The adventures continue: Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Beyond…

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I love to travel; it takes me away from my daily routine and errands. Traveling gives me an opportunity to discover myself. It makes me realize, how amazingly beautiful our world is; full of fascinating people and interesting things to do.
This time, I am back in action exploring Eastern Europe. It was a perfect getaway trip with my friends for 13 days; traveling around the capital cities of Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, and Hungary. This was the first time; I was visiting Europe without coming here for work. In my mind, I was constantly contemplating on how unique of a cultural experience this would have been if I was here for a few months instead of a short time. Nonetheless, it was the perfect trip to get introduced to these countries with a striking first impression that’s going to leave me with no option but to return back to adore its beauty again.

My flight from U.S. was via Paris. The guy next to me definitely made this long journey pleasurable. He was a talkative Spaniard, who only understood Spanish, which made it all the more fun. It was fun talking to him because it forced me to brush up on my elementary Spanish skills, lol. Within an hour of my flight landing, the rest of my friends also arrived at Berlin Tegel Airport; hence the shenanigans began. Since it was a weekend, Berlin proved to be the perfect starting point. We took the city hop on and off tour, which allowed us to conveniently cover all the major highlights in the short time we were there. With Germany’s dark past, Berlin is bursting with a rich history. Though, the modern day Berlin is very socialist. Culture is quite diverse from what we could tell. The food was also quite interesting, with a heavy emphasis on potatoes and beer; a must try staple food, currywurst. We meet a bunch of foreigners here, who were traveling and making the most of the last few days of the summer, just like us. Meeting new people and making friends is the best part of traveling. It fascinates me to meet people from different parts of the world as they each have a story to share; thus changing my perception of life.

We caught an early morning fast train. In 4 hours, next up was Prague for us. If I have to describe Prague in one word, it would be…beauty! It is breathtaking everywhere you look. Prague is relatively small compared to Berlin but in no terms was it short on its enchantment. On the first day, we just roamed around on our own, admiring its old splendor while absorbing the Czech culture. Czech’s are very laid back people, however, a bit estranged at hospitality. Later, we found out from our tour guide that this is due to their culture and the communist mentality that was oppressed on them over the generations. Prague is divided into two half’s; Old town located at an elevation of a hill (consisting of the palace and acres of land with palace owned properties) and New town (more for the commoners). The iconic Charles Bridge connects both the towns. All of us decided to take the guided walking tour to see each of the towns in a stretch of two days. It turned out to be the best decision for us. We meet so many amazing people from around the world, who were part of our walking tour and together we got an excellent interactive glimpse of the Czech’s capital city. We also took a night cruise to admire Prague all lite up from the Vltava River. Prague was full of people and more so of tourist. Hence, mostly everyone spoke English and the food varieties were also very continental. One interesting thing we noticed, most of all local men we meet, (i.e. tour guide, bartender, taxi driver, restaurant waiter, etc.) all were of different nationalities but they each had moved to Prague because they fell in love with a Czech girl. Each of the men was in pursuit of chasing a girl. Haha. It is said that Czech women are the most beautiful looking women in the world!

After another four hours on a fast train from Prague; we made it to Vienna. Vienna is stunning; it looks like a Fairytale story setting in real life. White buildings everywhere with marvelous architecture make it a magical city. It was hard to absorb all of its beauty in one sweep. I was stunned by its miles and miles of charm. It is hard to explain in words, I haven’t seen any city like Vienna. To me, the city is a stunning woman wearing a crisp white gown with diamond jewels. The quality of the air is excellent; the tap water is the purest water you’ll ever find; coming straight from the Alps. The roads are extremely clean and most of the people you see are all dressed professionally in suits; giving it an elegant and sophisticated vibe. Vienna caters heavily to the international crowd; there is a large United Nations presence here as well. I can’t imagine how exciting of a place Vienna would be to live and work in. Due to the limitation of time, we decided again, to take a 2-day hop on and off tour bus, in which we covered all major highlights of this city. Also, I meet up with an old friend, who I know from working at the State Department in Italy. ‘On a side note, the most treasured thing that I have acquired from working with the U.S. Department of State is making friends and knowing people, all over the world.’ Not to any surprise, the culinary and the night scene in Vienna were excellent, very elegant. One of my favorite memories from Vienna was the apartment we lived in. The alluring setting consisted of white walls, white sheer curtain, white furniture, wood flooring and with an accent of red chandeliers. To top it off, a Mercedes waiting downstairs to take us around.. is my kind of European lifestyle. ☺

After a week long of exploring, we were back at another round of weekend shenanigan’s, with our last stop at Budapest. While riding the short 2-hour train ride, is exactly, when we began to feel the Hungarian excitement. Most of the passengers on the train were young and were already in a party mood. Budapest is known for its young and vibrant appeal; very laid back and a fun city. Budapest has a massive thermal bath culture; there are several public baths in the city. They believe that it heals the body and keeps the mind fresh. We decided to take on the bath culture a notch further and booked our tickets to a “Sparty Night”. The Szechenyi Thermal Bathhouse is over a 100 years old and is Europe’s largest bath complex; on selected Saturday nights it turns into a Spa party for the youth. Attending the Sparty was probably the craziest, unique and coolest experience for all of us. Another highlight in Budapest was watching the fireworks show, for the Hungarian Independence day, from the iconic Chain Bridge. Over a million people had come out to see the fireworks display and to enjoy a day full of live music, food, and festivities. Talking about food, it was excellent; a little on the hot side but very authentic and true to its culture. Even their traditional coffee has a kick of peppers in it! Lol. Eggs are a very big part of their diet; omelets and desserts are a must try as they are simply delicious. My favorite place was the New York Café, it is exquisite. They tag themselves as the most beautiful café in the world, and they are definitely not lying. Since FIFA world cup was going on, we had a great time catching the game with a group of diverse people from around the world.

Four major cities, in four major countries, in 13 days, with great friends, is enough to make this trip full of lasting memories to treasure for a lifetime. Once again, I fell in love and I left a piece of my heart in these countries- to their amazing culture, their culinary experiences, to the interesting people I meet along the way and to all the wonderful moments I had. As I am moving through this life, my travel experiences are leaving marks on me. After each new journey, I am not the same person that I was before…the experience that comes with traveling leaves me a bit more informed and more aware. It makes me realize how big this world is and how much there is still left, yet to explore.
With the holidays just around the corner, I hope you fill your life with different escapades and not things. The experience of traveling gives you an opportunity to share stories for years to come!!!
Take care, until next time! Tschüss.

 

Photo Courtesy:Google &  Dhara Shah

IBIZAAAA!

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It’s always hard to say goodbye, especially when something becomes so dear. We forget that one day we will have to leave it all and return back. As my love affair with London has come to a wrap, one last trip was in store before saying goodbye to Europe for now. And to go out with a bang, there is no better place in the world than the Island of Ibiza. Couple of my friends and I, decided to go to Ibiza for my farewell party. A short flight from Gatwick and there we were in the world’s most notorious party-island. A point of pilgrimage for anyone trying to forget life itself.

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The island of Ibiza is located east of Spain and in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The perfect strategic location for hard shenanigans; however, this island is so much more than its hard-partying reputation! The island offers breathtaking white sand beaches, beautiful hilltop towns and an incredible array of delicious food. I’ve had some of the best culinary experience of my life in Ibiza. A must recommended, traditional Spanish dish Paella and some refreshing pitchers of Sangrias. We also found some excellent French and Italian cuisines, as this island has a wide array of cultural diversity.

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Ibiza is relatively a small island; with a map we roamed the entire island on the rented scoters. Most people speak English and the locals are also very friendly, catering to the international crowd. There is an incredible young vibe to the island; it is bustling with young people from all over the world, who are mostly there on a backpack trip with their friends.

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Of course, no one leaves Ibiza without visiting at least one nightclub. This is what Ibiza is known for, and it is an experience that should not be missed. Typical parties last until dawn and most clubs offer a fantastic line up of headliners.

After three extraordinarily days in paradise Ibiza, it was time to come back to London and say my final goodbyes to everyone at the U.S. Embassy and this amazing city. My time in London has been amazing (every minute of it!) I am beyond thankful of the people, I have meet and for all the incredible projects that I had the opportunity to work on at the State Department. This journey has been an experience, which has molded me into a different person; a little bit more cultured, humble, and aware. This world is so much more than our bubble of perception, it is meant to be experienced first hand; to appreciate life, culture, diversity, and so much more. Traveling truly is the only thing we do that makes us richer.

Like I have said before, life is a constant journey, and I move on with little bit of each place in my heart, to cherish forever.

I hope all of you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have sharing it with all of you.. until our next adventure, Cheerio!

Ps. Next up is Berlin…Stay Tune 🙂

Photo Courtesy: Dhara Shah and Jessica Jimenez

Taking it over in…Amsterdam! XXX

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“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow,” true words by Anita Desai. Through the opportunities presented, I have been fortunate enough to see so much of this world at an early age. Growing up, I never thought of myself as a travel enthusiastic. Infact, I found immense comfort in my own environment. That was until, I went alone on my first trip abroad and it opened my eyes to a whole another side of me; which I fell in love with! Traveling has been so much more for me than, seeing a new place or having a sense of a vacation. It has presented an opportunity for me to explore myself, push my limits, to learn as well as teach, but most importantly, it has broaden my horizon and perspective to life. Catching the wanderlust, has been the best thing that has ever happened to me and I never want to stop chasing it!

Amsterdam was next on the adventure list…

Coming from London, it truly was a freshening change. The Dutch capital has a lot to offer. I was there for a total of 3 days. With my Holland PASS, straight from the airport, my first stop was Keukenhof aka the Tulip Garden. A must see, a spectacular grace of nature. Fortunately, I was there during the right season to witness its beauty. One can easily spend an entire day there; its that big!

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After being mesmerized by nature’s beauty; it was time for the Beer tour and some Dutch food. To my surprise, french fries are a big thing there; you can find them on every corner. They are served with a selection of different sauces to choose from. The go to being the cheese sauce YUM! On my way to the hotel, I stumble up on what looked like the “ghetto” side of Red Light District. Took a peak here and there and it was truly astonishing to witness what I had always heard off.

Next day came early from all the excitement of the adventures ahead. I took a city hop on & off tour, which pretty much took all day; it was totally worth it. I observed and learned about all of the major attractions and history, this city has to offer. Also, I went and got a crash course on Diamonds from one of the world’s finest Diamond company-Gassan, right from its factory’s HQ. In the evening, we decided to treat ourselves to some fine dining. We were delighted by the incredible Dutch hospitality. Later on through a walking tour, it was time for some proper introduction to the Red Light District area. LOL! It was beyond something I could have ever imagined; I was astonized, amazed, and shocked, all at the same time. I saw girls of all ages by their windows, trying to persuade customers by sweet-talking or at times even cursing at them if they tired to take pictures of them. Since this area mostly attracts tourists; it was a bit pricey. However, the locals go to the other side of town, where the girls are not that well kept or pretty; thus charging reasonable for their services. The same location, I stumbled upon last night.

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The following day was yet another busy but fun day. I took a stroll at the cheese market and sampled way too many Gouda. Interesting fact: Dutch produces 650 million kilos of cheese every year. Two thirds is exported, which makes Holland the largest cheese exporter in the world. Later on, to balance my palette it was time for some Heineken experience. LOL. In the evening, I took a Canal cruise to complete my Amsterdam experience. Amsterdam is created of 90 islands and 1,280 bridges, all within the city limits. Water is the most preferred way for locals to travel inside. Needless to say, the view of the city was breathtaking from the water especially, during the evening, when the night lights are reflecting in the water.

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Amsterdam is young, lively, entertaining, and busting with tourists. There are tons of bicycle parking lots, as everyone there owns a bike as their chief mode of transportation; second to the boats. Pot is everywhere and coffee-shops are not your typical local Starbucks. Instead, its a place where you go to buy some weed and hash. The locals, I encountered were really nice and friendly. Most of them understood English thus, making it easy to get around. However, the smell of pot is everywhere in the air; it gave me a constant light headache while, I was there. But overall, it was great-fun filled long weekend. Another country and its culture down for me!

Photo Courtesy: Dhara Shah

 

London as the Local

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Winfield House Event

Hello Peeps… How is it going?!? Here, London is as ever busy and adventurous, and diplomatic lifestyle is an adrenaline that never ceases to give you a rush. Embassy is keeping me quite busy with interesting projects and tons of opportunities to meet dignitaries. One of the highlights this time was attending an event at the Winfield House- Ambassadors Residence. The ambassador’s mansion is enormous and magnificent; his gardens are second largest in London. The theme of the party was south, which was perfect as I proudly represented Georgia that night. At the party we also honored and celebrated the birth of the new royal addition, Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. Not to forget some Drag Bingo night and Cinco De Mayo celebrations over at the embassy.

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Tower of London

Over the weekends I went to the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels among other treasured possession of the Brits. The feeling was quite unusual, I was so aggravated that I left in just a couple of hours; most of the things that were showcased were from/stolen from India among many other countries that the English reigned over. My main purpose in going was to see the Kohinoor Diamond- which is the largest known diamond in the world extracted from India, it originally was placed on an Hindu goddess as her eye but today its part of the crown of Queen Elizabeth. It is absolutely radiant and certainly one of its kind. Moving on…I visited Primrose Hill one evening with a couple of friends, not many tourist know of it, but it is a must see if you get a chance. Getting there was quite a challenge for us considering we are all challenged with directions lol; we had to take couple of buses, tube and a taxi, but it was undoubtedly the most fun time ever. Primrose is the top of a tall steep hill inside Regents Park, once there be prepared to hike a little, as soon as you are almost to the top and all out of breath, hold tight because once you look over the view from top, of central London will leave you gasping for more. On top of the hill there is only one bench to sit on, if your lucky enough to claim it before someone else lol. Primrose with a bunch of friends is always a good idea; you can also enjoy starting at the sky full of starts, which is a rare site in central London.

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St Paul’s Cathedral

I also visited the iconic St Paul’s Cathedral, it dates all the way back to 17th century. It is everything it claims to be and much more. The royal family has a long and big lineage relationship with the church. I was lucky enough to coincidently go on the day where they had a special orchestral tribute going on.

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High Tea at Tower 42

To thoroughly indulge in the British lifestyle a friend and I went to experience a very English phenomenon of Afternoon High Tea. We decided to take it big and have our afternoon tea from the top of one of London’s tallest buildings, Tower 42. The 360-degree view of London, tea with a glass of champaign and some afternoon snacks followed by interesting conversations is certainly something I can happily adopt haha. Hope you all enjoyed this post, stay tuned until next time with all the highlights from a long weekend gateway in Amsterdam. Cheers!!! Photo Courtesy: Dhara Shah

Life’s Masterpiece in making…you only get one Canvas to paint!

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Hi There All,

First off, I apologies for not writing for a while, but that only means one thing…that, a lot has been happening in between and there is so much to report, so lets get to it right where we left off from.

Past couple of weeks has been quite busy at work and there is a lot going on after hours at the Embassy. We had a pop artist’s perform for us, film screening, spring bazaar, the Queens 89th birthday, lunch and movie, St. George’s Celebration, UK Reception Events, and much more. On and on it has been keeping me quite busy and social. But that’s what we love; love to make the most of the opportunities presented. I have also been regularly going to my boxing sessions after work, many thanks to my friend/trainer who has been religiously training me.

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Scotland Yard HQ

We also had an off site day at work one Friday, aka field trip day!!!! Where all of us from the PA section went on a walking spy tour with a guide. The guide showed and educated us on London’s long and famous history of spy’s; some of the interesting places we saw were MI6 and Scotland Yard headquarters. Followed by lots of interesting talks, afternoon drinks, and lunch at a Sherlock Homes pub.

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Apollo Victoria Theatre

Weekends on the other hand have been equally entertaining. One of the my friends and I have been on a London food tour. We stumbled upon a book which contains London’s best food and drinks and we have been chasing down places to make our way though the book, which has been no doubt an extremely fun adventure. I also went to go watch Wicket, at the Apollo Victoria Theatre which was undoubtedly an incredible experience, thanks to Justin for dragging me along and for showing me how much passion is put into theatre work.

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IceBar London

I also took the opportunity and checked out: the ice bar, something which had been on my bucket list for a while; went to the premier of Avengers; spent an evening at the London’s biggest rooftop gardens; went to some of London’s finest farmers market; and not to forget visted the Victoria Albert and Science Museums among other things.

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2015 London Marathon

The 2015 London Marathon certainly has to be the highlight of my London trip so far, I have never in my life have witnessed a marathon before, that too of this size. Did you know, that the world marathon travels from Tokyo to London making its way to Boston then Berlin and so forth across the globe. Top runner from the marathon are qualified to compete in the Olympics, so lets just say I got to see some Olympic runners that day as well 🙂 My friends and I were waiting and cheering right by the finish line, straight across from the Buckingham palace for our buddy who was running his first marathon. We also were perfectly located to see Prince Harry right across from us, honoring top runner with medals.

Summer is coming to a close here in London and its back to rains, grey clouds, and being cold. They weren’t kidding, summer was literally here for just 2 weeks haha. I hope you all are enjoying the summer and making most of wherever you are! Live it up, get out of your comfort zone, explore, and have FUN while you paint your canvas!!

Until next time, Cheers!!!

 

Photo Courtsey: Dhara Shah

Life is more than just your Job!

Buckingham Gardens

Hello Everyone, I hope you all are living it up and are enjoying the weather. Here in London, spring has finally arrived or “summer” like the locals like to call it. Unfortunately, I have heard Spring/Summer only last a few weeks and then it’s back to being cold and cloudy. So, the goal is to enjoy it all while we can. But London is beautiful right now, tulips and other colourful flowers are blossoming all over the city; parks are packed with people camping out during lunch, and the streets have flooded with more and more people and tourist. Yup, I consider myself a local now not a tourist anymore; I have successfully made that transition and simply love living the London life just how the locals do 😉

London at Night

Something to arose your curiosity, I have not seen dark night light in about a week now. When I wake up early in the AM the sun is already bright and shining, so hard that you defiantly need to wear your sunglasses and by evening it starts to look a lot like dawn and pretty much stays like that until latteee into the night. It is quite cool but it feels oddly strange going on dinners and night spots in broad daylight lol. This week at the Embassy was very interesting and entertaining; I had the new comer’s lunch with the Ambassador and DCM, which the Ambassador himself made for us…certainly the highlight of my week. Followed by, more receptions and appreciation hours happening all across the week.  Friday the Embassy hosted a Lounge night which was immense fun and there was also a movie night organized in the Embassy auditorium.

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Crowd at the Rowing Competition

Weekend was simply the BEST; Saturday there was a big rowing competition between Cambridge and Oxford all across the Thames and thousands of Londoners had come out to show their support. My friends and I joined the crowed in this epic race from the East Putney Bridge and of course the celebrations followed afterwards into the night all across the banks as Oxford claimed its victory. Sunday a bunch of us went to the Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon for the Songkran Festival. In Thailand, the New Year is celebrated during a festival called Songkran, which this year falls between 13 and 16 April. The traditions associated with the event include parades and ceremonies with a finale that involves water-throwing fights where the aim is to drench your friends and family, signifying the washing away of the previous year! It was surely a Funday Sunday, with lots of Thai culture, amazing Thai Food, and great company.

Songkran Festival

  Photo Courtsey: Dhara Shah

The City of Lights, Love, and Cabaret = PARIS

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Paris

“Be mysterious, be in love, and you will be happy,” are some words of wisdom given by French artist, Paul Gauguin.

Bonjour, ca va,  s’il vous plait, merci, de l’amour, au reviour: are all the words on my mind thanks to my 5 day Easter trip to Paris!  The land of Crème brûlée, baguettes, cheese, champaign, Mona Lisa, the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge, and of mysterious glitter at night. Paris in one word is LOVE…one cannot help but fall in love with this amazing city.  To get from London to Paris, we crossed the English Channel overlooking the Dover strait. Once in Paris just look around and you will instantly be in an awe of its charismatic charm.

This being my first time to Paris, I did all the tourist things possible: City Hop on and off tour, river cruise, visited all the attractions, parks, museums, claimed on top of the Notre-Dame, Arc de Triomphe, and Montparnasse Tower, and of course shopping lol. These were undoubtedly fun times with great friends. If you are in a time crunch and want to see it all, I would recommend getting the ultimate Paris Pass. It’s convenient, saves time, and covers everything there is to see and do in Paris. However, don’t miss out on just strolling down some random street, especially at night when the city sparkles, to experience true Paris…love is always in the air here, you are sure to be spelled to fall in love with this magical city.

I found the Parisian people to be very friendly and helpful. My favorite part of the trip was experiencing the culture: trying French food at local cafes (btw French culinary standards are a sure thing to experience, it will leave you asking for more!!!), speaking or more like trying to speak French with the locals, using their metro and bus system, and pretty much doing everything that would make me feel more like a local than just a tourist.

Lucky for us the weather wasn’t too bad that long weekend, a bit chilly but manageable, it would rain occasionally but that was a non-issue for us coming from London lol. The last two days were simply perfect, warm with sun shining bright, this brought out a lot of people out on streets. Our hotel was also very centrally located, right next to the Louvre which was amazing.

Paris was an experience I will never forget, it was a long-time dream come true, and it couldn’t have been better than with my amazing/crazy friends. The best part was, watching the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night; there is something about it that is inexpressible…

Without any further due, here is Paris for you, Enjoy:

Au Revoir!

The Louvre

The Louvre

Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa

Musée d'Orsay

Musée d’Orsay

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

Palace of Versailles

Palace of Versailles

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Photo Courtesy: Dhara Shah