its crew added to the mix. A steady stream of public moving into the station to board trains, walking across, hanging out and also coming in with donations for the camp.
I saw these bunch of kids playing with a volunteer. They looked quite entertained and happy. It was good to see. There were also a few kids standing a bit away and they were being approached by friendly people to chat. It was nice.
I was observing when a young guy started talking to me. He seemed to be one of the refugee folk. I asked him where he was from. And it turns out he was a Pakistani refugee from Peshawar. And he claimed he wasn’t happy that I was the second Indian girl he ended up talking to today. He didn’t like India and hates Modi. I was somewhat amused and feeling weird about the situation. Of all people to meet, a Pakistani refugee and talk about India. 😀
Anyway, I asked him about his plans and he wanted to go to London. Considering the stand UK has on the refugee matter, I told him that seems quite tough, better Germany or Sweden. So far they are the only two countries who seem to be taking in refugees. Amid conversation, (what do you know!) another London born – Pakistani origin person joined our conversation. He was also just looking around like me. Anyway it was too quick a conversation to gauge exact details but it gave me an idea about how these Afghans and Pakistani refugees would be feeling marginalized considering all the attention is only on the Syrians. He had spent quite some time in Hungary – a few months I think. Already applied for asylum somewhere and gotten kicked out. Not entirely sure why he didn’t go off to Germany when the borders were open, but I sensed some more story there. But I didn’t get into a detailed conversation considering I would not really be following up or anything but I got a glimpse into complications and issues involved.
We had a light banter about how India & Pakistan were separated on a very political agenda. The London boy seemed to be telling this guy that India wasn’t bad but the politicians do a negative propaganda just so the citizens don’t look at their lapses.
In the background some heated argument broke out between a railway staff (I presume as they were wearing fluorescent vests) and an olderly man. One old fellow with some dried blood on his nose was roaming around and came and asked a cigarette from that London boy.
The children were laughing and playing in the background. And volunteers were moving about with some tasks here and there. So overall a lively scene. I liked that. A fair bit of chaos and some safety – was a good mix I felt at the time. But I think even with another 500 people the place would be packed. So thousands over there would be really chaotic. Let’s see what the government is planning, otherwise can be the beginning of a ghetto-situation. For now I felt good after seeing this place, there is a warmth created by the volunteers and friendly people who are there.
A lot of things to write, about this Europe trip which is already underway. I am lazing around at a campsite this Sunday afternoon. My tent is well shaded by surrounding trees so I can spend time in it without getting baked. 🙂
One of the common questions a lot of people have asked is Why Solo Cycling & Camping.
Here I would like to first touch upon – planning your first Europe trip. For most avid travelers including me, Europe is a dream destination. And it is not a easy one given the money, visa and work-leave requirements.
Everywhere, I am repeatedly highlighting, how important it is for a person to know themselves before doing something. Do what is right for You! This is what I did and it is what I would suggest to people when they are planning their first Europe trip.
What do you want from it? What do you enjoy when traveling? What will make it very memorable for you?
Because whatever your travel need and interests are, Schengen with 27 countries will offer it. And as per those interests you can plan your trip. Also remember, you can never do all of it! So don’t run around trying to do so many points… Just figure what you truly want from your trip and plan accordingly.
So I had only a few things in mind at first,
– no crowds
– cool temperature
– pushing my solo experience further, as this is an overall safer place for solo woman
While the first two are quite generic the third point was really challenging.
How should I push further my solo experience?
While researching I came across how big and popular the cycling culture was in Europe. It seemed really exciting and it also gave me a way to just be on the road on my own in a way that I might never do in India.
And there were many reasons why this solo cycling and camping trip idea worked for me.
– solitude : it would give me the solitude I was looking for. Away from crowds, close to nature and just on my own.
– slow travel : I am anyway a slow traveler. Spending many days in one location. This mode of transport also excited me as a slow travel opportunity through many quaint villages and towns.
– cycling : I grew up on a cycle. N after the days of childhood I never really cycled seriously but I think that something about cycling really appealed to me and felt right. I remember often as a kid I wanted to ride away on my yellow BMX. However, the traffic jammed roads and highways with trucks pounding down, quickly scared me out of this idea. I think deep down though, I always wanted to do this.
– route less : I always wanted to travel without a planned route in mind. Cycle traveling is ideal for it.
– other far off places : this way of traveling opens up possibilities of traveling the RIGHT way in many other places. Iceland comes to mind. How else would one travel in those places which are so remote and unhabitated?
– budget : and over time this might be a more budget way of traveling. I don’t know yet, only after I do my trip math will I know.
So all of these various culminated in me really wanting to do this.
I was still of course not sure because everything was new! I had absolutely no idea of long distance cycling nor camping.
But then I spoke to the only person who I knew at that time who had done such a trip. Kunal Mithrill. I had heard a barcamp talk by him earlier. So I connected with… “I want to do this kind of trip but I have many Qs. Starting from, where do I get a bike?”
From there on it was kind of easy because Kunal made it sound all damn easy. Hehe. Believe it isn’t really “easy”. But it all turned out to be quite manageable. And from there on, I just kept finishing off one thing and next, to get this trip to happen. 🙂
Another blog on stuff to do for such a trip later 🙂
PS: you can follow my updates on Fb n Twitter at #maproute
The last year and half have been a high speed, roller coaster ride in my work area. A lot of learning, growing and results. I even wrote a post about “Not on the Road but always a Traveller” – because I simply haven’t been able to travel much the last year.
Finally situations changed and I find myself planning for some hard core solo travelling in Europe! A place which I have always thought of as the mecca for solo travellers – 1 visa, 27 countries, 1st world safety and so on.
I scoured online sites and blogs, because I wanted to plan something different. Europe, especially for a first trip is a mind boggling destination. So after looking at lot of things, figuring out vague budget estimates, I had a trip sketch in mind. Now, considering that this is my first solo international trip, I thought of getting a travel agent to smooth out the entire planning.
Imagine my utter dismay, when 3 well recommended travel agents told me that I would never get the schengen visa. Two of them gave me a 100% guarantee that I will never get one. Here is why,
“Solo travellers can just go to another country and marry there”
The first Big reason they gave was because this was solo travel. Imagine after all my years of solo travelling and having this travel blog and all. Someone tells me ‘Oh, you are a solo traveller, you will never get schengen visa’
“If you are going there for a month, you might just work there illegally”
The second Big reason they gave was because the trip I was planning was longer than the “usual” 15 – 20 days. Even though the official websites state that the term for a short term tourist visa is 90 days, these travel agents insisted that I will never get a visa for more than 20 days.
“They will not believe this. The consulate staff don’t understand these kind of things”
Camping is a common culture in many European countries and I plan to camp for few days in Europe. This I also agree was a bit tricky, as we need to give a well planned & booked itinerary while applying for visa while camping is random. However the travel agents did not see this as such a big reason Because the above two are enough for a 100% rejection of your visa application anyway.
It all turned out to be Big Bull Shit.
I spent a lot of time worried and disgruntled. Because if the above reasons were true, I didn’t want to go to Europe. I have been travelling happily across India, with numerous month long trips and now when I am getting to go to Europe – I have to do a 15 day, non-solo trip!!?? No chance!
So I spoke to my friend & fellow travel blogger who has travelled some gazillion countries across the world – Snigdha Jain. She was the force behind what I did next.
She told me to “Just Apply”.
And within my family we also discussed the same. The fact was that I didn’t want to go to Europe for 15 days & that too non-solo. I would rather then just travel somewhere else. More over we just could not believe that a solo traveller would not get a visa to Europe! It is bizarre.
So I compiled everything needed from flight tickets to cover letter to stay bookings to travel insurance and so on. It was not that difficult, just very, very time consuming. And I was worried about doing something wrong. Also weighed down by all the dire warnings that the ‘well-recommended’ travel agents gave me.
Finally applied on 29/06/2015.
I had my visa on 3/07/2015.
No questions asked. No hassles. All the days I wanted.
Thanks Deutschland <3
My faith in Euroland intact.
And as to my travel plans and travelogues… well they will follow. I may not be able to blog so much while on the road, but I will be updating my personal Twitter & Facebook page with quick updates. I also have a Whatsapp group for close associates, in case you are really keen then share your number. 🙂
Oh, and if you have any suggestions on what all to do in Europe do share in comments.
So it seems I spend more time traveling than blogging because I just can’t seem write all the various blogs I plan about a place I have traveled to. In fact I have hardly blogged abt my Bahrain + Dubai trip that happened in Oct 2012. I guess that is awesome though as long as I get to travel its all cool 🙂
So here is photos + monologue = “photologue” on thoughts about Bahrain….
PffTTHhhhhhhoooooooooo… and we are off at the fastest speeds of all the roller coasters in the World! This crazy acceleration lasts only for a few seconds but its crazy! I was prepped to scream like crazy but no sound came. It was difficult to understand that it was me being hurtled at such a terrific speed! Only after the speed slowed a bit and there were ups and dips and turns that I found my voice. Ohhhh.. I can till remember the turns – they were so sharp that I thought I was a yoyo being swung around erratically! Next few days while traveling from Dubai to Bahrain and then to Mumbai every time the plane gained speed for lift off I thought I was back in the fastest roller coaster in Ferrari World!
Acceleration: 0-240km/h in 4.9sec, 0 -100km/h in 2sec
Apart from Formula Rossa there are many other rides – simulations, watery, kids zone .. over all it is a good place to spend a day for people who are into Ferrari or Ride/Amusement Parks. One of the rides was a journey through the cars machine – it is actually funny than thrilling. Lot of us sat in it numerous times just for fun! 🙂
Costs start at about 200 AED = 3000 INR.
Premium tickets are worth it because you can cut queues entirely. Since Ferrari World is on outskirts of Abu Dhabi and a few hours from Dubai we didn’t get much time in the park itself as we reached around 1pm and then had to leave by 6pm to get back on time. We stood in a 1 hour queue for Formula Rossa. We wanted to go on it again but hardly had the time! We didn’t get to do quite a few things after spending 200 AED, it may be better to spend 300 AED and take premium tickets!
The food places are pricey but all kinds of foods are available. Different cuisines, Different ambiances! We could get pure vegetarian stuff and they even agreed to make us burgers without any onion n garlic! This burger is one of the best I have had.
Ride Thrill Scale
The rides are scaled according to their thrill from 1 to 3. I found the scale very misleading….The Indian roads would qualify to be a scale 2 roller coaster if these signs were to be believed! 🙂
Bahrain is small. Really small. Driving from one side to other takes about 1.5 hours.
Bahrain is also not a tourist spot. We cannot apply for visas, someone within the country needs to invite us.
After leaving Dubai (more posts on Dubai coming soon) we landed at the Bahrain airport and it was boxy. Its the best word to describe, because after the a la grand ambience in Dubai.. I just found it small and lack lustre. It is ok though considering that the gov is not promoting it as a tourist spot! It also provided us a transit before landing in Mumbai which would have been a strong culture shock after Dubai!
From the airport we all loaded ourselves into cars and drove off to the area we were staying in… we passed through the capital city Manama. Manama has a beautiful skyline too.
Overall the urban area of Bahrain is a real mix. Some areas just feel like I am back in India. The lanes are small, cars are parked here n there without any order, there is random graphiti on the walls. Certain areas a lot of obnoxious messages for the governments have been written but are painted over by authorities. Its all clean though.. no big heaps of garbage like we find here!
Other areas of Bahrain are very posh! The grand mosque, certain highways and malls are all very international standard posh.
It is very poor. Apparently no buses, trains or any such facilities to commute. Again highlights the fact that it is not a place for tourism. Everyone needs to have their own private vehicles. It is possible to hire taxis or rent car with drivers but that is expensive and needs pre-booking! So for me from India I found it suffocating. I guess there is an innate freedom we Indians have of just being able to find decent public transport where ever we may be – metro cities or smaller villages! Kudos to Indian gov on that!
This is funny. One of those countries with a fractional currency… basically you get stuff for 0.8 Dirhams or 0.15 Dirhams. 1 Dirham is about 150 INR or around 3 Dollars. Too confusing… since I went with family didn’t have to figure too much of the currency stuff out. Apart from the numericals.. the cost of stuff is normal like we find here in India. In fact some of their markets like LuLu Hypermarket provide some real cheap deals.
Happening Indian expat population here. There are women from India who have started food business. They provide totally authentic Indian food stuffs for reasonable money! So quite unbelievably I was having traditional Indian food there which I don’t even have here in Mumbai! Such is expat community! 🙂
Places to See
Quite a few places to see here, we couldn’t see all of it due to time constraints, but will be putting up a few blogs later…
Bahrain-Saudi Border, Mesquite- Tree of Life, Man-made islands, Al Fateh – Grand mosque are some of the places to visit.
Aah big topic for the vegetarians- What food will I get there? Well, short answer its quite manageable! Better than some other countries like aforementioned Kuala Lumpur (wink)
Generally what we vegetarian folks do is identify a heavy, filling and wholesome drink. In Dubai we fixed on Hot Chocolate. In Kuala Lumpur it was Milo cause there was a major Milo culture going on there. So a big Milo would easily do at meal times! In fact takeaway Milo is so easy to consume for a traveler! No time wasted sitting and eating… just roam around with your Milo glass!
I tried various Hot Chocolates, I would have to say the Dunkin Donuts one totally stood out! It was almost like a kids-only version because it was oh so chocolatey and yummmm… I dread to even try the Indian Dunkin Donuts hot chocolate now because I don’t want to tarnish that memory! 🙂 At par with this would be the hot chocolate we had at Ski Dubai. Oooh after all the tobogganing and playing around in the snow… yummy! No. 1 hot chocolate!
Starbucks hot chocolate was quite non-descript. Nothing much to say about it. 🙁
Costa Coffee hot chocolate was quite good. I would rate this 2nd!
Lastly, Hot Chocolate from Cinnabon was also quite good. Would share 2nd place with costa! 🙂
Beware: There are three options with this drink. Whipped cream, fresh cream and marshmallows. Marshmallows sounds very good but these marshmallows probably have fish stuff in them! Its true! Just stick to fresh cream…
All the bread here at least in the cafes have egg in them so that includes croissants, quiche and practically all bakery items. I ate some of it because of sheer hunger pangs but some of my stricter vegetarian companions had a problem!
There are some veg sandwich options in Cinnabon, Costa Coffee, Nestle Total House… but I think the bread contains egg. Hehe I think I stopped asking about it after a few days! 🙂 These sandwiches however are very tasty!
What a life saver this outlet is! They serve various falafel versions found across the world in Egypt, Lebanon, Arab etc.. and humus too! Its all vegetarian (and maybe vegan)! It was very tasty too! They have a drink called mint lemonade – quite perfect for the tired shopper in the big malls of Dubai!
BEWARE, Constant Vigilance! Lot of chocolates esp.marshmallows have beef lard or Fish stuff in them! This came as a shock to me! A lot of brands which sell veg chocolates here in India have egg in them there! Aaarrggghh all ingredients needs to be checked at all times… all times!
This area is so Indian-ized that the restaurants there might even be more ‘Indian’ than over here! 😀 Not only vegetarian food is easily available here but even Jain foods which do not contain onions, garlic and other foodstuff! All the food here would of course be Indian version of all cuisines!
Since I was staying in Meena Bazar, I did not need to experiment more with finding vegetarian cuisine but I think it is manageable with some difficulty.
Almost all fast food joints like Burger King, Pizza Hut have vegetarian options, but its one in twenty – which are odds that grossed me out! Its very difficult to see all that non-veg stuff being made and then having the one rare veg item probably being made on the same stoves, grills in the kitchen as the non-veg items! So the best I think is to just stick to above mentioned options. There maybe a few other joints that I may have forgotten to mention but only a few!
Let me know if you would like to add some more food options for vegetarians in Dubai!
This Dubai- Bahrain trip I found myself woefully unprepared. Firstly there wasn’t much time before the trip what with work and usual life activities… Secondly, I didn’t appreciate the many factors that would crop up in international trips, because I am well prepared for domestic ones. So decided to make this list for readers and also for myself to keep in mind for next such trips!
Understand currency conversion well! Keep a bit of paper with conversion values like,
10AED = xx INR
30AED = xx INR
50AED = xx INR
so its easy to understand pricing with a quick look. Shopping tags will usually have very odd numbers like 186AED which is just very confusing to do mentally and on spur of moment as is needed!
It would be good to carry a calculator or use mobile calculator if possible! This leads to the next problem…
Completely unprepared for the different socket type in Dubai. As a result my mobile ended up being off most of the times. This turned out to be a major pain point also because even my camera was discharged often! So do the research and carry couple of socket converters!!
Local Sim / Phone Connectivity
For about 800 INR we used to get a local Dubai Sim but I thought it was not necessary. A mistake. Its not just about actually making calls but just about feeling connected which makes a lot of difference! Don’t under estimate how addicted we are to connectivity! Also research how to use local payphones and have the necessary card or change with you at all times!
By the end of trip I started using my India SIM with international roaming!! It probably cost me 800 INR or more….
This didn’t affect me that much, just left me mildly confused. There is a difference of only couple of hours in Dubai – Bahrain – Mumbai. Bahrain 7pm was like 11pm here… So its not about just the actual time but also how the time looks. In India there is twilight at a particular time but conditions are very different in other zones in the world at that time! I believe the time zones would play greater havoc when the conditions are more dissimilar!
Research this! Ideally if we can know the ticketing system and routes beforehand, much better! For eg: in Dubai we need to buy a card before boarding the bus, unlike the system in India. so people in my group actually boarded planning to pay onboard with cash and then had to get down. Thankfully they weren’t fined…
Dubai has great public transport but Bahrain doesn’t! I had no idea about Bahrain… So the fact that I couldn’t just stand on a street and catch some transport left me feeling even more confused and helpless like!
Internet Connectivity – A big puzzle!
All the above I could have researched on the spur if only I had good internet connectivity. International internet connectivity is however, a puzzle to crack! Few solutions I have in mind,
1. Buy local Sim with internet connectivity. Hopefully it costs reasonable!
2. Free wi-fi zones. I had counted on these but was disappointed in Dubai! Paid were too expensive so I didn’t buy, probably another mistake!
What could be other solutions to these problems? And have you faced other problems… When you go on that rare international trip?
When I first travel to a place there are a myriad topics in my mind that I could write about. It is difficult to choose and sometimes it leads to a writer’s block of a sort. I have decided to start off writing about my recent short trip to the Middle East with the very interesting Dubai Metro Line.
I have been to Kuala Lumpur. They have a pretty good metro line, but there are some interesting differences in the Dubai Line.
Ambiance n Design
Generally these metro stations fully AC, automated ticket systems, escalators and voice elevators are pretty good for an Indian! The Dubai ones however were unexpectedly extravagant! A lot of the metro stations were better than Indian five star hotels in terms of ambiance!
So it was very cool to all of a sudden step out into a brilliantly well designed platform! It would be good for people’s morale I am sure!
This was another interesting fact and it makes transport a lot easier for a tourist. Consider that a tourist wishes to go to the Dubai Mall – the largest mall in the world by metro. So generally he would have to find out which station he needs to go to and then go to the mall from that station. In Dubai the station itself is called Dubai Mall!
All station names are names of the famous buildings there! Some of the names are Dubai Mall/Burj Khalifa, Mall of Emirates, Financial Center, Deira City Center etc… this makes it a lot simpler for a tourist. These names can actually be very confusing because they are often in the native language, so Dubai seems to have brought in this subtle difference that is a big aid to tourists.
When you think about it we could easily merge the landmark n area names and make them the same. Good sense! 🙂
This can often be a major confusion. I remember in Kuala Lumpur there were like some 3 or 4 different lines and I had just given up on them! Dubai goes ahead and simplifies it admirably!
Red Line. Green Line. (Blue Line, Purple Line are yet to come). All the maps show these different lines in the respective contrasting colors and it is a lot simpler to grasp. It probably also helps Dubai’s huge expat population out by making them feel in a more neutral, not-a-strange-culture place.
So easy station names and train lines overall using the Dubai Metro is very simple. The design and ambiance makes it very refreshing too!
They have the usual braille marking in elevator buttons and clear directions. Pregnant women and disabled people have special seats and also a separate small compartment. I don’t know whether there are any more special stuff for people with disabilities because they tend to be subtle and I may not notice!
Overall good experience. Even when there is a lot of rush its all quite relaxed. You can stand, get down, get in the train without much trouble. People with prams or any special needs are very often given way and seat by people.
Often a trip in the metro just keeps you standing for the 30 – 45 mins. Most stations don’t have seats so we need to stand on the station for the train. The wait is usually less than 5 mins. Inside the train seats are very few, non – peak hours is not a problem but during peak hours we just have to stand the whole way. So especially after having roamed in the mall the whole day one just wants to sit!