Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “May, 2014”

Reminiscing about Roland Garros

The second Grand Slam of the year is underway and I could not be more excited! I doubt I’ve mentioned what I do when I’m not travelling or cooking, but my day-time job is of a sports journalist. And where would my specialisation lie? Tennis of course!

Guess what that is!

Guess what that is!

I don’t think I can remember a day when I haven’t heard the word tennis. Some statistic, some gossip, some childhood memory, some obscure video or book simply an article about a player. Associated with the sport since I was about four, it’s been a long long journey… from the courts to covering from the other side… it never tires.

Beautiful day isn't it?

Beautiful day isn’t it?

Anyway, getting back from all the rambling, I can’t help but feel nostalgic because last year this time I was roaming about the street of Paris, eating crepes sitting on the banks of Seine, admiring works of art at the Louvre… But among the few days I spent falling in love with the city, I took one whole morning off to visit Roland Garros. And when you have an all-access pass (well, somewhat) how can you not enjoy the second Grand Slam of the year!

Which way?

Which way?

Situated in the suburbs, it took me a while to reach Port d’Auteuil, the stop for Roland Garros on line 10, from where I was putting up. About a 15-20 minute walk away from the metro station exit ‘Roland Garros’, you come across many people who love the sport as much as you do. I met this rather determined old lady with a walking stick walking towards the Stadium. “Je na parle pas L’Anglais,” she smiled pointing towards the entrance. With a mattering of broken French I figured out she’s been going there for over 20 years now.

Flags in the sky!

Flags in the sky!

As the roads began to get crowded, I knew I was getting closer. The little tennis ball and racquet stickers on the side walk act as guiders. I was told to waltz in and ask for the pass kept under my name. They turned out to be the florescent wrist bands which are reserved for player guests among others. That was fun!

When you walk into Roland Garros, you realise just how small the area is. I mean I knew it wasn’t as big as Wimbledon, but for years what you’ve seen on television and when you actually stand there – there’s a major difference. But there’s no dearth of atmosphere. The air is charged with excitement, fans move about carrying large tennis balls which will be shortly filled with autographs, tennis officials looking smart in Chanel-inspired outfits giving instructions – it’s everything a Grand Slam should be.

Roaming about

Roaming about

I made my way to Bullring or Court 1 to catch up on the matches. The stadium is so tiny that you feel the red clay is at your feet (Watching a match from the player box does have its perks!). It was a gorgeous feeling. First up was India’s very own Sania Mirza partnering Bethanie Mattek-Sands. It was a good match but I was longing to look around the stadium. Before I knew it, it was time to explore.

That's Court Suzanne Lenglen!

That’s Court Suzanne Lenglen!

I played tennis thanks to my grandfather. Since the age of four, I had heard tales of the importance of Davis Cup, how the French Musketeers surprised the Americans in 1927, the exploits of the likes of Helen Wills-Moody, Bill Tilden, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson… I heard it all. And I would dream. Dream of one day witnessing it all. The replica of the Davis Cup stands tall as you walk to look for souvenirs. I tried to imagine how things were in 1928. Very different to the giant screen or children slurping on ice lollies I’m sure.

Yes, I'm feeling a bit smug!

Yes, I’m feeling a bit smug! (notice the wrist!)

The little florescent wrist band allowed me certain privileges – like walk down the east tunnel entrance into Court Suzanne Lenglen over which stands the legend’s sculpture, barge into the players area (unfortunately Roger Federer wasn’t playing that day) and watch Serena Williams on the red clay. It was something I had been dreaming for a rather long time.

The bas relief of the legend - Suzanne Lenglen

The bas relief of the legend – Suzanne Lenglen

Apart from the three stadiums – Philippe Chatrier, Suzanne Lenglen and Court 1 – the rest of the 17 courts are open to the public. After a quick bite and a Roland Garros photograph (I was such a tourist!) I went to the open courts to check up on proceedings. Since this was the second week of the Slam, the juniors were showing off their calibre on the red clay. There’s something so magical about the clay sticking to your white socks, I mean it feels real. Yes, this is the French Open.

Court Philippe Chatrier

Court Philippe Chatrier

It was Serena’s defeat which suddenly triggered this memory. Well, I did see the American live in action last summer! Anyway, after a whole day of fun, frolic and laughter (and learning new French words) it was time to head back. But somehow as I walked back to the metro station with the canopy of greens sheltering me, I knew I would be back one day. I only wish it’s sometime soon.

The red clay against the blue sky - almost poetic isn't it?

The red clay against the blue sky – almost poetic isn’t it?

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Heartbreak at the Killing Fields

I knew what I was getting myself into. I love the travel, but the single greatest joy I get when I’m on the road is learning. Be it learning the history of a community, a local recipe, the joys and sorrows of people I meet on the way or even a new hangover cure. History fascinates me, it always has. We are because of what we’ve learnt. Or not.

The area is tranquil today, unlike in the late-1970s.

The area is tranquil today, unlike in the late-1970s.

There I was standing under the shade of a tree on a hot summer day, amidst the desperate cries I kept hearing in my head. Men, women, children screaming in pain, hoping against hope for a miracle when the sickle hit their skulls. The audio guide kept telling me to move from one spot to the next, but it took me a long long time. I was at the ‘Killing Fields’, a few kilometres away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh.

You make your way in a tuk tuk via many turns and corners to reach Choeung Ek. One of the most prominent killing fields discovered after the Vietnamese invasion, the area is serene and peaceful. There’s a sense of quiet all around, of unknown pain.

Green and quiet. There's a sense of calm

Green and quiet. There’s a sense of calm

I sometimes wonder what made Pol Pot what he was. He was educated, a teacher at that, and yet Khmer Rouge chose to dehumanise humanity on the pretext of creating a self sufficient community. A country which was so rich in tradition and steeped in history, everything was wiped out in a span of four years.

It’s a pretty big area, the Killing Fields that is. There’s a little museum which details the rise and fall of the gruesome regime. It has pictures and uniforms depicting the true picture. You feel so angry and helpless, you really do. Your ‘why’ joins the millions of others who have thought the same for so many years.

As you listen to the audio guide and move from one spot to the other and feel the atrocities that were committed, the one which broke my heart was where little babies where killed. How can anyone be so inhumane?

A commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims and the weapons used

A commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims and the weapons used

You listen to horror stories from survivors. Each story leaves you gutted. Someone killed for bananas, someone for wearing spectacles. Is this what humanity is about? Killing one another? The audio guide signs off by saying that the world must learn to prevent such genocides. But do we actually learn? Bosnia and Rwanda prove otherwise.

I’m from India, a country which for hundreds of years had been dominated by different rulers. Visiting Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar or going to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans had left me drained, feeling miserable. But what I felt standing at the Killing Fields, looking at the weapons and skulls, was something different. Something needs to change. Something has to change for the better.

Looking back, falling in love with New Caledonia

That's a gorgeous view of the ocean isn't it?

That’s a gorgeous view of the ocean isn’t it?

It had been a long long journey. 19 hours to be precise. Two transfers and a lot of waiting around drinking airport coffee. But the moment the plane started to hover around a tiny patch of green, my eyes adjusted to the sight and a sigh escaped from my lips. “C’est l’aéroport,” said the portly gentleman on my right, drinking his beer. I smiled, I was finally about to land in New Caledonia!

On the drive from Tontouta to Noumea

On the drive from Tontouta to Noumea

I had never heard of Nouvelle Calédonie to be honest but when I got the chance to visit the tiny French overseas territory in the southwest Pacific Ocean in the summer of 2012, there was no way I could pass up on the opportunity now could I?

I couldn't wait to dive into the clear blue water!

I couldn’t wait to dive into the clear blue water!

To reach New Caledonia, one has to fly into La Tontouta from Australia, the quaint little airport in Grande Terre. The runway is nestled between hills covered with every possible shade of green. As the plane landed, my heart skipped a beat. The beauty around me had captured my imagination and I was in no mood to let it slide.

I was staying in Noumea, the capital. It takes over an hour to drive there from the airport. But the long-winding journey is worth every minute. It’s so peaceful. You see a second vehicle on the road maybe every 10 minutes. The shades of green and brown change colour every second as you drive down the highway. Soft music playing in the car just adds to the romance of the idyllic drive. I was in love, at first sight.

Which way do you want to go?

Which way do you want to go?

If you stay in the heart of Noumea, wake up really early to go for a run. It’s quiet and the blue of the sea is astounding. Joggers are already out running by the boardwalk while swimmers are getting ready to jump in. The sea calls out your name and before you can think, you become one. It’s heavenly.

Walk amidst the greenery in the heart of Noumea

Walk amidst the greenery in the heart of Noumea

Now, imagine this. You’re in the Pacific on an island. What do you eat? Well, I devoured fresh prawns and squids, lobsters, scallops and salmon with relish. But surprisingly, I didn’t really find good fresh fruits you would expect.

Heaven on a plate

Heaven on a plate

Is it weird that I had the best Carbonara in Noumea?

Is it weird that I had the best Carbonara in Noumea?

DELICIOUS!

DELICIOUS!

Just look at that! Red, green, brown and blue in harmony

Just look at that! Red, green, brown and blue in harmony

One day I was taken to the interiors of the island. Nickel mining is one of the main sources of income in New Caledonia. You go through the dusty red roads, pass innumerable little springs and waterfalls to reach the mines. It’s a different kind of beauty there, very rustic. There’s no sound except of your own breathing. The winds sing you a song, asking you to embrace what lies before you – the majestic natural beauty.

Crossing many streams...

Crossing many streams…

Gushing water, singing over the rocks

Gushing water, singing over the rocks

View from my hotel! Just imagine!

View from my hotel! Just imagine!

That's the race course by the way, in the heart of Noumea

That’s the race course by the way, in the heart of Noumea

I had to bid adieu to Noumea after three days of lazing around, swimming and eating delicious food (I worked a bit too, promise) but surprisingly, I didn’t feel sad. Instead, the warm and friendly smiles from the locals, the cheerful laughs and ‘bonjours’ are so inspiring, that somewhere in my subconscious I knew that I would go back one day. In those three days I still feel I left a part of me on that island, to search for which I would have to return.

Walk along the water in the evenings. There is good nightlife for those interested.

Walk along the water in the evenings. There is good nightlife for those interested.

Don't worry I'll be back... one day...

Don’t worry I’ll be back… one day…

Important tip: Currency used is French Franc. 1INR = 1.45XPF

5 Ways to enjoy a Pattaya getaway

When friends heard I was planning a trip to Thailand, firstly they all warned me about the protests. But knowing me, they realised I would never listen. Secondly, most of them told me to head to one of the islands instead of going to Pattaya. One said ‘it’s horrible’ while the other ‘it’s so crowded’. Well yes, considering it has beaches and is a tourist friendly area closest to Bangkok, do you expect to not find tourists?

Pretty pretty water at the Pattaya Pier

Pretty pretty water at the Pattaya Pier

I spent three days in Pattaya and let me tell you, I enjoyed myself crazy. I like to party but I enjoy my peace more. I would prefer to laze around on the beach, swim till I’m tired to move my arms and then drink coconut water all day long. If you’re looking for a good beach holiday, follow my tips and head to Pattaya. You won’t be disappointed.

Stay on Jomtein beach, away from South Pattaya
It’s only about 10 minutes away but the difference is astounding. On one hand you have tourists spilling out of bars with loud music blaring and on the other, less people and almost-empty streets. Sure there are tourists and if you walk up to the Night Market there will be music and a young crowd but overall the place is peaceful. I stayed in a little guesthouse about two minutes away from the beach. Let me tell you, the rooms are fantastic, clean and spacious.

Water near the pier. Jomtien beach is just a tuktuk/taxi ride away!

Water near the pier. Jomtien beach is just a tuktuk/taxi ride away!

Early morning swims
Set your alarm for about 6am. Wake up, slip into your bikini/trunks and head straight for the water. It’s absolutely divine. You’ll have the whole beach to yourself, so swim to your heart’s content or sunbathe in the morning rays. For the non-swimmers, take one of the beach chairs or spread the towel on the sand and read, listen to music or sleep. No one will disturb you.

Private beach? No just empty!

Private beach? No just empty!

Waiting to jump in! Sans the camera of course!

Waiting to jump in! Sans the camera of course!

Visit Koh Larn
The nearest island near Pattaya has six beaches. I headed to Samae which is on the other side of the pier thanks to tuk tuks plying regularly. Called the Coral Islands, one can try adventure sports or just simply laze around drinking coconut water or a beer or two. The journey into the pale blue waters will be rocky so be careful but once inside, the sea is warm. Eat fresh seafood after a tiring swim and sleep. There’s nothing better than a lazy getaway.

Taking the ferry to Ko Larn

Taking the ferry to Koh Larn

That's my idea for a relaxing, lazy beach day! At Samae beach

That’s my idea for a relaxing, lazy beach day! At Samae beach

Yup all that after a swim!

Yup all that after a swim!

Gorge on street food
Thailand has great food. In Pattaya, instead of heading to a restaurant or pub, why don’t you try the scrumptious delights the street vendors or roadside eateries have to offer? From Thai green curry to squid to fiery hot Tom Yum soup, there’s something for everyone. Try plenty of fruits which are sold almost at every nook and corner and for dessert, have a freshly-made crisp crepe smeared with Nutella!

That's chicken Thai green curry

That’s chicken Thai green curry

Squid with sticky rice anyone?

Squid with sticky rice anyone?

Hot hot Tom Yum soup from a roadside eatery

Hot hot Tom Yum soup from a roadside eatery

Delicious deep fried goodness! Took me forever to decide which ones to try!

Delicious deep fried goodness! Took me forever to decide which ones to try!

Don’t leave without a foot massage
After long tiring days of walking on the sand, lazing in the sun and eating like its Christmas, why don’t you end the relaxed getaway with a foot massage? About an hour long and costing 150-200 Baht, its so so relaxing that I often dozed off! With oils and magic hands, hot stones and scrubs, the foot massage sessions are worth every baht!

There are flowers everywhere! Take out some time to smell them!

There are flowers everywhere! Take out some time to smell them!

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