Delhi Lens: Olive Bar & Kitchen – restaurant review

Yes, as usual, I am late to the party that is Olive. But, as they say, better late than never!

When mom decided to come to Delhi, I was all in a tizzy planning fun things to do with her over the weekend, on the days I could manage to take off from work, and in the evenings after office. One place that was at the top of my list was Olive.

So on a Friday afternoon, dressed to the nines, we hit the road and made our way there. And boy, were we in for a treat!

Olive is an Italian restaurant, part open part indoors. We chose to sit outside, under the shade of an ancient banyan tree on a cool winter afternoon. The seating is spread apart, so you have a bit of privacy at your table and room to let your eyes wander. From the huge banyan tree to the open kitchen to catching glimpses of the interior of the restaurant, from where a blue shelf was winking out at us.

Olive Bar and Kitchen, Italian restaurant, Delhi

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Delhi Lens: Andhra Bhavan, CP – restaurant review

I’ve heard rave reviews about Andhra Bhavan from friends and even from the husband, but never had the opportunity to go there myself until recently. And boy, was I in for a treat!

Located in the quiet, tree-lined Ahsoka Road in the Connaught Place area, inside the Andhra Bhavan, is this small little foodie paradise. It scores high on food and low on ambience – be warned, it is a canteen. It is crowded. And noisy. There are plastic tables and chairs. You have to wait for a table. But it is so worth it!

Andhra Bhavan, New DelhiWe reached there around 3:00 pm on a Saturday. Most of the other patrons looked like local Andhraites, an excellent indicator of the quality of the food. And the food is cheap. I mean, seriously cheap. The thali is pure vegetarian, meats are ordered as a side dish. Since both my friend and I are light eaters, we opted for one side dish each – a mutton fry and a chicken fry – along with our thalis. And that set us back by a grand total of INR 460. Which is what a single dish costs at most establishments. Oh, and did I mention it’s an unlimited thali?

Since we arrived for lunch at 3:00, we were able to get a table immediately and the crowd started thinning soon, so overall, I’d say that’s a good time to visit. Just have a slightly heavy breakfast so you don’t faint on your way there and you’re set!

The thali has 3 vegetables, rasam, sambhar, dal (lentils), 2 poppadams, puris, rice and a sweet dish. On that particular Saturday we had pumpkin, which was nicely mashed up and retained its sweetness; a tomato, onion and courgette vegetable, which almost tasted like a chutney – the tanginess of the tomatoes complemented perfectly with the slight sweetness of the onions; and potatoes, which were quite similar in taste to the potato filling in dosas – not a taste I am particularly fond of. The rasam was piping hot and spicy without burning the tongue. The sambhar was very flavourful, not like the tamarind-heavy concoction that most run-of-the-mill South Indian restaurants serve. You could taste the flavours of the dal with the tamarind and other spices and the individual sweetness of the vegetables. And the mutton fry was simply to die for! Soft, melt in your mouth bite-sized pieces of mutton flavoured to perfection with the spices, coconut and curry leaves that Andhra cuisine is famous for. The chicken fry also had its own distinctive look and taste – a perfect melding of the spices and the meat.

Andhra Bhavan ThaliThere are also a number of pickles on the table, but I didn’t try any. What you must have, though, is gunpowder (also kept on the table). It’s made with a number of dals and spices, including split gram, moong dal, chana dal, red chilli powder, black pepper, asafoetida, cumin seeds and salt dry roasted and ground together into a powder. You take a couple of spoons of gunpowder, put 1–2 teaspoons of ghee over it and make it into a paste. Have it with rice. Yummy!! I had it in copious quantities – and unlike what I feared, it wasn’t unbearably fiery. Or maybe my palette has evolved!

Once we started eating, all conversation stopped, so engrossed were we in the flavours and the food. The staff was courteous, and they came around with re-fills as soon as we could ask for them.

All-in-all, if you can ignore the ambience, this place is a must-visit for the food. I know I will be going back for more soon!

My top three travel memories

The Competition is organized and conducted by www.lowcostholidays.com. From July 30th, team Captains of the participating blogger groups will start their leg of the Blogger Relay race by sharing the top three memories of their favourite travel destinations and ranking them 1st, 2nd and 3rd, before passing the Travel Baton on to a fellow blogger, who will then also list their top 3 travel memories. They too will then pass the baton. The Team in the longest chain by the end of the competition all win the Blogger Relay! (And, more importantly, a prize!)

As I take hold of the #TeamPurple #BloggerRelay baton from Sudhagee, I am immersed in my past. I’ve traveled a lot, and not much. I’ve been to most parts of the world, though a lot of those travels are dim memories from my childhood.

Having a father in the merchant navy meant that we traveled a lot – almost every summer vacation was spent on the ship, traveling to numerous destinations both near and far. That exposure to the huge world out there gave me a serious travel bug, but alas, that bug can only be indulged properly about once a year.

Since I got married 10 years ago, the husband and I have traveled to a lot of places around India. There’s so much to be explored in our country, so many cities I had not visited as I spent most of my childhood traveling to countries far and wide. And while I do remember a lot from my various trips abroad as a child, my top three memories are from holidays that I took as an adult.

Nawalgarh

#3: Nawalgarh, Rajasthan

On the third spot with the Bronze medal I’d rate my trip to Nawalgarh in Rajasthan. Still off the beaten track, it was a pleasure to explore the city. Located in the Shekhawati region, it is known as Rajastahan’s outdoor art gallery. The old havelis (large houses) in this region have got some fantastic murals, both outside on the walls and within the houses. Some of the havelis are very well maintained, others are sadly ignored, but the paintings are lovely. Wandering through one of the havelis will take you through Indian history, from the first railway station to the courts of the king; through European cities; and Indian mythology. The sheer novelty and laid back pace of that vacation makes it one of my cherished travel memories.

Read more about Nawalgarh – Rajasthan’s open air art gallery

Disneyland, Orlando

#2: Disneyland, Orlando

In second position, claiming the Silver medal, is my trip to Disneyland, Orlando, with my parents last year. What can I say about Disneyland? It’s absolutely fantastic, something that everyone must do at least once in their lives. Plus, you’re really never too old to be swept off your feet by the magic of Disney! The attention to detail, the passion of the people working there, the vibrancy in the air, getting my photo clicked with some of my favorite Disney characters (yes, really!) are memories to be treasured. The five days I spent there were truly magical. They made me feel like a kid once again! Some awesome rides, lovely stage shows, the Disney parade, the fireworks, and the exhilaration I felt there with my parents are etched into my memory forever.

New York

#1: New York City

The winner by far, claiming the Gold medal, is my visit to New York City. The vibrancy, the shopping, the people, the museums…just the thought of it brings a smile to my lips. The major highlight of the trip has to be my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a place that has been on my must-visit list since I was a teen. I was unprepared for it’s vastness…but the experience was mind-blowing! Actually seeing masterpieces by some of my favorite artists was surreal. Taking in the gorgeous sculptures, the Temple of Dendur, the fine Japanese artwork, the pottery…and ending the evening on the steps of the Met as I processed the entire experience was a dream come true.

You can read more about my New York visit here.

As I emerge from these daydreams of trips past, I pass the #TeamPurple baton on to Becki

Neil Barnes of Backpacks and Bunkbeds, is the captain of #TeamPurple and you can read the posts of the other team members here.

Now it’s your turn. What is your top travel memory?

Delhi lens: 7 Degree Brauhaus – restaurant review

Welcome to a new series on Modern Gypsy – Delhi lens. As part of this series, I’ll be focusing on the Delhi-NCR region, bringing your posts on the eating out culture in the city, interesting shopping destinations and tourist  spots.

What better way to kick off this series that with a restaurant review! I’m a self-confessed foodie. Though I am a reluctant cook, when I do step into the kitchen, I almost always step out of it with a masterpiece – unless I’ve been baking, then I just stomp out in tears!

But, what can I say? Good food just makes me happy! And I love experimenting. So, when I heard of a German micro-brewery that had opened up in Gurgaon, I just had to go and eat for myself!

7° Brauhaus claims to be an authentic Bavarian microbrewery and kitchen, and their interiors sure reflect it. The ambiance is really nice – they’ve tried to create an Oktoberfest kind of feel in the restaurant, with large Chestnut trees around which tables are strewn around.

7 degree brauhaus

Seeing as we were visiting a brewery, beer had to be ordered. But since neither of us are beer drinkers, we opted for a Shandy (light beer with lemonade). What can I say – the beer was kind of palatable, until we had a few bites of food, after which it was horrible. The bitter after taste I got from the beer initially was replaced by a bitter taste. Period. I don’t know – maybe the lemonade sank to the bottom after a while? But, please, don’t trust my judgement on the beer – I hate the brew! I just ordered it in the spirit of things!

Where you can trust me is on the food. And that, I have to say, was delicious!

We started with the 7º Brauhaus non-vegetarian platter that came with chicken fingers, calamari rings, prawn skewers, lamb balls and minced meat pie. All of which was pretty good. I guess it’s hard to go wrong when you fry things up!I generally am not too fond of calamari – I find it too rubbery and chewy – but these were quite good!

Next, we ordered the Flammenbrot, a light crispy pastry base topped with soft cheese, caramelized onions and forest mushrooms. Now this dish, it was brilliant! The pastry was soft and flaky, the mushrooms and onions were flavorful and the cheese had melted nicely into the topping.

For the main course, we chose the Nurnberg Bratwurst, which was served with pretzel, fries and a green salad. The sausages were soft and juicy and the balsamic reduction drizzled on them gave it that extra bit of oomph. The pretzel was nice and hard and salty, the fries were done to perfection and the house dressing on the salad was quite yummy.

Next up was desert – Home-made Vienna Apple Strudel served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream in a cute little waffle cup. The Apple Strudel was the perfect end to our wonderful meal – not too sweet with a perfectly balanced cinnamon flavor.

Overall, this is a wonderful place for foodies. I know I’m going to be coming back here soon – I already know what I want to try next!

Mumbai Diaries: Exploring Colaba and Fort

When you think of Mumbai, you think of traffic jams and teeming slums, of roads chock-a-block with people, of sultry humidity and general chaos. You think of Bollywood and industrial tycoons, of the super rich living alongside the poor, of a city that never sleeps. But if you thought that this is all there is to Mumbai, you’d be wrong.

Old_Church_Mumbai_India

A graceful arched window of a Church in Colaba, Mumbai, India

There’s a softer, gentler side to the city as well – tree-lined roads, mansions and apartment buildings that speak of old money, and a blend of Gothic, Victorian, Art Deco and Indo-Saracenic (a blend of Islamic and Hindu architectural styles) architecture. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Fort and Colaba area in South Mumbai.

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

Gateway of India, Mumbai, India

We started our exploration of this area from the Gateway of India and the Taj Hotel after a hearty brunch at Le Pain Quotiden. Built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary, the Gateway of India is a fine example of Indo-Saracenic architecture. Many elements of the arch and the design of the windows are derived from Islamic architecture, while the pillars are reminiscent of Hindu temple design. We were lucky to find the area relatively less crowded, which gave us a lot of time to take pictures and generally explore the place.

Taj_Colaba_Mumbai

The iconic Taj Hotel at Mumbai, adjacent to the Gateway of India

From there, we started walking along the lane behind the Taj, with our necks craned upwards looking for interesting window and architectural details. The road is tree-lined and quiet, the buildings are old and regal, and for a while, you can almost forget that you’re in Mumbai – it could be any old European city.

Old_window

An old, elegant window perched above a busy, bustling street in Mumbai

We traversed a path through Colaba, Colaba Causeway and Fort that day, with no real fixed agenda. We were just a couple of walkers, roaming around the area and exclaiming over the architecture. Why we were in architecture overdrive is still a bit of a mystery to me, but that day all we had eyes for were windows and doorways and turrets and spires. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of those old, elegant buildings with the bustling metropolis that had grown around it – but the memories I took away were of an older, more genteel Mumbai than I remembered from my stay there 10 years ago.

Colonial_architecture_modern_life

An old colonial building that now houses a cool junk jewelery store – Aquamarine. Mumbai, India

Of course, being girls, our trip couldn’t be complete without some shopping now, could it? There’s no better place to pick up cheap nick-knacks than at Colaba Causeway (in that area, at least). You’ll find some excellent junk jewellery, footwear and leather goods at prices that will delight your pocket. If you are on the look out for something more exclusive, make your way to Aquamarine at Colaba, which stocks some really cool (though pricey) junk jewellery.

The perfect vacation home

I love traveling…discovering new cities, cultures, people, architecture… sometimes I  think travel is in my blood. I also love the thought of escaping to a cottage nestled in the heart of nature. So when it comes to a vacation home, there are two very different kinds of homes that set my pulse racing.

The first is a cottage by a lake. Imagine an arched gate covered with bougainvillea, a cobble stone path leading to a cottage that looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale. Surrounded by trees and bursting with flowers, with a river (or even a lake) flowing nearby. A place where you can sit and listen to the chirping of the birds, the chirruping of insects and the tinkle of water. Where you can escape the hectic pace of modern life.

Vacation_home_cute_cottage

The rooms are airy, with huge french windows opening out to scenic natural beauty, with a lot of natural light that allows me to set up an easel in any room and paint whenever and wherever I like. A warm and inviting living area, filled with fresh flowers, with soft music wafting through the house. A shabby chic kitchen, one that invites friends in to sit down and have a hot mug of coffee over spirited conversations. What bliss!

vacation_cottage_interiors

My second vacation home is one on wheels – a gypsy caravan! {It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering that my online avatar is Modern Gypsy! ;)} Just look at these beauties – don’t you wish you had one of your own? If I had a house with a garden, I would definitely get one of these built in my back yard. But alas, I live in an apartment complex, and all I have is a balcony.

gypsy_caravans

The charm of a caravan, of course, is that I could hitch it to the back of a station wagon and just hit the road when fancy strikes. No hotel reservations required! Being a gypsy caravan, the interiors wouldn’t be soothing and serene – they’d be colorful and eclectic, bright and completely over-the-top. Like this:

gypsy_caravan_interiors

With a place like that to call your own, do you really need a fancy-shmancy hotel room? I think not!

But alas, these shall remain just dreams. India has no camping grounds, no concept of RVs, unless you want to go out into the jungle – and who knows just how safe that might be? Even a vacation cottage isn’t something that I see myself buying, because when it comes to vacations, I’d rather take the road less traveled.

But then you know what they say…you should never censor your dreams…

So, what’s your dream vacation home like?

Linking up with:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Dubai Shopping Guide

This is a guest post by Ron Davis. Rob’s been blogging since 2010 and is working as a content writer for various blogs. He is currently working for Dubaishortstay.com, where you can find information about Dubai Hotels and Dubai Apartments.

Dubai has some of the most luxurious places on earth and is considered a shopper’s paradise for shopaholics. If you get a chance to visit Dubai, you must surely go back home with some of the things Dubai is most famous for!

Best Buys

Perfumes (ittar) – Ittar is a traditional method of perfume making. These scents are pleasant smell and are very cheap compared to branded perfumes.

Dates –Arabic dates have high demand all over the world. Specially recommended are the seedless Arabic dates, which are not only tasty but also good for your health. If you’re look for some healthy gifts for your family, buy a few boxes of bateel dates.

Carpets – Dubai is the best place to buy the finest and most beautiful carpets, which come in a variety of colors and sizes. Dubai rugs are made from pure wool, which gives a rich look and smoothness compared to other carpets. The price may vary according to the amount of wool in carpets.

Jewellery –Dubai is sometimes called the “City of Gold.” You can be assured of the purity of the precious metal, and snap up some exquisite pieces with a traditional design influence.

Dubai shopping festival

Dubai shopping festival

Dubai shopping festival is very famous all over the world. It takes places between January and February for about 30-40 days. The main intention is to boost retail trade in Dubai and to attract tourist from all parts of the world. It’s a good idea to buy products during the festival as most merchants offer attractive discounts. Moreover, you can enjoy tax free shopping during the festival.

The Dubai shopping festival plays an important role in tourism; the main intention of this festival is to entertain tourists and to lure potential investors to the country.

 Best time to shop

Of course, during the festival! Shopping malls in Dubai are open from around 10 am to 10 pm (about 12 hours daily). Most markets are closed on Friday up to 2 pm, as it is a day of worship for Muslims.

I think the information provided here should give you a little insight into the shopping culture of Dubai. If I’ve left something out or if you have anything to say, please leave a comment below.

Museum hopping in New York City

New York City is home to one of the most vibrant art scenes in the world. From the brilliant graffiti at SoHo to the many art galleries dotting Chelsea and the sheer number of museums across the city, art lovers are spoilt for choice. So when I was planning my trip, I knew I had to have some kind of a shortlist in place, or I’d probably go museum-happy!

The Frick Collection | Metropolitan Museum of Art | Solomon R. Guggenheim | The Museum of the American Indian | Madame Tussauds | Museum of Sex

The Frick Collection

The Frick Collection

First up was The Frick Collection. Founded by Pittsburgh coke and steel industrialist Henry Clay Frick, who bequeathed his New York residence and most of his art collection after his death, the museum has an excellent collection of early Italian gold-ground devotional paintings. Most of these are small panels depicting scenes from the Bible and from Jesus’ life, including Cimabue’s The Flagellation of Christ, Barna di Siena’s Christ Bearing the Cross, with a Dominican Friar and El Grecko’s Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple. Although some of these were quite interesting, and a lot were by painters I hadn’t even heard of, this style of paintings doesn’t interest me much. After a quick stroll through that room, I moved on to the Boucher Room.

This breathtaking room originally served as Mrs. Frick’s sitting room. Hanging on the walls are paintings by François Boucher, complemented with groupings of decorative art objects, including Vincennes and Sèvres porcelain, a writing table by Riesener and an elaborate dressing table by Carlin. And though this room was jaw-droopingly beautiful, I wonder just how comfortable it would have been in day-to-day usage. Surrounded by such exquisite works of art, wouldn’t you always be afraid of spilling or breaking something?

The other room that knocked the breath out of my lungs was the Fragonard Room. The dominant feature is The Progress of Love ensemble, which includes six floor-to-ceiling canvases — The Pursuit, The Meeting, The Lover Crowned, Love Letters, Love Triumphant and Reverie — four overdoors, and four slender panels of hollyhocks. For a while, I was dumb founded, my mind went blank, and my heart very nearly stopped beating. These were paintings that I had gazed at for hours in books. To imagine someone once having lived surrounded by these, and to be actually standing before the original canvases, was almost unbelievable.

The museum boasts other masterpieces such as Giovanni Bellini’s St. Francis in the Desert, Vermeer’s Mistress and Maid, Degas’ The Rehearsal, and Monet’s Vétheuil in Winter; as well as a beautiful collection of sculpture, furniture and brick-a-brac. Overall, the best thing about visiting The Frick Collection is that it feels like you’re visiting someone’s tastefully done up private home with an excellent collection of artwork, sculpture and furniture that you can see in a couple of hours without getting overwhelmed.

Metroploitan Museum of Art

Metroploitan Museum of Art

Contrast this with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, arguably New York’s largest museum. Spread over more than 7 square miles and home to over 3 million works of art, you’ll need at least a week (if not more) to look at everything on offer. If you’re a tourist, and an international one at that, chances are you won’t have that kind of time. To squeeze everything into one day, the only piece of advice I can give you is this: plan beforehand.

Before I even booked my tickets to New York, I had started listing and refining the galleries that I absolutely had to see. I started with a list that was a mile long. But when I actually reached the Met and took in its sheer size, that list quickly dwindled to two, maybe three departments that I had to see or I would cry. These included the Egyptian collection and the famed Temple of Dendur, the European masters, and the impressionists.

Room from Hotel de Cabres, Grasse, recreated at the Metroploitan Museum of Art

Room from Hotel de Cabres, Grasse, recreated at the Metroploitan Museum of Art

Of course, I couldn’t just go directly to those areas. That would be sacrilege! I spent a lot of time gawking at the European and Greek sculpture and sighing over the gorgeous rooms – like the English State Bedroom, Wainscoting from the Chapel of the Château de La Bastie d’Urfé, and The Lansdowne Room – that have been recreated within the Met. I took a quick trot through the arms and armory section, ran through (yes, ran) the Japanese room. I also managed to squeeze in some Islamic art, American stained glass and pottery along the way.

I know there’s a lot at the Met that I did not see, but some of it was closed, and some of it was uninteresting for me. The opportunity to see canvases by some of my favorite painters, to walk through the Temple of Dendur, examine some fine Egyptian artifacts up close and personal…to just be at the Met, was enough. Of course, I’d better start making a list of the other galleries that I would love to see if I do go back to New York!

Guggenheim Museum

Guggenheim Museum

Speaking of European masters, the Solomon R. Guggenheim’s Tannhauser collection, which includes works by Pissaro, Van Gogh, Monet, Manet and Picasso, was the main deciding factor for its inclusion on my list of museums to visit. However, the collection is housed in one largish room and has only a limited number of paintings on view. Apparently, the Guggenheim never puts its entire collection on display, instead letting out most of its space to showcase the works of different artists.

During my visit to New York, most of the museum was given over to the Lee Ufran: Marking Infinity exhibit. Some of the pieces on display were interesting, but most of them left me unmoved. There were multiple canvases with one line painted either horizontally or vertically, in the middle of the canvas or on the side. It apparently shows the passage of time. But anyone – and I mean even my 5-year old niece – could have painted that line across a canvas and passed it off as the passage of time. I mean, really?

There were also numerous installations of boulders and metal sheets in different groupings and placements, boulders with cotton, with wire…I heard the audio commentaries on the pieces, but I still couldn’t figure out why anyone would want to pay good money to see something like this. Call me an ignoramus if you must, but I do not understand modern art. End of topic.

And so, when I came home after that visit, I moaned and groaned about the whole experience. And the wee sis made me strike MoMA off the list, saying that’s a lot more of the same stuff. I now think it might have been a mistake to not see MoMA, but I was running out of time, and didn’t want to waste money and time to go through another set of canvases and installations that I just wouldn’t get.

A sculpture flanking the entrance to the Museum of the American Indian, New York

A sculpture flanking the entrance to the Museum of the American Indian, New York

Far removed from the heady world of classical paintings is The Museum of the American Indian. The museum is housed in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, which is rich in architectural detail and is one of the finest examples of Beaux Arts architecture in New York. At the main entrance are four huge sculptures of seated female figures representing America, Asia, Europe and Africa – the major trading partners of the US. Above the columns of the main facade are 12 statues representing the sea powers of Europe and the Mediterranean, while above the main-floor windows are sculptures representing the different races.

The exterior elegance does little to prepare you for the gorgeous interiors. The rotunda dome in the main lobby is decorated with two series of murals – one depicting early sea explorers and the other tracing the course of a ship entering the New York harbor. We scheduled our visit to coincide with the Building Tours (45 min.–1 hr. Monday & Friday: 1 PM; Tuesday : 3PM), which took us through the Collection room, where captains had to come in to pay taxes, and the gorgeous Collector’s Reception Room with oak-paneled walls and Tiffany lamps. This room is only opened up for this particular tour, which gives you a more in-depth understanding of the history and significance of the building.

The Collector's Room, US Customs House (now the Museum of the American Indian, New York)

The Collector's Room, US Customs House (now the Museum of the American Indian, New York)

During the time of my visit, the museum also had a special exhibition showcasing the work of internationally renowned glass artist Preston Singletary. Titled Echoes, Fire, and Shadows, the 54 glass objects displayed Preston’s interpretation of Tlingit myths and legends. There were some stunning samples of his work, including a huge glass scuplture titled Clan House, which shows the interior of a Tlinglit longhouse.

The other galleries in the museum showcase various objects of cultural, historical and aesthetic importance, such as tunics, chief blankets, headdresses, jewellery, shoes, and pottery. On weekdays, the Insider Tour (2–3 PM, except federal holidays) – an interactive session with a Cultural Interpreter – offers an insight into Native American life and crafts such as beading, music, textiles and traditional foods.

And finally, onto two completely different museums – Madame Tussauds and The Museum of Sex.

Waxwork at Madame Tussards, New York

Waxwork at Madame Tussards, New York

Located in Times Square, Madame Tussauds brings you up close and personal with the who’s who of celebrities. The Opening Night Party and Gallery are incredible spaces, bringing you face-to-face with Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Robert Pattison, Julia Roberts and more. The Gallery features numerous historical and political figures, including The Oval Office Desk with President Obama and Michelle Obama standing attendance, and the White House press room. The Spirit of New York is the newest interactive exhibit celebrating everything, well, New York! From classic movie scenes to daily New York life, there’s a little bit of everything in this space.

Museum of Sex, New York

Museum of Sex, New York

And finally, the Museum of Sex . Do I really need to say anything about what you can expect here? 😉 I’ll just tell you about two of the best exhibits I saw there: Action: Sex and the Moving Image – an audio-visual walk-through of the visual history of sex on the screen, from the first kiss caught on film through to the rise of the modern porn industry; and the Comics Stripped exhibit, which explores the limitless sexual imagination of comic artists from the 1930s through to the present using humor, scandal and fantasy.

Of course, there are so many, many more museums that you can explore in New York City. But if you’re pressed for time, these should certainly be on your must-see list!

Do you have a favorite New York (or other) museum not listed here? Let me know in the comments!

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Marching to a different beat: the difference between India and the US

There's no such thing as writer's block

Those in Peril by Wilbur SmithThis weekend, I had an opportunity to attend a book launch by of one of my favorite authors – Wilbur Smith, who was in India to launch his latest book Those In Peril.

The author related a number of interesting experiences from his visit to India, including the fact that he loves the traffic! Baffling, isn’t it? Until he delivered his next line: It is just like a video game; except here, if you lose, you die.”

Having visited the country numerous times, he says he thinks India as “almost a neighbor, with just a little sea between us!” When asked if he would set one of his books in the country, he referred to The Quest, one of his ancient Egyptian novels, in which his character Taita visits India to gain knowledge and wisdom. However, to weave a love affair with the country in print, the way he does with Africa, he says he’d have to “spend a lot of time here, at least 50 years, but I fear I’m running out of time”. That just explains how much research he undertakes for all of his novels.

Best selling novelist Wilbur Smith signs The Q...

Wilbur Smith signing copies of his books for fans Image via Wikipedia

Remember those bushmen that feature so prominently in some of his novels? He wrote  them in after meeting them briefly during an excursion in the African jungle.

In answer to a question about how he manages to write so many novels (33 and counting) and if he’s ever faced writer’s block, he said that a writer’s life requires a lot of discipline as it’s easy to get distracted and do inconsequential things around the house. As for writer’s block, he said: “There’s no such thing as writer’s block. If someone says they’re suffering from writer’s block, it’s most likely cowardice.”

Very true, isn’t it? And it applies to most situations in life where we feel blocked – more often that not, we’re just scared of the unknown.

All-in-all, it was a lovely evening, spent listening to the anecdotes of an author whose fans span generations!

Marching to a different beat: the difference between India and the US

Statue of Liberty, New YorkEgypt. Venice. Turkey. The top three destinations on my must-visit wish list. Europe, Australia and South East Asia are some of the other places I want to travel to. The US has never been high on my list of priorities. Yet, for my first international vacation as an adult traveling on my own money, I chose New York City.

Why you ask? Well, my wee lil baby sister lives there and I have a US visa courtesy my office. The official trip fell through, but I figured the visa shouldn’t be wasted.

I managed to wrangle a 3-week vacation, and decided to spend that time in NYC, Washington and Orlando. I could have rushed through a few more places, but I wanted to soak in the atmosphere instead of checking things off an imaginary things-every-tourist-must-see-and-do list.

Picnic at Brooklyn Park

Picnic at Brooklyn Park

The differences between the US and India were palpable almost from the moment I got off the plane. Within the first few moments, I saw both the famous American rudeness courtesy an airport ground staff member who harangued a bunch of passengers who were standing unobtrusively in one corner and quickly filling out their immigration form, and American friendliness, as another staffer patiently explained the immigration process to an elderly man on a wheelchair who was evidently visiting the US for the first time.

Walking out of the airport, the first sight that greeted me was a line of yellow New York taxi cabs. That’s when the feeling of being abroad really sunk in, and the excitement mounted. So what if I never had New York City on my places to visit before I die list.

New York taxi cab

New York taxi cab

The wee sister lives in Weehawken, New Jersey. The cheapest way to get there was by the bus – the cab charges $40 from Port Authority, opposed to the bus, which takes $2.50 for the 7-minute ride – which we took from the Port Authority bus station. That was a bus station? It was HUGE! The advertisements called it a place to hang out and have fun…and maybe even take a bus. If you really wanted to hang out at a bus station, you could choose to go there for a meal, a quick coffee or deserts, and even to do some quick shopping! Plus, it was clean, and despite the huge number of people, it was quiet! A sharp contrast to Delhi’s main bus terminal (for inter-state travel), which is a huge, sprawling, littered cacophony of noise and smells.

Grand Central Station, New York

Grand Central Station, New York

Being a tourist in a foreign land with a limited amount of money means that you have to do the unthinkable and use public transport. I rarely use public transport in India. My only experience is with the Mumbai local train, which most people in my adopted city of Delhi find nightmarish. I mastered the trick of using the local early on, though. Positioning. Position yourself in the middle of the crowd waiting to board or disembark from the train, and the mass of humanity will push you in the right direction. You really don’t need to do anything else. In Delhi, though, I either drive or call for a cab. So the thought of having to use the New York subway gave me the heebie-jeebies. Until I got to the subway station. And got into the tube. No pushing and shoving. No touching and feeling. Even if the compartment was crowded and there was no place to sit. What a revelation that was! If someone accidentally bumps into you they immediately apologize and try to create some more space. Which is so welcome after the uncouth Delhi men. Though that also means that I had to be careful about invading someone elses space. Stand too close (like at an arm’s length away from someone) to a person and you’re likely to attract dirty glances. In India, we’re used to this kinda closeness. To people glancing over your shoulder at the cash counter, for example, to look at what you’ve purchased. Or to just stare at you. Yeah, that happens a lot. You just get used to it. So being ‘invisible’ in the US felt…good!

Zumba class outside Macys

Zumba class outside Macys, New York

Then there’s the politeness. Though my uncle, who has been in the US since, like, forever, calls it a ‘chocolate’ society, as a tourist, you’ll find that the people are friendly. And friendly starts from your bus driver. Who you actually greet when you get on. And thank when you get off. Amazing. Especially since I come from a country where drivers are transparent. Seriously. Though in the US, so are we women. The people may be friendly and polite and nice, but no one really looks at you. Even if you wear clothes that show more than they hide. No lecherous stares. No lewd comments. No sleazy men following you around. Liberating!

New Yorker walking her dog, Battery Park, New York

New Yorker walking her dog, Battery Park, New York

Then there’s the sense of fun. If they like something, they’re vocal about it. Like on a Thursday outside Macy’s on 34th and Broadway, there was a free Zumba class. People kept joining in. Spectators watched. Tourists took pictures. And when they finished, everyone cheered and clapped and hooted. In India, you wouldn’t catch anyone doing anything like that out in public in the middle of the day. Ever. Nor would you find couples on the street or in the park, train, shop or restaurant smooching or hugging or publicly displaying affection. Not that it doesn’t happen at all, but let’s just say that it’s restricted to high-end malls and isn’t quite that blatant.

Hanging around in the park

Hanging around in the park

Ingrained with that sense of celebration is a love for parks. For sitting under the shade of a tree (or even out in the sun on the steps of a monument) listening to music, having lunch, working, relaxing. Which is probably why you’ll find a small park on almost every street. With a Witch store selling sandwiches and coffee. And more often than not, in those parks and on the streets (and even inside stores!) you’ll find fashionable New Yorkers with their four-legged friends (almost always dogs). You can’t go more than a few steps without spotting a dog and its owner. And if you, dear tourist, want to experience what that’s like, you can buy yourself a dog-shaped balloon that skims across the road alongside or behind you. Yes, really!

Fashionable, vibrant, bustling, always-awake New York – you own a piece of my heart!

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