Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Austria - travelogue

Austria is beautiful! There’s no better way to put it. When we visited, it was already the beginning of Fall, when the snow had all melted, yet the tall, rocky mountain tops, the green slopes, the crystal clear river that flowed alongside the road, pretty houses (mostly bright yellow) with germaniums hanging out from flower boxes in the balcony, and cows grazing in the meadows  made it all picture perfect. If I had the will and a chiffon saree, I would stride on the slopes singing “Tere mere hoton pe” forever.

Travelling - Since we were travelling with kids, which meant ‘not light’ and ‘no fixed schedules’ we decided to rent a car at the airport and drive around for the trip. BMWs and Mercs are available on rent for a reasonable price - definitely works out cheaper than train tickets. Over 6 days we drove a total of 1500 kms and didn’t feel it at all. Plus since we had a car, we had the option of staying wherever we wanted. We stayed in a city hotel in Vienna just for a day and then went to Salzburg where we stayed for all the remaining days in a beautiful family owned hotel/B&B, outside the city (Absolutely recommend it – Pension Blobergerhof). From there we did day trips to Werfen, Zell am See, Innsbruck and Hallstatt. Driving was easy since it was no different than here in Dubai. Though the sign boards were in German the symbols were self-explanatory. And it never got dull. There was always a beautiful surprise set for us, at the next turn. Just when you thought you had seen it all, came a new landscape ready to be adored.

Eating – I am a preferred vegetarian. I enjoy a piece of chicken now and then but that’s as far as I go when it comes to meat. In Austria, chicken was hardly ever on the menu, maybe a lackluster dish mentioned at the bottom on the last page of the menu. Pork and beef were the heroes there. That meant I was on margherita pizza or plain creamy pasta for most days. On one occasion when the rest of the family felt sorry for me, I was treated in an Indian restaurant.

People - People in general seemed very friendly and helpful. On more occasions than one, a stranger has stopped by to help us; at one time, even opening a map on his smart phone to show us directions. Most people smiled and greeted when we crossed them. They also seemed very relaxed and in no hurry to go anywhere. It was like being in Goa – susegaad!  Which is great for a vacation but..

And that was the pain point - everything closed at 5pm - shops and attractions alike. The only thing open after that were restaurants and pubs. Even the capital city Vienna wore a deserted look past 6. I would have hoped that at least between Spring and Fall when there’s daylight till 7, we could do fun things till late in the evening. But nope! The Austrians beat the Chitales in that! To add to the misery, The Pisals consider it ‘shaan ke khilaaf’ to wake up before 8 am, and even more so, if it’s a vacation. So by the time we hogged on the ‘free’ breakfast and got out, it would be 11 am, leaving us very few hours to do it all in a day’s time! After 6pm there wasn’t much for families to do - just sit in hotel room and watch German TV shows. I can't blame the kids that they got bored then.

All in all, a lovely trip. Moderately paced yet plenty covered. Some of the must do places that I would recommend are -

  • ·         Alpine coaster near Salzburg (or any other place, there are many)
  • ·         Sound of music tour on bicycle in Salzburg
  • ·         Salt mines near Salzburg or Hallstatt
  • ·         Dachestein ice caves near Hallstatt. The cable car ride up is thrilling)
  • ·         Five finger lookout (further up with another cable car ride). Awesome views and an adrenaline rush when you stand on the fingers.
  • ·         Burg HohenWerfen – the castle in Werfen where part of the movie ‘Where Eagles dare’ was shot. There are many such castles around, one even in Salzburg. This one was very scenic plus the funicular ride up was exciting.
  • ·         A walk in the city of Hallstatt, a world heritage site.
  • ·         A walk in the city of Innsbruck, a beautiful city with a lot of tourists.
I     (I will be putting my reviews of each of these on tripadvisor, but if anyone is planning a trip to Austria and needs some suggestions, feel free to message.)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

When mommy goes to 'Civil War'

The only super heroes I knew till last week were Spider-man, Superman and our desi Krissh. “Ignorance is bliss”, they say. My kids would discuss Loki and Fury like they were our next door neighbors. Often the man in the house would join the discussion too. My only hopes were pinned to my daughter but she’s turned out to be one who would rather watch an action movie than come bracelet shopping with me. So it was pretty much one against three. “What’s the big deal, anyway,” I thought and I decided it was time to take the plunge. So when Marvel came up with the ‘Civil War’ movie I said, “Well, why not? I’ll come to the movies with you.” After all I wanted to be part of the family activity too. The three looked at me speechless, like they did when they saw Bucky alive in Part 2 (Yeah, I know that now). They knew this meant a lot of hard work, but they were ready and so was I.

It was decided that to bring Mommy up to speed it was important she should watch the first two parts of the Captain America series. So I did. But in the middle of the first part I had to make dinner so I got up with an almost natural oh-no!-have-to-go face. 2 days later came part 2 on a weekend morning and I watched it while continuing with my weekend chores. I think I passed my test, cause towards the end I knew at least who the Captain was.

D-day. Dad made sure I had popcorn and chips so I could keep myself busy during the movie, in case I got bored. Expert Avengerist - my son, would be sitting next to me to clear doubts when required. (I think this was more of dad-daughter ruse to stay as far away from me as possible. The little boy fell for it as he was declared an expert. ) The first half hour went in figuring out one more time - who’s who! My constant “Ha kon, hi kon?” (Who’s this? Who’s that), amused my son in the beginning and he murmured with detail, “This is Black Widow and she is the captain’s friend.”  “Oh the one who was a fighter in the army? But she was blonde.” “Not that one mumma! That was Peggy. This is Black Widow. She was in the 2nd part. Don’t you remember anything? Leave it.” My next few questions got one word answers. I sat quietly trying to figure out who were the good guys and who were the bad guys and why the good guys were fighting the other good guys! Then suddenly came Spiderman from Queens and I jumped with joy like a dessert traveler who had seen an oasis. Finally a familiar face! “C’mon,” I said to my boy later, “you expect me to know there is an AntMan as well? Even IronMan didn’t know he existed.” ;) Point taken.

I looked proudly at my super heroes through the darkness of the hall; the ones sitting next to me - enjoying and actually understanding Sokovia accords, Hydra handlers and cryogenic sleeping. But my head had started hurting from all the clink clunk – You see, I’m more of a Bollywood ‘aa dhishum, aaa dhishum’ type of action movie fan. But when the captain’s shield and IronMan’s metal fist hit, its metal vs metal, again and again - clink, clunk and more clink and clunk all the way.  Add to that buildings falling and cars crashing and explosions everywhere. Finally the good guys on both sides have patched up and we start walking towards the exit. “See when two good brothers fight, it’s the outsider who wins,” I tell my kids (There isn’t a parental guidance opportunity I would want to miss). “Is that what you saw in the movie?” they asked disappointed. Anyways, it was over. “HALT!” said the dad, “there’s a mid-credit scene.” We sit down again on the empty chairs in the first row. It ends with Black Panther muttering something. The three give a high five “Black Panther! Yes. Have to watch the next one.” I call it quits.