6 Top Tips -Rome

Travelling to Rome? Here are some notes from our travel during Christmas Season last year.

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We found this welcome sign outside our window as we woke up the first morning in Rome
 
1) Don’t cut it short

No matter what anyone tells you, don’t cut your trip to Rome short. All of the major attractions in Rome can be “glanced” at in under a day (we did this, twice over) however if you really want to even scratch the surface of the history of this metropolis, consider staying on atleast 5 days. Read as much as you can process about the architecture, art and sculpture so you can appreciate the most treasured ruins of the world. But be forewarned that truly understanding Rome is a different feat altogether. I had my head spinning from reading the various guidebooks and texts to place everything in context. The entire city is an archaeological goldmine and every year newer sites are discovered dating back 1000 years while life above ground continues business as usual. As our tour guide explained, Everything you see in Rome is the past, present and the future – all at once. 

Some of the material that helped us with the research were the Metropolis series on Netflix, Rick Steves Rome on YouTube, The Blue Guide Rome among others. 

2) You can walk everywhere

If you stay in the centre of Rome (which you must), everything you must see is at a walkable distance. It is also highly recommended that you walk this city to fully experience its surprises and also because public transport within the centre is not very reliable. We stayed in a neighborhood near the Colosseum and were able to walk to the Vatican across the Tiber in under an hour. This was end of December, so walking in summer might be a breeze in comparison! Just carry a comfortable pair of shoes, a map and an appetite to sample all the good stuff you see along the way! 

3) Stay with locals

Ditch the hotels and stay with an Italian family in a bed and breakfast instead. Though this is a useful tip for most places, it makes most sense to do this in Italy as Italians like Indians live in big joint families in traditional compounds. We stayed in one such ethereal Air B&B property around Via Delle sette sale with a piece of history attached to its inception. Sharing walls with the compound of San Pietro in Vincoli which is home to Michelangelo’s Moses. Our hosts gave us excellent insight into the local life with their recommendations and tips and the icing on the cake for us was a home style three-course Christmas dinner prepared by them in our B&B kitchen(We still have dreams about that mean amatriciana sauce!) It was one of our favourite meals on the trip! 

We still salivate to the memory of our home-style meal at the B&B
 
4) Consider traveling Off-season
Never again were Spanish Steps seen so empty after Christmas

Rome is infamous for being too touristy and for good reason. Almost everyone we have ever talked to has always been put off by the hordes of tourists in this “eternal” city which made it impossible for them to truly appreciate its offerings. Fortunately, we arrived in Rome a day before Christmas Eve, and contrary to what you may think, Christmas in Rome is a closed family affair. Which meant that we got to experience Rome sans the crowds for 2 full days before they  descended in the city post Christmas. We could marvel at a near empty Piazza Navona on Christmas Eve, walk to St. Peter’s square at the Vatican and attend midnight mass at Santa Maria Maggiore – it was magical. Thus we highly recommend travelling in quieter seasons so you can really experience the elusive romance with Rome. 

One thing to keep in mind while travelling during Christmas though is that a lot of major attractions are shut down or have altered timings, so plan accordingly. 

5) Don’t forget the coffee  

Our Host said Panela had “the best coffee in Rome”. We agreed many times over!

It’s a no brainer – you never leave Italy without getting enough caffeine in your blood stream. But really, those tiny cappuccinos are to die for and can make you crave them for several months after you leave and they are bloody cheap! Ditch the tourist coffee shops and head to someplace that the locals swear by. Our host gave us several recommendations at La Merulana and we found ourselves alternating between cappuccinos and gelato at Panella and Ornelli respectively. If you want to pack this caffeinated nostalgia as you leave to cherish later, buy yourself one of those Italian coffee pot and a few packs of Lavazza. 

Bring a piece of Italy with you – make coffee the Italian way
 
6. Pre-book everything 
Seeing this piece by Caravaggio was the highlight of our churches trail day!
 

Remember when I told you about the insane swarms of tourists in Rome – don’t underestimate the lines at any of the Rome’s popular sights by any means. We had heard legends about the tickets/entry lines at these attractions and they were all absolutely true. Use your time wisely and book everything online in advance – the Colosseum, the Vatican Museums-Sistine chapel, Forum-Capitoline-palatine hill etc. Other attraction like the Pantheon, the various fountains have no entry fee so it becomes imperative that you visit these early morning to avoid the madness. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art, sculpture and architecture in Rome are free and reside inside churches. Zero on the artists you are interested and then figure out a church-trail that covers them. We did something similar and saw some spectacular works by Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Bernini and such. 
Have you been to the eternal city yet? What are some of your travel hacks for the city? 

Linger at Balur Estate – all about delicious idleness

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Linger

  • stay in a place longer than necessary because of reluctance to leave; spend a long time over something; be slow to disappear or die

Our experience at the 163 year old Balur Estate  part of Linger – do nothing vacations, was out to prove all the above three definitions correct. As you get closer to the estate you begin to cut off all strings of your city dweller’s life. First the traffic thins out, then the foliage gets denser and by the time you’ve entered through the gates of the 400 acre estate your phone network is completely dead.

These rustic bungalows with their white plastered walls and terracotta-tiled roofs welcome you to a world of blissful wilderness. Overlooking the picturesque coffee plantations (along with pepper, betel nut and cardamom) the bungalows sit at its pinnacle amidst varying hues of green. If it wasn’t for the enamel painted metal  of the coffee processing equipment and the greys of the concrete drying terraces, you would fail to identify any traces of human intervention in what is a scenery painted by nature.

The bungalows themselves are as much a part of this natural story telling as the 50-ft tall silver oak trees. The wooden rafters of the roof and the earthy fireplace in the middle of the living room remind ones of Balur Estates’s century old heritage. The elaborate spread cooked by care-takers in a homely kitchen reminds you of a time when happy guests were a matter of pride not pounds. The smiling face of that picture crazy child, whose spent most of his growing up picking coffee fruit at the estate reminds of the purity of a time that came much before (and went by far too quickly) today’s selfie syndrome.

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He loved touring the tea estate, but couldn’t wait to get back to our salon for a quick nap  before our elaborate dinner. It is hard to argue with that logic. Continue reading “Linger at Balur Estate – all about delicious idleness”

Europe Ministory Series: Germany – Then and Now (By Sarit Sethi) #ministory2

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Stasi Records Agency that preserves and protects the archives and investigates the past actions of the former Stasi, which served as the secret police and foreign intelligence organization of the communist German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

Our Indian readers must have seen the Lufthansa tele ad where a grandfather and his grandson are travelling to New York on a Lufthansa flight. The grandfather goes on to prepare his grandson about ‘the German airline’ by telling him how Germans are not like Indians in their hospitality and their food. Once in the flight the child is so pleased with the homely treatment that he almost thinks they’ve boarded a wrong flight.

Continue reading “Europe Ministory Series: Germany – Then and Now (By Sarit Sethi) #ministory2”

Europe Ministory Series: Berlin Remembers #ministory1

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Memorial to the Book Burning at Bebenplatz

“That was only a prelude, there
where they burn books,
they burn in the end people.”
Heinrich Heine 1820

6 years ago as a student of architecture visiting Berlin for the first time, I found the city overwhelming to say the least. It shattered my naïve, romantic ideas of Europe that had been planted and nurtured on earlier trips to Western Europe, offering instead a 3-D textbook of history, full of blatant confessions of its unpleasant past. I remember being sucked into the profundity of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum, where recreated experiences from the holocaust can draw the most casual of museum visitors into moments of silence.

Continue reading “Europe Ministory Series: Berlin Remembers #ministory1”

Guide to Bali

A friend once told me that if you had the choice of visiting one place in South-east Asia, let that place be Bali. Through 5-days spent in the region, we were convinced that Bali is worth its hype and more.

Last year, still recovering from the damages incurred through our 10 day trip to East Coast USA, we began tossing ideas for a relatively cheaper vacation. We browsed through itineraries and pictures of Srilanka, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia. However, one friend who has extensively travelled through these regions made the choice simple by stating that “if you had a choice to visit only one place in South-East Asia, let that place be Bali.” Thus, plans were made, deals hunted on several OTAs , flights finalized and before we knew it, we were in line with an entire town of tourists getting our visas stamped on arrival at the  Ngurah Rai airport.

After spending only a day in Bali, partner and I agreed on only one thing unanimously – that 5 days would not be enough to savor everything that Bali had to offer and that we had to come back for more. It is most difficult to write “quick” guides of places that you love so much, because pages aren’t enough. But here is an attempt to help you get started for your vacation to Bali :

  1. Flights: There are no direct flights to Bali. Depending on the airline you choose, you would be stopping over in Kuala Lumpur or Singapore and would land at the Ngurah Rai, near Densapar.
  2. Money: It is unlikely that you will find the Indonesian currency in your home country before you fly. Carry US Dollars with you and exchange a small amount (say100 USD) at the counters at the airport exit. After that make sure you exchange your money only at the authorized money changers. Indonesian currency can be overwhelming to handle owing to its high denominations, thus exchanging small amounts is a good strategy.
  3. Accommodation: Bali has many interesting regions and plenty of great accommodations to fit everyone’s taste and budget. If you look for deals, you can get some of the most beautiful accommodations for great prices. We were able to get a private villa with a pool at a property in  in Semniyak for 100 USD a night. The hospitality and love showered on us was free!
  • Kuta: The commercial heart of Bali – the malls, the restaurants, bars, night clubs and budget hotels all at a walk able distance from the famous Kuta beach. Naturally, also the place with the hordes of tourists.
  • Semniyak: To the North of Kuta, the quieter, artsy region with boutique accommodations.  Semniyak square has some great restaurants and beach clubs, and a ton of local boutiques to window shop. If you don’t care about partying, this is a great place to drink till the wee hours, people watch and socialize with the expats who have made Bali their home. The square also has a flea market with appetizing street food stalls!

Our Recommendation: We stayed at Astana Kunti in Semniyak and LOVED it.

  • Ubud:  Surrounded by rainforest, terraced rice paddies and a plethora of Hindu temples, Ubud lies 1.5 hours away from Semniyak. Instead of making a day trip, we recommend you consider staying longer in Ubud, because the region has a unique charm distinct from the other regions in Bali. It is for a very good reason that Ubud was the inspiration for the LOVE portion of Elizabeth Gilbert’s – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ . While in Ubud, visit the HUBUD – Bali’s first co-working space, which is always buzzing with digital nomads sharing business ideas over interesting salads.
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HUBUD is a great place for young entrepreneurs to participate in a workshop, or just get inspired from the various start-ups that are run remotely from here.
  • Nusa Dua: This is a gated community of all the five-star properties in the region, which was reason enough for me to dislike it. Though we made a day trip to the highly curated grounds, it seems a place more appropriate for the business traveler.
  • Canggu: If you are visiting in a large group consider renting a villa at Canggu. Bali has some insanely gorgeous private properties which can work out to be a cheap option for a larger group.

4. Getting Around: Till January this year the petrol subsidy in Indonesia made hiring taxis in Bali a very cheap affair. That said, hiring a full day taxi to see all the famous sites still might be your best bet (around 30 USD for an 8-hour taxi back in October).  After that you can either hail the bluebird taxi (the only one with a reputation for being honest) when you require or if you know how to ride, ask your hotel to arrange for a scooter for the whole day (5 USD per day).

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We found getting around in a scooty fairly easy, cheap and flexible. We rode all the way to Ubud in this, with a GPS and plenty of sunscreen!

Our Recommendation:  For full day taxi we used The Bali Agung twice and highly recommend their services. They let you customize the tour to fit your interests and can make pertinent recommendations.

5.  Must See: While all of Bali is a visual treat – with its landscape, its charming temples, and artifacts lining its many streets, here are a few sights to visit.

  • Visit the Tanah Lot Temple for its beautiful location

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  • Watch a Kecak Dance  performance at sunset at the Uluwatu temple
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A tale from Ramayana
  • Monkey Forest, Ubud

 

  • The Pandawa Beach

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  • Hike to Mount Batur ( The volcano is not active anymore and people start the hike as early as 4 a.m. Though the view of the sunrise was breath-taking, the hike was anything but easy and can only be done with the help of a guide)
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Taking in the view at Mount Batur
  • Visit a Luwak Coffee Plantation

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6. Food:

  • Eat Local: Stop at a Warung (the local dhaba) to taste an authentic Indonesian meal. If you don’t care for the famous Babi Guling, try one of these as recommended by our friends from uncornered markets.

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  • Restaurants: Dining out is serious business in Bali and the most coveted places get booked weeks in advance for they offer the finest dining experiences. Take a look at some of the best ones here.

    Our recommendation is chef Will Meyrick’s  Sarong in Semniyak for its dreamy interiors and  memorable Asian Flavors.

7. Watering Holes: Drown a cocktail or a Bintang (local beer) at the Rock Bar Bali at the Ayana Resorts and Spa. People start to queue up  at least 2 hours before sunset to find a decent spot. (make sure you have transportation arranged as the property is in a remote area) Also highly recommended is the Potato Head Beach club and Ku De Ta any time of the day.

 8. Indulge: Finally, there is no way you can leave Bali without being pampered at a spa. Balinese do spas like no one else in the world and at unbelievable prices. We spent half a day being at quaint little place called Zen Bali Spa.

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Our Quaint Little spa

Write to us for any other tips you need, and we will be happy to help. Have you been to Bali yet? What are some of your favorite things to do in Bali.

Diet Travel: 5 tips for packing light!

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There is only one thing I love more than travelling- It is travelling cheaply. While I don’t mind spending on experiences and have also warmed up to the idea of spending a little extra on accommodations, I would still do anything to save money on flights.  Thus, over the last few years, as a result of this practice, I have signed up for some dangerously tight connections (which exposes you to multiple contingencies) and have sometimes been denied the luxury of a free checked-in bag.

Like on our last trip to Bali where we flew airasia, I was faced with the conundrum of choosing between looking stylish in my holiday pictures and travelling light! Not the one to make compromises, I took this as an opportunity to teach myself to pack lighter while keeping my sartorial choices intact.  Here are some tips you may find useful when travelling for a duration of 5-7 days:

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Air Asia is great in every way except their policy for paid checked-in bags

Continue reading “Diet Travel: 5 tips for packing light!”

Quick Guide to Krabi

Instead of splurging on diamonds or an expensive handbag, I decided to gift mom a Holiday for her big 50 – A girl trip to Krabi, the most gorgeous areas in Thailand.

Instead of splurging on diamonds or an expensive handbag, I decided to gift mom a Holiday for her big 50 – A girl trip to Krabi, one of the most gorgeous areas in Thailand. (Earlier, I have written about why I love travelling with my mother in this post here)

Birthday Welcome
Birthday Welcome

Continue reading “Quick Guide to Krabi”