This Day, Last Year – Celebrating my Birthday in Santorini!

Exactly a year ago, we were in Santorini for my birthday. It was my husband’s idea that we could go on our honeymoon in July and spend my birthday in the place that I’d been mooning over for ages. Isn’t he the sweetest? 😀 And what a birthday it was! We spent the whole day walking up hills and steps and had leg aches for days after. But will we ever regret that? No! Never!

Santorini is one of the most beautiful places in the world. There are many people who say that it is overhyped, that it isn’t what it is made out to be, that it is too crowded. But I will have to respectfully disagree. Because finding myself amidst people who shared my awe of the beautiful whites and blues that surrounded us was something that filled my heart. I couldn’t at first believe it. I couldn’t believe that I was treading the same path that I had always dreamed of treading. But slowly and surely, it did sink in.

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Let me start from the very beginning.

We stayed at a hotel called Santa Elena, which is just 10 minutes away from the Kamari black beach. The hotel’s owner, a pretty woman called Sofia, was sweet and accommodating, but strict when it came to certain things. Like driving, for example. Anyway, the day we landed by ferry, I fell ill and we couldn’t travel or go sightseeing anywhere. This was the day before my birthday. So it was all relaxing and trying to watch Greek TV.

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The day of my birthday dawned bright, as Greek mornings are wont to do at this time of year. We woke up early (by my standards), freshened up, and rushed to breakfast. We had booked a boat tour that would take us around all the islands that Santorini constituted, hence the rush. It would be a shame (and a waste of money :P) if we missed it.

A two-minute walk from our hotel brought us to a church beside which we stood waiting for our designated bus. An old, rusted scooter gave us company as we looked around unsurely. And when the bus did come, I was very unfairly surprised at how comfy it was.

The bus took us down to the port where we climbed the tour boat. It was quite sunny and though we had lathered on layers of sunscreen, we were still ruing not bringing caps or hats. Then again, would we get pretty pictures if we wore those contraptions? Nope! But the whole point of what I’m saying is that it was sunny and the waters around us glittered and glimmered merrily. And I was already loving every minute of it! Now, as I think back to that moment, I wish I could have stayed back there, lulled by the gentle rocking of the boat and comforted by the swishing of the water as the boat cut through it.

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Our first stop was a little section of blue Aegean waters called the Palea Kameni. The boat stopped for about 20 minutes, allowing swimming enthusiasts to enjoy a lap or two in these waters. My husband and I preferred to stay aboard. We had enough to look around at so that the 20 minutes were up before we knew it. As the boar pulled away, we tried to take in as much of that nook, the water it was steeped in, the two yellow boards moored there, the hills in the background, the luxury yacht bobbing in the water some way off – EVERYTHING!

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Our second stop was the Nea Kameni volcanic park. Oh what a sight it was, that upward climb! We did go halfway up, but then our legs protested too, too much for us to ignore it. Instead, we waited in a shade until we saw our group returning. Of course, in the meantime, we HAD to click pictures. With such stunning sights before us, how could we sit and just watch? We had to bottle some up so that we could bring them back with us and unstopper and savor them whenever we wanted to! Up where we sat, on the way down, back on the boat – we got some stunning pictures all along. And these are memories that I will savor for the rest of my life, as intended.

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As the boat swooshed away from Nea Kameni, I felt a twinge of regret at not having climbed all the way to the top. But it was quickly overshadowed by the realization that I probably couldn’t have completed the tour if I had. Little did I know what was in store for me.

The next stop was for lunch at the foot of a fishing village, if I remember correctly. There are a slew of cafes and restaurants over there and once we had our lunch (with another Indian couple), we made our way for a walk to the last restaurant, just to get a glimpse of how it was back there. Though we’d had a not-bad lunch, we could have waited and walked a while for better. But hey! How could we tell? 😛 Before we knew it, it was time to get back to the boat because we needed to be back there to get to our last stop.

There was just a minor problem with this ‘last stop’. We had thought there would be pulleys or cable cars or something to take us to the top. But the moment we got off the boat, we were confronted with steep steps. It looked like there were not many. But if you happen to go here, then know that these ARE A LOT. Appearances are deceptive. In my dress and white bellies, I was almost dying (exaggerating A LOT). Also, I was dying to get to the top. (Now figurative. :P) Let me tell you, however, that the view on the way up is absolutely spectacular! My God, I’d climb up again and again if it meant I could lay eyes on that scene again!

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We did get to the top. Obviously. And we thought, and still think that it was worth it. Worth every bit of leg ache, headache, backache – EVERY BIT! The little lanes, the expensive brands, the quaint cafes, the souvenir shops, and Atlantis Books! Oh, Atlantis Books! What a beautiful store it is! There’s so much to explore in the little narrow cobbled streets of Santorini! Dappled white and blue, this beautiful island took my heart like no other! Even now, a year later, I can feel the goosebumps as I look at the pictures or even think about it! What wouldn’t I give to just set foot there once again?

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Last but not the least, the sunset! Thing is, there are a lot of people scrambling to watch the sunset. Crowds, in fact! But it didn’t lessen the intensity of the awe that rushed through me as I lay eyes on the orange glow of the setting sun. I took in my surroundings: white buildings, blue domes, pink flowers, my husband by my side, and thought, ‘Wow! I’m really here!’ That feeling that coursed through me then remains unparalleled and will remain so for the entirety of my life.

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What a way to end our first day in Santorini, or any day for that matter, I thought. It is a memory we made for a lifetime, and it becomes all the more special for me because that bucket list wish of watching the sunset from Oia came true on my birthday. And for that, I am truly grateful.

A year later, as I celebrate another birthday today, I look back to the birthday I spent in Santorini with my husband and wonder, “Will anything ever top that?” And as the past glows in remembrance, the future smiles at me. It’s a cheeky smile that says, “I’ve got a lot in store for you.” And I don’t dispute it. I smile back, without a word.

Instead, I turn to my husband and softly say, “Thank you.”

Miami Beach – Of Sparkly Sands and Excruciating Tans

The moment I set foot in Miami, I understood why so many Americans go there. It’s sunny and is very generous in giving you a rich tan. But that’s completely off the point. Miami is a beauty in itself, once you get past the stuffy atmosphere and the lurking uneasiness that you feel as a result of the stuffiness.

My journey to Miami, as I saw it, began the moment I lay eyes on the structured layout of the adjacent city from the airplane. Flying cross-country on a trip that was without a doubt the best ever, it was with groggy eyes that I sighted the city of Fort Lauderdale from the window. The sprinkled greenery along with the neat rows of buildings or houses, I cannot say, make for a very appealing sight. The mere memory of it still piques my interest.

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Landing in the Magic City in the afternoon and making it to my hotel (Hotel Whitelaw) in the evening, I was too tired from the journey to get out and mingle. Due to lack of time and other options, I had had to book the hotel for a whopping USD 350 for 3 nights. I have learned since then the importance of rentals on Airbnb and such and would stress on the prudence of doing away with hotels and booking beautiful apartments for a lesser price than what you would shell out for these hotel rooms. I simply checked in, where they made a mistake in identification of the allocated room but was sorted out in a few minutes and went up to my room, intending to freshen up and take some well-deserved rest. I wouldn’t call the room spacious, because of the two Queen size beds squashed up in the small space. Despite all of this, it was a cozy, comfortable little adda that had enough stuff stacked up for someone who was intending to spend time locked up in there.

The next day, though, I got out at around 10 in the morning, armed with Google Apps and lots of sunscreen. Weaving through the scarcely populated streets and emerged onto the wide road that connected this part of the city to the enchanting white sands on the other side. I didn’t think much of the heat, though I had received fair warning from a friend what American Sun can do to Indian skin. So, extremely excited to be finally setting foot on one of my bucket list destinations, I came upon the stretch of grass and trees that separated the road from the sands.

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It’s a long stretch of narrow, tiled pathway that snakes from one end of Miami Beach to the other. Here, one can walk down, take segways and roll down the path or rent cycles from the numerous cycle stands that dot the area. Over on the other side of this pathway, the sands start. At first, there was no novelty and I could feel disappointment setting it. I had hoped for so much from this place, I thought, and all that are present are these stupid volleyball courts. But the distant sparkling of something pulled me towards the expanse of greenery that probably shielded what I had been expecting.

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There’s a boarded walk at the place that I decided to enter, after a while of doubt and speculation, that is just like the movies. And boy, oh, boy! The moment of truth was too much for me to bear. I could only stare at the beauty of the white sands that were gleefully scorching my feet and the not-so-distant waters that were too blue to be true. It was not long before I had traversed the wide belt of sand and was standing at the mouth of the water, enjoying its cool, lapping licks at my poor, roasted feet.

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There is something about Miami that enthralls me despite my aversion to the headache and the tan that it offers because of the sun. I don’t think it can be explained in words. Walking down to the water with me being absolutely conscious about the looks that I would be attracting because I knew I was overdressed for American beaches, I glanced at the tens of people lounging around in the sands, being so comfortable that it didn’t seem like their skin was theirs. But maybe this is the thing about Miami. That nobody cares about what you are wearing as long as you seem to be having fun. The beach itself has white sands that glint in the sun, almost like diamonds. On one side are the buildings that indicate modernization and on the other, Nature lays claim.

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I have since, forgiven Miami the tan that it bestowed on me, especially my nose, just because of the amazing experience that it has given me. Of course, it’s a wholly different matter that I looked like a roasted raisin even four months after my visit, but hey! I look at it as a souvenir of my little adventure there…

So if you are planning to go to Miami, take lots of sunscreen, umbrellas if you tend to tan easily and a camera to capture the beauties of this Beach City! 🙂

All images belong to me, The Melodramatic Bookworm / Sonali Dabade. Shot on Moto G.

Travel Diaries of a Pondicherry Fanatic

The Republic Day weekend of last year saw a flurry of excited plans from all around. Two of our closest friends were celebrating their anniversary on the 25th. He decided to surprise her by getting us friends to go on a trip with them. She being too intuitive for his good, picked up that something was wrong and that Vizag was not where they were going, as against what he had led her to believe. Of course she was right. But the story of how we got there is one for another day.

For now, the beauty of Pondicherry, its beaches, and its general atmosphere is one that needs to be dwelled upon.

Pondicherry is tiny. You can finish touring it in 2 days if you rush. But we had decided to have a relaxed trip. So over 4 days, we explored the beach town from almost every corner and returned satisfied. And despite the relaxation, there was the general tiredness that comes with traveling.

Though the number does not quite match up to what Goa has, Pondicherry has quite a few beaches, the most beautiful being Auroville beach. The waves crashed on to the surprisingly slant shore with a ferocity that we didn’t quite expect. They would sneak up on us when we were posing for a picture, the shock and surprise of which I don’t think we’ll ever be able to forget.

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The trees lining the shore were a blessing! You can frolic in the water, come and sit down in the shade of the trees to get yourself some respite from the sun, and then rush back in once you are charged. Oh, and the horizon! When the distant waters meet the horizon as if to lure you in there, there’s nothing more enticing or seductive!

Paradise Beach, though quite attractive on its own, isn’t relatively as attractive or compelling as the Auroville Beach. That doesn’t take away its beauty, though, for the waves slam onto the shore with equal fury. I remember thinking that I could sit there all day and watch the waves crash and blend. I chose to sit down on the sands as the rest of the gang indulged the waters, the panoramic view in front of me almost took my breath away. I’ll have to say, the Paradise Panorama is much more gorgeous than the Auroville Panorama!

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Promenade Beach, named after the Promenade hotel on that stretch, is locally known as the Rocky Beach. Kissing the waters and the rushing waves is the longest stretch of haphazard rocks I have ever seen. Romancing these rocks is the strip of elevated concrete on which you can walk as you admire the view. A road separates this concrete from the rest of Pondicherry.

Parking our vehicles on the opposite side of this road, we crossed it and climbed the two steps to the concrete. Being the “adventurous” lot, we decided to descend on to the rocks to enjoy the waves from up close. It’s the most wonderful feeling to have the waves spray themselves on you; not the drenching spray, but a gentle one: just enough to help a rain-hater like me enjoy it.

Talking of rains, there were spurts of it, though there was nothing as plan-altering as the ones we usually have in Hyderabad. I actually enjoyed them for a change because that meant we were keeping cool. The sun coming out in full force would be a different story on a whole new level.

Pondicherry has two places that you must absolutely visit for its food: Auro or Auroville Bakery, and Spice Route.

Auroville Bakery sits within Auroville, the self-sustained colony that thrives within Pondicherry. It’s a haven for food connoisseurs and heaven for the taste buds. The cakes, the walnut brownies, and the cinnamon rolls are the most amazing I’ve ever had! The first bite and Paradise is yours. And I am in no way exaggerating. It is indeed that good!

We chanced upon Spice Route on Bussy street as a last minute risk when all other restaurants were full. Even this one was full. But luckily, thanks to the three musketeers, we got them to give us a table on the upper deck that had previously been closed. And what a wise decision to not go to Madame Shanthe’s! Every morsel of food they put on the table was heaven in itself! And four of us went back the next day, just to get that taste one last time.

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Pondicherry is cozy and comfy to relax in. The people are somewhat helpful, ‘somewhat’ being because of the language barrier we had. Either way, you can spend two days or ten, and you would still wouldn’t get enough of it. At least, I remember I was too hung over from the crazy trip and I know that I’m definitely going back there again!