Sharmi on the Trot

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Archive for the tag “travel tips”

Experiencing Midsummer Celebrations in Estonia

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The beautiful rooftops of Tallinn.

“This is so strange,” AK pointed out. “It’s difficult to imagine going to sleep at bedtime in complete daylight!” We had just met and struck up a conversation in the Tallinn hostel. Our bodies felt tired and sleepy but with no darkness descending, our minds were confused – to retire or not.

My sister and I who visited East Europe last summer, unknowingly found ourselves in the middle of Midsummer celebrations in the Baltic countries. Honestly, we don’t pour over travel guides or spend hours on the internet searching for details about the places we planned on visiting. We do the obvious bit like figure out how expensive are the tickets are and where can one stay. Barring that it’s spur of the moment situations and going by local recommendations.

As Midsummer approaches in 2017, my mind can’t help but revisit those beautiful Baltic memories.
(Read: How I Learnt To Balance Technology And Travel In Hungary)

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The Old Town Square in Tallinn has flea markets on certain days of the week.

Estonia is simply beautiful filled with natural beauty. It’s well worth the early morning budget airline flying and spending a night on the cold floors of Stansted Airport. If one weighs the options – leaving cold and rainy London behind for warm sunshine and 24 hours of daylight, the cold night on cold floors is well worth it.

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Cobble-stoned paths in Old Town Tallinn

“Roam around guys. Enjoy the coffee and experience the weather,” is how the hostel-in-charge put it. The afternoon was hot and sweaty which came as a surprise. Walking along cobbled pathways in the Old Town we found quaint alleyways to explore and the clear blue sky with cotton candy clouds greeted us with warmth. It was somewhat hard to believe we were in a country which for years was just a name on an atlas.
(Read: 5 Ways To Plan Your First Europe Trip On A Budget)

Most people in Tallinn around this time (June-July) are tourists. Locals are usually at their summer houses celebrating the event with beer and meat. St John’s Day or Jaanipäev is a big deal. With almost 24 hours of daylight and official holidays, midsummer is celebrated with gusto by every citizen. The eve, usually June 23, is the day when everyone celebrates with dances, folk songs, bonfires, games and barbecue. One of the best places to experience an authentic and traditional celebration is at the Open Air Museum, a bus ride away from the Old Town.

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The entrance to the Open Air Museum. The place seems huge doesn’t it? It is!

The Open Air Museum itself is huge. Touching the shores of the lake, there’s so much greenery that one can often let one’s imagination run away. For visitors, its an insight into how people in the area lived in the olden times. There are recreated structures of huts and living quarters, of agricultural utilities and everywhere there are signs clearly explaining Estonia’s past.

During the Midsummer celebrations, the performers liven up the Museum. There are small skits happening in different parts, while singers and dancers show off their skills in an open space. Locals sing and dance along as tourists get a taste of Estonian culture and watch the shows. In today’s day of technology, however, mobile camera phones are everywhere filming those memories. It’s the smell from the food counters that ensure long lines are formed, each waiting to taste the mouth watering local delicacies. An boy it’s worth the wait. The salad and potatoes are well roasted while the meat is tender and juicy as you bite into it. Glasses of Kvass keep the throat well moistened.
(Read: Eating My Way Through Spain)

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Outside an exhibit at the Open Air Museum. See the girl in the red jacket? That’s the younger sister and travel partner!

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The Bonfire is an integral part of the celebrations.

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Traditional Estonian performances at the Museum.

After spending some hours soaking in natural beauty and experiencing traditional Estonia, it was time to head back to our hostel. “Did you guys have fun?” we were asked. Nodding in affirmative back at the common room, travellers formed a circle as Midsummer stories were shared over pints of beer. There was no night as the natural light kept us company till dawn.

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Traditional Estonian food washed down with Kvass.

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How I Learnt to Balance Travel with Technology in Hungary

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

I sat in front of the Chain Bridge in Pest and stared at my phone. It was a hot summer day and being a Sunday in the middle of the tourist season, Buda looked at me invitingly from the other side of the Danube. I was sitting on the party side of the Hungarian capital while the historical hilly portion kept telling me ‘come visit’. My phone had blacked out for the second time during my Eastern European sojourns this summer, absolutely refusing to come back on. And instead of soaking in the historically rich city, I was wistfully gazing at the black screen, hoping against hope to see the start up icon pop up just to ease my racing mind.
How did I manage to get to this point? How did I get so dependent on technology that it seemed impossible to function in the initial panic-stricken moments?
In a constantly evolving world where technology and travel go side by side, can we ever imagine doing things the old-fashioned way? The long phone calls to hotels, going to the Tourism bureaus to check out the brochures, standing in line at the railway stations to book a ticket other than in emergencies, gathering paper maps and neatly folding them along the creases, consulting with the weather forecast in newspapers before a journey, deciding on what books to bring along and the selection of cassettes for the fashionable walkman, buying rolls of film for the camera…
Looking back it seems so long ago. Almost ancient isn’t it? As I staunchly tried to resist major technological changes for a rather long time (I wasn’t on WhatsApp till about two years back which friends called a foolish thing to resist) sitting on a bench along the Danube in Budapest, I wondered if I could balance technology and travel today.
When we make travel plans, applications or Apps are our friends. From the route on the map to where to stay and eat, purchasing tickets to packing according to the weather conditions, reading and listening music to pass time, noting down directions to taking pictures which last a lifetime, everything can be done on one device. And when the device fails, we are at a loss. We panic.
Also Read: Loving Amsterdam on a Budget 

On the bridge

On the bridge

Technology has definitely helped us to be better travelers. We know exactly how long it will take us to reach the destination. Instead of folding sheets of paper, navigation can be done in real time. The best hostel/hotel deals on websites and apps help us fix a budget as do notifications of airfare sales. All it takes is a bit of research to find amazing deals. In fact, I found a lovely hotel absolutely last-minute at a steal near the bus terminal. I wanted to stay around the area thanks to an early morning journey. In money matters, a credit or debit card with net-banking helps with instant transactions instead of cashing in travelers cheques. There’s so much of travel advice on the internet (which also helped finding the hotel in Budapest near Népliget) that helps one decide and focus on how to go about a holiday or even giving everything up for some years to see the world. Careers have been made out of travel blogging and I too had thought would join the bandwagon and live a nomadic life. It is fun I assure you because I’ve met so many of them on my travels around the world. But then there are problems too, like any other profession.
Also Read: 5 Ways to Plan Your First Europe Trip on a Budget

The cars drive on the bridge

A car drives on to the other side

I was in London this summer and to my utter surprise, I found people depending on their phone to navigate the city much more than anywhere else I’ve visited. I was standing at the edge of the Jubilee Walkway at Trafalgar Square and wanted to walk to Hyde Park because the weather was sunny. If you’ve ever visited the UK, you know how rare that is. I deliberately refused to use Google Maps and just asked a passerby if I was on the right path. She took out her phone and of course, Googled it. “Better yet, take the tube,” she exclaimed, giving me directions as to which station to get off at. Do people not notice anything on the streets if it’s not online? I was in London for a week and managed to give correct directions because I was looking up and taking mental images where to turn left or right!
Also read:  Living it up in Paris on a Budget

A view of the Danube

A view of the Danube

But while technology definitely helps, I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost our sense of adventure.
Do we need to know every single detail of a holiday? Do we need maps to tell us the shortest route? Must be depend on food apps to find the best places to eat? Must we note everything down in our phones or tablets and not on paper?
Also Read: Stumbling upon the Royal Cemetery in Bangkok

I can see Pest!

I can see Pest!

Personally, I think it’s wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips. It’s time-saving and very useful when on the go. But on the other hand, I love getting lost in walkways on cobblestone streets, I enjoy stumbling upon little eateries where locals gather and stories are exchanged, I look forward to sitting and reading a paperback somewhere on a park bench, dozing on the green grass, finding a local pool and jumping in, meeting and talking to people from different cultures to share ideas. Nothing ever beats human contact. No amount of using technology can ever replace that.
It’s all about balance at the end of the day. I still use my trusty notebook to jot down addresses and names in case I don’t have wifi to check my phone on travels, I still sit and write down adventures with a cup of coffee by my side and not worry about my laptop crashing and losing all memories. I do use a digital camera and make sure I back up pictures immediately. While I carry mostly cards, I ensure there’s enough cash in hand in case an ATM refuses to dispense. I firmly believe in walking, asking around and checking actual paper maps to locate places rather than use online ones. But when it comes to scoring cheap tickets, I don’t think I’ve been to an agent or tourism bureau in years.
So I stopped panicking. I looked over to Buda across the Chain Bridge. It was a long walk to the other side. I put my switched-off phone into my backpack, took out a paper map I had brought along from the hostel, brushed the dust of the back of the jeans and set off. I was going to enjoy my day without the help of my state-of-the-art phone! It was time to get to know Budapest better.

A view from Buda

A view from Buda

Australian Love: The Sydney Edition

I had a dream. I dreamed of a great beach, the waves crashing against the rocks, surfers showing off their new stunts while I jogged along a six kilometer trail as the seagulls called out my name. The jogging bit never actually happened, but going to Bondi beach sure did!

A childhood friend lives in Bondi. We’ve literally grown up together. From school to boys, make up to careers, we’ve discussed everything over the last 24 years. It was only after her constant messages to join WhatsApp did I actually take the plunge! I probably had a jogging dream because she has become such a workout-a-holic!

At Bondi with Minnie!

At Bondi with Minnie!

Having visited Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast this summer on work, I took some days off to jet set to Sydney. And it just so happens that a favourite cousin lives there with his lovely wife. So pretty much my trip was all set really!

With Abhik dada and Atreyi. (Try the gelato in Brava Trattoria, really good)

With Abhik dada and Atreyi. (Try the gelato in Brava Trattoria, really good)

I landed in Sydney early morning and took the subway into the main city. Now, with all its wonderful qualities, I fail to understand why authorities would go out of their way to make it tourist unfriendly. There’s nothing called a daily or weekly pass with which you can travel the city. If you buy one of those passes, you would have to specify the distance and so, your ticket would not be valid if you decide to get down at the next stop. Nevertheless, it didn’t deter me. I was in Sydney for god’s sake!

This time I transformed into a complete tourist. Atreyi (my cousin’s wife) and I went for long walks on the Harbour Bridge but not before trying to walk on the cyclists’ path first! The Opera House is so much bigger than you imagine really. And the seagulls, they somehow don’t like us much. They attacked us as we were digging into our fish and chips! Get this, just us, not anyone else eating with gusto the same fish and chips!

The Harbour bridge

The Harbour bridge

The gorgeous Opera House

The gorgeous Opera House

Then, I visited Minnie at Bondi. Oh my god, I fell in love with the beach! Well, the eye candy isn’t so bad either, just saying! The beach is gorgeous. It was still cold when I visited so a swim was out of the question. But just walking along the sand, the jogging trail, sipping coffee looking over the beach… it’s a different experience altogether. You must visit Bondi if you ever find yourself in Sydney.

The famed fish and chips at Bondi

The famed fish and chips at Bondi

Oh Bondi!

Oh Bondi!

Now, I visited on the weekdays. We crib in Delhi how everything shuts by 11-12 and there’s no place you can go for a late night drink, but guess what. People are asleep by 10 there so shops shut at 6! The only place which caters to ‘late eater’ would be Darling Harbour which my friend Daniel took me to. Funny story how we met – on the train to Padua from Milan. He offered to help us with the backpacks and then, we spent the day together in Venice. He’s wonderful really.

Daniel is too tall!

Daniel is too tall!

Sexy salmon and prawns at Darling Harbour!

Sexy salmon and prawns at Darling Harbour!

Now let me warn you dieters, Australia is not a place to be in if losing weight is your goal. I love my meat but even for vegetarians, the food is so delicious that you end up eating more than your tummy can hold! The health conscious Aussies are really big on fresh produce and quality meat. If you like cooking, you won’t leave a grocers shop while your eyes light up looking at the fresh food for sale. No wonder television producers back home have suddenly gone big on Australian cooking shows. Matt, Gary and George have become household names while Boys’ Weekend, Masterchef Australia and My Kitchen Rules have thousands of Indian viewers. (No worries, I got to cook salmon, prawns in chilli-butter and a plum tomato salad for my cousins one evening)

Breakfast! I wish this was an everyday affair!

Breakfast! I wish this was an everyday affair!

It’ been a few months and I still haven’t managed to lose the extra pounds I packed on there, but I can’t wait to go back. Especially since Minnie and Atreyi have bonded and keeps sending me pictures on WhatsApp to make me jealous! Don’t worry Australia, I’ll be back soon, and that’s a promise.

Sydney, all lit up

Sydney, all lit up

PS: Don’t be under the impression that Australia is cheap. It’s not. It’s one of the most expensive continents I’ve been to. To give you an average idea, a fish and chips meal would be nothing short of A$12 while a Darling Harbour dinner would come to A$50 ahead. While transport in Sydney via subs is not very expensive, commuting to the airports will pinch your pockets by an extra A$10-12 dollars over the regular fare.

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