My Greek Odyssey

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Photo by: PG.

From Dublin, I have now made it to Greece. Greece has always been on top of my bucket list and I cannot believe its finally happening.  Most of my fantasies and assumptions about Greece were from watching films like My Big Fat Greek Wedding, My Life in Ruins, and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants as a young girl.  The Hellenic Republic, commonly known as Greece is located in Southeastern Europe consisting of thousands of islands throughout the Aegean and Ionian seas. Greece is not only beautiful with its ocean landscape but it holds a distinct architectural importance as well; with it’s 18 UNESCO World Heritage sites, among the most in Europe and the world, dating back to 400 BC. It’s the cradle of Western civilization; being the birthplace of democracy, Western philosophy, and the Olympic Games, among many other unprecedented events.

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I started my trip from the capital city, Athína or Athens; the largest city in Greece. After what felt like a long never-ending flight, first thing on our mind was to get a taste of some authentic Greek food. From the airport, we headed straight for the Syntagma Square, city center, where we had the perfect al fresco meal while people-watching. Seated beside us were a couple of lovely ladies, who were so interesting that we ended up spending almost 2 hours at lunch in their company. It was the perfect start to our trip. For the next few days, we explored all that Athens has to offer. Athens is relatively a small city, but it is packed with places to see. Some of my favorites were the Plaka district, Monastiraki Square, and the University of Athens Street. Though my absolute beloved was the Acropolis; it is magnificent and dreamy. It is set on an extremely rocky outcrop so high that it is visible from almost anywhere from central Athens. The Acropolis contains the remains of several ancient buildings of great architectural and historic significance, the most famous being the Parthenon. My fond memory is of overlooking the Acropolis all lit up under the night sky while dining at a Michelin Star restaurant; it was the best of the old and the new world all in one gulp. Talking about food… Greek food is simply delicious and irresistible. Fresh pita bread, yummy tzatziki, stuffed tomatoes with rice, street side falafels/gyros, mouthwatering Greek salads, homemade Greek yogurt and baklava to just name a few, were all so enticing and fresh to the palate. From my encounters, Athens is a very safe city and the people here are among the sweetest. Most everyone speaks English.

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From Athens, next on Greek adventures was Santorini. It’s a quick 30 mins flight if all goes well. That being said, none of it went well. We boarded a 7:00 am flight hoping on capitalizing the day roaming around in Santorini, but fate had it that we made it all the way to Santorini but right as we got ready to descend to land our captain got orders from the air traffic controller to return back to Athens. It was like; we saw it, felt it, and right as we were about to taste it, it dropped! Upon returning back to Athens with a plane full of angry passengers, we found out the flight that landed ahead of us, broke its wing and since there is only one runway on the entire airport, all flights to and from Santorini have been delayed/canceled. Santorini is a very famous tourist spot and Athens airport is one of the primary airports in Greece, so you can just imagine the chaos at the airport. The lines to see an airline representative were 4 hrs long. After a missed day in Santorini and a hustle day at the airport, we managed to get ourselves on an overnight red-eye flight that got us to Santorini at 3 AM. All’s well that ends well, upon waking up in Santorini that morning the view out of the hotel room was surreal, it’s Paradise! Electric blue ocean as far as the eye can see and the caldera right in the middle. Good Morning Indeed!

Santorini is striking. The whitewashed cubiform houses with blue doors and blue domes are very charming and one of its kind in the entire world. Santorini is clung to cliffs above an underwater caldera (crater). The towns overlook the magnificent blue sea, below the cliffs are beaches made up of red, white, and black lava pebbles. Most of the towns are within a walking distance from one another. Each tiny town, however, varies from the others with its unique characteristics and vibe. Santorini is known for its awestruck sunsets and it’s 100% surreal, hard to put in words but something that should just be experienced first hand. Recommended by a lot of locals, on one of the days, we went to the castle to view the sunset, the crowds are unbelievable, especially at these ‘hot-spots’ (to find a good spot be sure to arrive at least an hour prior to the sunset time). The other days, we settled for a more of a private show right from the balcony of our room; where a hot tube, a chill glass of wine and speakers playing Sam Smith made it all the more remarkable and memorable. On a side note, stray skinny black cats meow and scuttle in and out of every corner. There is a serious cat issue in Greece, believe it or not, you can rent a cat here all day for 5 euros!

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Next, an early morning ferry ride from Santorini got us to Mykonos in about 4 hours. Mykonos island is a famous for its white buildings and colorful shutters, block print cobblestoned pathways, 16th-century windmills, bright colored flowers on sills, turquoise skies, sandy beaches, boutique shopping, small cafes, churches and high-end dining. However, this tiny island is most popular for its summer parties; massive dance clubs and beach parties attract world-renowned DJs and crowds from across the globe, these parties typically stay open well past dawn. Unlike Ibiza, this party town attracts an upscale crowd that thrives on its stylish nightlife. With mostly tourist crowds inhabiting the island, not much is Greek about this island, but it is well worth a visit to witness the vibe and mojo of this place. Mykonos has also made its mark among the Gay community, with tons of bars, clubs, hotel, and parties serving them with pride. For the few days that we are here, we did a self-tour of the island, went to the Super Paradise Beach, and checked out a couple of parties.  There’s a number of great restaurants here, especially Italian. Some of the best pasta, pizzas, and risotto I have had outside of Italy. My last day in Mykonos was spent by the harbor, capturing the last sunset here while drinking “slightly” too much and laughing a little too heartily as this Greek adventure is unfolding to its end. 12 days of pure bliss and new cultural encounters, was everything I wanted. I am already sensing heavy withdrawals of all the fun under the sun while in Greece.

On a personal note, on this father’s day, I think back to why I travel? I travel because I can, because I enjoy it and because my parents didn’t get a chance too. Between raising two kids, running a business, my parents, especially my mom never got the opportunity to leave her nest. Though they both would always encourage my brother and me to go on every field trip and to see as many new places we can. It makes them so excited and proud that I have seen so much of what the world has to offer. My favorite is to call my parents from abroad and to just listen to their voice, it almost sounds like we have transcended a few decades, my mom start’s raising her pitch and talks so fast as if that call is charging me a bank. I take tons of pictures like all travelers, but mine are mostly for my parents to live vicariously through them. I am proud to say my mom and dad have traveled virtually everywhere with me! So all you folks out there, get out there and see what life is like outside your town/state/country… try that new dish that sounds weird, be bold, learn a new language, go make your parents proud. As Aesop said it,” Adventure, is worthwhile!”

OPA!

Photo Courtesy: Prashant Gandhi and Google Images

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Whiskey in the Jar- Ireland

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Hello Lads!

Where now? You guessed it right; I am in the land of good luck, shamrocks, kisses, red hair, and pots of gold. This time it’s from Dublin, Ireland. I always wanted to visit Ireland but never actually got to plan it out. I have Are Lingus airlines to thank for this trip. I’m never really this lucky, but I might have caught on to some of that Irish luck when my husband, Prashant scored 2 air tickets to Dublin.

It is an easy 10-hour direct flight from San Francisco to Dublin. This was my first overseas flight when I wasn’t sitting next to a random person and making a new friend. In fact, those are my favorites, it is such an unusual way to get to know someone just by sitting next to them for 10 plus hours. Over the years I have made plenty of friends on flights from all kinds of background; thanks to today’s connected world and through mediums like Facebook we are still in touch. Coming back to sitting next to Prashant, he is a heavy flight sleeper, so I took the opportunity to watch an Irish movie and pulled all of my research out on Dublin and came up with a game plan for the next few days.

Ireland, as I imagined, is lush green and picture perfect with gray stone castles and churches everywhere. It is one of the wettest countries in Europe, thus, a bit of overcast with unannounced showers every now and then. But the weather, gray castles, and greenery everywhere allure me to have transcended to the medieval period. But worry not, the urban capital-city, Dublin, doesn’t keep one at bay from the luxuries of the 21st-century. In regards to its layout, Dublin reminds me a lot, of the suburbs of London; it’s bustling yet calm and relaxing.

For the short three days here, I went for the city hop on & off tour to catch the highlights. Like all European cities, Dublin has its own charm, history, and beauty. A must-see is Trinity College, whose library holds the famous Book of Kells, within its collection, a tome transcribed by Celtic monks from 800 AD. A little detour from creed, I highly recommend a tour of the Guinness Factory and the Jameson Distillery. For a complete Irish bar experience; I suggest going to the Temple Bar. They have it all- live singers with fiddles, pipes, and all the beer and whiskey you could ever want. I found the Irish people to be extremely friendly and polite; on a side note, I love their accents. Initially, I thought they would sound more or so like the English people, but to my surprise, it was better, they have a bit more swag lol. Getting around in Dublin is quite easy, reliable local transportation or just Uber a taxi. Dublin’s dining options are just as abundant as its drinking holes. A big shout-out to a good friend of mine, as an Ireland native he helped us with all the recommendations to all the local hits.

I am so happy to be in Europe, more so this time with my husband. Pieces of my heart can be found in the many European cities I have visited. Even though Prashant is a lousy plane companion, he makes a great travel buddy. We like to get right down to the business of exploring the culture and getting a taste of the local life. I wish to visit Ireland again, with a bit more time to properly check out its countryside and other cities like Cork. I am headed to Greece next, so stay tuned for all the best gyro and souvlaki recommendations and on other Greek favorites…!!!

Until the next one,

Slán Leat

Photo Courtesy: Google Images

Wedding Dairy #4: Mic Drop

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Thank you for being part of the wedding dairies.

It has been few weeks since the wedding. It was everything and more I ever imagined it to be. The weeklong festivities went by so fast that it almost seems like a dream. Almost a year’s worth of effort and thought was put into materializing the perfect day, and for it to get done so fast almost seems unfair lol. With all the celebrations and so many loved ones from around the world to celebrate us, these were undoubtedly one of the most memorable and cherished days of our lives.

In these few weeks; we took a quick getaway trip to Delhi (Capital of India) and Agra to see the iconic Taj Mahal and to just relax and absorb the fact that we are married. In the mean time, first edits of the pictures and videos are here and we are short-listing them for the final album. I am so excited, I can’t wait to see the final version and to re-live these days vicariously through all the pictures.

It has been so much fun in these last four months in India but its time to say goodbye to India and head for new adventures in California now. With that being said it’s also time for a wrap of the Wedding Diary Series. It was a pleasure and a true joy to share this journey with you and I thank you for all the feedbacks, comments, and wishes that I have received. There was a remarkable amount of people who read this series and I am so glad we were able to connect and share something so personal and cultural.

Until next time, take care. Namaste!

Photo Courtesy: Devang

Wedding Dairy #3: The Rituals

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We are out for a family dinner, probably the last few dinners that I will have with my family being just their daughter. My mom reminisces on her own wedding, shedding a few tears in denial that I am no longer her little girl anymore. She goes on to explaining the rituals and traditions; how they are done, what do they each mean and more of preparing me for the years old tradition that I will partake in. From the 3 hour-long ceremony to the things I wear that day, each holds a valuable and cultural meaning behind it all.

It starts with mandap mahurat, where you do the inauguration of the wedding; then comes putting pithi on the bride and groom followed by henna on hands and feet…all this is done to beautify the couple; then comes a prayer ceremony to get the blessings of gods so the wedding is a smooth sail. Finally, comes the actual wedding ceremony, while the ceremony continues there is a group of singers who narrate the entire wedding and each ritual as it unfolds in form of songs. These are cultural and traditional wedding songs. The wedding as per the traditions is done in the witness of a fire; mainly four people take part in the ceremony: bride, groom and the bride’s parents. About an hours ceremony is just done between the bride’s parents and the groom, then comes the bride and joins them in. All this then leads to the very famous Indian 7 pheras (circles) around the fire. Where the guest showers the couple with flowers. About an hour more of a few more rituals and then finally its all done. Wait….still one more thing left… after dinner comes vidai, when the bride says goodbye to her family and goes on to her new home. This is always the highly emotional part of the wedding. This may come as a surprise to most, but Indian weddings are a complete emotional ride; there are happy tears, sad tears, laughter, and many amusing and fun ceremonies, which are somewhat like a competition between the bride and groom side guests; it keeps everyone entertained.

Once the newly married couple reaches their home, there are still a few more ceremonies to finish all pertaining to the welcoming of the new bride in the groom’s home. In the end, it’s a long and emotional day. But certainly, a kind of marriage to treasure and remember a lifetime. In less than 10 days this is about to become my reality and I cannot be more excited to experience it all.

Photo Courtesy: Google Images

Wedding Dairy #2: The Grind

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Laxmi Vilas Palace, Vadodara

Indian’s are very superstitious people, we believe in destiny and karma and in the perfect alignment of the stars and the moon for doing auspicious things. First step is to come up with a wedding date; as you can already guess for an Indian couple, the date is not something we decide upon ourselves; it is based on our horoscopes and a priest, who puts out a few options to choose from that we as a family like the best among the list. Among the list, March 3rd was the winner for us. There is a total of 4 major functions surrounding the wedding in a spread of 4 days: Grah Shanti (auspicious puja ceremony), Mehndhi and Sangeet (henna and musical party), Wedding, and a Reception after party.

Next up was to decide on a destination. After bouncing back and forth between the States and India we finally decided upon having the wedding in India to get a more traditional and authentic feel. Now that we know where then came the task of finding that picture perfect venue in Gujarat. After sourcing all possible venues my heart was settled on the Laxmi Vilas Palace. It is a heritage property and an actual palace where the king and queen of Vadodara reside. They have banquet halls and lawns that they rent out for weddings and special occasions. For me, this palace was the perfect pick, it gave a royal touch and it couldn’t get more authentically Indian than this for me.

All along, save the date cards are being sent, since the wedding is set in India we have to give everyone ample time to plan their trip. Congratulations calls and messages are down pouring, Facebook profile picture is changing with the two of us in it and comments are flooding lol…wedding photo shoot is being arranged, hair and makeup appointments for all the events are being booked, among various other things happening, making this a sublime reality. Hard to believe that at the end of all this I get married and start a new chapter in my life.

Everything and every part of an Indian wedding is a “we”- we as in my family, his family, our cousins, the kids, the aunts and the uncles, our extended families and so on. This “we” is what makes this an enormous celebration because every person plays a huge part and is included in all of the plannings. This is fun and exhausting at the same time because everyone has an idea of their own so you can just imagine the madness…but this exact chaos is what makes the days leading up to the wedding the most memorable and fun. For me this very time is the one to cherish the most, everyone is beyond happy, excited, and high on endorphin, there is certainly an atmosphere of celebration in the air.

Wedding shopping, decor, catering, and so much more stuff is still in process to achieve as the days corner up rather rapidly to March.

Photo Courtesy: Google Images

Wedding Diary #1: Welcome to an Indian Wedding…

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In the center of chaos, noise and lots of emotions takes place the perfect recipe for a big fat Indian wedding. Indian weddings are world famous; know for its vibrant colors, music, traditional dresses, rituals, week long celebrations, and let’s not forget the array of delicious regional and international food served. We Indians love to gather people, get loud, and to eat, especially us Gujaratis LOL; and there is no better places than a wedding for all the shenanigans. All this marking the event not just as a wedding but also almost as a festival.

Naturally, all this comes with lots and lots of planning. Most Indian weddings start getting planned at least a year in advance. As I embark on my marriage, the journey till the day of is filled with precious memories and insights into being an Indian bride and on planning the perfect Indian wedding. I am excited and looking forward to sharing my encounters with you all. I have never felt more connected to my roots and traditions than now, I feel so blessed to be an Indian today and to have such rich and beautiful century old traditions to live by.

Stay tuned for the upcoming WD series #2 entry on the ordeals of an Indian wedding.

 

Photo Credit: Google Images

 

Wedding Diary Intro: On A Personal Note…I’m Getting MARRIED!!!

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So, the big news is, I am getting married.  It is a destination wedding in India. I am so excited to share all the details with all you amazing people out there, who have been part of my journey ever since I started this blog. Over the next few months, I will be sharing all the shenanigans of my big fat Indian wedding; the traditions, the colors, the food, the culture, and all the fun surrounding the big day. For today lets start with the basics.

how we met

Prashant’s family and my family have known each other for several years. Prashant happen to get my number through this aunt and all of a sudden messaged me one day. As wired as it was getting this random “hey, how’s it going” text, we instantly clicked and became best buddies. Before we knew it we were messaging each other every day, it got to a point our day would seem incomplete without talking to each day. Several months into our phone conversations we decided to meet up; and he flew down for a weekend from Boston to see me in Savannah, GA. The anxiety, excitement, and butterflies of meeting someone for the first time was all surreal. Even though we were meeting as friends we both deep down knew we had some unspkoen feelings developing for each other. That was the first, we enjoyed each others company so much and our relation over the years evolved and we continue seeing each other every chance we got. It is 2 years now, and we have managed to conquer against all odds, especially being in a long distance relationship. Long distance relationships are no doubt tough and require a sincere level of dedication, however, they are not impossible; thanks to today’s technology it makes staying in touch and keeping things personal so easy. We have been distant in the extremes; while I was in Georgia he was living in Massachusetts. Then I moved to London and he was in America, now I am back in America, living on the east cost he happened to move to the west coast for a new job opportunity. But in the end, distance means so little when someone means so much.

how he asked

Prashant recently moved to San Francisco for a new job opportunity. I was visiting him for the first time after his big move; this was also my first trip to California. Little did I know this trip was going down in books to remember all life long. Upon my arrival, he every casually told me that he stumbled upon a very good photographer, Ethan. Ethan and he had arranged for us to do a couples photo shoot the following day. He made it seem like it was just casual, all for fun, something special he thought of doing for our 2-year anniversary together.

During our photo shoot while the photographer was taking some candid shots all of a sudden Prashant pulled out a ring from his pocket and asked if I would marry him. I was so taken back that honestly I don’t even remember what other stuff he even said lol and of course my answer was a big YES!

Announcment

Following our photo shoot, we went to A16, an Italian eatery where he told me about another surprise that he had planned for me. He had booked a Hawaiian vacation for us to celebrate our engagement and this new chapter in our life.

From the famous Waikiki beach, we called our family and friends to share the good news. Our parents couldn’t be more excited, we soon came up with a date and got right down to business in planning all the details. We are getting married on March 3rd, 2017, it is a 5-day long grand celebration in India. I hope to make you part of this celebration as you join me through my “Wedding Diary” series.

Photo Credit: Ethan Lu