Get Set, Go!

It’s that time of year again, tourist pamphlets and summer offers from travel companies litter both my desk and my inbox. ‘The 100 Places to Visit before You Die’ guide has been referred to countless times by now, there are multiple browsers open on my laptop and a flurry of illegible scrawl fills the pages of my notepad. There’s even a new folder on my uber organized desktop and it has been labelled with the name of country number 17! Inside it, countless PDFs and word documents tell a compelling tale of someone in a serious wanderlust state of mind. Occasionally during my research, I stop to take a deep breath – to recompose. In some fleeting moments, I start to feel confused by the sheer amount of planning travel takes, but then as suddenly as it comes, the fog lifts and is replaced by the joy a new adventure brings with it and that familiar feeling of itchy-feet.

Calendar blocked, tickets paid for, hotel rooms confirmed – I have officially initiated ‘Travel Research’ mode – the part where I start putting my dreams into action. This sometimes results in serious air-fist pumps and a surge of joy and excitement as I begin to check things off my list and start planning out the things I want to do, the sites I want to visit and the experiences I have been waiting to have.

In a few weeks’ time I will be exploring country number 17. As I stare at my computer screen and switch between tabs, I soak in all the information I can, stopping intermittently to make notes in my diary. I check the location of my hotel, its proximity to the beach, restaurants and tourist attractions in the area and the best ways to get there. I download route maps and check on ticket prices, I read through all the websites looking for the best deals and day passes, I even watch YouTube videos of scams I should be aware of. This btw is one of my top tips for travel, the more aware you are of possible scams (and there are scams everywhere, including the country where you live) the safer you will be.

Reading done, notes made, *air-fist pump*

I can recall distinctly the first trip I took with my family. Back then, maps were paper pamphlets that you picked up at a station/ airport or found at the back of a guide book, and figuring out your location involved some thought and getting help from actual people. You did not have the luxury of pressing a button on your phone and having information within seconds. Also back then cameras still used a thing called film and the anticipation of seeing the photographs developed and slipped into the cellophane sleeves of a photo album, prolonged the wanderlust for a few days after the holiday had actually ended.

Fast forward about 26 years and in a few short minutes I can know all there is to know about a location, restaurants and best places to stay and things to do. Sure nothing beats getting lost in a new city only to stumble upon a true gem, but I am still so thankful for Google, Zomato, Uber and travel apps.byylw-kz.jpg

As with all things, you need to take travel advice with a grain of salt. Be it a blog, trip advisor review, or Instagram post everyone always has a different opinion on what they like and dislike. The trick is to take in all the information you can and then make your own decisions. There are some amazing travel blogs out there – I am trawling through many of them now and using their experiences to hopefully enrich my future travels.

Having said that, I must confess that maps, plans, itineraries are about knowing for sure, about owning your path, about control. That’s a good thing, or else you could end up in a bit of a mess in a strange place. Direction is important but what’s equally important is sometimes, throwing away that schedule and allowing yourself the freedom once in a while to not know where your next wow moment is coming from.

You see, I am a zealous planner, not because I need to plan (and ironically, I disregard 40% of my plans once I’m “on-site”), but because I love the reading and research ahead of time almost as much as the travel itself.

Life is like that too, sometimes you need to really plan and chart out a clear pathway for yourself, and sometimes not planning things will still lead you to exactly where you’re supposed to be. NO?

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Georgia On My Mind

Last winter a friend of mine backpacked solo across Georgia in Eastern Europe. His social media updates and the pictures he kept sharing were enough to convince me to plan a trip of my own. I had heard amazing things about Georgia from other travelers too and could not wait to explore the country, though sadly I only had one short week to split between Georgia and Baku, Azerbaijan. I will keep details of the latter for another post.

While my exploration of Georgia was far from thorough, I did leave with one solid impression of the country: I love it! Its beautiful mountains, historic churches, European vibes, and incredibly good-natured people didn’t need more than a week to win my heart over. I will absolutely be returning to Georgia again someday, hopefully soon. Hopefully in snow.

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My co-travelers and I managed not just to take in beautiful Tbilisi, but the absolutely amazing countryside as well. Our first trip outside the capital was to Gudauri, 7200 meters above sea level and 80 km from the Russian border. The panoramic views were soul stirring to say the least – the kind of experience that will remain with me forever. We also managed to travel to Mtskheta, one of the oldest towns in the country and to also to Batumi and Kazbegi, villages that are home to the Black Sea and absolutely stunning mountain scenery.

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One could write a dozen such blog posts highlighting Georgia’s beauty and yet not scratch the surface. It is a complex, sometimes difficult place, and I do know some people who dislike it, but it has a special, indescribable ‘something’. My experience in Georgia was beautiful. It wrapped itself around me like a blanket, got into my DNA, and has certainly captured my heart and mind forever.

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Georgia is a country of contradictions. It felt like a place frozen in time and yet modern and pulsating with life. Beautiful and yet there are pockets of poverty, disheveled homes in dilapidated Cul-de-sac. Georgia is Unique. Culturally limitless. Lots of contrasts. Bohemian. I guess like all places I have traveled to, Georgia has its own special vibe and that’s why I loved it so much. We travel to seek out different places and people. An insatiable thirst for difference.

Like all those who travel, I have seen and experience way more than I remember and though it has been two days since I have returned from my short trip  I’m still there in my head and heart, and the hole it leaves is tangible. I will return there someday but until then, like that old Ray Charles classic,

I’ve got ‘…Georgia on my mind…’

 

 

Lost

I have just returned from another trip to England and like I always do when I travel anywhere, I did my fair bit of wandering and exploring whenever the opportunity arose. I’m reminded of an incident from when I first travelled to England many, many years ago. Late one evening, a friend and I decided to do a little bit of sightseeing. By the time we were done and ready to head home it was dark, and after we had walked a couple of blocks we realized we had absolutely no clue where we were. We were very lost. Suddenly the formerly quaint town we were in, with its cobbled pathways and Victorian architecture became a menacing labyrinth of narrow alleys, lanes and by-lanes we had to carefully maneuver. It really could not have been later than 10:30 or 11:00 pm but we might as well have been roaming in Terabithia because neither of us had any clue about where we were.

Finally, after a bit of panic and what do we do now’s, common sense set in. we picked a well-lit direction and walked confidently into the light, as each tried to assure the other with some cautious-optimism. Finally we began to see landmarks we recognized and we were able to guess our way home.

I’ve been lost in other cities since then, but I distinctly recall the pangs of fear and trepidation of being lost for the first time, without ID, money or anybody to call for help. Nowadays, I know better than to panic. Walk on till you find your way out. In all the countries I’ve visited since, I always find an opportunity to get lost.

There’s something so liberating about discovering new routes or an old wooden bridge when you least expect to. Turn a corner and there’s a new jewel to be found – a stately sculpture, a street-performer, a farmers market or even the beauty of a quaint home-styled café that welcomes you as you rest and take in your experience. These experiences bring a kind of soul-satisfying joy (if you have a bit of wanderlust) that a map or brochure simply cannot bring. On my travels, I’ve often found that the best way to discover a place is to wonder aimlessly and see what eventually comes your way.

People have different ideas of what constitutes fun on a vacation, I get that. But there are some things a guided tour doesn’t show you and certain joys a website cannot express. While in the Farncombe county of Surrey earlier last month a taxi driver mistakenly took me down a wrong stretch of road. And while there was a brief moment of worry, I soon had this panoramic view of the hills, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that wrong turn.

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Maps, plans, itineraries are about knowing for sure, about owning your path, about control. That’s a good thing, or else you could end up in a bit of a mess in a strange place. Direction is important but what’s equally important is throwing away that schedule and allowing yourself the freedom once in a while to not know where your next wow moment is coming from.

Life is like that too, sometimes not planning things still lead you to exactly where you’re supposed to be. NO?

Because 2041 Beckons…

The Global Countdown – http://2041.com/

Visiting the Antarctic is a dream that many nurture but only a privileged few are able to fulfill. If you go as a tourist the cost usually means you have to wait until much later on in life. So imagine how great it would be to go as a student and not just visit Antarctica but to actually be part of a global movement dedicated to preserving this final pristine frontier from the very real dangers that threaten it each day.

935873_153856004815049_1158433249_n9 lucky students from GEMS Modern Academy, Dubai are planning a trip to the Antarctic making that distant dream a very present reality. They will be accompanied by Sir Robert Swan; environmental leader and the first person ever to have walked to the North and South poles.

Needless to say, this will be a life-altering experience for them. It will expose these 9 students to all kinds of environmental and social issues and give them a much broader perspective of the planet on which they live. In my mind, going to Antarctica is kind of like going to another planet and once you’ve done that you can’t help but be affected by it – for life, can you?

I’m so proud of the students of my school, every single one of them. While 9 students get to actually experience the wonders of this white wilderness, I’m amazed by the dedication of all the other pupils who are so keen to make this the most historical undertaking Modern has ever had.

In today’s day and age, raising environmentally passionate future generations has got to be at the center of every educational institution’s philosophy. As teachers, there are only a limited number of things we can do or say to press home important facts about preserving and protecting our planet. But unless children are exposed to the harsh realities of the real world, progress and action will continue to be scant.

As Modern’s 9 buccaneers prepare to set out on their once in a lifetime expedition and be part of the Leadership on the Edge conference in Argentina, we hope that you will support them by spreading the word about their endeavors. You can follow the progress of Modern’s Buccaneers on their facebook page ‘Modern on Antarctica’ or follow @beckyblitz97 and @sydneydxb on twitter for more updates.

Watch this space for more information.

Travelogue # 1 – Kalimpong

I remember standing in a rickety old bus clutching tightly onto my father’s fingers. The bus was swaying precariously from side to side – the driver nervously navigating it up the circular roads carved into the rugged hills of Kalimpong- a small yet vivacious hill station in eastern India. My mother, who was suffering from a bout of mountain sickness was sitting sullenly with my infant brother tucked tightly under her arm. But neither the nauseating movements of the bus cautiously creeping up the rain washed hills, nor my mother’s sudden bout of ill health could dampen my spirits. This was my adventure – the first of many – and I was determined to make the most of it.

4 am. I found myself sitting outside old Mrs. Tweedy’s cottage. To my mind; it seemed like something out of an Enid Blyton book, quaint and charming, nestled neatly among the leafy foliage of the surrounding hills. I sat there wrapped in a thick woolen winter coat struggling to keep my eyes open. The darkness outside seemed menacing and the silence of the early morning hour was deafening, broken only occasionally by the shrill calls of early morning birds. The faint light of the bulb in the cottage patio made it difficult to maneuver our way to the edge of the hill and I just could not fathom why my father had decided to wake me up that early. Fifteen minutes later I heard my father’s gentle voice signaling me to look in his direction.

That wintry morning as I watched the first amber rays of the sun lighting up the night sky, a sense of wonder washed over me. Gradually the amber turned to glistening ocher and the hazy silhouette of the majestic Himalayas began to appear. I stood there captivated, completely mesmerized by nature’s early morning exposition. It was as though she was revealing a carefully painted masterpiece for the first time. The range of colours amazed me and as the locals began to dot the deserted roads and as signs of life began to appear along the hills, I couldn’t help but stare open mouthed. I will never forget the beauty of that sight or the way it made me feel. In retrospect, I now see why literature is littered with poets, novelists and playwrights who gently coerce us into valuing nature’s beauty.

That early morning experience whetted my appetite to explore this great big world we live in. I was never the same. The sight of a train, the noisy rumblings of an airplane flying overhead, the noises of a lively railway station, every little thing that had to do with travel fueled my imagination. Though I was just eight, I knew then, from the core of my being that nothing would make me happier than to be able to explore this great big world.

Whether it was tasting cheese at the local farm, watching farmers milk cows, conversing with locals and trying desperately to use the few words of Nepali I had picked up, gorging on steaming hot momo’s or watching my father re-live his childhood memories in a place he had called home, Kalimpong iswhere my wanderlust was born.

Roads I Have Traveled

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.”

– Benjamin Disraeli

I sat there in the little beach side bistro sipping on a cucumber coolaid and tweeting about the beauty of Cape Town. There was a gentle murmur in the air as I sat there surrounded by travelers in the usual conversation about where they came from and where they’re going next. Down on the beach, surfers were catching the last waves of the day and men driving horse-drawn carts were ferrying ecstatic children around the beach front promenade.

The magic of that solitary moment brought back to my mind countless other memories that I have, of times spent in varied parts of the world. I have had so many wonderful experiences and there are a million memories locked away in the recesses of my mind that sometimes escape and cause me to break out in smile. Each memory reminds me of why I travel: to learn and grow, to challenge myself, stretch my limits and foster an appreciation of both the world at large and the confines of my quirky apartment in Dubai.

I don’t want to forget a single one of those memories. I want to have them as tangible reminders of some of the most precious moments of my life. Therefore, I have decided to add one more category to my blog – My Travelogues with ramblings of amusing encounters and fascinating journeys and trips to roads less travelled. I would love it if you guys would contribute too. You may have been to places that are still on my bucket list and I’d love to hear every little fascinating detail you may have.

They say that life is a collection of memories and if that’s true, I’ve have quite a few memories already stored away. I can hardly wait till the next adventure begins and the next opportunity to create more memories presents itself.

Au revoir for now, but remember this – to travel, is to live.