Sunday, 20 December 2015

Christmas in Dubai

A white Christmas may not be possible in the desert, but Christmas in Dubai is quite festive. It is abuzz with Christmas market, brunches, parties, goodies and more. Here are some snapshots of the festive revelry in the desert nation.

Christmas tree and giant baubles at Mall of the Emirates




Christmas tree at the Shangri-La Hotel

The Festive Market at Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Limited edition chocolates by Lindt

Lifestyle accessories store, Irony Home


Eggnog and Gingerbread cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery


Gingerbread men from mOre Café

Stockings and gingerbread houses at Bloomingdale’s


Tuesday, 18 August 2015

What it is really like to move to a new country

Jump in! - clicked at Dubai Mall
 The idea of moving to a new place is super exciting—in theory anyway. Once you begin sharing the news with your friends and family, they all wish you well, tell you how much fun it is going to be, some even envy you imagining the amazingness that awaits you. You also start thinking about all the fun you are going to have: living by yourself in an apartment of your own, meeting new people from all over the world, enjoying a better lifestyle, going out to fancy places, exploring the city in depth, and simply opening up to new avenues and opportunities. While all that will probably happen at some point, it isn’t all so easy when you move base to a whole new place that is not your home.

Leaving home
I had never moved away from home up until now. Whatever little I knew about moving to a new place was through friends who had experienced it. I used to listen to them about how difficult it was to find a place to live in, how much of your salary gets sucked into paying rent every month, how they miss home food, how complicated it is when there’s no one at home in case of emergent situations like a burst pipe or a simple one like awaiting an important delivery. But there was one thing that made it all worthwhile: having their independence. Being independent isn’t always about having freedom to be who you are and do what you want, when you want. It’s the freedom from dependency in its true sense. It is about being self-reliant. Each step you take, big or small, when you’re building a life by yourself feels like an accomplishment—a new learning experience that is incredibly gratifying. I wanted to experience that for myself.

Living with my family meant living in comfort. Even though I’d help around, my parents would do the heavy-lifting; paying the bills and managing the house overall. I truly wanted to be able to do it all on my own. And after moving to Dubai, I had the chance to learn all those things.

Finding a place

The first thing I wanted to do when I arrived was find a place to live. It was the most crucial necessity for me. Like most people about to start anew in another country, I had a vision of how my life here would be. Especially the kind of home I would live in; the way I would decorate it (it will be travel-themed of course), and how I’d buy half of the IKEA store! But in reality, I wasn’t going to get close to that vision just yet.

There were many obstacles. Some I was warned about, but didn’t pay heed to. Almost all of my friends living in Dubai suggested I consider sharing an apartment with someone initially till I find a place, and also so I save some money in the process. Great advice. But I was swept away into dreamland when I arrived.

I began searching for a place on, the go-to website to look for accommodation options. You can find an apartment to rent, a villa, a private room or even a bed space in the many areas that constitute Dubai. You can mention your budget to ensure you get results that match. I was told rents in Dubai are very high, and that they are often the biggest chunk of your spends here; other things being relatively affordable. And that’s exactly what I saw. I looked for studio apartments first because that’s what I wanted. I went to see one of the listings. Loved the place; it was fairly spacious, well-equipped with basic furnishings. However, not only was the rent quite high, the amount I was asked to pay when taking the place was really out of reach. You are typically asked to pay the first three months’ rent, a security deposit and the agency fee (if you found this place through an agent). The electricity bill and the Internet charges are separate. Seeing how I had only just arrived, I didn’t have enough to pay the asking sum. In addition, if you take on a one-year lease—which is usually the case—should you leave unexpectedly for whatever reason (like leaving your job through which you got your resident visa), you would have to pay two months’ rent as compensation. And knowing how high the rent is, it isn’t worth taking that chance. This instantly eliminated the possibility of renting a studio right away.

My second option was to rent a private room, which proved to be a huge problem. The rooms I saw were incredibly small and highly priced. Other than that there was just the option of sharing a dorm-like room with multiple people—an option I did not want to even think of. It’s a different thing staying in hostels when travelling, but living in a dorm long-term was something I wasn’t personally comfortable with. Having my own space was my priority. And after agonising over numerous options that just didn’t come close, I finally got lucky with a room that was decently spacious.

Finding a place seemed like the biggest stress point for me. Once I crossed that hurdle, I was much more at ease about living away from home. Well, until the next hurdle... 

Friday, 14 August 2015

5 reasons to visit The Heineken Experience in Amsterdam

Free beer, fooseball tables, a make-your-own-video section, a 4-D movie and a chance to create your own beer bottle—The Heineken Experience is a must for the bucket list of all those who love beer. Although the exterior of the building says ‘Brouwery’, it now serves as a tourist attraction that features interactive exhibits on the history of the brand and the brewing process of this centuries-old beer, all spread over four levels. Here’s my list of five reasons this tour cannot be missed if you’re visiting Amsterdam.

1) For the free beer
Should I even bother with the remaining four? Once you’re done with the tour, you can head to the Tasting Room, where you can enjoy a few chilled glasses of Heineken beer. While there, you can also learn how to pour beer the right way and how to correctly skim the foam on top. Or just sit back and drink up! *hic*

2) To taste ‘wort’
During your tour of the brewing process—that includes video demonstrations carefully fitted inside the massive brass tanks used in the former brewery—you will be able to taste ‘wort’, a mixture of water and barley that has been heated and filtered. A unique facet of beer preparation that we as laypersons are not privy too, it’s interesting to know how the taste begins to develop from here on. Fair warning though, it is quite bitter.

3) To see the vintage packaging and the Heineken ad reel from the 50s
I love all things vintage, so I thoroughly enjoyed perusing through the old posters, cans and bottles created by Heineken over the decades. You can see how the logo has changed and the many different bottle designs the brand has created. I also loved the pod-like viewing chair that is fitted with a mini TV screen playing the Heineken ad reel starting from the 50s.

4) To send fun videos and karaoke numbers
If you want to make your friends ‘green’ (the Heineken colour) with envy, head to the fun interactive media centre and create music videos, do a karaoke number or click crazy photographs of yourself and send it to your friends instantly.

5) To create your own bottle of beer
One of the most intriguing sections of this tour is the Brew U section, where you can create your very own personalised beer bottle etched with your name on it. It does come at an extra cost, but how often do you get to have a beer customised with your name on it?

Monday till Thursday 11 a.m. - 7:30 p.m, with the last person admitted at 5:30 p.m.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m, with the last person admitted at 6:30 p.m.

Adults and minors above the age of 16 years: €18 (tickets purchased online will be a tad cheaper, so check before you go)

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Welcome to Dubai!

I have actually been in Dubai for over a week now (for those who don't know I moved, read this) and I have been meaning to write daily posts, but I couldn’t find time, and when I did, my hotel’s Wi-Fi just sucked. But the good thing is I have many stories to share!

I love this sculpture outside Dubai Mall

Day one was fairly eventful. I had a late night flight, which got delayed and the lines for the immigration process took two hours. And once I got out, tired and groggy, waiting to fall on my hotel bed, I couldn’t find the driver meant to pick me up. I walked back and forth checking all the placards hoping to find me name on one of them, but it wasn’t there. I didn’t have a local SIM card yet and I had discontinued my India number just before departing, so I looked for a local telephone to call my hotel from. I asked an airport staff member where I could find one and he said “We don’t have any here, you’ll have to go to Departures and meet Customer Services”. Even though it wasn’t a big deal, at that time I was really upset. I had a lot of luggage and was really sleepy to make my way to another floor. But I didn’t have a choice. I finally found it and called my hotel. They said they don’t wait more than two and a half hours so the driver left. I explained to them how immigration took forever and I obviously couldn’t have helped that. I pleaded they send him back, but to no avail. I had to take a cab. The good thing is they have taxis driven by women, so no matter what time at night you’re travelling alone, you will feel safe.

Day two was mostly funny with a dash of embarrassment. I had bought some milk at a convenience store, but when I took it out of the refrigerator an hour later it seemed to have curdled. So I took it to the store and got another bottle. I open it and it tastes the same. So I talk to the store manager suggesting maybe the batch they received was spoiled. He looks at the bottle and says, “This is how it is supposed to taste.” I argue on how it tastes like curd instead of milk. He smiles, “This isn’t milk, it is Laban, which is like buttermilk.” As you can imagine, I felt so very stupid. I apologised profusely. I later found out that this was a common mistake that many of my friends had made too.

Every day I learn something new; whether it is finding my way to work or simply using buses and trains (which are extremely convenient by the way). For instance, you need to purchase a NOL card before you board a bus or use the metro. I love that you need only one card for both.

It is both exciting and nerve-racking to move countries, but if you make the move with a positive attitude, I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I am.

I am going to try and write as often as I can, so do look forward to reading more about my misadventures and tips on moving to a new country.

If you have any questions about moving to Dubai or suggestions for me, please do share them in the Comments box below.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Goodbye India…

Marine Drive, Bombay

After living in Bombay for 31 years, I am now moving to Dubai. I know Dubai is really close to India, and so it probably shouldn’t feel like much of a move, but I will still be hundreds of miles away from home. I had never given much thought to moving base until I began travelling. It changed my perspective. I yearned to live in a new place; tackle challenges I never had to in the comfort of my home, meet new people every day, possibly learn a new language, and undergo some sort of a life-changing transformation. But as I stood at the airport with my three suitcases ready to close a long-running chapter of life, it hit me: 31 years compressed into three measly pieces of luggage. Is that all it takes to sum up your life? It was all suddenly overwhelming.

“It’s going to be great! You will have so much fun.” That’s what everyone says to you when they hear you’re moving to a new country. I agree. I’m sure I’ll have numerous stories to tell. And I look forward to sharing them with you all. But I also expect to face new challenges that unfamiliarity brings. And while I am a tad nervous, I’m also excited about battling them. It’s akin to travelling in many ways. You arrive at a new place not knowing what to expect, and you start learning something new each day; from finding a place to stay to locating the nearest convenience store. And then as you begin to figure things out, you feel a sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile.

However, leaving family and friends behind is really tough. I will miss many birthdays, family dinners and other important occasions. But I’ll gain new experiences, make new friends, learn to live by myself. I am truly lucky though. Some of my closest friends live in Dubai, so it won’t be too alienating. And it is as the saying goes: in order to gain something, you have to let something go.

So, as I embark on the beginning of a new chapter, I hope you will wish me luck! I will be sharing my experiences as often as I can, so watch this space:)

P.S. There is so much I want to say, but at this moment I just find myself at a loss of words. I’m sure those of you who have moved away from home will understand. Do share your stories with me in the Comments box below.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

TRAVEL TIDBITS: Travel-inspired jewellery

If you love accessorising and wearing jewellery as much as I do, you're going to want to buy these! Jewellery brand Jet Set Candy founded by travel enthusiast Nicole Parker King—ho herself has explored six continents and nearly 50 countries—creates a wide range of jewels representing different countries with designs that symbolise them. From the Australian surf board to the Italian scooter, these pieces truly capture the essence of each destination featured. The jewellery is made with sterling silver, 14k vermeil, or solid gold.
They even have a great collection on India, which you can see here.
A two-Sided Indian Rajasthan Puppet Charm

Click here to shop.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

TRAVEL TIDBITS: Gourmet Scratch Map

After adding the amazing Travel Scratch Map to my wish list, I chanced upon a similar map for foodies travelling across Europe. The striking black-coloured Gourmet Scratch Map allows you to scratch off some of Europe’s finest and weirdest foods. You can browse by colour and type of food you want to or are about to try. The numbers correspond to the dishes of different nations. More details on its website. The website also lists recipes of the dishes on the map.
Shop for it here.