Neha in Ravello, Italy

Picture yourself at the bottom of a set of stone steps, facing a whitewashed church. To your left, a narrow cobbled street winds away from you, and to your right, purple flowers spill over a stone wall. Turn around, and just beyond a vast piazza of teracottas and whites, a mass of green trees covers a steep hillside. Look beyond the trees and you can catch glimpses of a sea, far far below you.

Sadly, no Romeo spouted poetry at the top of the steps so I had to do it myself

You’re in Ravello. You won’t want to leave when you’ve taken it in, mostly because you want to take it in again. We spent a few hours there one afternoon, walking through the streets hoping to get lost so we wouldn’t have to leave.

Ravello’s roots began in the 5th century. It was strategically set far above sea level, giving inhabitants the advantage of distance and visibility for miles along what is now the infamous Amalfi coast. Its rustic past is what makes it so captivating today. Despite being primarily a tourist destination, it has an air of understated beauty about it, requiring nothing but the sun to reveal its medieval treasures.

Our bus climbed 365m from Amalfi along hairpin bends and impossibly narrow roads for an hour or so. It dropped us just outside a tunnel which was covered with posters for concerts, performances and exhibitions. When you walk through the tunnel, you feel like you’re walking through a dark subway in London or Birmingham (slightly less glamorous) but keep walking. The tunnel opens out onto the Via Giovanni Boccaccio which leads to the central piazza, Piazza Duomo. I turned the full 360° a couple of times, not knowing where to look first and what to take in. This seems to be a common trait in me when I travel but I assure you, you will feel the same.

It does feel touristy, but there’s something about the quiet air up in the hills that makes you feel like you’ve been swept away into another time. We spent some time winding through the streets (I did mention that we tried to get lost to avoid going home, right?) before deciding to visit the famous Villa Rufolo and its gardens. Entry is expensive but if you appreciate a good panoramic view, or flowers, or ruins, then go. It’s easy to spend hours in the gardens. They’re perfectly manicured and set against dramatic hillside views of the Amalfi coast and the Tyrrhenian sea.

If you’re visiting, I’d recommend staying for a few days. For me, it was the views that made it incredible, I could have sat in the gardens all day, eyes glazed over, absorbing the view and the mountain air. The gardeners have crafted it perfectly: crumbling ruins from another age, surrounded by perfectly pruned flowers and arbours.

We loved the stark contrast between busy, crowded Amalfi and the quiet fresh mountain air of Ravello. It felt almost like respite and was very refreshing. I wouldn’t return to Amalfi again, even with its coves and world renowned reputation, unless it was to go straight to Ravello.

Our entire evening passed us by as we meandered about the town, and after what felt like the blink of an eye, night had fallen, revealing even more magic. I am aware that I sound like a poet over here, but I challenge you to go to Ravello and not be transformed into a poet or an artist!

It has inspired creative legends through the years, Richard Wagner composed part of Parsifal in Ravello, Gore Vidal (American author) wrote and lived there for thirty years, and Virginia Woolf was known to visit often. That’s me justifying my love letter for Ravello if you hadn’t realised.

We ordered the best pizza I have ever had from the restaurant on Via Richard Wagner but had to order it to go when we realised we were about to miss the last bus back to Amalfi. Whilst they made the pizza (apparently it only takes 15 minutes to stonebake perfection) we ran up Via Richard Wagner and turned left on Via S. Giovanni del Torro to get a final glimpse of Ravello by night. I felt like a kid at bedtime when I got a call to say the pizza was done and it was time to go back.

We circled Piazza Duomo one final time, climbed up the steps to the Duomo church and walked in hungry silence through the dark tunnel to the bus stop. In complete contrast to the class and splendour of Ravello, I ate my first street pizza crouched on the pavement whilst waiting for the bus, where I learned that if you roll it up, it retains the heat better. Swore I’d never repeat that to a soul.

What I will repeat, is that I returned from Ravello with regret of not having spent more time there. Visit. Visit soon and visit for longer than I did. Let me know when you inevitably become a poet.

–Neha

Colombo matrix

Food: 2

People: 1.5

Ambience: 2

Sights and activities: 1.5

X-Factor: 2

Total: 9/10

Neha in Sardinia

Famed for its beaches and celebrity sightings, the island is 236 km off the west coast of mainland Italy and 18 km south of the French island of Corsica. Look beyond the beaches (it’s tough, they’re stunning) and you can see the remains of its rich history. Sardinian roots can be traced back as far as 1800 BC to the Phoenicians. The land was used by the Roman empire for farming and most recently, parts of the Maddalena archipelago were used as a NATO naval base. Today, it’s a compulsory destination for the super rich with their super yachts in the west, for drum and bass fans at the Sun and Bass festival in the east, and for Italian visitors all over. During our week-long holiday on the island, I began to understand why it is so popular.

I arrived with big expectations – a colleague had told me the beaches rival the Bahamas. Looking back, my snapshot memory of the island is not far off: turquoise water with perfect clarity set against the kind of white sand that you see in the movies. Our holiday consisted of visiting beaches and trying to tear ourselves away from the hotel spa, the only thing on our agenda was to relax and Sardinia was perfect for us. In Olbia tourism is mostly beach centric so if you’re looking for something more adventurous I’d suggest visiting another part of the island.

We landed in Olbia at night and tried to navigate the roads in darkness. Do not recommend. Had it not been for unlimited roaming and google maps we would have had to camp out in the car overnight. Coming from drizzly England, it took a few minutes of squinting into the sunlight the next morning to get accustomed to the morning sun. We began the first day exploring Golfo Aranci and happened upon more beaches than I have seen in my life. Golfo Aranci is a national park along the aptly named Costa Smeralda (Emerald coast) on the north eastern corner of the island. The coastal road takes you on a dramatic tour of rugged hills and arid land before you trace the coast and happen upon beach after beach – we were spoiled for choice. In a car it was easy to find the smaller, less touristy beaches but hotels have minibuses and coaches that take you to the more popular destinations. I’d definitely recommend hiring a car if you’re planning on exploring.

There is a reflective sediment in Sardinian water which renders all other descriptions of glimmering water, moot. La Spiaggi Bianca (also known as Tahiti beach) was the unanimous favourite. It sits in a mini gulf of its own which makes it feel secluded. The waves lap the sand very gently so it’s perfect for swimming and spotting little fish scurrying at your ankles. It was relatively busy which ordinarily would put us off but the prospect of the mini gulf was so relaxing that we lost a few hours ankle deep in water watching the odd boat drift by.

We weren’t so much enamoured with San Teodoro despite it being a recommended beach. It curves around for quite some distance but every inch was full of families and children, and it was incredibly loud. The benefit of having a car was that we could drive in the opposite direction of the morning tour buses that ferry the crowds to already overpopulated beaches.

On day three we stopped by a saffron farm on the way to Cagliari, the island’s capital. S’Argidda saffron farm in San Gavino Monreale is a 228km (2.5 hour) drive south of Olbia. The infrastructure is great: it sweeps you through and alongside small mountain ranges and Fume (River) Tirso which you get stolen glimpses of between the trees. We got lost in a small typically rustic Italian village: imagine orange and lemon trees spilling into the street and the obligatory bicycle propped up against blue shutters and a faded peach washed wall. Typically, authentically Italian. We did a few laps before admitting we were lost and were greeted by the kindest man and his two daughters who in broken English and expressive hand gestures directed us back to the saffron farm despite their confusion at us wanting to see – a saffron farm.

I’d recommend booking in advance for a tour, but it’s also worth considering whether it’s worth the journey. Cagliari is a long way from Olbia and I wouldn’t drive all the way down if we could do it again. It was a long day of driving through and alongside mountain ranges which can get tiresome after 5-6 hours. There is more to do in Cagliari but I’d save that for another trip entirely. For now, the lesser known Olbia has won it for me.

We ventured into sleepy old town on a sunny Sunday afternoon when the rest of the town was mid siesta. Olbia’s Old Town is a quaint wonder, and for me, set the bar for rustic Old Towns the world over. We crossed over the railway into town and walked up the hill towards the restaurants, passing ornate wooden doors, cast iron balconies, flowers creeping around wooden lattices, a faded row boat now used as a flower display and cafe seating spilling out into the street under white umbrellas. We ventured along narrow side streets and found ourselves continually stopping just to take it in. The timing was perfect: I don’t imagine Old Town is sleepy and quiet at any other time of the week.

Day four was my unforgettable highlight, we spent the entire day on a boat touring the Maddalena Archipelago. It’s a collection of 55 islands and islets, now a National Park, dotted between Sardinia and Corsica. Gliding through the water from the port in Palau I felt like we were being transported to another continent. I’m not sure which was more serene; the cloudless sky or waters so clear that I could see a couple of boat lengths down to the water bed. We wound around and between the islands, I felt comforted being lost and disorientated among the little islands of absolute splendour.

It did irritate me that the tourist boats were spilling their waste out into the spotless water, places like this should be protected and revered. Of all the places I have visited, I feel as if I left my heart in the archipelago. I was completely entranced by the water, the boat and the islands. We explored a few by foot. On one island, we walked for 20 minutes under an unrelenting 32* sun, batting away branches, whining about the heat and almost spraining ankles but were rewarded with the most spectacular view of the surrounding islets. We happened upon derelict army buildings and the remains of rusted canons when we ventured through the woods on the islands. It turns out that until 2008 they served as a NATO naval base storing US nuclear missiles and have been used for military or strategic purposes since the thirteenth century. We explored beyond the beach of another island and behind a collection of charred purple plants (very obscure) saw the disbanded remains of canons, derelict huts and man holes rusted shut with bolts hammered into the ground. It felt like the island held secrets which we wouldn’t find out. Rich history for a seemingly inconsequential collection of islands. It added to the mystery of the entire archipelago.

Day four finished with a brief stint in Maddalena Old Town. La Maddalena is one of the six larger islands in the archipelago and for the most part, is a national park. Maddalena Old Town is more beautiful than Olbia Old Town (I didn’t think it could be topped). It is very touristy but the stone buildings make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. We got the feeling that the archipelago had a different cultural influence to the rest of Sardinia, most probably because of its great strategic location and stop gap for tradesmen and craftsmen as they ventured into Europe to sell their wares. I was genuinely sorry to leave La Maddalena behind. It was with a heavy heart that we departed the island to complete our day trip that day. I remember standing the entire boat journey home, totally entranced by the sea and increasingly jealous of the yacht owners who didn’t have to go home just yet.

I have grand plans to return, this time for a week of islet-hopping (take that, yacht owners who made me jealous). Some beaches are accessible only by boat and there are plenty of overgrown paths to explore.

Sardinians enjoy a separate identity to mainland Italy, they have their own wine and signature pecorino cheese, the culture has visibly been influenced by long and short term visitors. Sardinian food could probably fill a blog post of its own entirely so I will keep it short. The food is a dream; I still remember tomatoes sweet enough to bite into like apples. We unashamedly had a cheese board every day (I’m not sorry). We found a quaint pizzeria (Trocadero) tucked away in Olbia’s old town which made pizzas so good we couldn’t bear to leave them behind. Fortunately we had time on our last day to sit for an hour until we could finish them. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pack ten more to bring home.

For a small island (9,300 miles²) Sardinia packs a punch. It’s a popular tourist destination for Italians: that in itself is a litmus test. If Italians with their rolling vineyards and rustic cities flock to the island, it must be spectacular. There are many many faces to the island, each warranting its own separate trip. I’ll certainly be returning if not for the food then for the stunning panorama.

 

Food    2/2
People   2 /2
Ambience    1.5/2
Sights & Activities   1.5 /2
X-Factor    1.5/2

Stuck in a cove

Allow me to set the scene. It had rained heavily for most of the morning. We’re talking borderline monsoon.

The rest of the day turned out to be relatively clear. I was excited to win back an afternoon and headed out to discover the local beach.

The whatsapp conversation tells the true story of a time when jelly legs (and ankles) rendered me motionless whilst exploring Italy’s Amalfi coast.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in today’s post, please contact us. Jelly legs are real. We feel your plight.

Neha, September 17

When the fridge took a holiday

 

We went away for two weeks. Giddy with the excitement of seeing blue skies, we checked the house three times, each person doing a separate lap to re-adjust the half-drawn curtains, rattle window handles or tighten the taps so that not a single drop of water would escape.

On the way back, the air stewardess announced that the UK was indeed cold and dreary. We would need to switch the heating on full when we got home, the house would be cold. We needed our coats. They were in the car, half an hour away from the airport. It was okay – we could handle a bit of rain.

We decided who would be on heating duty, unloading duty, unpacking duty and tea duty (tea duty is the most sacred of all duties after two weeks away, a lot of pressure rests on the tea-maker’s shoulders). One member of our party (who shall remain anonymous) absent mindedly said they would need to flick the electricity on before we could make tea.

The realisation dawned on us as we chewed on our plane grapes and wrestled our plane bread. The aforementioned member of our party (who shall remain anonymous) looked at us in silent horror. They clapped their palm on their forehead with the kind of might that could have sent a plane seat into permanent recline.

The fridge had been off for two weeks.

Someone would be subbed from tea duty to mopping duty.

We would have to wait until we could have tea.

We were helplessly trapped on a plane for a few more hours and could do absolutely nothing to save our fridge from the spicy neopolitan puddle speckled with deflated profiteroles that was forming around it.

We arrived home around 5 hours later and rushed to the fridge to find Ben and Jerry perched on the top shelf of the freezer, in a mezzanine state somewhere between solid and liquid.

Not bad for two weeks off.

–Neha

 

It was abroad, it doesn’t count

I pride myself on never having received a speeding ticket in the UK. So I arrived in Germany and rented a car. My first driving experience here was safe in the knowledge there were no speed limits. I got comfortable behind the wheel of my Ford Fiesta, turned on the engine, stalled and almost hit the pillar in the car park. It was a very close call. A few hours later, after adjusting to driving on the wrong side of the road, I was driving casually on the motorway, with no visible speed limit in sight other than the GPS changing at unpredictable intervals.

Out of nowhere, a 60kph speed restriction came into force on the motorway with no speed limit. With one arm on the wheel and another scratching my ear, a bright flash from the camera caught me off guard. Hand in ear, I turned to the passenger and we sat in silence, confused and a little dazed.

This memorable road trip ended with about 800km covered, a full tank of petrol costing about 50 pounds, my first speeding ticket (it was abroad- doesn’t count) and the cherry: a late fee for driving an hour over my 24 hour hire period.

–Ven 30/08/15

Lesson 1: do not anger the goats

A couple of us were trekking just outside of Cusco, Peru. All was going well, we had seen various ruins and were in good spirits on our way back. However, we somehow managed to wander right into the middle of a massive flock of sheep.

Turning around to walk back out, I encountered a goat staring straight at me. It grunted. Falling back upon the mountain of advice I had been given should I ever encounter an angry goat, I knew I should stay calm and back away. Three seconds later, as I ran like a hunted gazelle, I absolutely creamed my foot on a rock. This would later be confirmed as a stress fracture.

–Prem – 28/08/15

 

Fly vs. family round 1

It was the peak of the Maltese summer. The scorching hot midday sun prompted siesta time. We were sitting on our sixth floor hotel balcony with the patio doors wide open, watching people amble about their day on the street. Our phones were inside the hotel room: we were all together on the balcony, who else would we need to contact?

We had just settled in when the fly came in. It audaciously buzzed past us on the balcony, into the room, taunting my dad. My dad leapt out of his chair and chased after it at top speed, dodging a collection of suitcases and shoes on the floor. The fly feinted left, my dad feinted left. The fly flew up, my dad poised himself ready to strike, ready to Obama that thing.

My dad’s adversary was smart. It flew a few laps of the room haphazardly, my dad leaning over the bed to get to it, moving the furniture aside lest it was damaged in battle. No such luck. The fly was smart. My dad had to change his technique. He grabbed a hotel sized beach towel and snapped it back, creating a draught big enough to dislodge the fly from its frenzied flight path. Snap. The fly, dazed from the sudden gust of wind, flew away from the gust, onto the balcony and into the street. Most probably to terrorise another unsuspecting family.

My dad, feeling quite pleased with himself, calmly folded the towel, returned to the balcony, and took a victory sip of iced water whilst closing the patio doors to prevent other flies from wreaking havoc on our relaxing afternoon.

“If the windows are closed the flies can’t get in.” he explained quite logically.

It wasn’t until we wanted another bottle of water from the fridge that we realised the patio doors didn’t open from the outside. The realisation sent a wave of panic through us. We suddenly needed the bathroom or were completely famished (our last meal was four whole hours ago).

This is when we morphed into Prison Break mode. We tried brute force, simultaneously pushing and pulling the handle. When that didn’t work we set about searching for tools to pick the lock with. The tools we had were rubber flip flops, a small stone and a chair. Whilst my family was in Prison Break mode, I morphed into Spiderman/Mission Impossible mode, planning my six storey descent of the vertical drop, running into the reception and saving my family. My vision quickly dissipated when I couldn’t scale the stone wall of the balcony itself (in my defence it was 3/4 of a person high).

We resorted to drowning person mode, waving down anyone who might listen – but it was the peak of the siesta.

After what felt like an hour of muted frenzied waving, we were tired, hungry and almost ready to give up. We were saved by a bemused resident in the building opposite who had watched the whole affair unfold with a bottle of beer in his hand. In my dazed confusion I could have sworn I also saw a bowl of popcorn by his side. It appeared he had called out his wife to watch.

Thank goodness it wasn’t a sea-facing room.

The hotel manager unlocked the door and through stifled laughter, told us to come in quickly: another fly might come in.

–Neha

Neha in Zurich

The first myth I want to dispel is that Switzerland is boring. Completely disagree. Switzerland’s peaks, lakes and culture are enchanting. For the first time we found ourselves not wanting to walk or cycle or drive to see a long list of places on a pre-planned bucket list. That was what travelling was to me but Switzerland turned my preconceptions on their heads.

We stayed in Küsnacht, a small suburban town along Zurich lake, about 30 minutes by train from the main station. Küsnacht is a relatively affluent town, very quiet and great for relaxing. It was so still it felt like a retreat. The silence was interrupted by the distant sound of gushing water from the local waterfall (no, really) when the wind was blowing in the right direction.

Our hilltop views afforded us unforgettably serene views of Lake Zurich and when the sky cleared, a snow capped mountain range in the distance. My lasting memory of this trip will be sitting out on the veranda, feet up, mug of tea in hand. I was once told that the only thing that could silence me was an unforgettable view: the Swiss mountainscape did it.

Our weekend began with a traditional meal at Restaurant Hochwacht on mountain Pfannenstiel. I had Swiss rösti with wild mushrooms paired with the country’s own Petit Arvine wine. We have been searching for the wine in London since but to no avail as yet. The food is simple and perfectly Swiss but what captivates you (as does most of the country) is the view. The restaurant is accessible only by road and is perfectly placed near hiking trails through the forest. If you’re an outdoorsy adventurer, the country is calling.

Quality of life is a big thing in Switzerland. On Sundays everything shuts down: cafes, shops and restaurants. Speaking to locals, we realised it is quite common to ski, hike or sail for the weekend, or drive the short distance to France or Germany.  Our friends would begin their mornings swimming in local lakes before work. What I loved is that embedded in the culture is commitment to looking after you. We did however speak to Mo, a cab driver who took us home one late Saturday evening who had spent twelve years in the city and spoke four languages but felt that Swiss culture was so strong and unyielding that he felt the need to suppress his cosmopolitan identity. It certainly made us think: a strong culture is quite something for tourists and the affluent but does it alienate those with different perspectives?

Day two was a trip to Luzern in the north where we hopped on a ferry to take a cogwheel train up mount Rigi. Luzern and Rigi are both very touristy but absolutely worth the visit. The cogwheel railway winds within inches of cliffs and trees which are easily a few storeys tall, it’s tough to decide which scenery to take in. Behind you the lake fades out of view and to the side there are cows and wooden huts, just like on the postcards. Rigi Kulm, the highest point of the railway is nearly 1,800m above sea level and on a good day, you can see snow capped mountains close enough to touch on one side.

If you hike a little further, you’re rewarded with what feels like a bird’s eye view of Zugersee Lake. From the top of the mountain the wind carries with it the faint ringing of cow bells which I found difficult to reconcile in my head. Affixing cow bells is a Swiss institution but it must be infuriating for the animals.

Finding it difficult to tear ourselves away from yet another spectacular view, we spent most of the day on Rigi. In the evening we explored Luzern’s old town. The town was hosting a month-long Summer Music Festival which meant street food and pop up performances which we loved.

I liked the city for the cosmpolitan buzz but old town wasn’t what I was expecting. We ventured away from the water towards cobbled streets and ornate doorways. It didn’t feel as authentic as Olbia or La Maddalena Old Town (take a look at my post on Sardinia).

I have to mention Swiss trains. They’re double decker, clean, spacious and very comfortable. Try multiplying our London Underground by 10. Actually, 20. There was a mini jungle gym at the back of the Luzern-Zurich train which blew my mind. Commuting may even be a pleasure in Switzerland, this in itself was a revelation to a TfL commuter.

The final day of our trip came with a consolatory promise to return, although to a different part of the country. After our fourth cup of tea on the veranda we decided to venture into Zurich town. There is plenty to do and see, it is easily worth a day trip.  We meandered through Old Town (beautifully rustic), sat in St Paul’s Church and happened upon Teucher which is the Swiss version of Charlie’s chocolate factory. My advice: try the raspberry ice cream. I still remember it. What I loved about the the town is that you can lose your bearing as you wind along the alleyways and cobbled streets.

We ended the trip quite aptly sitting in silence (again) by the river Limmat whilst all four churches in Old Town rang the hour in.

Swiss splendour is almost entirely outside, and far above sea level it seems. Prepare for those cobwebs to be swept away from the lofty heights of the mountainscape and prepare for a new appreciation for silence

 

Colombo matrix

Food: 1

People: 1.5

Ambience: 1.5

Sights and activities: 2

X-factor: 1.5

Total: 7.5

 

Bhav at the great Gujarati wedding

The decorations, the music, the bright colours, the family, it’s all part of an Indian wedding. Indian weddings in the UK are spectacular in their own right! For us at home, guest lists of 400 are huge. Now fly 400 miles across to India, and multiply our spectacular weddings by 100!

When one of my best mates announced his engagement and that his wedding was going to be in Ahmadabad, there was no second thought or hesitation, I was going to be there no matter what! A friend who I call a brother, in a city with such a vast history – how can you say no???

The week-long wedding happened in Ahmadabad, the capital of Gujarat. This was the first time I’d visited the city and I absolutely loved it. It’s considerably smaller than London but feels much bigger, partly because it’s much busier and more densely populated.

We stayed with my friend’s family in Bapunagar, near the airport. Bapunagar is on the edge of Ahmadabad, and is a small fairly undeveloped area with narrow bumpy dirty roads, houses with only a couple of bedrooms. The people here have such big hearts and show so much love to their guests that it may not be home, but feels just like you are home with your family. Getting into the city centre usually was an hour’s drive, and with 18 of us all staying in the house it was pretty cosy. The whole environment was out of my comfort zone, usually staying in hotels when there are so many people together. Within a day or so I felt like I was home with my own family, playing cards and sharing stories and laughs late into the night with eighteen other house guests.

Breakfast normally started out with the most amazing tea, with the aroma of fresh ginger and full of sugar to give you the perfect kick in the morning, accompanied by freshly cooked parathas and pickles. Mornings couldn’t get better than this.

Anyone travelling to India is told to be careful with what they eat and drink, avoid stalls and tap water. I’ve always been cautious on previous visits and always fallen ill, so this time I went with an open mind and decided I would rather enjoy the food and whatever happens, happens!

I’d recommend you follow some of the warnings and only drink bottled water (I followed this strictly!), and don’t eat anything from stalls unless its cooked in front of you. My sister’s weakness is pani puri from a stall, we took a chance and knocked a dozen or so back before stopping and turning to each other in fear of “THE WATER!” Luckily, it was a stall that uses mineral water for the water they dip these little pockets of heaven into.

My Advice here: Don’t risk it like we did, and always check what water they use. Alternatively, lots of good restaurants generally serve them and use mineral water and are much cleaner, so check them out. 

The week running up to the wedding was manic. Every day we’d be up, showered and straight out the house after breakfast. We’d spend the day in the city bouncing from one shop to another, buying all the last minute outfits, getting last minute alterations done. It was a crazy week of shopping, with hardly a moment to stop and have lunch most days. We got carried away with all the shopping, picking up outfits to wear to the wedding and loads more to take home (now to find occasions to wear them…).

From the moment the marquee was propped up down the street, the wedding festivities kicked off! Indian weddings tend to be a week of celebrations, from a henna party, to a games night all running up to the main big day! Every day the house is full of relatives and neighbours singing songs, laughing, eating. The bright colours, the music the excitement runs through everyone’s veins.

The day before the wedding, there is a “Mandvo” and “Pithi” ceremony.

Mandvo: This ceremony is to seek the blessing from Mother Earth and signifies the start of putting up the mandap (Wooden canopy) as traditionally the mandap would be put up outside and the pillars would be footed in the ground.

Pithi: It is a paste made of turmeric, chickpea flour and rose water and is applied by the family members of the couple on the bride or groom’s skin. This paste is meant to brighten and even the skin tone, so that the couple may have a glow on the wedding day.

The Pithi is alway a fun part of the ceremony, and as my relationship goes with the groom (my childhood friend who i treat like my brother), this turned into a messy game of tag with me getting chased from one end to the other until he covered me with it as well!

Traditionally, in India, weddings are in the evening. To kick off the huge celebration, the “Jaan” (groom’s side), overtook the treets with a band and dancing as we walked down the mile long road to the venue. A long walk for sure, with dancing, singing and music, stopping the traffic on the way, as the groom followed us sitting atop of a great elephant.

IMG_0823.jpg

The grand venue was beautifully decorated, with trails of flowers and candles down the path into the main area. The huge space laid out with lots of tables to sit down and eat, the vast array of food choices from around the world hosting over 2,000 guests, the sofas to sit and watch the ceremony, all in an open space with the night sky as our roof.

If you ever get the opportunity to attend a great indian wedding in india, jump at the chance, it’s a wedding experience you have to see at least once.

 

Neha at Chatsworth House

There is something striking about the “wild and untamed beauty of the peaks” of Derbyshire, so striking in fact that I felt compelled to quote Austen. Here comes another: “nature and culture in harmony”. As perfect a description today as it was in 1813 when she wrote Pride and Prejudice. During our day trip to Chatsworth Castle I had the scene replaying in my head where Lizzy first sees the peaks and wistfully sighs as the camera pans across the skyline. Sadly my wistful sigh was interrupted by a rather large flock of sheep coming to graze on said wild untamed peak.

IMG_2038.JPG

The drive to Chatsworth is quite dramatic in itself: the road winds through iron gates and rolling green hills just before the Emperor fountain and the house itself come into view. It is set in front of  a meandering river which on a clear day mirrors the sky and is surrounded by sweeping hills speckled with sheep and horses grazing.

A word to the wise, do not provoke the sheep, they will give chase. I learned that lesson as a fourteen year on a Duke of Edinburgh hike and will never forget the terror that strikes you still as an angry sheep hurtles at you.

It is a great day out for families, couples or hikers. You can explore the  extensive grounds, fish in the lake or hike its many surrounding rolling hills. Summer is the best time to visit, you begin to understand why Derbyshire’s serenity inspired some of the most prominent literary classics of our time. We loved it so much we decided to return another day armed with picnic basket, frizbees and rounders kit.

There are all manner of things to do and see, both inside the property and within its 1,000 acres of land. Among the most popular features are the cascade (stunning water feature with a great view from the top) and Paxton’s rock garden. Joseph Paxton was a young gardener who trained at Kew in the 1800s. Under his charge as Head Gardener the grounds were transformed to what we see today. He was considered the most innovative gardener of his time; classically timeless too given how little the grounds have changed in the 200 years since he began the transformation.

The grounds of Chatsworth have changed hands many many times since the 11th century and each owner left their own mark on the property. Its rich history becomes quite evident if you take a tour through the house. There are 126 rooms and the public has access to a fair few of them. It houses the Devonshire Collection which is one of the biggest private collections in the UK. Be warned, it will cost to see the attractions and gain entry to the house and it is by no means cheap. You can check out prices here. Being city dwellers we were more interested in exploring the outdoors so didn’t spend much time inside.

 IMG_2041.JPG

Food is unfortunately priced for tourists despite being in the Midlands, which is disappointing. A short drive away however is the village of Bakewell and a few classically British pubs with outdoor seating and kids’ play areas. We loved the fresh air and the views from those peaks.

Chatsworth is a stately beauty, our own emerald with a rich heritage. Accessible by car from almost anywhere in the UK, it is worth a day trip for the scenery and the grandeur. Maybe it is something to do with the fresh air of the great outdoors but you feel a real sense of appreciation for the majesty of the Great British countryside.

 

Colombo Matrix

Food – 0

People – 1

Ambience – 1.5

Sights & Activities – 2

X-Factor – 1

Total – 5.5 out of 10