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

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

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

My Inspiration

There are several things/people that inspire me; television shows, celebrities, professors, preachers, successful people, and my family and friends. The one person I consider to be my role model, who always motivates and encourages me to give by best and to enjoy life would be my mother. My mom has been through a lot of hard time and through her enormous leadership and problem solving skills she has managed to successful come out of it. In the core of life tribulations she has raised me with a golden spoon in my mouth. She has not only taught me the basics of life but also how to deal with life. Her life is a constant inspiration to me in becoming just like her. Something that inspires me the most about her is her listening and learning skills. There is a 35 year age difference between us, which crafts a big generation gap. Even then, I can talk to her about anything that she may have no idea about but she is always willing to listen and understand, and will always give me the correct advice and the motivation from her experiences. I wish I could at least be half the person she is.

I inspire my little cousins to do well in school. Besides, them I hope to inspire people around the world interested in learning about what PR is through this blog. I have been writing on this blog for over a year now, and my goal is to spread the awareness of Public Relations along with current events and personal opinions. “Life itself is a gift but can be challenging at times, we can always use a little motivation and inspiration to get through life smoothly.”

Photo Courtesy: Google