To Universe, with Love

Tea: the history

Posted on November 18, 2014

 Some biology. All tea comes from a plant species – Camellia Sinensis. The tea plant is a sub-tropical plant that grows best in acidic soil in a warm and humid environment. The best tea grows in high mountains, in areas with large temperature difference between day and night, and with predominantly cloudy skies. The kind of tea depends on where its grown,  when its picked, how its dried and the oxidation it undergoes. Food Science and history is a fascinating subject for me. I always wonder how our ancestors discovered things and how food evolved over time. I have been reading books on Food History, Zen, Tea, etc. Here is a summary of what i have learnt and some interesting stories.
TeaHistory

Interesting Facts/stories

Theory of discovery of tea: water bore many harmful microbes and was boiled before drinking for safety. While boiling water in the garden, a leaf from an overhanging wild tea tree drifted into his pot—inadvertently brewing the first pot of tea.

Gautama Buddha is said to have discovered tea when a falling tea leaf happened to land in his cup one day as he sat meditating in a garden.

The monks found that tea enhanced their meditations. And over time, small tea plantations sprouted up in secluded monasteries. However, due to the isolation of monasteries, tea did not explode into the mainstream until the thirteenth century.

Tea preparation and service became elevated to an art, an extension of the Zen philosophy’s purity of form. The Japanese tea ceremony or chanoyu (literally, “the hot water for the tea”) evolved, in which the making and serving of tea is carried out through an elaborate set of procedures, each movement learned over years of study and requiring great skill and poise.

China and Japanese teas were originally in the powdered form (matcha). In the 17th century, a Chinese monk traveling in Japan brought the new rolled form of tea that had replaced powdered tea in China.

Tea was one of the first commodities to be traded outside China which opened up the ancient trade routes between China and the rest of the world.

Tea was the primary reason for the Opium Wars which led to modern day Hong Kong.

The original tea bags were hand-made, hand-stitched muslin or silk bags. Patents for tea bags exist as early as 1903.

English high society didn’t dine until 8:30 or 9 p.m. Anna Maria Russell, the seventh Duchess of Bedford, ordered her maid to bring her what we would call a snack—a small meal of bread, butter, cakes and tarts and a pot of tea—at 4 p.m. daily. It was brought secretly to her sitting room, as incremental eating was unseemly for a royal. She soon asked friends to join her—gingerly, unsure of how her extra meal would be perceived. Her friends were just as enthusiastic. When Anna Maria returned to Mayfair in the fall, she sent invitations for friends to join her for tea and a walk, and the small meal between lunch and dinner became popular. Over time, “afternoon tea” became an elaborate social and gustatory affair with sweet and savory delicacies, special “tea cakes,” and even tea gowns to bridge the fashion between casual afternoon and formal evening dress. As tea was expensive, it was kept in a locked chest, and the lady of the house kept the key with her.

Iced tea originated in 1904 at the World’s Fair in St. Louis. A tea merchant and plantation owner from abroad had intended to provide visitors with free hot tea samples. Due to the unusually hot weather, it was not a big hit.To promote sales, he asked a nearby ice cream vendor for some ice. The American iced tea tradition was born when he dumped the ice into the hot brewed tea.

Disclaimer: Not a historian. Just a tea lover reporting some interesting facts read. Please feel free to correct me if you think something is incorrect.

Tea: the accessories

Posted on November 16, 2014

To enjoy tea, all you need is hot tea. But, but, i do have a few accessories in crime that enhance the experience. Thanksgiving shopping is upon us. And gift giving is a very serious business from what i have observed. I have a few recommendations. Tea and accessories make a great gift. Its better than things like clothes or other objects that may never get used or die early deaths. For someone trying to drink less coffee and get healthier, tea and tea accessories may help appreciate the switch better. Ofcourse, you dont need any of these to really enjoy a cup of tea. Thats the magic of tea.

IMG_3435 copy

1. Gourd: Yerba Mate gourds are traditional sip-on containers used by South American tea drinkers. They are hand-crafted hollow calabash shells repurposed. Very quirky and all natural. The straw that comes with it is perforated and acts as a natural stainer. These are great to have in an office. They are very low maintenance. You are not supposed to wash with soap and let the tea season the container over time. I have one on my desk at work. And its always been a conversation starter.

2. Whisker: Powdered teas like Matcha need to be whisked into submission before drinking. This is a great present for whose who enjoy making tea as much as drinking it.

3. Cast Iron Tea Pot: This is a heirloom piece for any tea lover. Cast iron retains heat for a long time and keeps the tea prim and proper. The tea connoisseurs argue about how the pot used to make tea affects the final product. And this pot definitely is very well rated. You can find these in most Asian stores and eBay. Or in tea stores for ridiculous prices.

4. Tea ball: If you like steeping your tea multiple times, this is a good accessory to make your tea. Also, can be dropped into any coffee mug making instant tea without need for pots and stainers.

5. Thermometer: Herbal tea requires 200 degrees, green tea tastes best at 175 degrees. Black tea can handle much higher temperatures. The temperatures can be assessed by paying attention to the tea making process. Boiling water, add black tea. Green tea, use boiling water, but let it cool down just a little but not enough to loose all the vapors. But if the intended person loves cooking, having a thermo will make a versatile cooking tool that can be used when cooking other foods like meat, poultry, etc.

6. A good book: The perfect accessory that pairs well with tea, is a great book. Bonus points if its a discourse on seeing beauty in imperfection and the rustic –  Wabi Sabi. Extra points for Eastern Philosophy.

7. Great Music: Sigur Rós is my current favourite. The minimalism and the depth is just beautiful.

9. Stainer: This has to be one of the greatest accessory ever made. For the ones who don’t care about tea pots, gourds and the tea rituals … for the minimalists, all you need is a stainer. The stainless steel ones are easy to clean, don’t discolor if left over time, and are very low maintenance.

10. Pursuit of a great passion: Time to sound very cheesy. Drinking tea while working on something precious is totally the way to do it.

 

IMG_3453-2 copy

 

Many of us are not born liking the taste of tea that is served without sugar and milk. It is an acquired taste. For me, I now enjoy my cuppa without any adulteration. But i do add a few ingredients from time to time to make my cup more flavourful.

1. Peppercorns: Pepper, good for health. Adding a few peppercorns is a good way to get some pepper flavour into our diets. It pairs well with green and black teas. I let a few sit in my tea pot all day.

2. Honey: Please do not use the processed honey sold in the supermarkets in those bear containers. Manuka honey/ raw honey is great to add to morning teas as a sweetener.

3. Lemon/Orange slices: Kitchen staples like this go a long way in enhancing the flavour. A great way to get a shot of vitamin C in the morning. Pairs well with white/green/herbal teas.

4. Liquorice : This is a wonderful medicinal sweetener that has been used in teas for centuries. Its used a lot as a medicine for coughs and congestion.

5. Ginger: Let a slice of ginger soak in your tea all day long.

6. Goji Berries: Popular in China as add-ons to a brew. Now popular in the smoothie drinking population and the fitness community. High on nutritional content and touted as anti aging. These are my tea’s best friend.

7. Sour Cherries: Popular in Eastern Europe and Russia for adding flavour to tea, these cherries are a great way to inculcate some sour elements into your food. Most diets are low in this element. And it is recommended by ancient Indian and Chinese medicinal wisdom to have a balance of the five flavours: sweet, sour, salty, astringent, pungent, bitter.

8. Cinnamon: Herbal and floral teas with a stick of cinnamon is divine on a cold day. Try it before you judge it.

9. Bee Pollen: These granules are high energy sources. Are sour + tangy. Great addition to afternoon pick me up teas.

10. Dried Spring fruit: Easiest way to add flavour to any tea is by adding dried fruit/flowers. Davidson’s makes a great blend that i add to mine from time to time.

Any tea lovers out there: How do you like your tea ? 

Wellness Ritual: Tea

Posted on November 9, 2014

Now that its autumn, my favourite way to not hate the cold weather is to sip on a lot of hot tea.  “If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points” , says George Orwell. I agree. In my series, learn to cook, i want to start with tea. I am an avid tea drinker. And here are a few of my favorites i want to share. Part two will contain rituals and techniques to make tea. 

 

OpeningImage copy

 

The task of Zen, the task of Tea, is to be entirely in the moment. Dogen, in his Chiji shingi, reminds us that when we are cooking or washing the dishes, we are not to be bothered with thoughts of what we will do next, worried about the value of our stocks and bonds, or even envisioning the Buddhist saints. We are to be single-mindedly engaged in what we are doing at this very moment. In the Way of swordsmanship, the feet, hands, body, mind, and sword must all be manifested in a single stroke.

                                                                        – Wilson, William Scott. The One Taste of Truth: Zen and the Art of Drinking Tea.

 

A few years ago, i was diagnosed with ‘stomach irritation from drinking too much black coffee’. And my Chinese labmates suggested drinking tea as an alternative. I liked the idea and started trying out boxed tea bags. A year later, i met Peng Zang. Peng was a visiting scholar from China who is a practicing Buddhist and has vested interest in martial arts. He practiced many wellness routines. And these routines were very bizarre to me, but only for a short period of time before they got to me. I would see him set an alarm on the phone, that would prompt him to get up from his desk every 50 minutes, to take a walk. We would see him do some martial art-sy moves in his office, which became a spectacle around the lab. And brew a fresh pot of tea during his ‘breaks’. All these were justified because of how brilliant he was in his field of expertise. One other thing i noticed was how he took care of his heirloom cast iron tea pot and the teas he used. It was always loose leaves or flowers of sort.  And the research started.

IMG_3394-2 copy

 

Firstly, the importance he gave to movement and giving himself breaks. Secondly, the Cast Iron. Finally, the tea. There was something very earthy as well as ritualistic about using loose tea. You get to pick the quantity, quality and get creative with mixing your own blend. Pay attention to the nuances of drinking tea, which is Zen in every sense of the world ! Three years later, i have accumulated a tea box as well as some knowledge about how it should be done. To the point i fantasize about attending/hosting Japanese Tea Ceremonies.

A Few Varieties I Adore

Note: I added a few links to finding the products mentioned. American mainstream stores have over priced tea bags, which according to me are not sustainable and kill the soul of tea. There are a few places online to source great quality organic teas like Harney and Sons, Bellocq, etc. But if ordering online, you pay for shipping and taxes. Teas are native to China, Japan and India. They produce some of the best teas. If going for the non organic kind, Ebay is one of the best sources. There is free shipping by most vendors and all the links included are been tried and tested by me over the years. They are great quality for the price. Next best is local Asian grocery stores. You find the popular tried and tested kinds. The only downside is not being able to read the labels. Tag along with an Asian friend, for help.

 

greenTea copy

Green teas from China and Japan are pride of the traditional tea producers. These are the teas that are most popular in the world and has the highest sales volumes in the recent year, over taking the popularity of Black tea. Young tea leaves are picked, wilted and heated either with steam or dry cooking to kill the enzymes in the leaf that causes oxidation. It is high in anti-oxidants and is attributed to increased metabolism, weight loss, anti-aging benefits, etc. It is my afternoon pick me up that i drink after my lunch. In general, the subtle, vegetative flavor and aroma of most green tea is well suited to mild or subtly-flavored foods, such as seafood, rice, salads or chicken. This kind is my go-to easy tea. For when i want a routine and keep awake in the lab.

Shop: 1 , 2 

Genmaicha copy

 

Genmaicha is the Japanese name for green tea combined with roasted brown rice.  This type of tea was originally drunk by poor Japanese, as the rice served as a filler and reduced the price of the tea; which is why it is also known as the “people’s tea.” It was also used by those persons fasting for religious purposes or who found themselves to be between meals for long periods of time. Tea steeped from these tea leaves has a light yellow hue. Its flavor is mild and combines the fresh grassy flavor of green tea with the aroma of the roasted rice.

Shop: 1 , 2

matcha copy

Matcha is a finely ground tea powder made from Tencha leaves. It is prepared by whisking the tea powder with hot water in a ceramic bowl. Matcha is the primary form of tea used in traditional Japanese tea ceremonies. The sweet flavor of matcha is due to the amount of amino acids present in the tea and the higher the quality, the sweeter and deeper the flavor is.The art of producing, preparing and consuming this powdered tea became a ritual performed by Zen Buddhists in China. Matcha eventually became an important part of rituals in Zen monasteries in Japan and was elevated to level of high culture and skill in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, which is still the case today. This is my official coffee substitute. I add this tea to my morning smoothie. And it gives me the pick me up i need, during cold winter mornings.

Shop: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 

whitetea copy

White tea is made from the young tea bud and is the closest to the natural state of the tea leaf. It is plucked just before the leaf opens on the stem and is air-dried to lock in its color and flavor. The chlorophyll is not mature in this bud and that gives its “white” appearance. It has both caffeine and healthy polyphenols.Its less processed hence retaining more of its anti-oxidants. White tea is my favourite kind of tea ever, and i definitely think its undervalued.  My favourite way to drink it is paired with a jasmine bud. The aroma complements its delicate-body, and innate sweetness. And its smoother than any other tea i have tasted so far. Because of the extremely subtle flavor of white teas, it is recommended to pair it them with only the mildest of flavors. If paired with strong foods,  the natural sweetness of this beverage, as it will be overwhelmed by the food’s aroma. This category of tea is the most delicate one, so it should be paired only with lightly flavored foods.

Shop: 1 ( absolutely the best i found, never need to try another)

puerh copy

Pu-Erh is the original and ancient variety of tea tree that can only be grown in Yunnan, the birthplace of tea. The people of Yunnan traditionally eat a very fatty diet, but have low rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and the reasons is often attributed to this tea. Pu’erh is fermented green tea made from special broad leaf tea leaves that have a unique chemical composition, that makes them suitable for ageing. This tea is graded and classified by how old it is. It was definitely an acquired taste for me. The first sip ever felt like i was eating clay. Now, i absolutely love it. My favourite pairing with this tea is liquorice when drinking it stand alone. This tea pairs well with chicken and meats, stir-fried foods, and anything with lots of animal fat or greasy foods.

Shop: 1, Asian grocery stores.

yerbamate

Yerba mate has been used as a base for herbal medicines in South America for centuries. Its more nutritious than green tea. Rumored to be a nerve stimulant and apparently increases mental concentration. While there are no studies to prove this, but its linked to better absorption of carbohydrates and increased muscle endurance. Boy, i would love that. I am currently testing this tea. Its growing on me. But i am yet to experience the alleged benefits.

Shop: 1 , 2

chai copy

Indian inspired teas are the ones i was most familiar with, the ones i saw my country men drink when i was a child. The chai is a black tea blend, that is popular in England and India. And now that starbucks do a version of it in America, i see it everywhere. I make my own blend with a few varieties from Teavana. I prefer my tea without milk which sort of kills the essence of this tea, but i like it anyways. Another tea that doesn’t gets its due, is Tulsi tea. Its the holy tree for the religious Hindus and ayurveda claims many many medicinal benefits to this tea. The taste of this leave is just divine. It reminds me of visits to the temples and my travels in India.

Shop: Chai: 1 , 2 , 3  Tulsi: 1 ( very mild ), 2 ( my pick )

floralTea

Floral teas like Jasmine, Camomile, Lavender, Rooibos are great teas to drink at the end of the day and before bed when caffeine is a no-no. They also make great additives to make DIY tea blends. Chamomile is known for its soothing properties. Jasmine is very calming and relaxing on me. Lavender, makes the prettiest purple tea. Rooibos has many medicinal properties like anti-aging, soothing on the stomach, high mineral content, etc. These are the extra luxuries in my tea box and make great night time teas.

Shop: Jasmine buds (1, 2). Camomile ( 1, 2). Lavender (1) Rooibos ( 1, 2) Hibiscus ( 1


“When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Dear tea, Thank you for all the small pleasures that are not so small in reality.

 

 

Current State of Mind

Posted on November 6, 2014

It has become so hectic lately. And i have taken on too many projects and juggling them have become insanely taxing. Going home and acting sane, instead of constantly ranting about lack of time or how tired i am, has become hard. But i resolve not to become one of those people whos life can be summed up by “being busy”. Their conversations revolve around “how busy they are” and how much sleep they are not getting.

“You can do it”, they say to me. Harsha, Dr.Li, mom and dad. I think i can do it all. Provided i make schedules and stick to them like my life depended on it.

On a different note, a student of mine came by and asked me for some life advice. This rarely happens. “How can i be successful in your course?”, he asked.

I immediately pulled up these figures. And tell him: Show up in class. Allocate fixed time to study. And study hard. And come to me if you need help. I hope that is the right answer.

unnamed (2) As it turns out, it is the solution to what i am facing right now. Show up. These days, i want to give up because it sometimes looks too hard. I have to get out of bed and show up. It usually solves most of my problems. Getting to my lab is my cure all.

unnamed

This is the second part i have struggled with. I always saw not having fixed timings as a bonus of working for myself. But now, not having a routine is making life hard. Juggling personal life has become hard when i seem to do things “whenever”. This needs to change. I now wake up at 5am and get to bed by 10pm. I have failed to keep at it in the past. But i try and try.

unnamed (1)

Work. Work. Work at it. No other way. I love what i do. Work shouldn’t look like a mountain i cant climb but a mountain i run to coz i love it. I have my days. But ‘just do it’. And drink lots of tea.

Thats the solution.

All images by Wendy MacNaughton for Brain Pickings.

It came home: A red evening bag

Posted on October 15, 2014

As a part of my Simplify resolve, i decided to come clean about any incoming ‘clutter’ in my life. I hope the fact that i have to put it out here will refrain me from purchasing too many things.

 

Something small. Something shiny. Something quilted. Something red.

 

This has been on my mind, for a little while. Been looking for an evening bag. LBD and a red bag, i envisioned would be elegant and romantic. It started in 2010 when “Oxblood” became the color of the season. There were so many beautiful options but i couldn’t afford any that i liked.  Winters went by and the hunt continued. And this year, reality kicked in. I may never want to spend a lot of money on a luxury item. Not anymore. And i wanted something that wasnt in-your-face recognizable designer bag. ( growing older ? ) I loved the color of burgundy ps11 but do not like the hardware to bag ratio on it. A pre-loved Chanel? Finally decided against it. Its the ‘it’ bag and generally arrives before the person does. Its beautiful and almost perfect. It cant help but steal the spotlight.  Valentino rock stud evening bag? I didnt like the studs, they dont age well. Mulburry did a beautiful chain bag this season. Again, the ratio of hardware to leather is a bit much.  The more research i did on it (proof !), more i think i liked oxbloods over the true reds. And more i was reaching the end of it all where i would tell myself, the one i like doesnt exist out there. And . . .

stella mccartney falabella hand bag

This was it. I saw it on Farfetch. Which i think is one of the most amazing ecommerce business model. They ‘recruit’ boutiques all over Europe. The items in the boutique have a listing on this site and get taken down when sold online or offline, which ever happens first. Whats unique about the items is the fact that boutique owners are tad more risk takers than buyers for stores like Barneys. They scout one of a kind items that dont end up in departmental stores. And its all available to us ! A study revealed that almost 30% of the products on there are hard to find elsewhere. I saw it here. And sadly, i cant find it anywhere anymore. Stella McCartney‘s mini quilted Falabella.

Then came a bigger problem. It is not leather ! I have always made a case against non-leather shoes. I still do. They are not comfortable. Without a leather upper, lining and sole, the shoes does not mould well to the foot nor does it let the foot breathe. And leather ages beautifully with certain amount of upkeep. This is a bag. I do not need it to mould or breathe according to my body. I would need it to hold its shape as it ages and continue looking beautiful. I always spent more money on durable products and not just because its made of leather. More i thought about it, more i liked the idea of this bag. Stella is a staunch vegan and makes a stand against animal cruelty. Again, something to respect. She worked on creating synthetic material that mimics leather in appearance but is made of durable man made material that does not sag as it ages. It is lighter than any of my leather bags (good for long nights of dancing). The biggest contributor to the weight/balance is the hardware. A few cons: its way over priced for what its production value would have been. And on par with good leather bags. Not very eco-friendly with all the plastic based polymers  …. And when i saw it in person, i just had to keep it.

P.S: I have a beautiful little red bag.

Some wisdom for our next big trip: Tips and Tools.

Posted on October 13, 2014

When we started planning our trip, i poked everyone i could, to obtain information. I asked people about best ways to save money, accumulate miles/points, itineraries, list making, what to pack, what to wear, what to carry, … etc. I want to write this down so that maybe i can help another person going through this phase. And keep this wisdom for our next big trip. 

 

DSCF0062-2 copy

Inspiration

I am huge fan of every thing Nat Geo and Travellers on Instagram. A few of my favourite travellers on Instagram: Travis Bruke, Chris Burkard,  Jason, Corrine Thiessen, Charles Post . Most of the guys listed here are nature lovers or culture lovers. Chilled back vacationers, don’t inspire me much.

Budget

I truly believe it is possible to make a great trip out of not so lavish budget. I have a cousin who survived 6 months in various continents on 13k dollars and had some left. I know a guy, cycling from Oregon to Patagonia on very little money and sleeping on the road, for the last 16 months. The world today lets you live any way you want embracing your quirks. It can be done depending on how badly you want to.

Saving

We did put some money away every paycheque so that we could go. Used tax returns. I know people at the university (ASU) who live in a squalor with 6 roommates and use all the money they can save to go travel. Going away when you are single is much cheaper, from what i was told. I think its true.

Fitness

I was having this conversation with this Indian guy who wants to go backpacking. And was convinced he can never do that with a girlfriend/wife because it would require some amount of stamina and fitness. And he is heading towards an arranged marriage where he may not filter out his potential brides based on this criterion. I have to agree, its hard to travel if you are not fit. Vacation, yes. But to be constantly on the move, requires lot of energy and some amount of fitness. Carrying a backpack around is taxing on the shoulders. Falling sick in an alien place is not fun. I worked on mine, but had to struggle to keep up with Harsha. He has a lot of energy. On the other hand, yoga helped me strengthen my back and he was struggling with his backpack towards the end of the journey when the fatigue had set in.

Zeroing on the places

I have a list. He has a list. But we picked places based on the season, economy of flights, diversity in places. We had too many places on the list and were flexible. We were too happy to pick something off our list and go. We tried to fit in some city life, country side, some mountain side, etc.

Getting the mind ready

I have been subscribed to the show: Sonia travels for a while now. She covers a lot of aspects of travel and makes beautiful travel videos. Travel videos on vimeo like: A tribute to discomfort are a great source of inspiration for me.

DSCF0110-2 copy

Make a list of what’s important and do the research. For me, i did not want to go to see the buildings or go on a vacation. I wanted to do what the locals do. Eat where they eat. Shop where they shop. Do the activities they do on an everyday basis. Understand life out there as much as i can in my limited capability. Or atleast try. My list was as follows:

The markets

Flea markets ( learn some history ) & Farmers markets (eat some local fruits and veggies ). I wanted to look through old stuff. Own something from the history. Wander a little. Look at old objects.

Something touristy

Town Plazas/Centers ( history, architecture, lots of working people, people watching) : We did not read up extensively on the history of the countries we visited. But every time we saw an old building, wiki told us the significance of it and the changes that occurred as civilizations went to war or modernized. End of the journey, we knew a little on who invaded whom, changes in perception of art over the years, etc.

Shopping districts

oh well… I did not go out shopping to buy stuff. Partly because i dreaded the idea of carrying a backpack that was even a little heavier. Partly because we didn’t want to spend when not needed. But i was hearing myths about Europe Vs America Vs Asia when it came to consumerism and quality of objects. I had to check it out to see for myself.

Food

A Grocery store (learn mundane everything things) : Again, when you live in America and read about health, there is quite a bit of bashing that American people and food take. For the commercialization, for the amount of processed food, for the size of people who eat such food, for the cruelty of animals, etc. I am very interested in food and i had to check it out for myself. Also, we wanted to pick up some local food to snack on when on the go. So it worked out fine. We also got to pick up food to snack on like local fruit and nuts.

Pry a little

A local kitchen (learn something about everyday life): Living with a family is the only way this can be done. Renting a room in a local home is a good way to go about it. Again, i love cooking and food history, and hence this was on my list.

Climb a little

A Mountain: A new place is not just the people but nature too. Difference in flora and fauna interest me/us. Its easy to drive by a place but going on foot/bicycle makes you notice things that you don’t otherwise. And having a camera trains the eye to see more. We always make it a point to bike and hike where ever we go. Harsha takes it a step further by going out to get a paper map with topology of the place. And as we wander, figures out where we are and tells me interesting things about the location like the elevation, faults in the tectonic plates, etc. He is a great travel companion.

Street food

Youtube is a great resource. It is good to show up in a new place and explore without a map or a plan. But when it comes to street food, i think its good to go with some knowledge. Else, its very easy to miss out on trying new food. Videos were better coz they helped us learn to say the words. And made us more confident to ask for it in places. A few of my favourite street food channel’s: Anthony Bourdain (whom i would like to nominate for Wonders of the World). Street food India. Tastemade.

Night life

I was really excited to go dancing on the weekends. And check out the music in the clubs that are different from the American/Indian club scene. But we never did made it. We would wake up early morning to catch the sun rise in the Alps or head out someplace. And be exhausted by end of the day and fall asleep. And one day, we did make an effort to make it to the meatpacking district, but the clubs posted the music list to attract the tourists. And it felt like America. So we skipped it in favor of sleep.

A treat

Decadent stay and an epic dining experience: I have to credit Harsha for putting this on the list. We balanced our hostel stays, over night sleeping on trains, etc with treating ourselves to nicer stays and a few fine dining establishments, from time to time. We are older (read old) and we needed some slow days to reboot, stop running around, slow down and spend time with each other. We celebrated an anniversary by staying on a vineyard in Krems and sampling Chef Patrick Friedrich’s creations. We wanted to stay on the lake in St. Gilgen which meant having to pick an old aristocratic establishment full of 50 year olds in golf attire. We stayed with a 100 year old manor converted into apartments and run by a hostess, in Prague. Looking back, we could have done without it and been fine. But it was a good balance.

IMG_0034

These websites have reviews. They have itineraries. They have pictures. They have essays on places. Between these three, there is plenty to make an initial outline and start working upon. Harsha things the forums on Tripadvisor are the most valuable resource.

Travel bloggers who write day to day accounts

There are quite a few people in the world who travel for a living. Or live in different places and when its time, move on. Their accounts i found, were more helpful for me when i was trying to figure out what i wanted to do in the new place. Locals may take a few things for granted about their home land, tourists may do way too many popular touristy things. But the ones who live for short periods of time in a new place seem to have found a way to balance both. Google blog search was very helpful in connecting me with people who could also answer my questions.

We noticed that lots of people walk up to the ticket counters in train stations and obtain a list of hotels in the city. We met people who were biking from town to town and would knock on hostels whenever they were too tired to ride for the day. I do admire the ones who just showed up and found a place to crash. We picked ours before we landed. And close to the train stations.

This is my favourite way to choose where to stay when travelling. More than hostels. The hostels are great places to meet people from different countries but living with a local family is better, in my opinion.

Booking dot com

“This is how we found all the awesome hotels we stayed at” – Harsha.

Book keeping

An app i wish we had known about: Tripit ! We were carrying a stack of papers that were printed confirmations of train tickets, hotels, flights, insurance, etc. And it was no fun trying to find what we need from the stack when situation demanded it. And i would do anything to have a lighter backpack. Tripit has a free version that aggregates all the confirmations in one place and makes it easy to pull up when needed. All you have to do is sent confirmations to a certain email address and the app takes care of the rest. I find this better than my making notes in EverNote.

Emergency Contact

I wrote down my itinerary and shared with my dad. I knew if something went wrong, i could call him up and he would help us. And he wanted to know enough details so that if we went missing, he will have something to work with. Dads can be such dads ! and are totally awesome. “We are not running off to the South Pole, why is he so worried?”- Harsha.

IMG_1441

This was the most useful application during our trip. As it turns out, we did our research on the places we were visiting over a period of time. When ever we found something interesting, i would clip it into a notebook in Evernote. We would do individual research and later discuss and narrow down our options. I have all of this stored in my notes. And  I used this application to create a packing lists, to-buy lists, schedules, to-photograph lists, etc. This app can be used offline and we could reference it when needed.

Transportation

We used the local trains a lot. A euro rail pass would have been a great choice. But we got local passes everyday in the train station. And got our inter country tickets in person. We recommend getting tickets ahead of time if possible, so that they dont sell out.

Water

Our travel research told us we can find water everywhere and American tourists are the only ones walking around with watter bottles. Boy were we wrong. We had so much trouble finding water. And water that wasn’t sparkling. And not having water by bed side in hostels or during inter country travel. Or during long bike rides. We did have to carry some along if we wanted it.

Offline Google Maps

We did not opt to enroll in a data plan, thanks to AT&T’s ridiculous pricing. We knew we would be in places that might require us to use the GPS and maps. Google maps can be downloaded to the phone: tutorial. I think this is one of the best hidden features. And the one that helped us the most in terms of tools.

Budget Keeping

With the conversion rates, being away from home, being hungry/thirsty, etc factor into slipping away from having a set budget. We did not do this but i wish we did use an app like Mint or iXpenseIt to keep track of our expenses. We ended up spending 20% more than what we intended.

Money

There is no one way to carry money that i know of. If someone has advice for us, please let us know in the comments below. We both carried our credit cards and some cash on us. We prepared a family member to wire us money incase of an emergency.

Language

Each new country we went to, we would find the friendliest and most cheerful person in the train station/help desk/information, and ask them to translate a couple of phrases for us. We would record it and try learn from it during our stay. It not only helps with the language, but everyone we stopped to asked this liked doing it for us, and we had a good excuse to interact with them. We also used iphone apps to pick up some phrases.

Safety

We tried to be mindful of the place and not act like gawking tourists. We did not carry easy to snap bags. On that note, i think ONA’s Bowery bag is the perfect bag to hide a DSLR, has a thick strap with good weight distribution, is unisex and looks good with most casual outfits. We were also mindful of our alcohol consumption. It was not only about safety or being in control. But being dehydrated the day after, when travelling is not fun.

IMG_1897

Accumulate miles

This is something i wish we did. But we are now looking into credit cards that will give us miles based on everyday spending. I now know we will be doing this a lot and are looking into it.

Flexible Ticket Finder

I have head stories of people finding great travel deals and taking them up in short moments notice. And folks pick places on the go while on the move when they figured out a good route at a great price. I wish we could do that in the future. I have head good things about websites like Travelocity, Jetsetter, etc. And Travelzoo keeps sending me great deals weekly. Something to keep in the loop for the future.

 

We did our best. We, by no means are seasoned travellers or experts at this. We did what we could. I would love to learn from someone who has more experience doing this. We will get better at this the next time, i hope. Start from here. Anyone reading this and with travel wisdom, please share. Thank you !!

Side effects of travel that linger …

Posted on October 13, 2014

IMG_1905-2

Physically stronger.

I went to my yoga studio after a month of absence. And was dreading it all day, before class. But to my surprise, i had gotten better. The teacher came up to be at the end of the class and asked me what i have been doing lately. Well, active life ! Carrying around a backpack is stressful for the shoulders but builds a lot of strength. Climbing mountains and wandering in new places all day == strong legs and butt lift. I can do more pushups now than before. And i am not toiling away in a gym or in a yoga studio for it (though i enjoy both in moderation). Life did it !

Stories and the romance.

“We will always have Krems“, i tell him. “I have goosebumps remembering that day“, he says. I know every couple has their ‘little stories’ that make them. I felt like we were making these stories too often and a lot of em. And the stories linger in our heads.

See divinity in all.

Is the gist of the scriptures, according to my yoga teacher. I keep hearing it a lot from time to time. It means a lot more to me now. I appreciate the diversity and people’s idiosyncrasies. They make this world more interesting. I will not hate on someone who is not like me or doesnt believe in what i believe. There is so much to learn !

Shift in likes.

Dream life vs Dream house, i would pick life. I veto the American dream. I feel i have learnt what i dont need to be truly happy. When i get lectured on the beauty of the American dream: large house, sports cars, big toys, instagram/pinterest inspired lifestyle, etc ( yes, it happens! Shoo! ), i can always go back into my head, keep calm and ignore.

The interaction.

I don’t meet a lot of people who see the romance in doing things i do. Finding someone to travel with, makes me think i am the luckiest girl in the world.  You can vacation with anyone. Go sight-seeing with anyone. But to travel, i need someone who equally loves exploring. Been meeting and connecting with people who feel the same. The ones who think sleeping bare back in a tiny tent in the forest, are the best nights ! The ones who discuss beer and the local food it pairs well with. The ones who went the extra mile to see the sunrise. The ones who take beautiful photographs. The ones who discuss history of civilizations. The girls who revere their hiking boots as much as their stilettos ….. I am filled with gratitude for it all.

Language.

Learning a few phrases of the local language can go a long way in breaking the ice with strangers. The effort indicates reverence to the place and culture. And its part of the learning you do, for travel. And i seem to listen to music that is not english, hindi or telugu and pick up a few words every day. I want this to last.

Experiences/Learning over things.

I was a fashion addict. I purchased a Proenza Schouler PS1 this year that i don’t care for, like i thought i would. And after seeing what money can buy in terms of experiences, i almost regret it. Old habits die hard. I see Chanel bags that i would have wanted in the past and see where the money they cost would take me. Not in that place anymore. Its easy to slip up and go back there.

I write this post for me. And just for me. So that i may remember who i want to be and not take it easy. Not to slip into the old ways that take me away from the path i want to be on. 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 60 other followers