January Book Club: Big Magic

what is creativity

I’m an old-fashioned bookworm, the kind that smells books before buying them, the type that touches the pages as they were some precious, ancient manuscripts. I love physical books, but one “habit” and guilty pleasure (and probably the hardest), I had to give up for my year of wanderlust and travels, was to stop buying them. I struggled -lots, failed – twice, but I also didn’t want to carry kilos of stories in my backpack. The solution was to bring my trustworthy, old kindle with me and fill it with all my favourite classics and all the new releases I could get my hands on. I have to admit that I can’t read only one book at the time, but isn’t that also part of the fun? 🙂
So, in January I was reading a blogging manual, The Corrections by Jonathan Frenzen, 30 days in Sydney by Peter Carey and of course, 
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

The world-acclaimed author of “Eat, Love and Pray” is back again with something different this time. A manual to creativity generated as a written form of her famous TED Talk, she also called a self-help book written with the voice and the tone of a friend who has been there, done it all.

I guess that if you are reading this, you’ve probably read it too or are going to.
If you haven’t read it yet, maybe you should stop here and come back when you’ve done so to avoid spoilers; if you have finished and put it down already then we are finally ready to kick off the first edition of this digital, long-distance book club (please subscribe now on the event on my Facebook page and send me a message with your email address so I can add you to the hangout).

WELCOME!

A couple of Side Notes

  1. As you know, this is my first time that I not only attend a book club, but also the first time I run one (yeah, I’m crazy I know!), so bear with me while I learn the tricks and forgive me if it isn’t perfect…Any tips & tricks, help and suggestions are always welcome 🙂
  2. During our Google hangout session, we will be focusing on the following topics & questions, the virtual seats are limited to ten and you can check here and if you confirm your attendance you will need to send me your email address so that I can add you to the event. If you miss out the event, don’t fret, you can obviously read through and leave your views below. I’m really curious to read your take on the book.

Creativity

Gilbert describes creativity as something external that comes in the artists’  and writers’ world almost by accident. She believes that an idea is something that has it own life and floats around until it finds someone suitable and ready to pick it up and bring it to life. I was quite put off by this idea, to be honest and I wasn’t sure I was going to go through with this book at the beginning.

I’m a bit skeptical about her philosophy, but some of the examples she described are quite amazing . I’ve always believed that talent and creativity were “embedded” in certain people from the moment of their birth. And you? What do you think?

  • Are you creative?
  • Were you one of those talented kids?
  • What do you create and what’s your creative process?

Courage VS Fear

You might have already read what I wrote about fear and how she was in fact the one who got me out of my comfort zone and easy life in the UK. I was scared to be missing out, that I would never be truly happy despite all my successes and accomplishments on the corporate ladder, frightened I would postpone my own dream to travel to prioritise the common rat race to a shining CV and spotless career. But then death met with my fear, they shook hands and lift me up to where I am now.

So yes, I agree with Gilbert distinction between good and bad fears, or more carefully the ones that kick your ass and the one that make you dig your head (and your ass) underneath the duvet when you could be out creating. You want the firsts, you want to kill the seconds.

Have I killed all my fears?

No way!  I’m still a little terrified person. I’m worried that my new lifestyle will just drain my savings and I will be forced to go back to the real world. I’m truly shitting my pants at the thought that I will never find anybody to hire me again if I had to go back to the real world. I’m freaking out sometimes that I have no talent at all and this is just a happy illusion. And possibly, I am even more terrified that all of this might actually work and I might actually make it.

As Gilbert said, “We have to be careful of how we handle our fear – because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process”. I tried to kill mine for over half of my life. I though I had murdered by creativity too, but in the exact moment I set off on this trip, she was back, right next to me, asking me to play with her. She and I are on the road together and we are like Thelma & Louise kinda thing. She tells me the route, I drive. Has fear ever affected your life? And your creativity?

  • Have you managed to kill a fear that was bothering you? How?
  • Was there any passion, dream, idea you had when you were younger that you put away because you were scared of the outcome?
  • Do you consider yourself a brave heart or a scared self?

As long as you live under the fear of failure or disappointment or any other thing that holds you back in “the realm of creative expression”, you may never discover the thing that gives you life

Enchantment: Inspiration & Ideas

As mentioned above,  I personally don’t believe in Gilbert’s mystical view of ideas floating through space and time patiently waiting to find their soulmate. Of course there are occasions when two people have the same idea and she even bring one exceptional personal example, but I’m still skeptical and I prefer to think that ideas are unique to the individual and they are born into people’s mind rather than animated things that fly around and are grabbed randomly by the first available person. Maybe I’m silly, but I work hard for ideas to come to me. Which doesn’t mean I sit outside waiting for them to appear in front of my eyes, but I read, I look, I study, I engage with people, I discover, I experiment, this is what pushes me to create and this how pieces of life take the shape of ideas in my mind. Do I need to be inspired? Yes. Do I set time aside to create? Yes, at the moment is almost 24/7. And you?

  • Do you believe ideas are there free for all to grab?
  • Can you work without inpiration?
  • Are you disciplined enough to actually get stuff done also on those gloomy not inspired days?
  • What do you feel when you are hit by an amazing idea?

Look back far enough and you will find people who were not sitting around passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 23.12.50.png

Permission

I personally agree with the author and I don’t think you need an educational permission to be an artist. In fact, I will go even further than that: you don’t need education to be successful in anything. Take the majority of the truly amazingly successful people in the world and they did no go to school or finish their education. I’m taking about Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Sean Connery, Abraham Lincoln, Bill Gates, Henry Ford and Allan Sugar.Of course, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t study, I am saying that it is not a mandatory thing for a successful life. Sometimes drive and passion is all you need…but this is a whole new subject/post that I want to discuss in the future.

The same (and probably more relevant) is in the art world. I’ve witness so many people wasting dreams because they couldn’t afford a formal education in fine art, design or photography. On the other hand, I’ve met countless people who thought that because they did have an art degree, a design or photography certificate were entitled to create and were expecting to be successful.
Boy, let me tell you, it does not work that way. As Gilbert said, these courses can help you to feel more confident, but don’t expect the right to lead an artistic life because you studied art.

  • Do you have faith in your capabilities or are you waiting for someone to tell you are good enough?
  • Do you think a formal education is what you need to be an artist?
  • If you could go back would you attend the same university? If you didn’t attend one which course would you choose?

But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgment about you are none of your business

Persistence

I stopped writing for months. Not that’s not true, actually, I never stop writing. Probably not one entire day in my life. But I did stop publishing on my old blog and I almost this the same on this one too. I had readers, engaged comments, consistent views, statistics where sky-rocketing and then, WHY?
Well, my blog wasn’t perfect. It isn’t perfect now either. In fact I hate the design of it (oh yeah, if you know a great designer who would help me for a service barter please, let me know 🙂 ), but I decided to just do it which is pretty much the same thing that Elizabeth Gilbert suggests. Forget about the fact that you can’t reach perfection, stop thinking you need an entire day for your painting, abandon the idea that you could only be a writer/musician/singer/actor when you will be able to dedicate yourself to it full time. This is just a sophisticated way of procrastination. Start today, start now, do something. Don’t let perfection or fear stop your creative process. Just embrace it.

I love reading about Elizabeth’s various waitressing jobs and it felt she was really talking to me as I spent 8 years going exactly the same. I no longer felt a loser afterall, I’m not feeling a loser now that I’m looking for a similar part-time job while my business kicks off. I no longer care about other people’s judgment because I’m finally doing what I love the most, and I stand taller than anybody who hasn’t done it yet.

But do it without expectations. Don’t ask your art/idea/creativity to support you, do it just because you love it, and act as a parent who loves his child without expecting anything in return. Flourish and nourish this relationship every day and take the process of making something as your biggest reward.

Babu Huts

  • Do you expect or wish that you art will support you financially or are you just doing it for you self?
  • Are you able to create or are you waiting for the right moment?

I would never ask writing to take care of me financially, but that I would always take care of it

Trust: Success VS Failures

I would be an hypocrite if I said I’m doing what I’m doing just because I love it. Well, no one really is. I left my job in London to travel, photograph and write stories. That is the main goal, but of course I’m hoping that these three passions of mine will one day combine into a Magic Formula that will also allow me to have a decent life. Of course I’m hoping to meet Success on my path this year and go on a date with him and possibly marry him and never think again about my corporate life. Yes, I’ll admit, I dream of a life doing what I’m doing now and I’m not ashamed of admitting it.
But I am also very realistic about the possibilities, risks, competitions and I wouldn’t take a no as a failure, I won’t take a refusal as a reason to give up or a closed door as the end of my journey.

  • Do you let failure affect your creativity?
  • Do you do it for fame, money, success or what?
  • How do you deal with failures?

And one of the questions  I loved the most from the book:

  • What do you love doing so much that the word failure and success essentially become irrelevant?

Whatever you do, try not to dwell too long on your failures. You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters. You don’t need to know what anything means

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 23.34.39.pngSo, what is your final vote of Big Magic? How did you feel after finishing?

Personally, my creativity flow and my soul were refreshed and energised. I loved the stories she shared, but I especially loved the fact that she put her life and heart out there among the lines. I felt as she was in the room with me and she was laughing about her failures and sharing with a light hearted voice her incredible success. Her tone makes me want to hug her and wish for a friend like her to drink a glass of wine together and somebody who never takes her/himself too seriously, somebody who can laugh at himself and at the same time talk about success without bragging about it.

Big Magic inspired me to create more, to believe in myself and my current projects more. As a result, once I finished reading it, I shot several pitching emails that were sitting on my draft folder for weeks, I’ve wrote a whole three new chapters of what might take the shape of a book, I’ve pushed my photographic limits with new techniques and style I hadn’t tried before (coming up soon…), I basically took whatever was in the air and I created.

And I never felt this good.
Thank you, big magic.

“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest will take care of itself.”

 

We will be back next month with our February book. Perfect for my current nomad lifestyle and I believe ideal also for many of you with the same passion for travel.

Girls Who Travel by Nicole Trilivas

Same date as before, see you here vino in hand, notes in the other and let’s chat about us, girls who travel 

Happy reading and happy travelling, my lovely tribe!

“Mystery” Revealed: How I afford to Travel

money

The question I get asked the most is:

Why ?

Why I left my job to go travelling?

It is usually accompanied by wide-open eyes and incredulous disbelief.

I actually never seriously thought about the answer up to when I really had to think about it for an interview I was giving. It was the right time to stop the automated answering-machine of the “I needed a change / I wanted to see the world”.

It was time to be honest with others and mostly myself and I finally put it out there and you can read the latest version here.

The second thing I get asked more frequently is How? Or better:

How do you afford to travel?

This question is  also normally accompanied with wide-open eyes and huge curiousity, suspicion, envy and/or a good degree of hope.

Well, let me tell you now once and forever. I’ve answered this question many, many times individually, but I’ve limited free time now so I don’t want to do it anymore. I will be replying to all the future messages with a link to this post and as I’ve been working on it for weeks I believe I’ve created something really honest, comprehensive and clear. So, I’m pretty sure the below -with some percentage variations- will be valid throughout 2016. Unless, something major will change in my income flow (like I win the lottery! Hurrah!), in which case I will promptly update this post. 🙂

I hope I’ll be able to answer all your questions and curiosity, but if, after reading through, you still have doubts or need advice, please feel free to leave me a comment below and I’ll try to answer and help you the best way possible.

Like my very good friend and inspiring travel blogger Gloria said in an Huffington Post article that went viral last year: “People think there’s this magic formula out there. This one-size-fits-all-encompassing route that gives everyone an equal chance of seeing the world.”

There is not such a formula!

You are alone and you need to find your own formula and make it work for you and only you know which one is it. I won’t tell you what to do, not will I say that my path is the one you need to follow. This is my experience and it can work for you or cannot.

So, let’s set things straight right away.

 [This is a long, honest post, so if you wish to read the juice, short answer, you can jump to a few paragraphs below to the first numbered  list]

I am not a millionaire and my family isn’t either. In fact, my family probably sits in the lower end of the Italian middle-class AND I’ve been independent since I was 14.

Yup, at that age I got my first job, waitressing in restaurants, cafes and pubs. That year I received one of the “worst news ever” for a girl that age: I suddenly had to wear spectacles and, as I was competing at regional and national level in gymnast tournaments, I surely did not want to do that: I had to buy contact lenses and my  parents would never approve such an superfluous  expense.  week after the diagnosis, I got my first job. I was 14 and I never took a break up to last May (2015), when I left my 8-year corporate job.

I’m 31 years old now.

That means that I’ve worked 16 years straight in my life.

NON – STOP.

You probably already know where this is going, but let’s do some melancholic and nostalgic fast-rewind first that will help you to have a clearer picture of how I afford to travel.
At the age of 17, bored of my low-paid waitressing job, I decided to spend a summer entertaining German and French  kids in a resort in Sicily, Italy. The same year, as I had to pay for my driving license, my income wasn’t enough so I managed to get a leafleting job in the afternoon in the freezing winters in northern Italy, and another one at a bakery on Sundays where I had to start at 6am, get changed in the car around 12pm to go to my other restaurant job for another 8-10 hour shift.

Later on, when I was at uni, I had four jobs at the same time AND attended lessons.

Yes, I was tired. Actually I was exhausted most of the time. I wasn’t great at uni and I often fell asleep in class or missed  lessons because I was too tired to drag my poor body and mind out of bed, or I had to take extra shifts but I was saving money.

So, what happened after?

Well, after my shining 8-year career in the hospitality industry – while I saw and experienced very little of what people my age where doing – it was time to move on and hope for a new, more-rewarding, less tiring job and I happened to find a (paid) internship in London.

Most people would say that I was lucky (but I don’t believe in luck, so call me that if you wish, but I know I worked my a** to be at the right place at the right moment. So, Mrs Luck has very little to do with this story (or my life in general; but this is another article I’m writing at the moment).

The internship which was meant to last only two and half months, ended up lasting 6 months (insert here: I worked 12 hours, went the extra mile on every single project, took on more projects than expected and beaten the competition) and again, as money were not enough as an intern, I got an evening job in a pub too. Bear in mind that at that time I didn’t finish uni yet. I was still writing my thesis while working two jobs and trying to enjoy London too!

After I graduated, I got hired on a permanent basis by the company where I was interning and there you go, I was on the corporate ladder in no time.

From here, I don’t want to bother you with the details of all my achievements, frustrations, fights, tears, FOMOs, promotions, loneliness and injustice I went through to get where I was last year. Let’s just say I spent 8 years working extremely hard  in corporate, less-corporate, non-corporate companies in London and Milan to arrive where I wanted to be by the age of 30.

Throughout my first 30 years on this planet I also made a lot of sacrifices – not going out drinking, clubbing, dining or spending money on stupid things (even though I have done that a few times!) while consciously keeping my greater goal in mind.

When I did entered the forth decade of my life and I had to change the number 2 with the number 3 in front of my age, I was, in fact, proud, satisfied and accomplished in all my career goals and it was time to do something new. It was time to open that mental drawer where I secretly herded all my sheepish dreams and take them out and see what would happen.unknown.gif

Saving is my lucky pot at the end of the rainbow, a pot I’ve built for myself through the years and where nobody ever chipped anything on my behalf. Nope, my parents never gave me any financial support, if we exclude the time I had to change tires of my car and I had not enough savings.

earned  every cent that now represents the fuel I’m currently and slowly burning to explore this wonderful planet of ours.

What else am I doing?

I’ve decided to be completely honest with you as I think there is already so much bulls*** online about bloggers who show off their full-time blogging career when daddy is actually paying all their expensive stays and first-class flights around the world. Or where in fact bloggers and instagrammers are sent off to wonderful locations (Yes, I’ve done it too!), but for free, so they are not actually earning a living, they are simply having a great holiday in a fantastic place and the price tag for that is a blog post or a few insta-pictures. Well, a little advice here: don’t get fooled by those who say you can make a living out of blogging. They can’t. You can’t. I can’t. 99.9999999999999999999999999999999999999% can’t live J U S T off of blogging (and I’m including Instagram here). I saw and know too many people who left their solid job to pursue a career as blogger or Instagramer and the majority of them failed miserably. I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m saying it’s truly hard and uber competitive. For a million users who are dreaming to travel the world on press trips and a suitcase pack filled with sponsored gears, there is one or two who actually do. For a 10000 who receive gifts and props there are a handful who (ask to) get paid. And no, I don’t get paid to *just* travel and sit by a pool drinking cocktails after a Swedish message at a spa. I wish! 🙂

unknown.gifKeeping this truth in mind, I knew that once I left my safe job, I had to re-invent myself and possibly create a new me.

So, let’s fast-forward to last Summer when I actually left my prestigious job to pursue my passions and my desire to travel.

What did I do exactly? I decided to become a portfolio worker, or a creative freelancer or a jack of all trades, call it what you like: I’m somebody who’s left behind the idea of sitting in an office for 40 years, but is realistic about her needs and will work hard to make ends meet.

Wrapping up the answer now, mystery is finally solved! Here is how I afford to travel. It doesn’t mean it is how you can afford to travel, it doesn’t mean you need to copy and paste the below to your life.

As I said above, you need to find your own magic formula!

Here is how I diversified my income  (as you can read in more details under my Contact page):

  1. Savings (as mentioned above and there is a whole chapter about minimalism and saving I’m going to write about soon…
  2. Management consulting/Project Management: the same job I did before but for my own clients and on a freelance basis now;
  3. Writing
    • Magazines: The Guardian, Il Sole 24 Ore, Mission and others
    • Blog posts, guest posts and reviews
    • Ghost writing (you would be shocked to know the amount of famous bloggers who actually don’t blog at all!!!)
  4. Photography:
    • photographic assignments: travel, lifestyle editorial and commercial (since February 2016, I’m represented by Townsend/London
    • Instagram coverage
    • prints – check my shop now! My first photographic memoir about India is available in pre-order now with 20% discount till end of February, Shipping worldwide from September 2016
    • photography workshop (you can book your ticket for the next one on my shop)
    • photographic content for my clients’ channels
  5. Social media:
    • Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat strategies and campaigns, competitions, brand ambassadorships, takeovers for small, medium, large clients in travel, leisure and lifestyle. You might have seen some on my channels but others are handled completely behind the scene (anonymously) by me
  6. Affiliation: you might have noticed that in the last few posts I’ve added some affiliated links. I’ve only used these for products I LOVE and brands I TRUST. It’s an incredibly tiny income (0.12$ in December! YAY!), but every little helps, right? By the way, it doesn’t cost you anything extra, but it gives me a micro percentage of your purchase.

So it’s H A R D and you might be thinking that I’m suggesting to give up your dreams, but I’m not. I’m actually giving your some

Practical Tips:

  1. Jump like Tarzan.
    Yes, don’t leave your current liana before you safely caught the next on: If you have one, keep your safe, permanent job as long as necessary before you start your gardening, photography, writing, knitting, painting or whatever business you want to get in. Keep your focus and goal, but don’t get fooled by the people bragging about how easy it is. It is not easy. And it requires loads of work, day and night, weekends included.
  2. Keep doing what you love on the side, until you are 80% sure that your new creative lifestyle can be sustainable.  Keep doing it  because you love it not because you seek success or you think you deserve success.You don’t.
    I don’t.Nobody was born with the granted amount of success. Or money.Maybe your art will be successful or maybe mine will. But I know for a fact that what people appreciate the most (even in terms of Instagram likes if you want), is when I put my heart our there when I share my creativity and not when I think I got a good shot or I’m aiming for thousands of likes.
  3. Ask yourself this simple question:
    Are you willing to try without the success or without the guarantee of success (and I’m not talking just about financial success), or not?Because if you are not, then perhaps you shouldn’t pursue a creative life. Maybe this isn’t the right path for you. Perhaps you should get your head around the fact that if you mainly want money and fame, there are plenty of jobs that pay extremely well (I just left one behind) and the path to get those is tough but not as tough as in the art / creative world.But, on the other hand, if you are really committed to your dream and your art, well then forget the money, stick to your job and keep creating on the side (at sunrise or at night if necessary!)
  4. Save. Save. Save.
    Yes, I hear you, your answer is: “Well, you *did* leave your job!”Yeah, I did, but before doing that I spent years saving up for this big jump. I carefully decided exactly my moves and crafted a budget that  allowed me to take the risk without becoming homeless but actually travelling in the meantime. As I said, I’m a realistic dreamer: 2016 is the year of my leap of faith, the plan is to eliminate the use of #1 and #2 from my revenue stream above while increasing the others. Is it possible? I don’t know yet, what I do know is that I’m working super hard to get there, I will work extra-time and constantly pushing the boundaries of my creativity, inspiration and comfort zone.And unless you are willing to do the same (or have very rich parents/partner), don’t jump. The cliff is extremely deep, wide and dangerous. If you jump without a working parachute, you are mad. No, you are stupid.
    And stupid people don’t succeed. They normally just smash on the ground and then bother others to pick them up. Well, I’m not going to pick anybody up because… Well, because I told you not to jump in the first place 😉
  5. Don’t set yourself  an irrational monetary target, if you do, you are going to fail. When you try to create anything under that pressure, you won’t be able to to put your heart in it and your work will be s***, your art will pay the consequences and ultimately you will too.So. Just. Don’t.So, my ultimate honest and heartfelt advice?
  6. Get a job that pays well, start saving from your very first check. Expand your knowledge and become a portfolio worker rather than a specialist. Or, at the opposite, become the best expert of a niche where you can indeed expect to be paid extraordinarily well. Stick to the job until you are ready. Then, and only then, set off for your trip/start-up/restaurant/art studio whatever you have in mind.

Is it hard? Immensely.

Is it fun? Absolutely.

Is the best choice I have ever made? No doubt.

Think about these points and make your own decision and ask yourself: am I still willing to sacrifice my savings, my free time with an extra job and maybe sell my beloved possessions?

Well, if you are, get ready and go. If you are not then, maybe you can try with the lottery or wait for that third-degree auntie to leave you a million $ inheritance.I’m going to leave you with  two examples of success that I’ve recently came across.

One is Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the world phenomenon Eat, Love and Pray, who kept her three jobs while and after publishing that book. Now, here we are talking about millions and millions of dollars, but still she kept waitressing during the day and writing at night. What does tell you? If you really love your art, you will find the time to dedicate some time and maybe, just maybe it could become your full-time job.

The second is an insightful podcast interview to Lauren P. Bath one of my ever favourite and most inspirational instagramers and one of the earliest “influencer” (probably when that profession didn’t even exist!) She worked super hard both in her career as a chef and later as an Instagramer/marketing strategist. She never took anything for granted. So, why should you? Listen to the podcast here.

And, remember…

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Start Somewhere.

Make it Remarkable. 

[And about books, if you wish to join our bookclub and discuss about her latest best seller Big Magic , register your attendance here.]

The moment you stop expecting success and money from your art,
you will finally be free to create and dedicate your heart and soul solely to the purpose of art.
Nothing else.

 

Your Definitive Packing List for a Year (or more…) of Wanderlust

 

So, you are finally ready to set off and embark on that train/plane/bus/boat/bicycle/feet that will take you away for a year or more and you are facing the tricky question of:

What the heck shall I pack?

Packing for a weekend away or a short holiday can be difficult. Packing for a year of wanderlust can be daunting and scary, especially if it’s your first time. For some stupid reasons, I personally left it until the very last minute despite being well aware of the importance and urgency of it all. Unfortunately, I lost myself in the online jungle of recommendation of other travel bloggers and let’s be honest, there is lots of crap out there.  So four months ago I got on my plane to Istanbul unsure I had all the things I needed for the following 12 months and quite sure I had missed something.

The truth is that I hadn’t forgotten anything, in fact I had (many) more things than I needed and that I soon left behind (more about this below). Like many beginners, I fell in the most common trap of reading detailed packing lists of other travel bloggers and ended up “over-packing” with stuff that had no use for me.
So, if you are about to hit the road for the first time and you have no idea of what to take with you, here is my personal, heartfelt advice after 4 months on the road.

Rule number one and only one:
u-n-d-e-r-p-a-c-k.

Easy-peasy

Remember that while traveling, you’ll be constantly packing, unpacking, packing again, checking that you’ve got everything, screaming if your stuff doesn’t fit or having huge fights with your backpack zip which will refuse to collaborate with you on a daily basis. What to do then?

Yeah, you got it right, I told you: Underpack. What I want you to do (and wished I had done so in September too!) is leave your home with almost a third of your bag empty in order to keep that spare space that you’ll need (and deeply love) while on the go. In order to do so, there are a few things I want you to keep in mind ahead of the actual packing process:

  1. You can buy most of the things on the road, yes, even in some of the most remote area you will find shampoo, chocolate and underwear; depending on where you are going some of the things you will need will cost a fraction of what you would pay them at home;
  2. When you are on the road, you will need less things than in your normal life
  3. There isn’t really any difference between packing for 6 weeks or 6 months, because you’ll just do laundry about every week or more, so just think you are going away for a short time and don’t stress too much!

So, this is my packing list and the items that I have with me right now. Bear in mind that after the first month on the road I sent a package home with things I no longer needed or wanted and I also donated some other items that were no longer necessary to me.
This is my current backpack and possibly the one I will keep for the next 6-12 months.

Your home away from home

Now that you are about to leave the comfort of your house, your backpack will become your home. Exactly like a snail, your chosen backpack will be your shell and exactly like that you will have to carry it on your back on buses, trains, planes and on foot many, many times during your travels, so my advice is to keep it minimal. The optimal weight should be around 8-10kg, less if you can, or maximum 12kg if you must.

Leave your suitcase at home. Yes, even if you are planning to stay in 5 star hotels and resorts leave your trolley home. I could tell you about one of my stay in a 5 star secluded resort where in fact I had to reach the harbor by walking on semi-submerged boulders, cross a river on a very tiny long-tiled boat and ultimately climb a very narrow and steep staircase where my car was waiting for me. Now, I easily managed to do all of it, but people who where carrying large or medium suitcases really struggled and had to ask for help as well as pay extra for their large bags. Even if you are over the age of the usual backpackers (what is that, anyway?), think again and buy one for yourself. Even if you aren’t planning to “backpack” in the conventional sense of the word, ditch the suitcase and trade them in for a good, sturdy, waterproof backpack.

My Bag(s)

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41MxLQlZGlL._SS160_Osprey Farpoint 70 Travel Backpack
(Main backpack volume is 55 liters and the Farpoint Day is 15 Liter). Yes, I must admit, I had a few fights with this bag at the start of my trip: things seemed to take more and more space and the bag seemed to get smaller every day. I later learnt that everything needs to go in the right place every time, exactly like the pieces of a jigsaw which needs to be in the right order in order to make sense. Fast-forward to four months later and I now love my bag and it’s like my second skin. I use the small one for my tech gear when in transit and my large one for everything else. The two of them, currently weigh 10.5kg together.

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Quequa Waterproof cover
For your bag, not only protects it from water, but also from tear and dust when in the plane booth as well as the other transports

Newfeel Foldable backpack: this is one of the best thing I bought for my trip. Not only is super tiny, but it becomes handy in million occasions like food shopping, beach, hiking, sightseeing. It only cost me two euros and I always have it with me in case I need some extra space.

Two cotton shopping bags: perfect for a day by the beach and for your laundry or just in general for you to carry around your things. There will be moments when some things won’t fit in your bag, so they are always very handy. I have one normal size and a smaller one which is perfect for little things or even to keep things separate in your bag.

One leather shoulder Camera bag: this is a late addition to my travel kit that I bought in India. I didn’t really need it, but it’s extremely handy for those other situations when you can’t be completely casual and/or business meetings I need to go to. I love it and it was a massive hit on my instagram feed some time ago and before you ask, no, you can’t buy it online 😉

 
The Essentials

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These are like THE MOST  important items, without them you can stay home and forget about your trip. Don’t only pack them, but throughout your trip always hold on to them like they where the most precious items you ever own – which in fact they are when you are traveling:

Passport – do I need to add anything to this? Well, I just say that in order to enter most countries, you will need to make sure to have at least 6 months left on it

10 copies of your passport – like your money, they should go half in your day-bag and half in your backpack/hotel

5-10 passport-sized photos – you will need them for visas and other documents on the road

Health and travel insurance – I use Worldnomads

Two or three debit/credit cards – don’t stack them all together in your purse/wallet, but use different locations and remember them!

  1. Credit/Debit Card with free cash withdrawals abroad
  2. Credit/Debit Card for purchases and backup
  3. Prepaid Credit/Debit Card  additional backup (trust me it’s never too many! Insert long story here…)

Cash – take approximately $200 or £200 for emergency and spread them around in your belongings. Dollars are universally accepted, but any international currency would do in those tricky situations you want to avoid.

Business Cards if you are planning to meet potential clients on the go

Airline Miles Membership Cards

 

Medical Kit

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This is as essential as the section above, especially if you have some permanent conditions. It’s a great idea to also have a mini medical-kit with you at all times especially in some third-world countries or where some diseases are more frequent and common.  Your medical kit should include some of the below, but obviously only you know what are you weak areas and what you should bring with you. I currently have with me:

Plasters

Bandages

Antiseptic handwash

Antidiarrhoeas (Imodium)

Antacid (for indigestion)

Ibuprofen / paracetamol

Antihistamines (mosquitos can be a big problem in some places)

Motion Sickness Pills: I never got motion sickness but then I was very sick on my ferry from the Andaman Islands as the Ocean was very rough.

Sleeping pills: I’m a late-sleeper and early-riser and when I feel I need to sleep more, I knock myself out with a couple of natural, valerian-based tablets.

Lavender essential oil: for the same reason above (thank you Rachel!)

Tea-tree Essential oil: endless ways of using it and a best friend while travelling!

Condoms (yes, girls too)

Clothes

Right, ladies (and gentlemen!), this is the moment where I’m telling you to forget your fashionable habits at home and think smart.  I’m not telling you to look like a lost soul or a homeless, but to smarten up your wardrobe and matching skills.  You must leave home most of your clothes and start thinking in multiple outfits, if you are not doing that already. On the road, life will be easier (less choice=less drama), but the crucial moment is when you pick the things that are going to come with you for the next year or so. Below is my current selection and the things I have with me right now. Sometimes I struggle, most of the time I’m extremely happy that I don’t have to waste time choosing what to wear, only one time (at the Opera) I felt I was underdressed, but I was excused as I had very little notice. 

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Fashion tip #1

Try to pack only clothes that match together or that have a similar tonality. Ideally, select dark or neutral colors (especially for your bottoms).

Learn to dress in layers, depending on the temperature, you will need to learn how to dress adding or removing layers. Of course, if you are traveling to Iceland or to the Himalayas you might want to bring that bulky, fat, super warm jacket, but unless you are going there, then the layers’ strategy will work for most places around the world.

Fashion Tip #2

Roll your clothing – yes, folding won’t work for a backpack, it’s much better if you you’re your items very tightly so to minimize the air and to avoid wrinkles

Underwear X 5
Socks X 3
Bra X 2
Bikini X 2 (2 swimming costume/boxers)
Short shorts X 2

Jeans 1
Light long trousers X 2
Leggings 1
Dresses X 1 (for those fancy occasions or elegant dinner)
T-shirts / vest tops X 5

Longsleeve top 1 (for temples, protect against mosquitos)
Shirt x1
Fleece (it can get cold at night, especially in the desert)
Hoodie (to keep warm on planes and at night)
Waterproof Jacket

Ultra-light Uniqlo puffy jackets
Beach Towel: use a lovely sarong
Belt x1
1 x large scarf or pashmina
Hat

 

Footwear

Obviously, it all depends on your destination(s). I can tell you to bring your flip flops/thongs, but I believe you will make little use of them if you are going to climb Mount Everest or cycle through Africa, right?

So, considering I’ve been doing some adventures as well as some beach time and city exploration, this is my current mix and I love it.

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Adidas Ultraboost 2 black: they have no visible brand and that’s great for me as I don’t want to be a walking advertising board

H&M Espadrillas: recent addition to my mix here in Sydney as it’s very warm for my trainers but my sandals aren’t ideal for very long walks

Crocs Flip-Flop: had to replace my Hawaianas recently as they broke down and there was no way to repair them. I’ll let you know how I like them soon!

Sandals: bought these almost 8 years ago in a little shop in Spain, everybody, especially me loved them. They are super-comfortable and almost fashionable! 😉

 

Toiletries

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Nothing. Yes, leave at home everything. EVERYWHERE in the world you can buy these things and you do not need to carry them all the way from your home country even more because you will end up taking too much.  Well, take with you a travel toothbrush and small-sized toothpaste, that’s all you need for the flight or in case your bag get lost. 
So, once you are at your first destination, head to a supermarket and buy the followings:

Tooth floss/paste/brush

Shampoo / conditioner (not pictured)

Deodorant

Bodysoap

Aesop Sun cream (at least SPF 30)

Aesop Aftersun / moisturiser

Make up (I personally only have one black eyeliner, one mascara, a red and a pink lipsticks)

Lip balm

Cotton buds

Nail clippers

Tweezers

Comb/Hair bands

For Ladies Only (from home):

Mooncup

Braun Silk Epil

Pacifica Solid Parfume (it smells delicious, it’s super-light and compact and lasts a life time, plus no worry about breaking it in your bag!)

Boys
Leave your electronic razor at home, beard is SO sexy! 😛

 

Tech Stuff, Photo Gear and Gadgets

If you, like me are working while travelling, you will need some of the below. If you instead have decided to take a total break from the digital world, you can skip this section completely and jump to the next one.

Remember to back up and get insurance all the items you particularly care about!

Mini ipod for long train or bus journey, days at the beach and back up for saving battery of my phone

Olympus OM ED10 (plus extra battery) with 14-42 and  Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8 lens

4x SD card

JOBI Gorilla pod

iPhone6

Power bank x2: a small ANKER (thank you, Anna!) for my out and about and a TECKNET 15000mAh with dual USB for those long train/bus journey with no power outlets. It was  also very handy in India where I used it every other day or even in those guesthouse or hotels where there is only one plug or it’s too far from your bed!

WD 1TB My Passport External HD and robust anti-shock case 

USB stick (1GB) for those things you might need to print on the road or those pictures you take of strangers and want to print and give to them

Kindle: I’m a book-worm so I can’t go anywhere without a good book. The battery life is great (one month or more), and if you’re planning on getting away from it all there’s no better company than a good book.I have an old one that I think Amazon does no longer sell, but if this one breaks down, I will surely buy the Voyage or Paperwhite 

11 inch MacBook Air: Whilst I travel, I’m also working. If you’re not working and just want to keep in touch with people and access the internet, then an iPad mini or your smartphone would be perfect for the purpose

Go Pro Hero 3 with waterproof case and pole

Triple UK plug: Every day I have at least three things to charge (phone, laptop and camera) so this bulky item has become my life savior when there is only one plug available

Apple iPhone6

One spare cheap phone (just in case!)

Headphone Splitter (to watch movies with your mate or travel buddy on planes, stations and/or buses

1 x Travel Adapters (to charge all this equipment)

Camera, phone, kindle and video battery chargers

 

Miscellaneous

Super Glue – a must-have for all those quick repairs, it’s incredible to see how easily things break when you are constantly using them.

Plastic bags: there will be moment when your bikini or towel will be dump or wet and you will be on your way to the airport: one or even two of these freezer-kind of bags are going to save your life (and the rest of your stuff!)

 Packing Cubes: these were introduced to me by a packing pro and since I bought them, my travelling life has changed. All my clothes are organised so I know exactly where to look for a specific item at any time eBags cubes and the Eagle Creek packing sleeves.

 Locks: you can either choose a Combination lock or one with the key, the risk is that you might lose it

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Sunglasses: I love my folding Wayfarer Rayban, the box is super compact and they are just perfect for any kind of adventure

Travel towel: they don’t feel amazing, but they dry super quickly and that something you need while travelling

Rab Sleeping bag Silk liner: for the occasional dirty bed or for when there isn’t one, yup it can happen!

 Eye mask, I cannot sleep if there even the tiniest light so, my beloved silk eye mask became my best friend on train, buses but even hotels and guesthouses that didn’t provide pitch black

 Ear plugs, for planes or even while working in noisy cafes

Inflatable travel pillow, perfect for that nap waiting at airports and on planes

Sewing kit: yup, another handy thing to fix those things that might become loose on the road

 Swiss army knife: it’s cool to have one 😉

Shoe cover: shoes can be the more disgusting thing to put in your bag, instead of taking plastic bags, try and get some covers, they are lighter and don’t take space at all!

Pen and paper: who knows, you might find some inspiration while on the go or you might need to share your phone with that cute girl/guy you’ve just met!

 Camomille bags (a taste of home…)

Digital Luggage Scale

 Travel Laundry Soap

Little Mirror

Tiny hot water bottle

Light

Digital  packing list & Apps

I’m not going to tell you that you are not a real explorer if you bring your smartphone with you, like so many travel-gurus on the net. I’m telling you bring your phone but use it only when truly necessary or when there is nothing better to do (which won’t happen often while travelling). There is no point in avoiding technology when it can be so helpful to us, so bring your phone, get a local SIM card and make your life easier. Yeah, you will still be considered a cool traveler!

Apps

Google maps

Pennies: great to set a budget and keep an eye on it everyday

AccuWeather: to check forecasting of your next destinations

Tripadvisor: it’s not the bible, but it can give you an idea of the places and the features you are looking for

Zomato: like the above

Shazam: you never know which or where you are going to hear your favourite new song!

Townske: up-and-coming, community-based global city-guides. This is an essential to find cafes, galleries and restaurants and you can be a contributor too!

Sleep Better: not only while travelling, but for everyday life as it wakes you up at the right cycle of your sleeps

Postagram: little cute app to send your phone pictures as postcards to your family and friends

Skyscanner: check the best price for your flights comparing all the different airlines

Instagram: of course! IG is not only a great photo sharing app, but also the perfect way to meet locals and expats in the places you are visiting

Spotify

Skype on laptop and iPhones

Twitter

Facebook

WhatsApp messenger for iPhone: great app that you can group message friends & family for free over wifi

Photo editing apps (but this will be a separate future post!)

*

Things to do before you go
(VERY IMPORTANT STUFF!)

Notify your bank of your travels, mine has a section on my online banking where I can compile a detailed itinerary, some others might require you to call up or to send an email. Check some time before your departure. There is nothing worse than being locked out your card at thousands of miles away from your home with no cash at all (yup, I’m talking from personal experience here!

Make sure to do some research for your back-up card(s) and make the right choice. Most cards will charge you for withdrawal and payment in foreign currency, see which one offers the best deal in your home country

Set your google drive as your go-to back-up: Create a folder of digital copies of documents, credit cards, tickets, travel insurance, contact details and everything else you might need. If you lose everything, you will have a safe copy in the cloud.
Some people suggest to keep physical copies of your credit cards, I say don’t! Have them online or emailed to yourself or to someone you trust, but don’t carry physical copies with you. It’s very easy to make payment with the copies and you might be lose all your money in no time.

Unlock your phone: some new generation phones are locked by the carrier, so make sure to unlock it before you go. The process can be dreadful and long (especially if you bought a Vodafone device at Carphonewarehouse in the UK, my gosh! Never again!), so start calling the customer service far in advance. If you have an unlocked phone you can pick a local SIM card wherever you are and use data as you were at home. Do not use data-roaming, unless is a life-threatening emergency!

*

Ready, steady, Go?!?

No, not yet. Before you leave, pack and unpack your bag in the comfort of your home. Do it in different moment of the week and maybe make a sketch of how you placed your items. Put the bags on and walk around your house for 20 minutes or more. If you are ok, you are ready to go. If you are suffering, sweating or crying then go back and re-pack again.
You will soon realise that items will fit better in one or the other position and it’s better you save yourself time at home in the preparatory phase rather than getting frustrated with these experiments while you are away (yup, another personal testimony here!!!). If you have a weekend away before your big trip, take the opportunity to test the bag and your packing skills too.

I hope you’ve found this article useful. I certainly wished I had these information  4 months ago!

Additionally, if you enjoyed this post and are interested in buying some of the products above, you can click the links to my Amazon shop: it doesn’t cost you anything more than the displayed price and it will give me a micro fee on the products you purchase. I’ve only added the affiliated links on products I truly value, love and trust. I wished I had this kind of list and links a few months ago, when I was spending days comparing products online, well you do have it now…easy-peasy! 😉

[Note: This is NOT a sponsored post, but my own personal recommendations!]

Don’t forget to leave me a comment below to let me know your packing tips; share my post on your social medias and if you have any other  packing questions, please let me know via my facebook page or Twitter. If you wish to help me creating boards on my baby-born Pinterest page, I’m here .
As alwaysy you can find my photographic journal on Instagram and peak my Aussie adventures on snapchat {sab_storyteller}.

See you there and don’t forget to Make It Remarkable! 😉

Thank you, Miss Fear

storyteller in India

To the ones who asked me W H Y I left my very good and well-paid job in London, to the dozens emails I receive weekly asking how, and to the many messages and comments seeking advice on how to follow your desire to travel the world.

Well, here is the honest answer you were waiting for.

Fear

Yes, in November 2014 Miss Fear paid me a visit and pushed me out of my comfort zone and easy life in the UK.

Fear to be missing out, fear I would never be truly happy despite all my successes and accomplishments on the corporate ladder, fear I would postpone my own dream to travel to prioritise th common goal of a shining CV and spotless career.
Fear I would never see the world with my own eyes, photograph it or writing about it.
Fear my travel around Australasia would stay in the dream drawer forever.
Fear that I might actually die before I could see all the things I wanted to see, do, experience or be.
Fear I would never touch the Taj Mahal, speak a few words of Hindi and fear I couldn’t never surf in Australia, fear I would never ride a camel. Fear I couldn’t never see a kangaroo or hug a koala or watch the stars in the middle of the desert.
Fear I wouldn’t see the skyscrapers in Hong Kong or discover the secret of mysterious Myanmar.
Fear I would miss my one chance for happiness. And this might sound all a bit dramatic, because it is in fact. When somebody close to you does die, that fear you have dominated or forgotten for so long, comes out of nowhere and starts eating you alive. This is what happened last year and this is what got me on the road 6 months later.

FORGET YOUR CAREER, YOUR BOSS OR YOUR “STUPID” PROFESSIONAL GOALS

Get out
Eat the world
Love
Learn a new language
Dance with strangers
Close your map
Get lost
Breath
Inspire and be inspired
Switch your phone off
Laugh
Cry
Explore
Be alive

F E E L 

This is my mission.

What is yours?

 

Take a dip into the Maximum City

mumbai_taj

A weekend in Mumbai is not going to be enough to take a true dip into the maximum city, probably a week or a month won’t work either. But maybe this could just be enough time to get your head around why this metropolis is still so cool and why Bombay (as it was called till 1947) keeps attracting million visitors from every corner of the world every year. Hopefully my final Indian CREED* is going to show you why, give you a hint or hopefully make you book your flight there.
If you missed my previous guides, you can easily access them on my past posts. Make the most of it! 🙂

The thing about Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed. It’s an incredible cavalcade of life, and I love that.
Julian Sands

Mumbai is huge, filled with dreamers of all age, colour, race and religion. It is also full of real movie stars and starlets, mafia bosses and soldiers, millionaires and the poorest people in the world.

Mumbai is a city of contrast and nonsense, where a superficial look would be dangerous as well as useless. If you start your Indian trip from here, please be ready, the pollution and noise can be unbearable, the harassment by street vendors unsustainable, the amount and insistence of beggars totally out of control. But. Hold on and take the jump anyway. Mumbai is also a treasure of Portuguese-influenced architecture, secret temples, a crazy nightlife and an exploding food culture.
Mumbai is life. And you only if you are truly alive you can grasp its essence.

Here’s your:

Mumbai’s Creed

COFFEE

Birdsong Organic Cafe
A lovely cafe in Bandra, serving delicious Jacket potato. Apparently their hot chocolate is also delicious, I didn’t try as it was above 30 degrees when I was there 🙂

The Pantry
Perfect place for a generous breakfast made of granola and yoghurt for me and creamy waffle for my travel companion. Cappuccino is pretty good by Indian standards.

Kala Ghoda Cafe
I found this tiny, little coffee shop by chance while trying to get lost in the Colaba / Fort / Churchgate triangle. Espresso was very good and we had a nice little bite there too, however the staff needs to step their game up. Big time. On top of being quite rude (I wanted to sit upstairs, but I was forced to stay downstairs as one customer  was already up?) and the general attitude was very far from welcoming. When asked the wi-fi password we were abruptly told it was only available for about half hour as lunch time was about to start. I get it when cafes do that as they are open to make money, no to serve coffees to freelance workers who are bored to work from home but, firstly, they could have told us in a nicer way, secondly as we were consuming both food and drinks for about an hour and needed the internet for our on-the-road jobs, would have been quite good if we could use our laptops while eating right?
I was quite uncomfortable as they disconnected the line while I was in the middle of sending an important email.So, you might be wondering why on earth I’ve added Kala Rhoda in my coffee list, right? Well, the truth is that it is very hard to find good coffee in India so if you are looking for your daily caffeine dose, then head here, but only for a brief stop or even better, for a take away. Don’t go there to hang out with your friends or family as they will make you feel rushed or forced to make an order.[Photo Credits: Bobby Joshi]

Colaba Social
I’ve been raving about Social in Delhi and Bangalore, so I had to try the Mumbai venue too, right? Well expect for the temperature which probably was below zero due to the centralised A/C (and my double request to switch if off), it was another delicious breakfast with a elvis toast and nicely done cappuccino.[Photo Credits: Bobby Joshi]

READ

Mumbai is like heaven for bookworms like me. My five days there were like a torture as I couldn’t buy or carry any book in my backpack and I had to fight the temptations constantly.

Strand Book Stall

The city is filled with bookstalls everywhere, it’s almost impossible to walk for more than half a mile without bumping into yet another guy selling new and old books on the street. Especially near parks and stations. I loved it, even if it tortured me! LOL! On top of street vendors, there are also famous and less-known libraries and bookstores you should check out. Strand Book Stall was one of my favourites
Address: 15-C, Dhannur Building, Sir P.M. Road, Borabazar Precinct, Fort, Mumbai

David Sassoon Library
I found this beautiful library completely by chance as I was randomly walking on the Esplanade. Unfortunately, it is only open to members and you know me, I love everything that has to do with books, so I was desperately curious to enter and I offered a coffee bribe to the guardian to let me in, but he politely refused and offered me the option to buy a membership instead. Despite my strong, strong curiosity, I could not afford to spend 55,000 rupies for a couple of hours in a library, however I would suggest you to do so if you are planning to stay in Mumbai longer. I only managed to take the sneaky shot below, but I would have loved to run upstairs and see the rest of that book collection (possibly with the guardian shouting at me, that would be an experience worth doing!!).

Central Library
I had the Central Library on my list for almost two months as I had seen pictures of it and I was excited to finally be in the city to photograph it myself. Well, I did, but from the outside only. The building was under restoration and all the books were transferred in a miserable tent next to it. My heart broke, I have to admit, and I was quite pissed as there were no notice on their website or Facebook page. Anyway, would you do me a favour and go when it re-opens and show me how it looks like from the inside? Thanks! 🙂

Books

EXPLORE

Jehangir Art Gallery
This is a strange gallery, or at least it was when I went there. The floor was scattered with cardboard boxes and pieces of tapes, the first floor was closed to the public, despite the timetable said the opposite. Regardless, there was a very fascinating drawing and painting exhibition in the main room on the ground floor. I don’t know much about it as there were no information or leaflets.

Go to see a Bollywood movie
There are dozen of old and new cinemas in Bombay and you will have to pick the challenge to select one for your Bollywood vibe. Remember that most movies are in Hindi, but having experienced first hand, I can tell you that the dance, the expressions and the music are worth the ticket, even if you won’t understand a word!

Or…Be an extra in a Bollywood movie!
If you follow my Facebook page  you should already know that when I was in Mumbai, I was approached by a scout to take part as an extra in Bollywood movie. Unfortunately, I had plans that day and I had to refuse, but I will certainly accept next time I’ll go to Bombay. I’ve done some research for you and in fact it wasn’t something unusual or unique.. you can do it too! You can read the amazing story of a backpacker turned “actor” here. If you want 10 minutes of  Bollywood fame, my tip is to wander around Colaba where scouts are fishing  for Westerns to feature in local movies almost every day. Can’t wait to see you all in one! 🙂

Dhobi Ghats
This is also known as one of the largest open-air laundry in Asia and in fact, looking at it from the bridge that takes you there, it can easily be the largest in the world. The Dhobis, or washers, work in the open to wash clothes from hotels, hospitals and some privates.
It’s a maze of concrete wash pools, each fitted with its own flogging stone where men of all age are at work from morning to evening. Why, are you wondering they wash things this way? Well, that was also my question and it seems they use chemical products that are hard to find or dangerous to obtain such sparkling results.

The Other Mumbai: Dharavi Slum
Since before reading Shantaram and other books about India, I knew I was going to visit the largest slum in Asia one day. I didn’t know I would visit it in the vest of an ambassador for the best not-for-profit organisation around, Reality Gives. With the guys of RG I managed to learn about the live in the slum, its economy, culture and community sense. I was expecting to hear horror stories and to fall into pieces, but in fact the story is different and I highly suggest you to book a tour too via the link above. Please note that photography is not normally permitted to respect the privacy of the people who live there.

Sir JJ College of Architecture
One of the things I love the most, as mentioned already many times, it’s to go with the flow and get lost in a new city. So, when walking down Dadabhai Naoroji Road, I saw the gates of the Sir JJ College of Architecture opened, I could not stop myself to go inside for a quick peak. And hey, wasn’t one of the best things in Mumbai? There was a college cerebration going on, but other sculpture artists were busy with their creations in the garden, while the painting class were drawing two old men lying on the floor. Students and teachers made us feel most welcome and explained to us many things I did not know about the art and the Indian university system. If you get a change, try and get inside too.

Dhabba Walla
These are Six Sigma foodies. While I was in Mumbai, thanks to Shanti travel, I got to experience first hand another magic of the city that never sleeps: the Dabbawallas in action. It all started about 125 years back when a Parasi banker wanted to have home cooked food regularly in his office and gave this responsibility to the first ever Dabbawala. Other people also liked the idea and the demand for Dabba delivery soared and it still remain alive today. Even Richard Branson was so impressed that he came all the way to India to witness these guys’ delivery system in action and I couldn’t miss my chance either! They have been shifting dabba (lunch boxes) from Mumbai suburbs into the city’s office with less than one mistake in every six million deliveries, for this reason they have been awarded the Six Sigma  certificate and yes, that is without any computer or software in place! To watch them live too, get in touch with Shanti Travels and arrange your visit too.

Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sandhralaya
There are very few museums or memorial places in the world where my heart sunk and I felt as I was touching a piece of history with my own eyes. One was Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and the second the WWII memorial in Berlin. Now, in Mumbai, Mahatma Gandhi’s house gave me the same feeling for its powerful photographic and video journey as well as his intact room on the first floor. If you don’t believe in soul, maybe a place like this will change your mind, because there, I felt as Bapu was still alive.

Mumbai CST
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly  known as Victoria Terminus (VT), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which serves also serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways. From the inside and the outside, the Gothic influence mixed with the Mughal architecture is clearly visible and this improbable juxtaposition makes it a grand building overall. Built in 1887, it is one of the busiest railway stations in India: take care!!

EAT

Leopold Cafe
Does this place really need a introduction? Everybody knows about Leopold Cafe, right? If you don’t, read this
Leopold, as it is popularly referred to be one of the city’s oldest restaurants in Mumbai, India. It has created its own heritage and legacy into the food business since ages… To call it a restaurant, it would be demeaning as an institution since it has become a landmark in Mumbai as it is the preferred place both for local Indians and foreign tourists. Founded in 1871, Leopold is open from morning 7:30am till midnight. It boasts of a varied and eclectic clientele. The interiors are very much like a european cafe and the food is so scrumptious and delicious, you’ll want for more and more and more!!!! Whether it’s lunch, Sunday brunch or an evening spent with friends drinking.

Salt Water Cafe
This lovely restaurant came highly recommended to me by my local friends and once I got there I understood why. The menu is filled with delicious local and international dishes and the wood-filled venue itself is also very lovely. The only issue was that once inside it was freezing. Everybody in fact looked like their were having their meal in a refrigerator and despite having asked them twice they couldn’t turn off the A/C. Remember to bring a jumper and a scarf, there is nothing worst than feeling cold while eating.

JamJar
A super cool restaurant in an up-and-coming area of Mumbai that reminds me of Dalston in London. The food was good and coffee was not bad either.Staff is super friendly, but what is the key factor here is the beautifully Gaudi-inspired terrace and the quirky indoor design.
A must-visit, especially for those foodie instagramers on the hunt for cool restaurant to add to their gallery.

Elco Pani Puri Center
A very popular stop for Indian families for Pani Puri on every day of the week. It was a Wednesday lunch time and there was a 45-minutes wait when we went, but it was totally worth it! If you go, make sure to ask advice about the most amazing dishes to your neighbours tables: we did so and soon enough with a table covered by the most delicious local food ever.

DREAM

I’ve been one of the earlier fan of Airbnb for a long time, so whenever I feel tired of hotels and resorts,  I try to find a nice little accommodation where I can pretend to have a house for a couple of days. Even in Mumbai, Airbnb didn’t fail to meet my standards. If you also want to start airbnb-ing, why don’t you sign us using this link? It will give £14 credit to you and £14 to me when you travel.
So, it’s a win-win strategy for both of us, right?

Gallery

Goa, what’s the fuss all about?

I tried to resist going to Goa, though most of my friends had told me how much they loved it. I imagined an Indian beach town between Rimini(click the hyperlink to understand the metaphor) and Ibiza (I don’t think Ibiza needs presentations or hyperlinks 🙂 ). Basically, I was expecting a large, wide beach packed with tourists, a place with little personality, culture and/or heritage and westerns self-appointed gurus immersed in a drug-dance-party marathon.
Oh, and I was so right. The sand beaches were covered by western (and Russian) women in bikini (or topless) and muscly, middle-aged men with tiny, little dogs; there were more dreadlocks here than in Jamaica and tattoos were a must too: 9 out 10 had at least one. The OM sign being the most frequent among all, I would say 2 out of 3 of the westerns had one somewhere on their body. Yeah, I know, ridiculous, right? Oh, and what about the constructed rough, pretentious messy, fake hippy look? Not sure why, but most of the backpackers/travellers and even expats seem to suddenly undergo a brainwash about appearance while on the road. Especially in holy/hippie places like Goa, Varanasi, Varkala and others, people seemed to think that dirty meant cool. Nah, I can tell you boy, it doesn’t work that way. Never mind, I’m writing a separate blogpost about the travellers’ look and attitude abroad, because it’s too funny to ignore, stay tuned.

Going back to Goa, I was just saying, I wanted to avoid Goa’s touristy vibe at all costs, but it became a “mandatory” stop after 10 hrs train journey from Hampi  on my way to my final stop in India, Mumbai.
I was going to stay there only for the exact amount of time to review two clients’ hotel ( see the DREAM section below) so 3 nights in total before catching a plane, but my curiosity was too strong and I really wanted to understand what the fuss was all about. So, I quickly changed my mind, changed a few details of my last weeks in India and the next thing I knew it was that I ended up spending 10 days in Goa even pushing my flight to Australia forward and squeezing my stay in Mumbai of a couple of days.
Yeah, you guessed it right… I understood what the fuss was about Goa.
Check my CREED guide below to find out, yourself.

Goa, India’s smallest state (yes, it’s a state, not just a city!) is probably the most famous, at least in the UK and among my English friends. The state is typically split into North and South, with Dabolim airport and Vasco da Gama train station being a divider between the two. This time, I explored extensively the Northern part and I left the South (yeah, you guessed right again, I will be back…), for next time.  If you also have limited time in Goa, you will be faced with the tough decision between north and south as distances can be quite big.

But there aren’t only the beaches in Goa. There is the vibe. There is the extraordinary natural beauty of the jungle reaching up to the coast, the awkward presence of a sweet lake among lush green hills, there is the variety of restaurants, the yoga lessons before the sun rises and that same massive orange ball that dives into the ocean right in front of you every evening, like a show you should never miss while by the ocean. There is also the Portuguese heritage, like in Bombay and Kochi, Goa was a main commercial centre of business for them and of course they left their clear mark all around, from the architecture to the food, from the language to the religion. Exactly like in Kochi with Portugueses or Kolkata with the British, there is a kind of halo of past participle, and the one in Goa is particularly strong as the Portuguese only left the capital in 1961 after 400 years of colonisation.

COFFEE

Lamuella

Israeli-run boutique with a lovely café at the back that serves over-priced but delicious mainly avocado-based dishes and other snacks. Espresso, one of the best in India, is dark, strong and made of beans imported from Kerala.  Some clothes are lovely, but with western price tags if not higher and considering the cost of manufacturing in India/Asia the products are not worth the money. It’s surely tailored to not-well informed Western clients or the ones who only come to Goa and haven’t had the opportunity to compare prices in the rest of India.

Babu Huts
Sea facing café and restaurant with excellent juices and real espresso. Staff here is super friendly and will go the extra mile to make you happy. Also a perfect budget accommodation choice (see below in the dream section).

READ

Most of the hotel and resorts have a few bookshelves of books left behind by other travellers. However, if you find yourself in need of a specific title, head to:

Broadway Book Center

Address:  Ashirwad Building, 18th June Road, Next To Rizvi Tower, Panaji

Literati

Address: E/1-282, Calangute -Candolim Road, Near Snip Salon, Gauravaddo, Calangute

A History of Goa, by Rev. J A J Da Costa

 

 

EXPLORE

Beach Life

(In the North) Anjuna and Vagator were until recently the preserve of the hippies and party people, but these days you’re just as likely to rub shoulders with independent, more affluent groups of young domestic tourists and foreign backpackers. The cooler, more in-the-know crowd of global travellers and neo-hippies have migrated north to Pernem’s beaches of Morjim, Asvem and Mandrem. Here the vibe is relaxed and low-key in the day, with more exclusive boutique resorts to hang out in, and cool clubs to party in during the night. Arambol is its own little world; the beach might not be much to look at but the beach-life is varied and retains traces of the hippy days of old.

Bike Ride

Nothing really beats the wind on burnt cheeks and through the hair as a bicycle or for the wilder one a scooter ride through paddy fields, hills and coconut groves. If you leave the chilled beach life (see section above), you will see that Goa has so many unspoilt and (almost) unknown areas. Even if you have no plans or direction, rent your favourite two wheeler and go for a ride. It will make you feel free like when you were back at 16 and it was so cool to ride without a helmet. (I did in fact ask for one, but I was told there were none, erm… Alright.

Three on a bike? Yeah, at least! Watch the video! 😛

Old City

If you are in Goa for the beach life, a day in the old city will be enough. To get an understanding of the Portuguese influence here, take a walk around and make sure to visit the Menezes-Braganza House and the Figueiredo Mansion (where the food is also excellent). There are plenty of churches and cathedrals in this part of the city and when you will be done with that make sure to head to the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas to see how the bygone age and one of the most delightful areas to stroll in Goa.

Asanas, Chakra and other ways to clean the Mind 

Similarly to the other holy cities I visited in India, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Varkala etc, Goa has a huge yoga culture that dates back a few centuries melted with a wave of disillusioned westerns who plant their tends and life here to teach yoga at exorbitant prices. Personally, all the lessons I attended in India where run and organised by local, Indian people. Why on earth would I go to the other side of the world to participate to a lesson tought by americans, Australian, English as I used to in London? Nope, I didn’t fall into the trap and carefully selected lessons that were run by locals  (and at local prices),

Beyond yoga, pilates, chakra release and meditation in Go, there is all sort of real or fakish spiritual activities you can think of. I’m not judging, but do some research before booking your appointments and ask around as charlatans are as numbered as the waves of the ocean. Or just pick another activity for your stay; kite-surfing being a cool one.

Saturday Night Market – Arpora

Held every year, between December and May, the Saturday night market is a better version of the market in the day, a smaller version of Chandni Chowk in Delhi with thousands of different things you can find including pashminas, baggy trousers and cheap hippie clothes and jewellery. With a variety of street food options and bars it can be a good option for an alternative Saturday.

EAT

La Plage 

Even before setting foot to Goa or India, people told me about La Plage. It might be I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to food, but I wasn’t amazed by it. Don’t get me wrong, the French cuisine twisted with an Indian/Asian influence was good and very tasty, but it wasn’t a Michelin kind of menu or nothing extremely innovative either, or worth the overpriced menu. Worth a try for sure.
Ph. Credits: Krishin Jethwani

Sublime

Opened three years ago in Morjim, like La Plage, Sublime is also considered one of the best restaurants in Goa. Run by Chef Christopher Saleem brings his international experience to a delicate, playful and flavourful menu in a real fusion of global ingredients and technique. Beautiful setting and interesting live show, but once again I wasn’t impressed by the menu nor the meal (both considering the reputation and the prices). Worth a try for sure, but if you miss it, you haven’t missed much. Oh, staff service was really poor, polite, but not trained and it was quite surprising considering we were almost in high season!
Ph. Credits: Happy Trips

L’Amore

Despite the Italian name, this isn’t an Italian restaurant or at least among the very large menu, Italian pizza and dishes aren’t their best. Go for some Indian classics and you will find yourself coming back here night after night. Ph Credits: Tripadvisor

DREAM

Yab Yum, Ashwem, North Goa. Part of Tripzuki Network

I had heard of Tripzuki through some friends who had mentioned they had the coolest accommodation in India. I had a look online and I was impressed by the number and diverse accommodation they have in their portfolio. Tripzuki, a young, hip start-up provides travellers in India with local expertise, advice and inspiration, underpinned by a gorgeous collection of unique, well-run, ‘boutique’ hotels, all of which are directly bookable via their website.

Set in a coconut jungle just off one of the best and most tranquil beaches in North Goa, this intimate, eco-friendly boutique resort is the perfect place if you wish to enjoy the vibe in peace.

The hobbit-like, long-haired, eco-conscious 14 huts are itself a great attraction of the Yub Yum, in fact when I moved there I quickly extended by stay by a couple of nights.

One of the things I loved the most there, was the fact I had no need to wear shoes or flip flops, in fact these where forgotten by my hut for the entire stay: the lovely sandy path takes you from the entrance gate to the beach, the restaurant and the reception. Even to go to the nearby restaurants /café you can forget your sandals and just enjoy being bare foot for a while, especially at night when the sand is enjoyable cold.

Yab Yum isn’t a luxury resort, but it’s the perfect place if you are looking for peace, privacy and a very good vibe.

On top of the huts there are also 5 cottages (with A/C) by the beach, but personally I turned down one of them to try the adventure of being in a hairy beach-hut. Oh! If there is one thing I like to spoil myself with when travelling is breakfast in bed or in my bedroom. So, when I found out that at Yab Yum, a rich and generous breakfast is served just outside your dome, every morning, well, I knew it was going to be looove!

Gallery

Hampi’s Boulders, where Genius meets Nature

Hampi

If you haven’t heard of Hampi, don’t worry, you are not alone. I didn’t either until some Indian friends told me about it and showed me some pictures. It  took me about 3 minutes then to change my route and plans (once again!), and decide to go and see this beautiful city with my own eyes. Thankfully, I was invited to stay at the best and most magnificent resort I have ever seen and below there is a little photo essay to show you why, you should stay there too!

About Hampi
Hampi is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India located near Hospet town in the Karnataka state. Today, Hampi is a laid back village by the banks of Tungabadra river, but this was the capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in India’s history.
Hampi is probably more peculiar and fascinating in its current, ruined state, and in fact it attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Dotted around the hills made of boulders, rice fields and valleys there are more than 500 monuments, including temples, palaces, pavilions, elephants bastions, water tanks and much more.
Walking around Hampi is like stepping back in time, every corner is a surprise and if you keep your eyes open you might find yourself in a hidden village among the boulders…

Hampi’s Boulders
Hampi’s Boulders is the  first and only luxury option in the area. But it is not luxurious in the traditional sense of the word, but completely quirky and surely memorable. Hampi’s Boulders is an ‘eco-chic-wilderness’ resort that offers a choice of 13 themed rooms, but by far the best are the Star and the Crocodile Cottages with their royal furnishing, river views and outdoor showers. Nestled on the banks of the Tungabadra river, Hampi’s Boulders is situated 7 kms from the world heritage site of Hampi and it’s the perfect location for travellers who love nature, want to travel ethically and want to stay away from the tourist buzz of the village.

On top of a playground-like park, there is also a stone-carved swimming pool, barbecue and beach volley facilities. They also organise a wonderful “Walk of the Island” where you will enjoy unique and stunning views over the entire surroundings as well as Hampi ruins.
Don’t miss the opportunity to sit on one of the large boulders at sunrise and don’t forget to walk along the river at sunset; you can be lucky enough to spot some otters,  crocodile and all sort of tropical animals here.

Bangalore ain’t just IT!

bangalore style

If I say Bangalore, what are the first things that come to mind? I bet it’s the followings:
huge call centers, IT towers, tecchies and engineers all around, right?
Well, that’s surely what I thought when I was almost forced to pass through the city on my way from Kerala to Hampi.

OH! I was so wrong. Bangalore, probably because of IT and its huge English-speaking, tech-savvy manpower has become so much more in the recent years. The main business city of Karnataka in fact, it’s also a cultural and art hub with an impressive number of galleries, cultural centers, cinemas, restaurants and lots of fun stuff to do. Unfortunately, I had a train ticket booked, otherwise I would have spent there much longer than two day.

So, the best way to enjoy your stay in this varied Indian central state is by landing in Bangalore for a few days of fun and then moving on to Hampi (next blog post) for some chill-out time. Due to time restriction I did not manage to visit Mysore as well, but I’ve heard great things about it. If you are in fact going there, please make sure to stay at the brand new Zostel.
Here’s your:

Bangalore’s Creed

COFFEE

Social Offline
After visiting Social in Delhi, I had to check the one in Bangalore too! I actually came back here twice. For dinner and drinks with a bunch of friends, but I prefer it as a daytime hangout place. With free wifi it is also the perfect spot if you, like me, are working on the go.
Cappuccino and Elvis Presley Waffles is my favourite Social combination.

OM Made Café
Lovely, lovely, lovely rooftop cafe with a great view over the city. It’s meant to be great for sunset too, but I actually spent a lovely afternoon writing there with a bite and a couple of coffees. Delicious beans, overpriced and not super amazing food. But the place is worth a visit for sure! 

Koshy’s
This is the true Bangalorean hub for artists, writers, actors and anyone who feels a bit arty inside. You should totally try the caramel custard along with a cup of tea.
Ph Credits: Bobby Koshi

READ

Blossom Book House
Hands down to Mayi Gowda who moved to Bangalore to study engineering and to sustain his studies he started selling books and magazines on MG Road. Fast-forward to a few years and he is now the proud owner of the best bookshop in Bangalore.

Books

EXPLORE

Freedom Park
Interestingly enough, this large venue was formerly the Central Jail and it was only opened to the public in November 2008.

Cubbon Park
Spread across 300 acres this is the place you need to come for your walking, running or yoga exercises. Come here at weekends and you will e surrounded by happy families with their ice-creams and balloons. Great place for people watching and street photography as well as refresh yourself from Bangalore’s traffic!

KR Market
KR Market, also known as City Market, is the largest market in Bangalore.
Curious fact: It was the first locality in the whole of Asia to get electricity and it is also considered to be the largest flower market in Asia.
Ph. Credits: The Girl Who Clicks

EAT

The Egg Factory
This is truly an egg factory as the name suggests! I never seen SO many different options to cook an egg and the taste is also great. Oh, their menu is super cool too! Ooops! I stole one as a souvenir guys! 😛

Ph. Credits: Rachel Prianka 

Nagarjuna restaurant
A classical south-Indian restaurant that serves all-you-can-eat kind of dinner on banana leaves. Mainly frequented by locals on a night out, it’s a nice place for some spicy and tasty food.

Ph. Credits: Burrp

DREAM

The Laika Boutique Stay is a small boutique hotel located on Bangalore’s Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road. Laika, the lovely owner who runs the hotel received the property from her grandmother several years ago. For decades, the place was left in an abandoned state and shape, but one day, Laika, gifted with incredible entrepreneurial and spirit and incredible energy decided to turn the property upside down and opened this fantastic boutique hotel with a warm, homely feeling. Without showing off, the rooms are stylish and with contemporary design blended with heritage features. There are eight and all are equipped with air-conditioning, wi-fi, television, telephone, 24-hours hot/cold water. The ground level has a beautiful garden, common dining area with an attached kitchen.
Here you can easily get comfortable around one of her two living room’s large wooden table or work a bit on your laptop with the help of superfast internet connection. (The fastest in India I found! Ode to the IT industry!)

Laika and her team also organize tailored tours to Hampi and Mysore as well as to other destinations. Breakfast was also one of the most amazing I had in my entire trip in india, with all sorts of deliciousness from southern and central India, as well as continental options. If you, like me, fall in love with Laika’s dishes, just ask her to show you the secrets: she also hosts mouthwatering cooking class in her own kitchen!

You can book your stay at Laika’s little paradise here

If you are not an airbnb user yet, get your discount here

Gallery

Kerala: Was I Dreaming?

This is the world. Half of it is lit by the sun and the other half remains in darkness. It is the same with life. There is good and bad and it’s our duty to remain in the light, be good.

― Anita Nair

I already wrote about the unexpected side of India, but now I want to tell you more about Kerala, possibly the greenest, modern, diverse, culturally rich and interesting Indian state (in my opinion of course!)

Kerala, also appropriately called God’s Own Country*, is that strip of land in the western tip of the subcontinent, sitting between the Arabic Sea on the west and the state of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the east. It was love at first sight between Kerala and I. Not only the lush green all around. Not only the remote white beaches, the peaceful backwaters, the hill stations, the meaningful cocktail of churches, synagogues and mosques. Not only the vertiginous and violent waterfalls. Did I mention the delicious pannu, idli,and dosas? Oh! Gosh, the tapioca! And what about the tea plantations and the towels men use as skirts everywhere? Everything about Kerala is just perfect. Kerala and I are meant for each other. This is going to be a lifelong love relationship.

It’s true, I’m seriously thinking to move to India next year and Kerala is surely on top of my list. The nature is just lushly breathtaking, the green is the greenest and even if you would spend an entire life here, you wouldn’t be able to count all its different shades. There is everything in Kerala: a few nice cities, the hills, the rivers, the woods and the sea. Maybe I loved it so much because it reminds me of home.

Kochi is a peculiar, heritage city that forms the largest urban area in Kerala. It’s composed of many little islands and less-knows parts, of which Ernakulum is the main (modern) town. Fort Cochin instead is only the tiny, but beautiful tip of Cochin island and where the most interesting things are. If you are in a rush, you can see most things in Fort Kochi in a couple of days, but if you are travelling slowly and have no place to be, one or even two weeks are well-spent here, just walking around, browsing the little alleys, visiting all the cafes and talking to the locals is never a waste of time.
In fact, many western have put seasonal or permanent roots here: some for the low cost of living, others for the yoga or Ayurveda retreats, some others just because it’s beautiful. I might be one of the next ones to do the same soon….

COFFEE

#ButFirstCoffee was never as appropriate during my trip as here: Kochi was heaven for my espresso- deprived soul and taste buds, and here is where I spent my days sipping coffee at each and every café I could find. Yeah, I had troubles sleeping that week, but….it was worth it!!

Vasco Home Stay

Great place for a Keralan breakfast. Cute family service and staff. Upstairs is the well-known guesthouse that goes with the same name. Try the Keralan breakfast here, you won’t be disappointed!
No wi-fi (even though the website says the opposite, maybe only available in the guesthouse).
Address: on the corner of Rose Street and Bastion Street, Fort Cochin

 

TeaPot Cafe

A super-cute cafe that serves some delicious cakes and light bites. I was worried coffee wasn’t going to be a safe choice here, but I was wrong, as it was quite good. They obviously have a large selection of teas too. This is a great place to hang out with your friends in the afternoon or simply come with a book and enjoy the peace. Do not come with your laptop or with the intention to work from here as there is no wi-fi.
Address: Peter Celli Street, Fort Cochin

Kashi Art Gallery

This stunning café is part of an art gallery that had a brilliant photography (what a coincidence!!) show, when I visited! J Great snack and cakes’ options, with good moka coffee (they call it espresso), sandwiches and salads. Great place to hang out and meet other westerns, not many locals where there when I visited, I guess because the prices were higher than average. (no wifi)

Burgher Street, Fort Kochi 682001, Kerala, India

 

French Toast

I’ve personally awarded French Toast “THE best cappuccino of India” prize. Not only the froth was of the perfect consistency, but temperature, size and appearance were also top-notch. 4.5 out 5 stars for this cute little café in mailand Kochi, it only needs wi-fi to earn that half point to perfection.

 

READ

OY’S Cafe & Studio
Lovely little café with loads of books for exchange and to buy. Breakfast was rich and delicious. Service a bit slow, but within Indian standards. Address: 1-390 Burgher Street, Fort Kochi 682001, Kochi, Kerala

Idioms Bookseller

A beautiful little bookshop, just next to Vasco where you can find loads of books about India. There are volumes in English, Spanish, Italian, French and many other languages. I had to stop myself at three books, but I would have carried on to 20 probably. They offer a very useful service of packaging and sending to Europe, US and other parts of the world in collaboration with the nearby post office. Unfortunately, the price of delivery has gone up in the last few years, but it is still more convenient than dragging your books for weeks if you, like me, are travelling for a long time.

Books

God Small Things
The God of Small Things is nominally the story of young twins Rahel and Estha and the rest of their family, but the book feels like a million stories spinning out indefinitely; it is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry. The God of Small Things is at once exotic and familiar to the Western reader, written in an English that’s completely new and invigorated by the Asian Indian influences of culture and language. (from Amazon review)

51uaNBizxSL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_
Mistress by Anita Nair
The love affair between a traveller and a Keralan woman, all at the rhytm of the ancient art of Kathakali

EXPLORE

Just Wander
No, this ain’t a name of a place, but my best suggestion for Fort Cochin (and any other destination as a matter of fact). To be honest, here, you won’t even need a map as it’s impossible to get lost, but just take a walk around and take it all in. Stop in the café and restaurant mentioned above, bring a book, meet locals and expats, this is the best way to really get the vibe of the city.

Mattancherry, Jew Town and the Synagogue
Long time ago, there was large community of Jews here, along the Christian, Muslims and Hindu. Probably the reason why I loved Cochin so much is because it looked to me as the most successful and most beautiful Indian example of peaceful religious cohabitation (maybe I am wrong or not well-informed enough, but this was my impression as a foreigner). This is where Jews set of their trading and commerce and all around the area was the main spice market in the whole state. Make sure to visit the Synagogue at least for its beautiful, hand-painted tiles as the building isn’t particularly worth of notice. Upon entering, you will be addressed to a small “history room”, it’s interesting and it won’t take too long.

Backwaters
While in Cochin, you must arrange a trip to the backwaters. This is one of the best things I’ve done in my three-month travel in India, so I can’t recommend it enough. You will find plenty of tourist offices or agencies offering a day-trip, I personally would recommend the one organized by Happy Camper (see the Dream section below for details). In the backwaters you will be able to enjoy the life of Keralan villages, those little houses tucked away in the jungle and the beautiful Indian women in their colourful saris doing their laundry on the stones on the shore. While you are there, on the boat, enjoy the peace, the slow moving of the boat and life. Don’t fret and leave your switched off phone in your pocket. Everything on this trip was so perfect and so amazing that I actually wandered if it was staged. Where those people outside their little huts actors in fact? Were those gorgeous kids trained to smile so innocently and warmly? I have no answer, but I have a tip for you. Bring pens. Every single kid you will encounter on the way will shout at you for pens. I had about 15 in my backpack back in my room, so I was gutted I didn’t bring them along. (PS: this is a tip that’s pretty much valid anywhere in India, children ask for pens to bring to school. No, not in Delhi or other big cities, but surely in the remote villages if you are going to visit any, so bring some. It will make you feel wonderful.)

Saint Francis Church
This is a very simple but nice white Christian church by the beach in Fort Cochin. A few centuries ago, the Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama, was buried here. The signs inside can be confusing, as it would appear his remains are still there, when this is not true. Saint Francis Church also became famous as the story says it is the oldest church in India as it was built in 1503.

Santa Cruz Basilica
If St Francis Church is a minimalist church, Santa Cruz is quite the opposite, it its impressive grandeur. It is in fact a pretty young church. Built by the Portuguese in 1506, it was spared by the Dutch who destroyed many Catholic buildings during the take-over but anyway,  it was destroyed by the British later on…. Bishop D. João Gomes Ferreira commissioned a new building in 1887 and it was consecrated in 1905. It was only consecrated a proclaimed one of the eight Basilicas in India by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

Kathakali
Indulge on a show of this impressive, different and mesmerising form of art. You need to go there before the start to see how the make-up of the actors (only male) is made. Make-up, facial expression and live music is what makes this 300 years old art form still a hugely acclaimed show for both locals and tourists.

Chinese fishing nets
On top of every Kochi must-see, top-10, top-5 lists you will find a mention of these fishing nets. Personally, I was far from impressed by them. Not only they weren’t particularly interesting or photogenic, but they were also too commercial to my taste. Fishermen have turned into models who jump to your throat offering to pose with a smelly fish in their hands (for money of course!). I refused several times, took a couple of boring sunset shots and moved on. I tried to get a different perspective of them, but I still struggled as the backdrop seemed very industrial and not particularly beautiful.

Note, the smaller fishing nets that you will see on the Cochin backwaters are far more authentic even if smaller.

EAT

In Kerala, you must leave all your culinary fears and prejudices behind and try ALL the food you can. For breakfast, go with a puttu, which is a funny-looking roll of coconut flour and steamed rice which is quite dry on its own, but delicious with chickpea or vegetable curry. While you are in this region, if you, like me, LOVE coconut, you will just die with pleasure as it’s their main ingredient.

Seagull

Food here is not remarkable, but not bad either. It has a nice view over the river and it’s one of the few places that serves alcohol in the city. We had fresh grilled fish, which was good but not outstanding.

Dal Roti

With a strong Mughal influence as well as Iranian, Dal Roti serves the cuisine of the heartland India, the States of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The restaurant itself is nothing special and its decors is quite insignificant, but its cuisine is mouthwatering and out of this world to be franc. There was always a good number of Indians here and that normally is a sign of authenticity in the food. We went back here three or maybe four times J Must try Kati Roll and one of their Thalis.

Oceanos

Try the fish “Varutharachathu”, it’s the most favourite fish recipe in any Keralan home. It’s basically made of white fish cooked with roasted coconut paste and coconut milk. The grilled tuna with rice and yoghurt sauce was also very nice. Make sure to keep room for desert: honey fig with yoghurt pannacotta and cashew marzipan with chocolate sauce. (No licensed for alcohol).

Tibetan Chef’s Restaurant

Lovely little restaurant where you eat sitting on the floor around low tables surrounded by meaningful quotes by the Dalai Lama. Service is fast and extremely friendly. Food is fresh, tasty and original. Obviously go for the vegetable fried momo to start your adventure among Tibetan delicacies.

Upstairs – Bastion Lane, Fort Cochin

A small Italian-inspired restaurant in front the Santa Cruz basilica. The owner and manager is a cool guy who spoke a little Italian and told me about his time as a sous-chef in Turin, Italy. He said, he brought back all original recipes and decided to open this restaurant. Starting from the name, which isn’t appropriately an Italian name, I think he can upgrade his game a bit. The pizza was very similar to the ones at Pizza Hut or at least I guess so as I never entered one in my life. Spaghetti were overcooked but the sauce, oh the sauce! was (almost) like my mum makes it. The guy imports gorgonzola, prosciutto crudo and many other delicatessen from Italy, so it’s well worth a visit, but there is (lots of) room for improvement.

DREAM

If I didn’t know that San Francisco was were the “airbnb movement” started, I would have thought that Kerala and Cochin in particular, were was it all began. In fact, in this region there are plenty on option to try and taste homestays (exactly as in the airbnb model)!

We spent some time in Kochin, so we had the time to taste and try different levels and options.

LUX – Old Harbour Hotel

A fabulous 300 year-old building, built in Dutch style with Portugues influence, it was once used as a residential home for employees of English tea-broking firms, before being left unused for some time and then turned into a monument. It is only recently it was turned into a stunning hotel. The change and restoration kept great attention to most of its original details and features like the beautiful façade.

COMFORTABLE – The Pod Homestay

A delightful, simple, extremely clean, A/C homestay in the centre of the fort run by a wonderful couple. She is Japanese and he’s Indian, they have a daughter and they all live downstairs with his parents. We celebrated Diwali with them with fireworks on the rooftop. This is why homestay is better than hotels (#justsaying!)

BUDGET – Happy camper

A very cool hostel right at the center of the main roundabout in Fort Cochin. Beds in dormitories go for Rs500 which considering that some cheap double room go for as little as Rs800 make it look like an akward option or at least only very convenient for the solo traveller. (Note: hostels aren’t very popular in India yet, it’s an up-and-coming slice of the hospitality sector that is growing fast, but perhaps, not fast enough)

Explore More 

Munnar and the Surroundings 

As mentioned above, a trip to Kerala wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the tea plantation. So, make sure to arrange your trip there. Ideally, arrange this trip on your own if you have plenty of time in your hands or just arrange it at one of the various kiosk you will find in the fort.

Whatever you decide, make sure to visit/see the followings:

  • Eco point on Mattupetty Lake
  • Attukkad Waterfalls
  • Tea museum, a visit here is necessary to understand the area and also how tea ended up in India.
  • Top station (on the walk up, make sure to stop and taste some of the traditional fruits of Kerala especially the tomato of Munnar: a perfect blend of tomato and a strawberry. Then get some passion fruits, guava and maybe some carrots too.)

Top Tip: Don’t stay in Munnar but in one of the beautiful homestay in the middle of the tea plantations.

Varkala & The Coast
To finish off your visit to Kerala, nothing is better than a few days filled with Ayurveda massages and yoga lessons at sunrise and some fresh fish by the seaside in Varkala. Its dramatic red cliff and the surrounding lush green coconut forest make it the perfect holiday spot for local and international tourists as well as a permanent magnet of expact who settle here to train as yoga teacher or Ayurveda practitioners.

While in Varkala, don’t miss your opportunity to have some gorgeous avocado-based dishes and great coffee at Coffee Temple!

Footnotes

* God’s Own Country: as the Kerala Affairs Office explains “According to Hindu mythology, Mahavishnu’s sixth incarnation Parasurama fought back the advancing seas. He threw his axe (paraśu) from Konkan to Kanyakumari and the sea gave way, giving rise to present day Kerala. In recent years the phrase has been adopted as a slogan by the tourism department of the Kerala state government in India as people started to explore more places outside the traditional tourist spots.” (http://www.keralaaffairs.com/gods-own-country-kerala/)

** C(offee)R(ead)E(xplore)E(at)D(ream): everything you need to know in one simple CREED 😉

 

Andaman & Nicobar: The Unexpected India

Closing my eyes and thinking of India a few months ago, before actually landing here, I would always see temples, turbans, cows, forts and deserts. Never, even with the use of my wildest imagination, I would have fabricated an India of white beaches, palm trees, and crystal clear waters.
But, when I finally landed at Beach 7, also called Radhangar, on Havelock, part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, I willingly had to change my mind.

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