Food, Travel, Design and the occassional wordiness

Travel: London Day 2  November 24, 2016

Filed under: art,travel — Kolika C @ 9:12 pm
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Our second day in London with toddler, grandma and mama started with a hearty breakfast and a stroll to London Bridge.
Following that we walked down through the alleys of Borough market to Pickfords Wharf to the remains of Winchester castle and then onwards to Shakespeare Globe. We would have loved to be a groundling today but the Little Matchgirl is playing all week and that just makes me incredibly sad. Also grounding-ing with a toddler would be tough who by now was napping hard. We got him his first intro to Shakespeare today. And with that comes a little foray into 400 year old British/ world/ human history for a boy who’s not yet 3 (Amused). Go ahead judge me.



Next we tottered to the little Christmas market set up at South Bank (almost next door) in front of Tate Modern. Here’s Grandma enjoying some churros with hot chocolate.

See the featured pic- I love the juxtaposition of this where the clean curves of Millennium Bridge stem from Tate Modern and lead to St. Paul’s Cathedral across the Thames, with a little Christmas charm and glitter in between.

Helpful stranger gives J a life as he chooses ornaments to take home to Boston


After spending 2-3 hours browsing genuine high quality handmade items and sampling market food and fish and chips, we walked back to the hotel only to realize we’d left something back.

So back I went, picked it up and realized that toddler was now snacking and napping with grandma in the hotel, meaning I had some serious art browsing time and I was inside Tate Modern. It’s fate people. Within seconds I was at the fourth floor, internally weeping in front of a Guerrilla Girls exhibit. img_1699-2

6PM and Cinderella’s magic would be wearing off soon and Tate would be closing so I left the other floors for another day and walked back to the hotel, rather fulfilled and genuinely happy with myself. 

It’s rare that you get the joys of traveling solo, traveling with kids, traveling with your mom and seeing your friends all on the same trip. 

London, the more I see you, I feel like you’re that tertiary contact I’ve heard so much about but never got the chance to meet, that contact all my closer friends eyerolled and had a snide remark to say about but everyone forgot to mention how similar we actually are and how well we would gel together. It’s nice getting to know you. Let’s see how the next few days go.


Travel: Manhattan: Foodie’s Family Weekend August 18, 2016

Filed under: travel — Kolika C @ 6:43 pm

Although I have never lived in New York City, so many things about the city feels like a familiar beacon. Sure I get the frazzles, thinking about finding parking and navigating the “interweb” of the metro or stepping over something disgusting; but… Maybe it’s the pace, the crowd, the nasty smell that reminds me of growing up in a bustling dirty metro. Or the ethnic food calls from every corner and the anonymity of a ‘real city’ tugs the gut and heart strings respectively. Or maybe because I’ve just been there way more times than I care to admit. The touristy things are checked off, the familiarity-bred-contempt is on its downward trajectory by now, no agendas to push, except a list of food things that are special to this crazy city alone.

This was my first trip back with Josh. And when I think why I’ve held back for all this time, I think it’s because the perceived ghastliness, the public opinion of Big Bad had somehow seeped into my maternal psyche. I mean I took him to Madrid, Dubai and Calcutta. So why not New York?

We made a few changes this time around. We drove. All the way. We parked where we could and wanted, we took it slow. I napped. (Gasp)


Nothing says city pride and urban love like public art. 

We still made lists to try out all those buzzfeed/ Conde Nast/ Travel magazine/ Pinterest-popular food innovations that were supposedly taking the city by storm. We didn’t worry about penny pinching, realizing you never really save much doing that. We stayed in the city, not in Long Island, not in Jersey City, not even in Queens. We got an Airbnb listing we liked on the Upper East Side and set up camp there. We spent a lot of time at Central Park and in open spaces. We were also ready to sit in crammed traffic and did a fair amount of that without cribbing. We went prepared to walk and to lie down on the grass, we went open-minded to live on pizza and ice cream and prepared enough to know which ones we wanted and what the backup options were. We went prepared to try Brooklyn again another time and focus only on the fun stuff IN the area we were staying in.

img_8790Who taught us to be this smart? Boston did. Yup I admit. Living in Chicago taught us many things, but living in Massholeland taught me 1) to expect and deal with nasty people and be ok if you’re the only nice person in the room 2) focus on not crossing the bridge (I’m talking about you Cambridge!) 3) to expect and deal with traffic and parking, smell and noise and the nuisance of urban chaos that we live and love.

So here are some snippets from our recent New York trip

-Eggloo @ china town for Hongkong style waffles stuffed with icecream and pokey sticks

-NY style bagels from H&M’s Upper East Side location

-Delish coffee and chocolate donuts from tiny Joe Coffee (Lexington Ave UES)

-Amazing awesome pizza and finger licking tiramisu from San Matteo Pizzeria e Cucina (writing this is making me so hungry!!)

img_8835-More amazing pizza from Margherita NYC

– drippy waffles from some cart in Central Park that everyone talks about but the name is escaping me right now

Crazy litchi deal from Chinatown 😉 you didn’t see that coming did you? We were stuck in traffic after picking up pizza at Little Italy on our way back, what was I supposed to do? Pass on litchi? No thanks. I got down. They let me “haggle” with them in English while they laughed at me in Chinese (?) but I got my delicious fruits for my 4 hour road trip back home.img_8839

Overall this trip was such a fun fulfilling trip. I wish we did more full family trips like this, more often… And I don’t believe I said that in writing. Anyway I genuinely wish Josh would remember snippets of happy memories from this trip and we would get to repeat many more like this.


Just for fun: here’s a picture of my mom waiting with 2 eggloo sundaes in 2 hands while we wait for our ride (the guys) to circle back and pick us up since there was no parking availableimage11


Travel: Alaska- From Fireweed to Forest Fires June 21, 2015

Those of you, who’ve been following Glass Wheels Travels for a while, know I am a Mama’s girl. And my Mom and I travel together, often and much. This time, after a hiatus of couple years, Mom-&-me came back as Baby-Mama-&-Grandma. Most of you also have caught on to the fact that my Mama, who I will refer to Grandma hereon, LOVES mountains. So Alaska was an obvious choice given we were staying domestic this year.

We had been planning on an Alaska trip for a while and after some changes and back and forth from May to August and back, we finally decided on June. In fact, I am writing today within 4 days of getting back, still heady with jet lag.

We had just gotten back from a long California trip, all of us tired of long car-rides by then; J faring the worst of all, loathing his  car-seat. For days he would shake his hand and head vehemently just at the sight of the car door open…reminded me of Brownie’s road trips.

IMG_6889So anyway, tickets were booked and we packed a healthy dose of optimism and set out super early one June morning. After 2 uneventful flights and lots of compliments about a well-behaved baby, we reached Anchorage.

 One word- meh. We were hugely underwhelmed by Anchorage. A city cradled by mountains and lapped at by water evokes expectations and they were just plain not met. We tried them all- Kincaid Park, Point Worwonzof etc. and I have to say Pinterest and Tripadvisor have never really let me down this bad. Even worse- the food scene was almost non-existent. Anchorage made Buffalo look happening. Yes, sad.


Still packing some of that remnant optimism, we set out, the next day, to go to Girdwood. You’ll notice in Anchorage travel tips and lists that they include all these areas- TurnAgain Arm, Girdwood, Portage etc. although I am not sure if these are really part of Anchorage or just potential day trips. Anyway, by the time Seward Highway reached Potter’s Marsh about 16 miles out of the city, both the view and our outlook had started changing. Potter’s Marsh was a lovely place – paved board walk stretched into the wide open marsh land. Fewer birds than we expected but such nice ambiance. I could while away here for hours. My little bird-spotting assistant (aka Baby Josh) sat in his Ergo, pointing “bird, bird!”, every time a gull flew past him. I saw a couple of bald eagles courting and clicked away at an elegant swallow who posed for us patiently.

IMG_4251Then the grey clouds started giving in and fat droplets threatened to take over the mist that was already soaking us. (And of course, I was traveling without rain gear and had only 1 fleece sweat ugh!) So we hurried back to  the car again and headed towards Girdwood. The winding road, hugging the Cook Inlet was fun and I kept patting myself in the back for upgrading our rental car to a Subaru Forrester. I have driven flimsy sedans on crazy National Parks roads before and let me just say, that is not fun. So really at $15 extra a day, the upgrade was totally worth it. I digress.

By then, the wind had picked up and believe it or not it was blowing so hard, it was difficult to get out of the car for more than a few seconds. It felt like we were going to fly away (and not the metaphorical way you’d expect Alaskan natural beauty to sweep you off your feet). We widened our stance and bent our bodies to steady against the wind and withstand the cold and lashing rain, to take in the views and get some pictures. Yes the pics are lopsided and hazy but effective, because, even now when I look at them, I feel the sting of the wind and rain.

TurnAgain Arm | Glass Wheels Travels

TurnAgain Arm | Glass Wheels Travels

I won’t say that the road was not scenic. It wasn’t as heavenly as widely acclaimed, but yes, it was scenic and made for a nice drive, once I added a ittle imagination and extrapolation on how nicer it would be on a clear day with blue skies. We trudged slowly up to Alaska Wildlife Center near Portage.IMG_6921 I have so much respect for everything they are doing over there to help rehabilitate the hurt and orphaned animals and I don’t mind the entrance fee etc. going to such a good cause. I wish it was dry and sunnier, so we could walk around and take better pictures… maybe even interact a bit more too. But instead, we took the shuttle. The driver/ guide was fantastic, she was not only personable, but also knowledgeable and descriptive without being patronizing. 

The Brown Bear pictured here was a special attraction. Going in the entrance personnel said “you’ll see all the animals but maybe not the bear because they are on some 20-30 acres and you never know where they’ll be”. But here he was, people-watching, just by the fence…Looking at all the interesting 2-legged creatures, in all kinds of 4 wheeled vehicles with cameras pointing at him. Overall we had a great 45 minutes ride in the shuttle bus. I knew going in this was no zoo or the San Diego Safari but I left feeling a little empty and more than a little dissatisfied. I couldn’t help but feel a little cheated… I heard Alaska was gorgeous from all my friends, of varying tastes and exposures. The prices of everything in Alaska sure lived up to it’s supposed-heavenly beauty. This was going to be an expensive trip and this was an awful lot of nothing to justify that kind of money. Frankly, the weather was playing havoc on my psyche. It was a miserable, cold, wet day- a good day to buy a new jacket- a bad day for that jacket to give way, even before I left the shop.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear what do you see?

Trail in Girdwood AK | Glass Wheels Travels

Trail in Girdwood AK | Glass Wheels Travels

Seething and drenched we reached Girdwood and was welcomed warmly in to a homey B&B with big rooms. After nursing and calming J (I think I was projecting my gloom on him a bit too), we decided to rest, for the remainder of the evening and “take it slow”…given a cold, wet day in Girdwood didn’t leave us any other options. We went to sleep with the hope that  it would clear up a little the next day.

And it did, long enough for us to go on a short trail before breakfast. We kept it short, because there was homemade bread waiting for us at “home” for breakfast. I saw some wildlife there, but unfortunately don’t have pictures to show. I saw a mouse, not moose. Yes, that’s not a typo, as much as I’d like it to be…

Anyway, after breakfast, we packed J into the car and headed for Seward…a 4 hour round trip for a 2 hour visit to the SeaLife Center; after reading the reviews and weighing the pros and cons in bad weather we decided on passing on the 6 or 8 hour long glacier cruises from Seward. I wasn’t going to go with J anyway but I think even for Grandma, standing in the frigid cold (most say there aren’t enough seats) next to motion-sick cotravellers’ vomit, to watch ice break and fall into water and a knowledge that there’s wildlife that she can’t see without a binocular (which we didn’t have), eating semi edible food on a ship…didn’t sound very appealing. I’m sorry guys, but icecalving just does not fit my bill of cool. Maybe that’s where my misplaced notion of Alaskan beauty is.

TurnAgain Arm | Glass Wheels Travels

Seward Highway | Glass Wheels Travels

Our road to Seward was beautiful! So much nicer than ANC-Girdwood! Or was it the peekabooing Sun? The sky still wasn’t blue but so many shades of green, reflected on randomly scattered lakes. Of course the Mom in me was happy that Josh was so happy seeing the fish and especially the birds. Check out the amazing work the Alaska SeaLife Center does with rehab as well. Yes, no colorful tropical fish and this wasn’t the Chicago or Baltimore aquariums, but still totally worth the trip to the SeaLife Center. This is what traveling with kids is made of and I love it!

Alaska SeaLife Center | Glass Wheels Travels

Alaska SeaLife Center | Glass Wheels Travels

J & I both found likeness of Brownie in the seals’ faces and Josh went far enough to keep calling them “Babum”- his name for Brownie. I was missing my son#1. But this was going to  be a good day. I was almost determined to make it count. When was the last time I was so conflicted/ determined on vacation?

After a couple hours of fun at the SeaLife Center and procuring a new fleece lined rain jacket (that worked!), we headed home to Girdwood.

Tram, Alyeska, Girdwood | Glass Wheels Travels

Tram, Alyeska, Girdwood | Glass Wheels Travels

Since we missed seeing glaciers, we thought going to the Seven Glaciers restaurant at the Alyeska Resort next door could make up for it. Boy were we wrong. The idea of dining up among 7 hanging glaciers is enchanting. Being seated in an empty restaurant with reservation, near the elevator shaft with almost no view + rude service that would put Massachusetts to shame + shamefully mediocre food was not enchanting at all. We did enjoy the 7 minute trip up the tram and the round house was a nice viewpoint… again imagining how much nicer this would be under clear skies helped. We met a very nice person (Josh?) who took us down on our trip in the tram. For a resort in high season, the whole place was dismally empty…maybe they’ve scared away all the customers and like us they would all go to taste Alaskan icecream next!

Round House, Alyeska, Girdwood | Glass Wheels Travels

Round House, Alyeska, Girdwood | Glass Wheels Travels

Yes apparently there’s a ice cream company in AK, where food scientists take the local wild flower- Fireweed for it’s color and it’s honey and formulate Fireweed Honey icecream. It was floral, sweet and refreshing and it came from our B&B host’s ice cream shop. Our last night in Girdwood was truly relaxing, as we watched the light thin out over the hills- hills we could now see from both our windows now that the clouds had lifted.

View on a sunny day from our B&B, GIrdwood | Glass Wheels Travels

View on a sunny day from our B&B, GIrdwood | Glass Wheels Travels

IMG_4460The next day we set out to go north to Talkeetna. We stopped in Anchorage to fill up our car to the gills with snacks and water and a couple small toys for Josh. This time around the road (to ANC) felt shorter of course but not that much prettier. The road from Anchorage to Talkeetna was sad! We saw more abandoned cars and run down dismal communities than anything else. Hardly 2-3 gas stations, no rest stops, no scenic stops. Nothing…I kept expecting to make a turn and see a mountain or a moose but of course Mt. Denali was socked up in clouds and nothing else was worth seeing. IMG_4509Eventually we reached our B&B in Talkeetna. The last quarter miles was unpaved and gravel and just when our expectations plummeted, we were greeted by Andi at the Talkeetna Chalet B&B, showed around her beautiful house, fueled with coffee and shown to our room. We then made it another 3 miles to where the road (Talkeetna Spur road) ends at the river…at quaint and quirky Downtown Talkeetna. Like I mentioned in my Alaskan Communities page, Talkeetna is where everyone comes to play.IMG_4446 There are quite a few food options and historic buildings (but not your Old Cambridge style that we’re used to). The mayor of this town is a cat! Here in Alaska for the first time, IMG_4448I saw young families with little kids and people with dogs, playing in the park of leash. In my mind that signals “happy community” almost instantly. The whole place was like out of a hippie vacation, with stores as old (looking) as Nagley’s and as crazy sounding at Mexican Moose (we bought a wooden car for J from here and 3 packets of roasted warm nuts- yummy!)  IMG_4511IMG_4489IMG_4492 IMG_4507

Rain came again and we retired to a bowl of soup and reindeer sausage at the Roadhouse. The next day, Grandma went on a flight seeing expedition to the top of Mt. Denali (!) with K2 aviation and Josh and I went to walk around the town and to the river. Then early afternoon after a bad experience with mediocre pizza from Mountaintop, thinking aloud how cute this town was, we set forth for Denali National Park. Little did we know this nagging feeling of imcompleteness would soon be quenched when we would be forced to return here again!

Our next stop for the day was Healy and the sky still hadn’t cleared all the way but the mountains were peeking in and out of the clouds. We stopped admist a hoard of chattering Asian tourists at the South viewpoint and I soon left without taking many pictures only to be stopped intermittently by traffic and waiting for pilot cars to take us through the narrow single lane highways. There were stretches where again I was thankful I had the 4WD Forrester. The North view point was quieter and felt more scenic. IMG_4564 And finally 5 full hours later, when I was almost ready to burst into tears myself- exhausted and still calculating if this trip is worth it, we reached our B&B in Healy. That turned out to be less of a B&B but what ever it was, the view was phenomenal. Do you see the rainbow? The photo deosn’t do it justice. AND that was only the first rainbow we had seen- it was 6PM. We were so tired, we set our alarms for 12:15AM and then 3:15AM for sunset and sunrise respectively, swearing all we’re going to do here was lie down next to the window/ deck, “bask” in the midnight sun and enjoy the scenery. And glorious it was, the midnight sun and the 12:25AM sunset. I have never seen a more beautiful, a more pink, a more heavenly view in my life. (Well not really, I did see a beautiful pink baby boy I gave birth to- the best thing I’d ever seen) In my almost 32 years of existence this was the northernmost I have traveled and the longest day I’d seen. I don’t know why the other things are so talked about and this isn’t one of them? As much as I love them, I’ve seen enough alpine forests and snowclad mountains, I’ve been to nicer National Parks and stayed in luxury lodgings, I have had my share of (glaciers) ice on water too…but this- this was ephemeral. How is this not a Wonder of the World? How is this not in brochures for traveling to Alaska? This is finally what made everything worth it.


Almost worth not even going to the National Park. But we did. Trudging along the construction-ridden, bumpy, unpaved road, we entered the park. NPS always interests me, but here it seemed to be more educational than recreational. Nonetheless we went to some trails and came back less than impressed. Almost 2 miles of hikes with a napping baby on my back- it isn’t easy traveling with kids, but it’s fun. And you do live to talk about it. My SLR camera died on the hike and I almost immediately knew we would encounter wildlife that evening…and after getting back to the hotel that night, we saw a mama moose with her baby at the lake (Otto Lake) and later a bear (which really I didn’t see very well).

The next day was going to be the longest drive, so we started early and tried to go as fast as possible within reasonable speed- you know, no photos, fewer stops. We only lasted about 10 miles before we wanted to stop for photos! Of course this was the clearest day so far. The sky was egregiously blue, the Sun hot on our heads, the snow clad Mt. Foraker, Mt. Hunter and Mt. Denali shining bright. We were going to hit a 90 degree that day. The cold wet windy day when we couldn’t get out of our cars seemed like a distant nightmare.


Driving towards Sockeye Fire | Glass Wheels Travels

We stopped to fill gas at the junction of Talkeetna spur road, exclaiming at the beautiful Mt. Denali in our rear view mirror and how nice it would have been had it been clear on our journey there. Then a sideways gland revealed Smokey Bear saying high danger of fire. I’ve seen that sign before but never an actual fire and I really didn’t give it much thought.

In no more than 5 minutes later, I thought the clouds looked different and I told Grandma, maybe there’s a fire ahead. Within minutes were were stuck on the road behind what we later learned was a 2 mile long train of cars. People had their chairs out camping in the Sun, hoping the road will open in a couple hours. We also learned there were no back-roads to get to Anchorage, something we are so used to in the Lower 48. You know that saying there’s always a way. Well there wasn’t. And with Josh sleeping in the car, I somehow didn’t feel right to wait those 2 hours. I quickly called our B&B reservation in Anchorage saying the road was closed with a 200 acre fire (later grew to over 7500 acres); she was reluctant to return our deposit, but eventually when we learned the road was not going to open for that whole night and in fact, it was indefinitely closed, she was gracious enough not to charge us.

I called and left a message for Andi at Talkeetna Chalet, Talkeetna being the closest place we could stay for the night, and then again called a couple other B&Bs who were completely booked. Turns out one of Andi’s guests was also stuck because of the fire, coming in from Anchorage, so she could in fact accommodate us. The upside to all this was we were going to spend one extra night in Talkeetna over boring Anchorage.

The downside was infinite. Very close to Andi’s B&B we had an encounter with a very creepy man with a combination of finger flicking and waving and smiling– gave me super heebie-jeebies. This wasn’t my urban neighborhood where I knew the roads and there were people I could call out to, this was a cabin in the woods, down the hill and away from the main house, alone with Grandma and Baby. Baby with a raging fever. This was a town with minimal to zero police presence, all of whom were probably focused on fighting the fire and relocating residents. This was a town where I saw 2 people openly carrying guns in holsters casually in their jeans and sun dresses, this was a town I later learned where there was a Militia conference that weekend! I have no opinions against them, I just want to say how far and unfamiliar that culture is to me. This was a place where I was essentially alone to fend for myself and 2 people I love most in the world. And I couldn’t find the fire extinguisher in the wooden cabin, 30 miles from where a forest fire by then had taken up 7500 acres. I had LTE connection on my AT&T, so I obsessively scanned the internet for news on the fire, tweeted CNN and FOX for their lack of updates and followed the Alaska Forestry page for updates, which were scant, to say the least. The rest of the world, said my husband and friends on Facebook, had no idea what was going on here. Houses were smoking, trees were flaming- the fate of acres of land in the hands of whimsical wind. Oh and that creep could show up at any time at the window. And my son was not feeling well at all. I just wanted us to be safe, I wanted to get to Anchorage, board our plane and reach Boston Logan airport. I wanted us to be home, with Brownie and A, away from this strange land. I wanted us to be in the heart center of rude, uncaring Massholeland and smack next to uncivilized neighbors- THAT was my civilization.

I was also amazingly eternally grateful to Andi for taking us in, to the other B&B owner for not charging us and to luck and my quick decision-making that we turned around in time…apparently Andi got 20 calls right after asking for a place to stay in. Other commuters had to go to shelters. I was glad we got a beautiful cabin, a cozy bed, a hot shower, coffee and the premise of a hearty breakfast the next morning.

With that we survived that night and after breakfast, we left for Anchorage. Smoke was everywhere, a feverish baby in the car, and charred skeletons of spruce stood for 22 miles along the Parks Highway near Willow, AK.

We eventually reached Anchorage, with half a day to spare. At over 90 degrees and few places that were comfortable, open and inviting, we headed to the airport early. United Airways personnel who knew full well (and expressed as much) our flight was going to be delayed (but it didn’t show on the displays yet) refused to get us in on an earlier flight unless we paid for it. Irritated and anxious about making our connection, we roamed ANC for a little bit. Ted Stevens ANC airport is a gem for a shabby town like Anchorage. Ample food options, nice artwork, people who were in awe of Alaskan beauty but wanted out of the state and best of all a nursery,  where we could rest, change and play for 7 hours until our flight…7 hours theoretically was actually 9 hrs, which delayed our flight for the connection. . Thankfully again, our connection in ORD was late. Finally we were headed home. And we were home, 26.5 hours from when we had left our B&B in Talkeetna.


“No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.”


TurnAgain Arm | Glass Wheels Travels

TurnAgain Arm | Glass Wheels Travels

If interested you can find our full itinerary and recommendations for planning here. And on the topic of planning, here are some cool places to stay and play in. Check out all our pics on my Flickr album


Travel: Alaskan Adventure June 19, 2015

We just got back from a 8 day long vacation in Alaska. Check out all our pics on my Flickr album. This travelogue is more a travel story, a collection of anecdotes. We created our own itinerary and learned as we went. So if you are looking to create your own itinerary, looking for the best/scenic routes and convenient stopovers: Alaska itinerary

If you are looking for a review of the communities, we stayed in, read Alaskan communities: where to stay, what to do and where to eat.
The costs can creep up quickly when going to AK so for the budget traveler, my tips are in Alaska on a budget
Very few people take their kids to Alaska. It’s not that the whole state doesn’t have kids but the median age of visitors is 60. But if you’re like me and going to AK with a tiny tot, can you still enjoy Alaska? Of course, read Traveling with kids.
And lastly if you are here to read a slightly comic, slightly scary anecdotes of experiencing the Sockeye Fire and in general the crazy weather patterns in Alaska, go to Alaska: Fireweed to Forest Fires.
Otto Lake

Travel: Praha, Czech Republic January 1, 2015

Charles Bridge

Our journey started as a school trip, intending to learn about the business culture, norms and workings of corporations of post-communist Eastern Europe. Coming from a city which has always idealistically called itself socialist, Prague haunted me in more than one way. It came across as a teenager uncomfortable with his new body but not quite able to catch up to the rest of the world. Preservation, old town culture, history—symbols of Western Europe magnificence were marred hand in hand with communist style match box apartments. The offices were shanties. The work culture tired, work environment dismal. People—grim, sighing and for the most part unhappy. Not speaking Czech had its drawbacks and I learned soon enough not to smile and greet people. But then there were those moments, you wanted to absorb and assimilate in your brain forever, the time, the place, the smells and if I may, the tastes.

We lived in Centrum, walking distance from everywhere nice and touristy and between 2 metro stops.  Also being in the Centrum meant you kind of had to walk everywhere. The National Museum stood as the welcoming levee from where started the series of shops from grocery stores and American megabrands to your everyday fast food. Almost like platform # 9¾, the storefronts hid the winding narrow cobblestone alleys that led to Old Town.

Old Town SqaureThe square stood standing like it has for hundreds of years, only sprouting coffee shops and barbeque joints hosting to the thick of tourists visiting every hour. Sticker shocked by the ‘local’ coffee shops, we fled into the closest Starbucks which consequently had the longest ever lines. We walked further onto the Charles Bridge, strolled around the snaky backstreets, some of which were thick with tourist traps and souvenir stores while some entirely desolate. The statues on Charles Bridge were very interesting and I wished I knew the stories they depicted.

A beautiful panoramic view of the city could be seen at the Prague castle or the Hrad. While I didn’t go inside the grounds were beautiful with strolling peacocks amidst other non-royals like pigeons and ducks. My friends who did go inside said it was beautiful.

On quite the other side, I visited the Museum of Communism which was ironically enough located right atop a McDonald’s.  While they probably could have done better, I think the Berlin wall simulation, the video of the Velvet Revolution and the communist era archival was interesting and worth the 8 dollars.

The Jewish Ghetto was a beautiful and impressive walk, especially if you have a knowledgeable guide. I am so thankful to ours. Kafka and Mozart’s houses, Giovanni’s premiere site, the libraries, the squares the stories will be in my memory for some time to come.

If you do go to Prague, try the black light theatre and the marionette theatre both of which I read lots of good reviews of, but did not get a chance to visit. Enjoy some goulash and a pig’s knee/ knuckle if you get a chance, buy a sausage sandwich from the street vendors. If literature interests you, the museum of Kafka is right near Charles Bridge. If music is your thing, look out for the jazz clubs and cruises as well as classical performances. If history, culture and old world mystery interest you and you want something less expensive than Western Europe, Prague just might be your next destination.Smoky Prague skyline


Travel: Shenandoah National Park December 26, 2014

(A June 2009 post from my old blog)

I have always associated mountains with my mother. Maybe it is because Mom planned 9 out of 10 of my childhood vacations around the mountains. Or maybe because I could see the elation that snow-capped peaks brought to her. Especially since the acrophobic, motion-sick, Calcutta-sick me wasn’t much of a hill-person, I would curiously and stupefied-ly watch out for what my parents got out of these high-altitude monsters!!
(Wondering how I became me? Well…without much ado, let me just gut your curiosity by saying– every now and then, I see my parents in my reflection, much to awe and sometimes to concern and infrequently, amusement; but I guess this happens to a lot of us, most commonly to the best of us here.)

So going back to mountains, when I was planning my Mom-weekends for this summer…for some reason I came up with mostly sea-sides or water-bodies (and I live on Erie) except for a Colorado weekend… and I thought– ‘well, she would have really loved the hillies!’ So when I planned our Maryland-DC-Virginia getaway, I thought why not? The Atlantic had to make way for the Appalachians…Virginia Beach had to give way to Shenandoah! And man, was that a good decision! We deliberated about Monanghela (West Virginia) but at the last moment decided to skip it … and instead make most of the stars at hand a.k.a. Shenandoah (Native Indian word meaning ‘daughter of the stars’)

On one hand when we were really taking out scopes of diversity from this trip, someone had better plans for us. The dull cloudy skies of crabby Maryland gave way to lovely sunshine as we hit Front Royal, Virginia.
From there on we were cuffing weather patterns that changed every hour. During that 104 mile drive, the plushest greens that were swathed with sunshine this moment, changed into dark lime colors the next, with a depth that only sudden stormy showers could bring.
That strange musty smell of wet dirt and storms that wift them to your nose remind me of home and of Kalboishakhi-s.
The leaves dithered and turned back on each other, producing a myriad of multidimensional green maze that lured you into the depths of wild trails. John Muir’s “the mountains are calling and I must go” made perfect sense.

The azure and white playful sky would in moments give way to pitch-black low-lying dark clouds that swarmed from hill to hill, showering on some, simply hovering on some others. Moist clouds flowing in and out of the car and touching your shoulders like the hills were breathing down on you.
Wildflowers in every shade of lilac, pink and white, blue and yellow. Blue birds and red jays and butterflies. Strange snakes. Wild bears, mid-size black and 20 feet from our car parked on the main road.
And my mother to share it all with. Life couldn’t get much better.

Purple ranges overlooking the rivulets glowed orange in the setting sun….
and the blue ridges, ah! The Blue Ridge. Layers of symmetry, like the globe was ‘marble printed’ in three pastels and a brown : ) A lot like my mother– Peacefully dynamic. Enormously humane. And ethereally big; bluer and bigger than all of us here.

…And a reminder of how much more there is to see.

I have lived in Pennsylvania for some time and driven through the Alleghenies for more times than I can count, in all 4 seasons and everything between them and don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of the Alleghenies…I swear by her beauty….but lets just say, maybe I never stopped there long enough to ‘smell the roses’, so I’m not in a position to compare.
I have never been to the Monanghela-s or the Smokey-s either; when I do, maybe, I can give a more compehensive ‘trip-advisor-ly’ note than this anecdote of sheer exhilaration and compulsive adoration about the Shenandoah Valley.
I keep reverberating that it probably couldn’t get any better. However if I am to change something, it would be staying at the forest lodgings…I couldn’t tell you about management or room conditions but if I were to decide based on locations, Skyland it would be. (One quick note: Reservations run out fast)
shenandoahMore pictures on my Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/kolika/sets/72157620541242817/
Until then keep those wheels spinning and smell the paper wings!

Update: On subsequent visits we did stay at the Skylodge and the Big Meadow resorts. Big Meadow is a tad more upscale while Skylodge is big on the rustic. More are wonderful stays and the food and tap at Big Meadows was just plain wonderful. Definitely worth revisiting.


Travel: Culinary joys of Calcutta December 17, 2014


Wait… how is it that the place that taught me to love food and people-watching didn’t get at least an honorary mention in my travel blog? At least until my mother made me do it. Gasp. Yes, she made me write a where-to-eat travelogue for a proceedings book for a medical conference her group is hosting. Confused? In short, doctors lead boring, stressful lives so when they go to conferences other doctors want them to know how cute their city is and where all they can go chomp between the talks.

Why does it have to be here? For one, the amount of research and thought that went into writing it deserves it be placed in this blog. Secondly, this is the best I got, yet. Until I sum up every piece of advice, I have been giving my guests and traveler friends and write something better about what to do in my city, you will have to be happy with the description of where to eat there.

Calcutta- A Taster’s Paradise

You might have visited before, you might have deep acquaintances in this city. You might associate this city with many things—Mother Teresa’s charity, Tagore’s literature and boisterous, friendly Bengalis, but if City of Joy were ever to be renamed into a city of something else, it would most likely be food. So, here’s an insight for you: your hosts (and coworkers here) are indeed, in their heart of hearts, self-proclaimed hosts of travel/food shows, they are judgmental critiques, passionate foodies and elaborate guides who want little more, than to show you their city, through their eyes and palates.

This Calcuttan might be traveling the globe for years, but ask her about a recent trip…and then listen carefully for the mention of brilliant food, jaw dropping concoction of ecstasy.  Food might not be the only reason she travels, but surely that is one that tugs at her soul. No matter where she goes, her function, budget or preferred ambiance, food, she loves. And now that you are in her city, there is little respite for you.

Unlike most other Indian cities, Calcutta does more than boast its home-spun (Bengali) cuisine—the quintessential fish and sweets. Instead, it proclaims its love for food by offering a magical amalgamation of all things tasty, all cuisines that have traveled across the globe to fascinate the Calcuttan palate. Tastes which have traveled far and wide to marry other tastes and create what is the eclectic Calcuttan flavor.

Home of the Kathi roll (or Frankies), Calcutta is opulant with neighborhood joints with scores of loyal patrons who will claim theirs are the “best Kathi rolls in the world”.

Calcutta will proudly serve you her own Mughlai and South Indian, often from the same store front. Stop by, feel royal with a crispy bite from our greasy, delicious Fish Kobiraji.

Our authentic Biriyani recipes are claimed to be from the Afghan hills. And if you question the Kabul heritage of their spices, Calcuttans will modestly explain (to their cousins from Hyderabad and Mumbai) that the aromatic, flavorful, no-sauce version of meat laden deliciousness is a Lucknow-style Biriyani, something the West and South are yet to discover.

We have Punjabi dhabas lining not just our highways but also, congested inner city streets. Stop by Azad Hind for a midnight snack or a heavy late afternoon lunch. With crowds spilling out of every door in that place, you might have to sit in your car or stand in the street to finish your food. Hence, street food. Make sense?

Our ‘real Madrasi’ coffee is the specialty of our Tamil neighbors. Even though we love our Cafe Coffee Days, every now and then we will stop by little holes in the walls in the Lake Market area, to sip steaming hot, frothy coffee from double-layered steel cups.

If you would much rather stay away from the hoopla and sip tea in the cozies of your own balcony, tasty snacks from Bikaner are there to keep you company. Available both in chain and independent store-fronts across the city, taste from dozens of varieties of toasted nuts, dry fruits and spicy mixes.

Internationally minded? Our fruitcakes are from Jewish bakeries from the past century, our Chinese lo mein comes from our very own Chinatown and Mediterranean delicacies are a-galore at upscale joints lining the city.

Craving more caffeine? Want a crash course in the last 50 years of Calcutta? Ride up north to College Street and walk up dimly lit stairs of the Indian Coffee House. See, Calcutta is a place where people don’t just go to work and then go back home, it is a place where every clerk is a poet, every officer an author, singer, actor, collector, critique… and to live this second life, they have a third place, where they “adda” (meet with friends discussing all things essential to surreal, from politics to football, from economics to literature). Long before Starbucks (and hence the modern day cafe) branded their “third place”, Indian Coffee House in College Street has been every Calcuttan’s “third place” for generations. Warm camaraderie and heated conversations are paired with an equally hot, black “infusion” coffee. That is Calcutta. Taste it.

So without much ado, let’s start you on the journey. 20 places to try and taste, while in Calcutta.

Full meals and sit-down eateries:

  1. Peter Cat—Home of Calcutta’s favorite Chello Kabab and also delicious mutton biriyani (Park Street area)
  2. Arsalan—Claimed by some locals to serve the best Biriyani in town, this is a must stop for other delicacies like Firni too. (multiple locations Park St/ Park Circus area, www.arsalanrestaurant.in)
  3. 6 Ballygunj Place— for authentic Bengali cuisine (multiple locations: the original was in 6 Ballygunj Place, near Ballygunj Phari of course, but now they have locations in Salt Lake as well as other cities like Bangalore)
  4. Charnock City—Named after Job Charnock, the founder of the city, this cozy, well-lit restaurant serves scrumptious Daab-Chingri (shrimp and coconut served inside a coconut) and other Bengali, Indian and continental dishes served with views of lush greens of the Salt Lake Stadium and beyond (Salt Lake, EM Bypass)
  5. Hush—Italian food with a cozy bar for those that prefer quiet times and good food (City Centre, Salt Lake)
  6. Five Rivers— for their Kashmiri menu (City Centre 2, Salt Lake)
  7. Barbeque Nation—Go for unlimited kababs and also unlimited GenX IT professional crowd (Sector V, Salt Lake)
  8. Mocambo—As a NYTimes travel writer says “My mother went to Mocambo to listen to Doris Day covers. I went to Mocambo for Fish à la Diana#”  (Mirza Ghalib St)
  9. Bohemian—Bengali cuisine but with an eclectic, international touch (Ballygunj)
  10. Chinoiserie—for upscale Chinese at the Taj Bengal (Alipore)
  11. Baan Thai—for upscale Thai at the Oberoi Grand (Esplanade)
  12. Sigri—North Indian and Kababs

(Chain restaurants that haven’t lost their charm

  1. Mainland China—for delectable Chinese food outside of Chinatown. (multiple locations including cities outside Calcutta)
  2. Oh! Calcutta—authentic Calcuttan cuisine (multiple locations including internationally http://www.speciality.co.in/index.php/brands/oh-calcutta/)
  3. Flame & Grill—(multiple locations including Prince Anwar Shah Rd http://www.speciality.co.in/index.php/brands/flame-grill/)

(Street food and Take-aways: )

  1. Hot Kati Roll—while kathi rolls are ubiquitous in Calcutta, this is locally claimed as one of the best roll-‘stalls’ in the city. (Park Street)
  2. Aliya—for beautifully fragrant, less-oily Biriyani (strictly take-away, Chandni Chowk)
  3. Utsav—for fish fry and chilli baby corn (Hajra)

(Dessert: )

  1. Flury’s—Housed in an old Brit-era building with tall windows bang in the middle of all Park Street action, Flury’s sells decadent pastries and savory baked goods. (Park Street, http://www.flurysindia.com)
  2. Nahoum’s—Their cakes and breads smell of childhood. Of rum, fruits, chocolate but mostly of nostalgic New Market childhood.. Nahoum’s is abundant in every Calcuttan’s memory, it is that much more prevalent in the confectionery-history of sweet-toothed Calcutta. So go there with a local, early enough in the day to enjoy fresh goodies. (Esplanade, New Market)


This is no way an exhaustive list, and I haven’t been home in so long I forgot how some of this tastes. Maybe that was what my mother wanted–Me to long to go back home, to reach out to my old friends and go out with them to the old hangouts. Well you are successful, Ma, I am craving all of that now and some of your Jhinge Posto too.

Huge shout-out to Debarshi and Saikat for your help with this. Lets get together soon!


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