"Not all who wander are lost"

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Roman Holidays

If you were to follow me on tripadvisor this article might be redundant for you, because here, I will just compile all my reviews of Rome, where to stay, eat and go.Anecdoting our honeymoon will not be appreciated by my husband. Documenting our fine and clever choices, reliving the moments and advising fellow or potential travelers of our lessons might not be as bad. So I will skip the conotations of romance and post-wedding stress and move on to my list of dont-miss and rather-skips.

Holiday Inn Express, Rome east. You want to feel like you're home, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Chicago, San Francisco, Pittsburgh...any'generic'where, go ahead and stay here. The place is like any other distant, disconnected suburbia with no connection to the heart or soul of a place.
Not to say about the transportation, but just that when you're in Rome wouldn't you want a little more character to your stay? A little more Italy, a little more Europe beyond the breakfast and the rather curt hospitality?After a rather long train ride and a dark walk back to the hotel on our second night, we moved to where we had earlier inquired about rates and were plenty pleased with the old man and his neighbors (not to say one of his neighbors sported a Steelers jacket that I couldnt take my eyes off)

Hotel Romano. Corrado Ricci. Rickety stairs up a century old building or a tiny elevator. And we had a 4-1/2th story room with a view and some major character staring straight into our eyes. I would have taken the Holiday Inn bath over this anyday. Oh well.Santo and his colleague were instrumental in getting my newly married husband to walk the city (I was already out on a limb-pardon the pun). Breakfast was next doors. Internet was unavailable and we didnt have phones. Bliss!

 Cafe 1 (next to Hotel Romano, Corrado Ricci): After a tired day, touring the Colloseum, the Roman forum and the Capitoline hill, we retired for a rather late lunch at Cafe 1. The server fluently explained that the 'hot meals' were not made at the cafe but everything else was. Loved the honesty, cared not for the information, I was hungry, just getting over a 3 day spell of major prawn allergy (trust me you dont want to know the details). Liked the food and desserts but forgot them by the next mean however I can still taste the hot chocolate and the memory that I couldnt finish it torments my writability.

 Cafe 2 (Bangladeshi server, near Campe di Fiori): By now we had discovered the sizeable Bangladeshi immigrant population in Rome, selling souvenirs, hats, scarves, umbrellas and the like, a lot of who were rather pleased to see "Asian" faces in the tourist crowds, lets just say being from the Indian subcontinent and more than that, from Royal Bengal had its perks.But at this particular restaurant--very upscale, very Italian had a Bangali usher-- very friendly about his birth country and very informative about his adopted one and mostly about the food at the restaurant. Great pork chops, good rigatoni. Cozy decor. Quiet beautiful ambiance.
Cafe 3 (Vatican): Lining the Vatic wall in the crowded cheesy souvenier-land, this 'tea room' sits with paws into tourists wallets-showcasing
some intense honor among thieves. Bad service, very bad food and very, very bad prices. Please keep in mind that this is just
another roadside cafe, nothing upscale, not a restaurant, but definitely 3X the prices from across the Tiber.

 Cafe 4: (1st night Corrado Ricci) Snotty service. Good food or so said the hubs. But brownie points for ambience. Loved the open market, the fair, the people watching.
Piazza Navona: It was the day of epiphany. The fair, the people and the harmonious haggling banter added to the awesomeness.

Trevi Fountain & Spanish StepsVery touristy, but worth a visit, especially after dark.

Pantheon: Marvel!

Colloseum: I can not explain how it felt when I walked out of the metro and it stood in front of us, luminescent. I like history, but not museums, standing in front of this was like zooming back to history hundreds of years ago...we had to wait until next morning for the tour. Definitely worth the money. We also toured Capitoline Forum, Roman Forum and as we stood chatting with the guide the pictures of knights and horsemen were coming alive in front of our eyes.

Vatican City, St. Peter's Square, Basilica, Sistine Chapel: No trip to Italy is complete without the Colloseum or the Vatican. This deserved a full day as we had given it and it sucked the last drop of energy from us to finish touring them. But it was so very worth the time and effort. The art, the history, the peace--I have never seen or felt anything like this before.

Rome was touristy all right as we were warned, but nonetheless very, very charming. The pigeons, the drizzling dark sky, the wet cobblestone, where do I begin and what doI describe? The squares lined by narrow cobblestone alleys, the corners hosting quirky stores, selling colorful pasta and offering wine and grappa tasting. We ended up spending more than we wanted. but sadly,....this is an unfinished account I never got around to posting. Apologies. Reading this still makes me happy. I hope the same for you.

India Northeast: land of clouds, tea and pepper

In a desperate exodus from urbanites, embryonic urbanism and most importantly flailing urbanoids, I booked the first flight available away from Calcutta, to the hills I had grown up to love, but, maybe this time to another face of the same slopes. A fastidious being every otherwise, I have realized that my respect is not only bountiful for Nature but I am abysmally forgiving towards serenity and virginity. The hills were calling and I couldn’t wait to leave the misgivings behind.
National Parks, tea, green rolling hills, everything about the North-east corridor has beckoned me since my childhood days, but political fiascoes, terrorism and illusory distance had kept us from answering the call. After a rather eventful flight early morning we reached Guwahati and expected disappointment that it was no better than any rural district in Bengal. Only messier. In a rented car, we stumbled along NH 37 eastwards for 230 km to the Western ranges of Kaziranga National Forest. Where the abundance of thugs is only marred by my abundance of assiduousness, it is difficult to be in peace. Nature is the only succor. We had reserved lodging in Bonhabi Resorts, which was close to the Central Range of the national park but still quite far from the entrance. While the campus was green and lush and the sun was plentiful, you were not quite in the forest so the “feel”, as my mother puts it, was lacking.


Early next morning, jostling in an open ranger car, we reached the western range for an early morning elephant ride. A rather touristy activity, it was busy with families in colorful scarves and screaming and excited kids and men with their many forms of digital cameras. After a long wait it was finally our turn to ‘board’ the elephant, a scary, tumultuous ride it was as two elephants and their ‘mahouts’ chatted side by side on a narrow slit of land dividing two marshlands. Imagine falling from 8 feet tall animal, in squishy mud and tall grass and the elephant on top of you, not a pretty image in your mind that early in your morning.

But soon the mist rising from the ponds, the light sunrays and plentiful deer assuaged my fear and negativity. Happy camper, I was enjoying the sightings of one-horned rhinos, the ubiquitous Kaziranga native. I was a kid again, excited at once, miserable the next missing her favorite toy—a basic Canon 75-300mm lens. Birds were plenteous, colorful feather flying around the swamps and perched in bushes. The deer stopped and looked at us, the rhinos in their cute shorts grazing in the sun like average cows. For the ones, more articulate with 4 legged wilderness, than with their 2-legged hairless brothers, it was heaven!

After the one-hour elephant ride, we were back to the reality of people and their commotion, a steaming cup of ginger spice Assamese tea mitigated my rising annoyance of all things I condemned as fake. Back at the resort it was a sumptuous breakfast of Puri Sabji (potatoes can do wonders!) and hours of whiling away in the sun. Something I have forgotten how to do.

Soon it was time for our evening safari this time to the eastern range, which albeit far was a bird abode. 20 km further east on the main road, we climbed dirt roads through villages, farms and backyards to reach the eastern entrance of the park—an hour-long bumpy ride with clouds of brown dust trailing us, mother and daughter stood on the Jeep rattling between the metal rods, enjoying, well, freedom.

A herd of buffaloes were lazing in the sun by the water, with a variety of swamp partridges, snow-white storks and exotic geese. At one point another herd, clumsily crossing the road, saw our trespassing vehicle and ran like coy maids into the thick of the forest. Chatty parrots flew from one bare branch to another, their shrillness evading the silence; while their cousins, the grim grey-headed fishing eagles perched on the trees created solemn silhouettes. Indian kingfishers glided brushstrokes of rich blue through the horizon as they swooped into Kaziranga waters, to catch dinner. A lone rhino was enjoying its mud bath, while its stork friend free rode on its back. It was a village of tranquility, an equilibrium set by Nature, where we were intruders with our binoculars, cameras and white noise of electronic gadgets, trying to get hold of something that we are inching away from simultaneously.
We rumbled to the shores of Brahmaputra, India’s only male river, the mythological son (putra) of the all-knowing Brahma. The soft fine silty sand had among other foot prints some very clear ones of the great Indian cat—the Royal Bengal Tiger. The water became one with the sky, except for the islands that were left bare, parched in the dry winter. Another 6 months until bountiful rains flood the banks and wash away all that winter brought in.
The sun set over fields of mustard, as we left the forest and started our homeward journey. We tumbled back in the dark to the resort, our insides growling for Assamese food.

Next day, we bid farewell to the kind-eyed elephants and soft-spoken locals as we drove west on NH37 towards Guwahati. Everyone we asked had their own sense of dimension of time and distance: Shillong could be anywhere from 180 km away to 300+, anywhere from 5 to 7 hours of tedious driving away. At Jorabhat we diverted from NH37 and went south on NH40 and entered the state of Meghalaya (Land of the Clouds). The next one hour to Shillong was cloud filled alright, but clouds of dust and diesel fumes. We kept waiting for the much reputed drive to Shillong, but the only things we saw were trucks puffing out obnoxious fumes and a dreary half-baked twisty road, lined with stores selling manufacturing parts and orange local liquor. To eyes that grew up loving orchid-lined houses of North Bengal Duars, this was unexpected misery.

Soon we reached Lake Umiam, a large ameboid lake creviced into short rolling ridges. The twisting roads took us to our resort Ri Kynjai (Ri Kynjai= Khasi for 'land of serene environs’), hidden without signs on one such hillock. Pleasantly surprised at what lay beyond the heavy brown gates, we walked into the wooden resort, aesthetically created and scrupulously maintained. Whoever said luxury was overrated, had definitely not been my copassenger on this journey. We appreciated the hot water, the comfortable bed and the tasty local comfort food. The view was a surplus that we gorged on for the next two days, and filled our pockets with to savor for a long time to come.

‘Legend has it that millennia ago the sea caressed the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas and the Ancient Khasi tribe may have been a sea faring community. They readily adopted the upturned boat roof form which is inherently capable of withstanding the harsh monsoon winds and incessant rainfall. The Cherrapunjee - Mawsynram belt, the world’s rainiest area, lies on these slopes. Being aerodynamically friendly, these upturned boat roofs were best suited to withstand the squalls and storms of the region. Ri Kynjai’s architecture, inspired and derived from the original Khasi thatch huts’ with the upturned boat roof, the intricate but minimalist d├ęcor with dry acorns and poinsettias, celebration of all things local and ethnic from Meghalayan weaving to the ‘rooster’ Ri Kynjai was comfort, spelt the right way. The herb colored Jadoh, a Biryani clone, cooked with succulent chunks of chicken or pork was a Khasi specialty, steaming with a dollop of butter, it was all we needed to crave a nap. The Khasi warmth and hospitality with a professional demeanor made up for our delirious ride up to Umiam, so much, that we decided to stay put and enjoy the lake and skip Shillong altogether.

We walked the many trails, discovering shorter pathways to the water and heaving as we climbed back up, weaving through cobwebs of ethnic spiders and bright wild flowers that bloomed aplenty, my mother bravely excavating strange berries and cute leaves that lay on the ground. We strolled through the neighboring village. Garbed in a breezy Christmas spirit, people roared up and down the road outside in overflowing cars, tribal kids dressed in their Sunday best walked back from Mass. This Christmas was special. This trip was a real escape, dodging familiarity for strangeness and strangers, a vacation from vacations.

(for more pictures, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/kolika/sets/72157625664053444/with/5287988840/)

Dunkirk: A Western New York story


My life in Dunkirk NY in pictures.

01 got there in the winter, learned how to sustain, a new place to call home 02 Gathered some wind in my sails 03 Enjoyed my solitude 04 Adopted some love 05 Learned to sail with the other boats in town 06 Welcomed spring, however binomial 07 cultivated beauty 08 enjoyed the colors 09 But I had my many layers of blues 10 Went unheard 11 curled into myself 12 Missed my flock 13 Found some golden courage lining dark, dark clouds 14 I flew high and low 15 had many a good times by the lake 16 hop skip jumped like familiar grounds 17 but some days my morale was a wounded soldier 18 shed the occassional tear 19 and I grew roots, before I realized 20 nonetheless, I stood out, in good or bad... 21 I thought about escaping many, many times 22 the Sun could not always light the omnipresent dark abyss 23 the calm was often unnerving 24 Icicles and ideas were blowing in the wind 25 a new land and a new day beckoned 26 Pondered the truth, the reason and what's beneath? 27 Finally I broke free, moved on 28 New premises are being set, new stories written, the horizon looks bright, the promises golden

28 impersonal snapshots, coordinated and labeled to commemorate 3 winters, 3 springs, 3 summers and 2 falls of sugar, spice and many things nice in the heart of Western New York.


I had been tipping a friend today on one-day must-does of Pittsburgh, and realized how much of that I have been doing lately. Given how extensively I write about trivia to short getaways, it is pure injustice to myself and my 'burgh misadventures that I took so long to write about my favorite small town.

At Pittsburgh, there are things I have missed out on, despite strong advices and golden opportunities...some of which I still try to make up for; and then there are those I have lived, some of them many times; all of which I am finally listing. But in the interest of time, I will spare you my blooming emotions (very unstreamlined-ish), and provide links instead.

Lets start with the self-misgivings.

Dale Chihuly @ Phipps

Mattress Factory

Andy Warhol Museum

Carnegie Science Center

Cathedral of Learning

Movies in the Park @ Schenley

Funny Bone @ Station Square

Now those that I did NOT MISS and implore you not to either:

Mt Washington

--the inclines

--the restaurants

Southside Works

Station Square

Shadyside restaurants

Three Rivers Arts Festival

Pittsburgh Film-makers Film festivals

Eclectic Squirrel Hill, Frick & Schenley Parks @ night

Cruise on the rivers

Kassab's on Carson

Primanti Brothers

The Zoo

The Aviary

4th of July fireworks by the river

I had the blissful times of doing Pittsburgh like a local as well as like a tourist--novice, chiseled and back to 'forever wide-eyed';
and my glass wheels are testament to the fact that there are very few ways you can go wrong with this city!

I hope you enjoy what is popularly known as the good, bad and boring in the 'Burgh! and script your own history in steel and glass.