Monday, 24 November 2014

The Hundred-Foot Journey to Indian green-chillies

What I have been upto this past week-ten days? Manic cooking!! So much that I feel the need to pen down this experience.

I am no cook. I have survived on pan fried noodles and anda-maggi whenever I had to cook. Yummy food is so easily available and at such a good price in India that I never felt the need to learn cooking either. Besides my parents who lived stone throwing distance spoilt me bad by sending even packed breakfast of egg-bread over to my place. So I never really got to cooking.

Past 6 weeks I have enjoyed the yummy food in Netherlands. All the Apple tarts and yummy salads. I felt home. Till last weekend when I went for the movie The Hundred-Foot Journey! Its a movie all about food and I found myself in tears as I missed both Bollywood and Indian Food. As soon as the movie ended I scurried to a nearby restaurant not expecting too much from the food ( i have had a bad experience with Indian food here ) but was pleasantly surprised by a delectable feast - daal, rice, paneer butter masala, palak paneer, naan, mixed vegetable, raita, pickle,papad.. mmmmmm.. and  all so delicious. Almost like a home cooked meal. ( I salivate even as I write about it ). I couldn't stop smiling. My soul felt happy. It might sound I am exaggerating but I am not. 6 weeks away from some good home cooked Indian food coupled with foodie-bollywoodish movie was too much for the foodie in me to take I guess.

Conversing with the restaurant staff in my beloved language Hindi was cherry on the cake. These little glimpses of India I see here make me unbelievably happy. Happier than maybe even being in India did.

The friendly restaurant staff also pointed me in the direction of the store which sold green chillies. Very few shops here sell the Indian green chillies. At least that's what a 6-week-old-in-Netherlands-me thinks.

So.. first thing next day I went to that supermarket to buy green chillies. A special shopping trip of about 4 kms just to shop for green chillies. And I found them there of course. Neatly packed in bunches of about 20. Each costing Rs 100 (lol). Seeing them made me happier than seeing my best friend would have ( I am dead if she reads this ). I have new found respect for green chillies now.

Once back home I googled some recipes, tried to remember all the tips I got from family on cooking and then started my week with cooking. Manic-crazy-non-stop cooking week followed. Every day I tried my hand at couple of new dishes. All that I relish. Egg curry, daal, malai kofta, stuffed capsicum, baigan bharta and more. Mid week I got luckier and learnt about this Indian Grocery Shop in Amsterdam. Since there are none in Haarlem, the city I live in, I travelled especially to Amsterdam to buy ata and besan! Indians will know what it really means. Imagine traveling from Gurgaon to South Delhi just to buy besan! Love for pakoris can make one travel FAR is my conclusion. I bought some spices there as well. Gladly I carried a big bag full of spices, enough to last 6 months, with me from India. I preferred to carry my beloved spices rather than few more clothes! (ya I am the aloo-puri kind of traveller. I travel with my food).

The week ended with some friends over for dinner and I cooked an Indian feast for them. It was the first time in my life I cooked a meal for someone especially come over for dinner. I feel a little embarrassed even admitting it. For Indian standards its beyond terribly bad I think, where almost every girl is an excellent cook and cooking for family and friends is common.

Its been a wonderful week just being adventurous in the kitchen. The house owner who loves cooking himself, feels his kitchen has been hijacked as he has not had a chance to cook for the past week ten days. The kitchen has now been returned to him. Dutch food will be a welcome change now for me too.

I think I will go back to my travelling and leave the kitchen alone for a bit. :)

Thursday, 13 November 2014


Whenever I get the opportunity I pack my bags and leave. I go alone if I have to. I do not do it for anyone else or for pictures on facebook ( though I love sharing my travel experiences ) or luxury or cause travel sites and blogs are urging me to or cause it sounds cool.

I do it because:

Be alone and JUST BE.
Be alone with myself and my thoughts. It’s at these times when I can really hear myself and block all the noise out. To eat alone and enjoy the meal too. Love and accept myself despite all my imperfections. To enjoy my own company. Traveling brings out facets of me I don't even know exist. It makes me so much more accepting, giving and adventurous. 

Value Time.
In a one day stop-over at Helsinki, Finland, I did not waste a single moment and was out there exploring the beautiful city on foot as I had just one day there. It makes me value time and realize that a day is just not 1 day but 24 hours or 1440 minutes or 86,400 seconds.

Traveling builds my faith like nothing else. I realize even the worst of situations turn out all right and that everything will be FINE.

Feel Free.
Its when I am out exploring a new place, meeting new people, seeing new things, gaining new experiences I feel free and not bounded by pressures that everyday life can bring with it. Being in a foreign land with strangers that all guards are let down. No judging happens. The ease with which all this comes during traveling gives me a taste of it and then bring it back with me in my everyday life, imbibe it and make it a part of me, gradually.

As funny as it sounds traveling brings out a side of me I didn’t know existed. It makes me dreamy, love life and everything that comes with it.

It is a big fat beautiful world and I want to see as much of it as possible in this life on my feet with my own eyes. I would like to visit every country taste every cuisine meet people from all cultures before I die.

Meet new people.
Meeting new people with different experiences gives me a whole new perspective to life and how things can be seen.

Because I learn more when I am out of a cubicle than in it.  9 years of work experience did not give me as much exposure, learning and acceptance that a year of traveling did.

Gain experiences and build memories.
While all the information I can imagine is available on the Google, my experiences cannot be built by the worldwide web. Stories for children and grandchildren do not come from what I read on Google. Because at 80 or maybe even 90 I want to look back and say YES I had a wonderful life and I saw the world through my own eyes and not a computer or an android.

Be in the present.
To be in the moment and not be lost in my thoughts of past or worries of future. To just BE which is so much of a happier and content space.

Decrease materialism.
While backpacking for 3 months I realized how I need so much less to live on and still be the happiest I have ever been. It made me less materialistic and I do not try to find happiness in things or shopping or that one pretty dress. While I am still drawn to that one pretty dress in my favorite ZARA I know I can travel to a new place and explore a new part of the earth than just another piece of clothing in my wardrobe.

Accept the unexpected.
To go with the flow as the best experiences in life are unplanned and not scheduled. They just happen. And accept things and be patient when things are not going as planned.

To be adventurous and have fun and enjoy this so called journey of life.

Miss family and friends.
I leave to miss the most important things in life. To appreciate the otherwise mundane routine. To miss my bed and my pillow. To realize what is all that I love and miss most about home.

These are my reasons. What are yours?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Zaanse Schans. Key highlight of the Netherlands.

Netherlands and windmills go hand in hand. One such place to see them is Zaanse Schans, a windmill park with an iconic series of working windmills, just outside Amsterdam.

It offers a preserved glimpse of life in Netherlands in the 18th and the 19th century and its damn interesting to walk through the so-called typical green Dutch houses of that century

Many of the houses there are being used for private accommodation and the tenants pay an affordable rent in exchange for maintaining the houses of the area.
Wondering how it would be to live in a beautiful windmill park  but with tourists peaking into their houses all day.

Inside a windmill. Grain being grounded by the energy generated. 

There is so much to see, eat, experience that Zaanse Schans can easily fill half a day or maybe more. It is packed with working windmills, barns, beautiful houses and museums. 

Albert Heijn, which is a supermarket chain, was first started here in 1887. It was really cool. 

 You will also come across chocolate and cheese shops. 
The people living there have their own party bread which they call DUIVEKATER which literally translated in English means pigion-tomcat. 

Klomps so pretty. But how do wear them without getting shoe bites ?! There was a wonderful collection collection of klomps.

Klomps production unit. I was surprised to know about 3 million klomps are made each year in Netherlands and many Dutch especially farmers still wear them

Its one of the key attractions in the Netherlands and going by the number of visitors I saw on just one day I guess there must be millions flocking each year. To be honest though it is one of the key highlights of the Netherlands I had never heard of it before. I did see many Indian tourists there though. 

Have you ever heard about Zaanse Schans?

It is a 45 minutes bus ride from central station Amsterdam. High up in my list of 'favorite places' now. Its good for all ages and a real good one if you have kids. The entry to the windmill park is free however museums and other attractions need a few euros entry fee. 

Would you like to visit this place ? For the ones who do, here is a bed and breakfast I found inside the park. It would be a great place to spend a day I guess. If you look closely can see the contact details. ( lol )

For those who do not want to visit it I would like to quote John Lubbock
"We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth"

Monday, 10 November 2014

Day trip cycling to Castle Brederode

Castle Brederode ( Ruins of Brederode ) is located near the village of Santpoort in North Holland province of the Netherlands. The castle founded in 13th century became the first to be restored by the Dutch government in the 19th century and it became the first national monument of the Netherlands

Woodlands around the castle is a perfect place for bikers

First look, I wanted to just sit down and enjoy 

The entry fee is a few euros which is used to maintain the remains

The castle inside has beautiful scenic views 

A model of the castle inside

Top view from the castle tower

Edgy :p

In good weather its a great place to visit for a couple of hours and soak in the beautiful scenic view around. Personally, I find ruins very fascinating ( and cemeteries too. Strange for many people I don't know why! ).. And if they have such scenic views, it makes the experience even better.


Some of the coolest people I know are the ones who I met on the road. Whether it was on
A bike ride to Ladakh ( Karl and Frenchie. Two super cool people. Karl is the person who I think inducted me into traveling more so budget traveling and Frenchie who has been to 70+countries is the most traveled person I know )
In a hostel ( crazy night with dorm friends, spent pub crawling - our own pub crawl - in Prague. One of them, Gabriel hosted me in Switzerland n who I later hosted on his Indian trip)
Doing carpooling ( Irek and Monica the couple with whom I car pooled in Spain to the Tomatina festival and who hosted me in their home for about three to four days and are one of the most generous people I have ever met. The first ever cat I liked was Monica's cutie little kitty called Loesha )
Being lost ( the Indian family who took me in their home when I lost my way to my hostel late at night In Vienna. Fed me, gave me  a bed and dropped me off safely with a box of chocolates the next day )
Standing in a Queue ( Olly who I met standing in a ticket queue of a ferry from Valencia to Ibiza and partied with first in Ibiza and later in Amsterdam )
Gabi ( memory very close to my heart and to be told only to be told to our kids and grand kids )
While hitchiking. Jana who I met while hitchhiking from Bordeaux to Nice and who now is one of the most special people in my life.

I was going to write about this aspect and my experience of traveling much later but a parcel from Czech Republic this past weekend makes me want to write about this much sooner. A totally unexpected gift from a very special hitchhiker friend. Five weeks into a a new country a new place one doesn't expect gifts and parcels delivered at his doorstep. But it is possible if they have an amazing hitchhiker friend like Jana.

Hitchhiking was part of my to do list when I traveled around Europe last year. I knew I had to do it, though the thought seemed scary. The possibility of things going wrong seemed high. But I had heard lots of hitchhiking adventures and I very much wanted to experience it myself. Some stories I had heard were scary but those come with the 'adventure package' I guess. 

As luck would have it I got the chance in France when I had to leave for NICE from Bordeaux but due to lack of options, budget options, I chose to hitch hike instead. Trying to be all adventurous I hit the road with a typical hitch hiking banner and after having dumped some heavy things from my backpack and making it HH friendly. It took me a while before I got any ride. As they say about HH 'you stay long enough and you will always get it ' ( goes for anything in life I think ).

It was going fine. Not as adventurous as I had imagined it to be when my travel angel as always bestowed luck on me and I met Jana who was also trying to get a lift in the same direction. Out of sheer practical reasons, that its easier for two girls to get a lift than a solo girl ( for obvious reasons ) we decided to hitch hike together.


Soon we realized we were a super team. I somehow managed to stop the cars and once in the vehicle Jana owing to her multilingual skills managed to keep the driver engaged and entertained ( a hitchhiker's obligation ) till our drop off points. We must have changed four different rides in just about half a day. It could have been tiring but on the contrary it turned out to be super fun - stopping vehicles, getting to meet more strangers while being strangers ourselves, trusting each other while still being cautious, sharing food, exchanging notes of our travel. I found her super cool, fun and easy to be with. No hangups. Just living it up. Very inspiring. We came across some super fun people too who played some never heard before gipsy music and treated us to coffee and a bite.


I remember on one of the rides when I managed to stop a vehicle the owner told me that he had place for only one of us in the car. I was surprised myself when I chose to let the ride go and not attempt to reach my destination faster than letting my hitchhiker friend be alone. Initially the intention was just to get to my destination as soon as possible by taking lifts and jumping into unknown vehicles, my then definition of Hitchhiking. Gradually it changed to enjoying the journey with a new HH partner and yapping with strangers kind enough to stop for us. By the way, the person did manage to make place for both of us anyway which was so cool.

 Another incidence I distinctly remember is, a driver after ten minutes of having dropped us, frantically waving at us from the other side of the road. Turns out that the lost and careless me had left my soooooper precious phone in his car. I think I almost jumped him in delight and gratitude. If felt, if strangers are so  magnanimous, kind, humble, giving, I never want to KNOW anyone again.

Half a day of hitchhiking brought us to a point where we had to part ways. We exchanged contact details and bid good bye. I knew I would miss this lovely hitchhiker. I invited her to visit me in India and even while doing so something in me told me she would. 

Which she did. Gladly. And what a time I had. Playing guide in the not-so-loved-by-me-Delhi. Touring Agra and Taj Mahal. Shopping at Sarojini Nagar. Doing seva in Banglasahib (my first experience ever hence v proud and bragging). It was an amazing one week. 

Eating like an Indian meal the Indian way

Yep she can do yoga too

Shopping spree in Sarojini Nagar

We knew we would meet soon in Europe too. Since I have arrived here, we have tried to meet up several times in the past five weeks but somehow our plans fell flat each time. I hope to go visit her soon for a skiing trip in Prague or be her guide again, in Haarlem and Amsterdam this time around.

I haven't thanked her for her gift yet because a gesture so sweet needs to be thanked in a little unexpected way. 

Jana thanks a lot for the beautiful gift and the sweet letter. It's one of the sweetest I've ever received and YOU are one of the sweetest I have ever met. Hope to meet you soon- on the road -and build more adventurous memories. Love always. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Beautiful Haarlem.

Haarlem, 'flower city', is where I live now. Its about 20 kms from Amsterdam or should I say 20 minutes train ride from Amsterdam. ( Basically half the time I used to take just getting out of Gurgaon in India..only my India friends would know what I mean here :p ). 

The first time I came here which was last year in September 2013, I felt its a pretty boring place. ( I had come in from Amsterdam so you know what I mean. No red light district, no pushy tourists, no queue of souvenir shops or bustling trams ). It seemed way too quite for a touristy me back then. It seemed beautiful even then no doubt, just a little too mute!

It seemed more livable which it definitely is. It has a population of about 156,000..which is what.. about as many people who live in one DLF phase of Gurgaon in India.. which basically means people of one little small living society spread over a city. I don't mind it! I am not missing the traffic jams :p ( I do miss the food though ). Anyways let me not digress or start about Gurgaon. Back to Haarlem!

If you see it from my eyes, every corner for this city is BEAUTIFUL! Really. 

2 min walk from home I see this view! 

5 minutes walk I see this!

10 minutes walk I see this!

I guess I have made my point. No more walking distances and snaps! So ya, every little corner of this city is a treat for the eyes. It can very well be a writer's abode. Serene. Peaceful. 

Just cycling around makes me happy. Its when cycling around this charming city I don't mind not having a job or being completely useless and just being. 

And its not even a boring place as I first thought. Its got plenty recreational and go-to options. Many sports clubs, hang-out places like a windmill, De Adriaan where one can just laze around and have a beer, Jopen kerk which is a church converted into a beer brewery ( how cool is that ! ), Friday flee markets, Grote market which is the cool city center with multiple shopping lanes with all the brands any girl could ever wish for, cinema halls and so much more that I will need to write another blog post for it.

Grote market, Haarlem's city square with lovely open cafes, shopping arcade and beer bars. 

Grote kerk ( church ) on Grote Market at Haarlem city square.

Me fooling around on top of the windmill, De Adriaan.

Yummy beer at the windmill, De Adriaan.

And houses so beautiful, you wouldn't ever want to leave home!

Ones like in snap below are my favorite. They seem to me like cake houses somehow and take me back to Hansel and Gretel. Fairytaled thinking!

This one here is so adorable with a cute little garden in front.

I read a little about the history of Haarlem and turns out that half the history of Haarlem is made up! lol. ( can i write lol ?! ). But that goes for every place I think. Its so often that stories and 'history' of a place is made up especially by guides. They have to build interesting tales to fascinate and attract more tourists I guess. Probably thats why I am not the best story teller. I don't make up or exaggerate things. My story telling is more like stating facts. Thankfully those facts happen to be interesting enough for me to live and write about. I hope they are interesting to read as well for some! Anyone coming to Haarlem, please visit. I can make decent tea and Gabi makes great coffee! :)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

India to Netherlands.

There is a gap in the blog, with me being in Rishikesh, India in one blog and then appearing in Zeeland, Netherlands in the next one. A case of bad editing ? :p Not really. Its because I have been very busy, shifting countries! I shifted from my home country India to The Netherlands in October.

Exactly one year after meeting Gabi, I find myself living in a new country, his country.


This shift did not happen overnight. Both of us had been working towards it for months. As per The Netherlands immigration law, one has to clear a Dutch language and cultural exam called the Civic integration exam. Learning a new language was not easy. But if I wanted to join him, it had to be done. And besides learning a new language was not a bad idea!

I cleared the exam. Thankfully! Post which Gabi's work started. Cumbersome paperwork. He submitted my application in August. We were expecting the immigration to get cleared by October end-mid November. However on 19th September a very delighted Gabi told me that immigration had been cleared from Netherlands and that I was granted a five years residency and work permit. Our happiness had no bounds. Not losing anymore time I booked to fly out on 30th September which meant I had only five days to pack up my entire life in India and leave for Netherlands. Frenzied packing followed.

It was with a tear and smile that I left India. Sad at having to leave my home. Leaving was not as easy as I had thought. It was not just another trip. Though I was very much looking forward to fun times in Netherlands.

 reached Netherlands on 30th September and I was welcomed by sweet Gabi 

                                                                                                                                                                                                            On reaching home I got a memorable gift.                                                                                                    

30th September, we also completed a year together. A very special day, which will always be celebrated by clinking some beer mugs! :)

Soon I received my Dutch residency card.

Its been a little more than a month I have been here in this pretty country and left my own home. I do miss India at times however I am guilty of not missing it too much. Mostly because I feel at home here and have been welcomed with open arms.

With Gabi's mum for my birthday shopping.

My birthday dinner with family

So much has happened in this past one month. I will share that some other time. Just now, its time for a little Gabi cake.