Ubud Essentials

The promised Ubud post is finally here! I will get straight to it.

Where to stay:
Ubud is a lovely town about an hour (+30mins) from Denpasar. Aptly named the cultural hub of Bali, Ubud has plenty to offer from indie art shops to white water rafting. That said, the main attraction is the Monkey Forest and I recommend staying close to it for the simple reason that it opens into the Ubud Market. There are two entrances to the Monkey Forest – essentially you can go in from one side of Ubud and get out from the exit in the local market. We stayed on the quieter side but the walk to the market (a narrow lane around the forest perimeter) took just 7 minutes. You can check out the property here. It’s a big house with a lovely garden, an open shower in the upstairs bedroom, a quaint balcony and a beautiful view of the rice fields.

Food:
Though I am a vegetarian and on my way to becoming vegan, I recommend a nice long walk in the Ubud Market if you are looking for cafés with a good music scene. I recommend drinking local – I did enjoy their local beer (Bintang) despite harbouring a strong preference for pale ales. There’s a cute corner restaurant at the entrance (non-market) of the Monkey Forest that has a total hippie music scene. Check their board for announcements. Other than that, here are my recommended restaurants for vegetarian food near Rumah Buda.

  1. Sage Cuisine
    Address: 
    Jl. Nyuh Bulan No. 1, Banjar Nyuh Kuning, Ubud, MAS, Gianyar, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
    Phone: +62 361 976528
    I recommend: Pancakes, Coconut coffee, and Sweet Potato Breakfast Bowl
  2. Trattoria
    Address: Jalan Nyuh Bojog, Desa Nyuh Kuning, Ubud, MAS, Ubud, Kabupaten Gianyar, Bali 80571, Indonesia
    Open: 8AM–11PM
    Phone: +62 811-399-241
    I recommend: Farm Pizza, Tomato Basil sandwich (it’s a double panini, very filling, and totes-delish). The omelette is served with toast and blue-berry jam (LOVED IT!) Oh and the coffee is good too. Trattoria is a chain and you can find it in Kuta as well. The staff is pleasant and accommodating.

Definitely try the gelato parlours in the Ubud market. I recommend the local mangosteen (I liked the tea) but I am not a big fan of the local coconut flavour in ice-cream.

Shopping

  1. Dream Catchers: I don’t even know where to begin. You will find massive ones in almost every shop. For the big ones (with three rings), your upper limit is IDR200,000. If you are making a single purchase, I doubt you will be able to command this price. So try to club it with something else. They generally quote IDR350,000 for these.
  2. Earrings: The tiny ones just bigger than studs in sterling silver are quoted at IDR100-150000. Pay no more than IDR50,000.
  3. Kimonos: I have wanted them since I took up Japanese at age 15. When I saw how much they cost in an Asian Shop in Amsterdam, I gave up on the dream. There are two types – satin and silk (or so they say). Satin comes with a lining and is slightly coarse. They quote IDR180,000 in Kuta/Legian so if you can’t get a good price in Ubud, wait till you get to Kuta. The silk ones are soft and dreamy – quoted at IDR350,000, can be brought down to IDR230,000 after a LOT of haggling.
  4. Carved wooden idols: We have a mini elephant collection now. In different sizes. Negotiate up to IDR 100,000 for a decently sized elephant. You can also find lovely Ganesha idols along with the Buddha ones. Club your purchases for a good deal

Shopping Tip: Go when the market opens. The fewer the people, the better the negotiations. The sellers will bring the rates down if you aren’t surrounded by a crowd because they don’t want others to ask for the same price!

What to do in and around Ubud:

  1. Kintamani Tour – Covers Mt. Batur, the rice fields, a coffee plantation, and Tampaksiring. If you choose to do the hike, you will have to find a tour operator in the market. I believe you have to leave ~2am for the sunrise trek. Parking and toll cost IDR95,000 and entry is IDR80,000. You can buy lava paintings from local artists in the temple grounds. They are actually made from crushing the rocks of Mt. Batur.
  2. Mt. Agung – This is the other trek. If you choose not to do the trek, you can drive to see Pura Besakih (the biggest temple). Sarongs and offerings are compulsory if you wish to enter the temple. If you don’t bring either, you’ll be restricted to the outer area of the temple which is a total bummer after the climb. Tip! Scooters will take you up for free but will charge IDR10,000 for the ride down to the parking lot. You can pay to use the loos (or buy something from the local shops in which case they don’t charge to use the loo) but I recommend you avoid them and save yourself from a UTI.
  3. Tampaksiring – The Holy Water Temple. Sarongs are included in the ticket cost but you are not allowed to get them wet. So, if you are planning to take a dip in the holy water fountain, bring your own sarong and en extra set of clothes. Tie your hair! You won’t be permitted inside the inner temple if you don’t.
  4. Monkey Forest – Honestly, I am not a big fan of monkeys. I definitely do not like the idea of being outnumbered by animals that like to jump on you and grab things out of your hand. But if you are up for a nice long walk in a wonderfully preserved reserve, head out early when it isn’t too crowded.
  5. Puri Saren Royal Palace – It isn’t really a palace tbh. Just a small courtyard with some photo-ops. I liked the one-hour long Legong Dance. It starts at 7:30 but I advise getting there early and taking up the pseudo-balcony seats in the back. Ticket costs IDR100,000
  6. Goa Gajah Caves – Lovely landscaped gardens. Ticket costs IDR20,000. You can easily spend an hour here. Don’t shop in the market. The rates are higher than the Ubud Market.
  7. Setia Dharma House of Masks – Understated. That’s all I can say about the buzz for this place. Our driver didn’t even know about it but I insisted that he take us there. I loved it. There is no entrance ticket but a donation box is placed outside the last display hall. Beautiful gardens ♥ We didn’t sit down in the café but it looked nice. There are plenty of toilets here and they are CLEAN.
  8. ARMA – Agung Rai Museum of Art. Ticket costs IDR80,000 and includes a welcome drink. You will find artists and students creating stone sculptures and paintings in the gardens. Set aside an hour or more for this museum.
  9. Gili Islands –  I wasn’t looking to party so I didn’t go. But you can check for rates in the market. They will undoubtedly be high. Check with your hotel / hostel / AirBnB if they can score you a good deal.
  10. Massages – Plenty of options in the market. Foot massages and reflexology start at 15 mins and go up to an hour. Fully body massage is offered in 30m – 1h – 2hr schedules. Rates vary depending on establishment. I suggest taking a walk in the market while you enjoy your gelato. Ask around for rates and check hygiene before you select one.

IMHO:

  • BUY a sarong instead of renting one. Even though all travel guides (incl. Lonely Planet) and the boards outside the temples state that sarongs AND/OR decent clothes are permitted, they will insist on sarongs. I ditched my pants after Day 2 coz it was annoying to wrap a sarong around full length pants. So, wear your shorts and carry a sarong along.
  • Halve every quote like I said in my last post. Check everything you buy for tears and/or breaks.
  • Ditch the Blanco Renaissance Museum. The ticket was way too overpriced for the sparsely covered mansion. I would rather have spent more time in ARMA.
  • If you wish to trek, see the temples, and go to Gili Island budget a week in Ubud. There’s no way you can get everything done in less than 7 days. It will be way too exhausting.

Up Next: I will post the promised itinerary next. I thought it would be better to get this detailed post out first. Stay tuned, my peeps! ♥

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All things free – Paris!

Since I have been away for a while, I decided to come back with a freebie post! I didn’t make enough money in Paris to fund my backpacking trip and live a super glamorous life. But that doesn’t mean you have to forego certain joys like going to an organ concert or getting a fancy haircut!

  • Fashion Shows: Oh yes, you can actually attend free fashion shows in Paris. A 30 minute show is conducted every Friday afternoon at the Galerie Lafayette. It requires prior registration and the entry is free for up to 14 persons. You can find out the details here and reserve your place here.
  • Music Concerts: You have more than one option when it comes to music. And they are all pretty cool.
    • The American Church: The Atelier concerts are hosted every Sunday evening and you can register with the Music Director to receive updates on upcoming events.
    • The Notre Dame organ concert: Recitals take place on Saturdays at 8pm and on Sunday afternoons before the Vespers service (except on Sundays during Lent). No prior registration is required. You can attend a concert on Sunday afternoon and follow it with a book/poetry reading at Shakespeare & Co. across the street.
    • La Défense Metro Station: I lived in Courbevoie and took the metro Line 1 to work from La Défense. On Friday mornings around 7:45-8, students from a local conservatoire play at the metro station. Oh, and they are good! I am not sure how regular they are because I didn’t stop to chat with them, but may be you could do that and find out!
  • For the love of books: I mentioned that you could go to a literature event right across the street from Notre Dame. Well, Shakespeare & Co. is where you’re headed. Check out their upcoming events here. I am pretty sure they have something every weekend.
  • Haircuts: Sounds too good to be true, eh? JCB charges women upwards of 40 euros even for a trim and for someone one a shoe-string budget, that’s pretty steep! I actually resorted to trimming my own bangs and accidentally cut more that what I was supposed to ! So, here’s your solution. Toni & Guy Hairdressing Academy gives you free haircuts and you can find out about it here.

If you like this freebie post, don’t forget to share it with your peeps coz hey – spread the freebie love ♥♥

Travel stories – the good and the bad (1/3)

Hola my peeps! I have been AWOL from both sites for quite a bit. Blame it on the working life. Bombay weather has been meh! While I lay in bed dreaming about the streets of Prague and slowly battling the onslaught of flu, my mom asked me if I had any particularly disheartening experiences while travelling. I think I’d like to include the good with the bad. So, here goes.


Lille, December 2014

This is my absolute favourite town in France. On the border of France and Belgium, in Flanders, this delight of a town draws from both cultures. There’s Belgian fries to gorge on and more boulangeries than you’d ever need.
This was my first overnight trip and I had never travelled solo before. I was walking around the town with my nose in the map. Lille is one of those few scattered towns in Europe that has its own Use-IT map. I had decided to figure out everything without stopping for directions from the locals. I was doing pretty great (barring a few wrong turns) but 3 people actually stopped to ask if they could help me. Oh and one of them was a pizza delivery guy who stopped his bike, got off, and offered to help!

Frankfurt, August 2015

Despite my unwavering love for everything German, this city didn’t quite live up to my dreams. I was travelling from Berlin to Frankfurt and reached quite early in the morning when it was still dark outside. I was still sleepy and it took me a bit of time to figure out where I was. The bus depot is a little further down from the Hbf and the city sort of ends there. There was absolutely  no one on the streets and I later found out that it leads into a dangerous red light zone. I needed a general sense of direction and approached an old man. He’d come to pick up his daughter who was about my age. Both, the man and his daughter, blatantly ignored me and walked away quickly. I thought it was exceptionally rude because I was a young girl with a backpack who spoke fluent German and looked more sleep deprived than dangerous.

Paris, December 2014 

I was stupid enough to go to Porte de Clignancourt for some flea market / artsy shopping on Christmas morning of all days. The one thing you must absolutely keep in mind when going to places like La Chapelle, Clignancourt and Anvers (Sacre Coeur) : hold on to your bags! Also, watch your back. Yeah, that’s not a joke. Once you get out out of the Metro station, come to a set of crossroads that spread out like a circle. You have to walk past a Burger King / Mc Donalds and an array of shoe shops before you reach the flea market. I noticed a guy smiling at me from across the road. He was going in the opposite direction so I didn’t think too much about it until he was suddenly next to me. I had crossed on to the other side and was moving along the circular path so I couldn’t figure out how he was suddenly so close by. Anyway, he kept following me until I ducked into a shop. I had to hide in the trial room to get rid of him but that didn’t seem to work. I nearly ran back to the metro station. Well, I got followed by a different guy from the La Défense Metro station to my home in Courbevoie. I ended up watching Frozen in bed to get over the experience.

Nice, January 2015 

I was actually on the way back from Nice to Paris. A really old man with dreadlocks, dressed in Asian clothes (think Nepal or North-eastern India) gave me a toothy smile. I smiled, nodded and went back to reading my book. He crossed me on his way to the food car a little while later and stopped to ask if he could get me something to eat – in perfect Hindi! It was a total jaw-drop moment for me. I did not expect anyone to address me in Hindi in France of all places – oh and absolutely not on the Riviera. I thanked him and said no but I was too shocked to further conversation. I sort of regret it now because in retrospect I would have loved to hear his story.

Amsterdam, January 2015

This remains my most harrowing experience. It was my first trip after I got the residence stamp and it was absolutely unplanned. It was the first snow of the season, and it was still dark when MegaBus dropped me off in the middle of nowhere. I followed some Chinese boys to what they said was the ‘city centre’ only to realise (after walking 4 kms in the snow) that I needed to go in the exact opposite direction. I sought help from a group of college kids who were out for a walk at 5am. They offered me some bread and gave me directions to the closest bus station. One of them offered to walk with me but I said no (I remain divided on that decision because of what happened later). While I was waiting for the bus a guy kept driving around the block in circles. He’d slow down and gesture at me, drive on, only to come back a few minutes later. I was close to tears (out of sheer fear, nothing else) when thankfully the bus arrived and I jumped on.

Paris, November 2015

Woohoo! Another one from the city of dreams. I was headed to Sacre Coeur on a blissful Saturday morning. I had just moved to Paris and wasn’t aware of the unsafe pockets in the city. When you get off at Anvers, there’s a narrow path leading up to the base of the church. It’s flanked by shops on both sides and the road itself is littered with scamsters moving cups and asking you which one holds the ball inside. I was crossing the service road just outside Anvers when I noticed a young man going in the opposite direction. Girls, I believe, have this sense which enables them to tell if something is off. I didn’t think too much but I did notice him. I was at the base of the church, about to climb the mini hill, when I realised this man was standing right behind me. [I am telling you people in Paris have passed their Apparition tests!]
“Your face,” he said in slow in English, after I’d said my usual non parle francais, désolé. “It’s very beautiful for me. Can I buy you a drink?”
For starters, it was 9:30 in the morning and way too early for a drink. And hey! I wasn’t crazy enough to accept an invite from a stranger. He went on to ask if he could walk to the church with me. I gave him a staunch no for a reply. But I was too shocked for much else. [Nothing in India had prepared me for this!] He asked for my number and I had my own Taken moment – Later, I even checked under my bed for space to crawl into. There was none and given that my Dad isn’t Liam Neeson I vowed to steer clear of strangers!

Cologne, January 2015

My first city in Germany! [A lot of firsts in this post] Cologne isn’t a popular backpacking destination given that all it has is a large number of churches. Cologne is famous for perfume (natürlich!) and Kölsch, a local brew. It is an absolutely delightful light beer that is consumed in 200ml glasses. Früh is a ridiculously famous brewery right outside the Dom. When it opened at noon, there were already about 100 people waiting to get in! I was alone which made it difficult to find a table. I approached an old, balding, pot bellied Kellner who took one look at me and said – “Because you’re alone, I make you sit at a table full of German people!” And then he proceeded to seat me with a large family of senior citizens who seemed to be out for weekend brunch. They were a joyful and welcoming lot who didn’t mind my intrusion. They asked me a few questions and were pleased with my passable German. They even helped me with a few words that I’d forgotten! The Kellner was pleased when I asked for the pale ale and even happier when I rounded off the bill adequately. When he heard me address him in German, he was so exceedingly happy that I thought he might hug me!


With that positive experience, I’ll end this post. I’ll be back tomorrow night with the second set of stories. If you’ve had similar experiences, I’d love to hear them 🙂 Both good and bad stories are welcome.

Nürnberg Attractions

This is my second post on Nürnberg. For information related to train stations, bus stations, and hostel reviews, check here.

Doku Zentrum (Documentation Center and former Nazi Party rally grounds)

All information related to DZ can be found on the website for Nürnberg museums here. Tickets for adults cost €5,00 and include the audio guide. If you choose to pay an extra €2,50 for the Tagesticket (day ticket), you can visit all local municipal museums free of charge for the duration of that day. However, this concession is not available for holders of the Nuremberg Pass.
You can take the tram#9 from Nürnberg Hbf or tram#6 from Kohlenhof to reach DZ. The Haltestelle is right outside the building.

Courtroom #600

All information related to visiting hours, and admission fee can be found here. This surviving Nazi officials were prosecuted for their war crimes in this courtroom. Their contact details :

Memorium Nuremberg Trials
Bärenschanzstraße 72
90429 Nuremberg, Germany
Tel : +49 (0)911 321 – 79 372
Fax : +49 (0)911 321 – 79 373
Email: memorium@stadt.nuernberg.de

Albrecht Dürer’s House

You’ll probably discover this inconspicuous house as you walk around the town. It is right on A. Dürer Straße if you check your map. Guided tours are available in English at 2 pm on Saturdays. For more information, check here.


Next up: DIY walking tour in Nuremberg

Nürnberg

Nürnberg or Nuremberg, in the German state of Bavaria is best known for the post WW2 trials. This city had also been the location of Nazi party rallies and laws stripping Jews of their citizenship were passed here. There was symbolic value in making it the place of Nazi demise. If you have visited Dachau or any other CC, this is where you get your closure. This stop, I believe, is a must for every student for the simple reason that Nuremberg is home to the Doku Zentrum (Documentation Center) – the former Nazi Party rally ground. Apart from the famous courtroom #600, the town offers a fort (which makes for a pleasant morning hike and breakfast spot), the house of Abrecht Dürer, and a toy museum.

Getting There:

  • Nürnberg Hbf – The central station is located just off Bahnhofstraße (A&O Nürnberg Hbf) and easily connects to Königstraße, Allerbergerstraße (Novotel), and Frauentormauer (Five Reasons Hostel). Grab a map before you exit or look up the directions to your hostel using the station WiFi.
  • Nürnberg ZOB – If you are arriving by MegaBus, MeinFernBus or Flixbus, this is where you’ll get off. Look for a bright yellow neon sign POST on an ancient building. The ZOB, Bahnhofstraße is just around the corner from the post office.

That said, I definitely recommend Megabus. Have a look at my post about planning a holiday here. MeinFernbus (merged with FlixBus) is way more expensive. My ticket from Munich to Nürnberg cost me just £1,20 and the WiFi in the bus actually worked!

Hostel Review:

I stayed at The Five Reasons Hostel on Frauentormauer. This place holds a 9.2 rating on HostelWorld and I thoroughly endorse it! The location is perfect, the staff is super friendly, the kitchen is squeaky clean and well equipped, there’s a garden in the back, the rooms are spacious with large windows, and don’t even get me started on the bathrooms ♥ It’s the complete luxury experience for a minuscule fraction of the cost. They actually have paintings and rugs in the bathrooms. Can you beat that? Also, the reception is equipped with iPads for your ease of access GoogleMaps, tours, etc. They also have a Polaroid Wall in the foyer that you can contribute to by sending them pictures of your stay.

Transport:

You can pick from the regular options – UBahn, SBahn, buses, and trams. For the most part, the town is accessible on foot. It’s really not that big. The only time you’d need to take the tram is to reach the Doku Zentrum. But more about that in my next post!

Attractions:

  1. Nuremberg Fort : At the far end of the town – way past the local market, museums, and churches – this is a short hike. You can drive up to the base. There is parking available. There isn’t much to see on the fort. It’s basically a ruin. But it’s a great place for a picnic, or a photoshoot. The top of the fort offers a beautiful panoramic view of the town.

2. Germanisches Nationalmuseum : Founded in 1852, it is home to a large collection of items relating to German culture and art.

3. House of Albert Dürer : This was the workshop of Albert Dürer, who was a Renaissance artist.

4. Neues Museum : This is the museum of modern and contemporary art.

5. Nürnberg Toy Museum : Founded in 1971, it is considered one of the most well known toy museums in the world. It is also called the Lydia Bayer Museum.

6. Doku Zentrum : What was earlier the rally ground of Nazi Party, is now a fantastic museum that chronicles the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. It is also, I believe, the only standing structure of that period associated with the Nazi rule.

Next Up: Nürnberg Attractions


Follow me on Instagram for the travel pictures with mini stories! Each post on WordPress is accompanied by many more pictures @trouvaillediaries ♥

München

When I landed in Munich, I was thoroughly exhausted and almost about to pass out in the airport lobby. I had flown three times in one single day : Bangalore – Mumbai, Mumbai – Paris, and finally Paris – Munich. Phew! I had nearly missed that last connection so my relief on having reached Deutschland was unmatched.

Munich Airport

Flughafen München is the international airport of Munich. I didn’t have to go through immigration because my point of entry into the Schengen Zone was Paris (CDG/Roissy Airport). My passport already stamped and tucked inside my bag, I was ready to embrace Germany – my ultimate love. The terminal I got off at resembled a lowly bus station. The carousels indicators didn’t display flight information and a lot of bags were just lying in a heap on the floor. Thankfully, the WiFi was good. I signed in, while I waited for my bags to arrive, and sent out my “I reached and I am OK” texts to my family. When you get out of the baggage claim area, look out for S-Bahn signs in green. They will take you underground to the train terminus. The Fahrkarten (tickets) can be purchased from the self-help kiosks. Don’t worry if you don’t speak German. They let you choose from 4 or 5 languages and English is one of them 🙂

To reach Meininger Munich, where I was staying, I had to get off at Hackerbrücke Straße. This is also the Busbahnhof and just a stop before the Hauptbahnhof. Don’t worry if you don’t have a map of the train line. All trains have a printed map just above the doors. I recommend keeping a screenshot of Google Maps on your phone / tab before you arrive in the city. Once you have reached your hostel, you can pick up a local map. The U-Bahn in Munich is pretty straightforward. You can also find the map in Google Images.

Hostel Review

I stayed at Meininger Munich which is absolutely fantastic during winter, but definitely not during the summer for the simple reason that it turns into a furnace.
Pros: Linen included, WiFi access, 24 hour reception, Walking Tours and Travel Desk, laundry room, Breakfast (charged separately)
Cons: The windows don’t open. If you are visiting during a heat wave, you will literally melt without air conditioning.

The Meininger chain is pretty famous all over Germany and Austria. I had the most amazing stay at the Meininger near Frankfurt Airport. The City Center hostel has a tiny kitchen and an outdoor terrace. It is centrally located. The bus terminus (for MegaBus, FlixBus, and MeinFernBus) is a short walk away and just next to the U-Bahn line. The München Hauptbahnhof and the city center are further down the road from the hostel. The Augustiner Brauhaus famous for its draft beer is right opposite the hostel. There is also a small bar and restaurant as an extension to the hostel.

I am covering Munich this weekend. Also included are day trips to Dachau and Füssen (Schloss Neuschwanstein). Keep watching this space for more.

Up Next: Munich in a day.

Annecy

Back to Gare de Lyon – where it all started when I made the first day trip to Fontainebleau in November 2014. I didn’t sleep for more than 2 hours because that run to Nord (Lille) still gives me nightmares. I took the RER to Gare de Lyon and was well in time for the train. I had a connection at Lyon Part Dieux and it was a one hour wait. So, I had two hours to sleep. I was quite dead to the world when my neighbour elbowed me – the SNCF staff was here to check tickets! Damn, it is amazing how my body has programmed itself to switch off when I travel. I don’t even need a travel pillow these days.

I reached Lyon Part Dieux at 9 and scoured a Relay store for food. Miracle of miracles – they had a section of books in a foreign language! And guess what I found – Bones Never Lie, by Kathy Reichs! I have no idea why she is famous in France because this isn’t the first time I have seen her books being sold here. The last time I saw a copy was in Latin Quarter and it was an old, battered French edition. I was over the moon to find a copy in English and so I bought it!

I had brought along Gone Girl to finish but I switched to Bones for obvious reasons. I reached Annecy as scheduled at noon. One smart thing that I have started doing is picking up maps at the SNCF stations. This way, your trip isn’t ruined if you can’t locate the Office de Tourismus. I always believed that they place incorrect signs on the roads so that you will never find their offices. I got proof this time! Anyway, so I picked up a map and decided to go to the lake and have a snack.

Once you get out of the SNCF station, Rue de la Gare is on your right. That is the new part of the town. The Office de Tourismus, the lake, and the old town are on your left. I followed the map and found the tourist office. It was closed for lunch. So, I went to the lake to eat my Milka cookies – my travel food on every trip. It began to drizzle so I walked back around the lake to the centre of the town. It is funny that all ice cream shops have the word “glacier” in their name. I picked up Nutella flavoured ice cream before my walk in the old town. The shopping opportunities here, I must say, are excellent! I picked up these really cute gloves with beavers on them, a scarf, a bag, and an umbrella (out of pure necessity). The rain worsened and I was forced to find my way to the hostel.

There is only one hostel in Annecy and I recommend that you do NOT go there. Sure, it is a 20 minute walk from the station and not very far from the old town. But it is the most dingy place I have ever laid my eyes upon! I have a thing against tiny spaces but that’s not my only strike against the hostel. It was small, damp, and smelly. Also, it just happened to be next to a fuckin’ cemetery. With all due respect to the dead, the non-living creep me out. I had no energy to walk in the rain to find another place to stay. So I went straight up to my room and slept. It was only 5PM but I slept so I didn’t have to think about the burly Algerian dudes in my room (seriously, why do hostels take in people over 35?) I refused to wake up until 8am the next day. I showered, picked up my bags and ran out as fast as I could.

The original plan was to go to Geneva for the day. But I found out that there was nothing scenic about the route, and also the few hours wouldn’t be worth the cost of the trip. So I decided to explore the Sunday market which btw was fabulous. If you are a local, that’s the place to buy your bread and meat. If you are a tourist, shop to your heart’s content! I bought some more scarves, a wooden box and a tray for my tea, a wicker basket, and a donkey.

It started raining again when I reached the canals and the ice cream shop from the day before. There was an Italian church just opposite to the shop so I went in. I prayed for a while before going to the lake for lunch. The panini and the coffee I had in the market was long digested. Since the rain refused to stop, I headed to the SNCF station for some respite. I couldn’t move my tickets to another train – too expensive. So I sat there watching Downtown Abbey until my train home. All in all, it wasn’t the best weekend.

For Vegetarian & Vegan Travellers

Hola! Are you vegetarian or vegan? Does the prospect of travel bring you dietary concerns?Fear not, because I have near perfect solutions for this problem. I grew up vegetarian and was vegan for a while due to health restrictions. I’ll be honest though – I have occasionally eaten meat just to prepare myself for an unpleasant event. But with some careful planning, I assure you that it is very easy to stick to a meatless diet when travelling.

If you are even a half decent cook, hit the supermarket. All hostels have fully equipped kitchens and I advise you to put them to good use. Search for a supermarket in the vicinity of your hostel and pick up some groceries. Here are some of my favourite meal options:

  1. Sandwiches: The easiest quick-fix meal and they are great to carry around.
  2. Salad: I tend to carry small plastic containers for salad. Just in case I can’t find a deli, these quick fix meals come handy. Also, supermarkets have single use salad dressings in plastic cups. This means you don’t have to carry around a bottle of dressing from one town to another!
  3. Veggies and Rice: I learned to make risotto when I lived in Paris and I was quite proud of my skills (having acquired them from Google). I understand that you can’t hog kitchen space and time to whip out a gourmet meal. So, buy some Thai or Chinese rice that is round and soft. This one usually comes out sticky and cooks pretty quickly. In France, Mono Prix has small blue packets of Thai rice. Boil some vegetables on the side and add them to your rice. Since you’re travelling, I assume you won’t have access to sauces. Just add in some onions and garlic for taste. It should do just fine.
  4. Frozen Meals: Ok, this one I do NOT recommend for the simple reason that they are expensive and also don’t taste too good. If you’re desperate, but do not wish to spend on a restaurant meal, head over to Marks and Spencer. I found an entire section of Indian meals in France. They have everything from pakodas to biryani. If you’re travelling in a group, get some frozen pizza. They are available in all supermarkets. The most common ones (in non-meat) are Margherita and 4Fromages (fromage = cheese).
  5. Cookies: This is a cheat-eat. My favourite cookies in the whole wide world are Milka Choco Pause. And before you think about all that dairy, remember that not all cookies have milk. Oreos have soy lechtin! Hide n Seek, in India, also contains soy and is perfectly vegan 🙂

If you’re worried about recipes, try out Yummly. This fantastic website is also available as an app on Apple and PlayStore.

If all else fails, and you decide to eat out, check out HappyCow for vegan and vegetarian dining options near you. This website helps you find vegan and vegetarian restaurants, delis, and supermarkets based on your location! It also lets you key in a city / town so that you can look up dining options before you arrive. How perfect is that?

Versailles

Versailles is huge and you absolutely need a full day to take it all in. If you decide to go on a free Sunday, I strongly recommend getting there before the invasion of the masses (read tourist buses). I found a really easy way to get there. Turns out that the T2 tram behind my apartment building (Direction Porte de Versailles) drops you off at Musee de Sevres, and from there you just have to reach the bridge overhead to catch Bus 171 that goes to the chateau. Easy-peasy, right? This saves a lot of money, train changes, and waiting time.

I got there just before 9 to see the masses arrive. The €13 ticket includes the audio guide but unlike Fontainebleau, this one isn’t GPS enabled. So, you will have to search for the number cards and key them in. The tour begins with a glimpse of the Royal Chapel and then progresses to the Grand Apartments. The opera is open only to private tours but you can catch the organ concert in the Royal Chapel in the afternoon during select periods. Check out the Chateau’s website for more details. If you decide to attend the organ concert, approach the Information desk  outside the entrance to the Royal Chapel and ask them for “Concert” sticker. Only a limited number of seats are available. I stopped at the gift shop before continuing to the Petit Apartments. The exit from the Petit Apartments leaves you behind the palace and in the grounds facing the fountain and the approach to the Grand and Petit Trianon. If you are not interested in walking, you can take the golf cart trains.

I bumped into a group of boys in the square inside the palace. They asked me to take a picture for them, and conversation ensued. Bombay people always connect. We decided to cover the grounds together. It was drizzling but not enough to dampen our enjoyment. The grounds are huge and require a fairly decent bit of time. I don’t believe all of Versailles can be seen in one day alone. We explored a few trails that Chaitanya Krishna (the photographer) and the other dude (their un-official tour guide) insisted on.

I insisted on going back to the Chapel for the concert. Btw, there is a limit to the number of people who can fit inside. So, make sure you pick up stickers at the information counter before you proceed to the Petit Apartments. Also, once you are in the grounds, the only way to go in is to re-enter the chateau. This also means you need to re-do the security check.

It was almost 5:30 when we were done. And since it was winter, it was already getting dark. The boys were put up in Evry (Paris ka Virar, as Rishi put it) but La Defénse would take longer so I decided to call it a day. Retrace your steps back to the city; it’s quite straightforward.

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Up Next: Mont St. Michel

What’s in your backpack?

Packing sensibly goes a long way when you are a solo traveller. You don’t have the luxury to borrow from friends/family and everything you forget to pack just adds to your expenses (in a foreign currency!). I call myself the queen of lists because I make massive ones every time I shift base. Start making a list as soon as you have finalised your travel date. This will give you a long enough period to get organised. I tend to travel light on weekend breaks but I pack a proper bag when I’m travelling for longer than a week.

First Aid
I cannot insist on this enough. I tend to walk an average of 6 hours per day when I travel. Even with the right kind of footwear, this can cause sore feet or cuts from sunburn. Also, you never know what you might come down with. I have had wisdom teeth coming out for the past few years and the pain comes without any warning! Pack cotton, gauze, a few band-aids, Q-tips, and an assortment of pills (paracetamol, painkillers, etc.) It might be a good idea to carry a doctor’s note certifying that those tablets are prescribed.

iPad or a Tab
I am completely against technology on a holiday but this is a really handy tool that has been my saviour in multiple countries. It’s much easier to carry around than a laptop. Need to book a hostel for an upcoming weekend trip? Walked into a coffee shop and need to access google maps? Want to reserve your place in a tour? If these aren’t reasons enough to carry your tab, remember that a lot of tickets these days are validated with a barcode scanner. It’s much easier to keep them on your iPad. It also helps save the battery in your cellphone. Hostels do have computer terminals but (i) the charges are steep, (ii) you can’t access them from your bed, and (iii) no privacy!

Stationery
Yes! I carry a few coloured pens, highlighters and sticky notes. Why? Because I like to mark my route on the maps. It can come handy when you are doing a DIY Walking Tour.

Mini Bathroom Kit
Heard of travel kits? They are sets of palm sized containers that can be used to re-bottle shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc. Most pharmacies and supermarkets have these in their makeup section. It is absolutely unacceptable to carry a 600 ml shampoo bottle on a backpacking trip! Pack a scrub or a loofah. Being on a holiday doesn’t mean you compromise on personal hygiene. I also recommend hand and foot creams for the simple reason that your hands and feet suffer a lot on the road. Oh and before I forget – sunscreen! I use a dermatologist recommended SPF40 cream and yes, it works! You can buy it here.

Forget-Me-Nots
These are an assortment of things that I tend to remember at the last minute when I’m about to leave the apartment. Cellphone charger, spare DSLR batteries and memory card, power backup, eye-mask, and my toothbrush are just a few of them. Make your own list and stick it your fridge door so that it serves as a constant reminder. Another acquired habit is to check the weather forecast. For example, it was nearly 37 degrees Celsius in Munich when I arrived last August. And no, being Indian doesn’t prepare me for that kind of heat. Pack hand gloves, socks, sunglasses, etc. – whatever you can’t live without. I am a big fan of water pouches. You can understand why they make a great travel accessory.

Clothes
If you’ve read about the KonMari Method, you know how to fold your clothes the right way. But the most efficient way to fold clothes into a backpack is to roll them into balls. Nothing will create space in your bag like tightly rolled balls of clothes. If you end up buying ceramic or glass (yes, shot glasses) souvenirs, just insert them between the layers of your clothes. Don’t worry, they’ll survive the bumpy ride on the carousels. While we are on the topic, I recommend carrying at least two bath towels. They dry slower and it’s just good planning to have an extra one on hand (I speak from experience). You can usually buy washing machine liquid in hostels so don’t carry that along unless you are on 6+week trip (then it’s economical).

I carry a medium sized Quechua backpack and a small cabin bag that can be used when I walk around in the city. I am against hard, wheeled cases because they occupy a LOT of space and are also a pain to drag. Walking around with a backpack that’s roughly half my size (a German policeman had to help me get it on my back once) was tough but I got used to it. I also can’t do without my travel pillow. I used an inflatable one initially but moved on to a shape-changer. What this means is that a small zip at the back allows me to reshape it into a regular rectangular pillow! This comes handy when you need a little extra support and your hostel pillow isn’t fluffy enough. Or, imagine that the seat next to yours is empty, giving you the opportunity to curl up and sleep. I bought it in Paris and haven’t found anything similar in India. But keep an eye out, will you?

PS – This isn’t an all inclusive list. Let me know if you find something that should most definitely be included. Until then, pack well and travel safe 🙂