Big Sur … the greatest meeting of land and water 

Big Sur is more of a feeling to be experienced rather than a dot on a map. It’s rugged coastline, the interplay of the fog and the sun, the glory of the wildlife and the fields of blooming wildflowers are a sight that will take your breath away, no matter how many times you visit this place.

Big Sur and Bixby Bridge in all its glory
                    Big Sur is derived from the Spanish word “El Sur Grande” which means “big country of the south” and is an undeveloped and very lightly populated area on the California Central Coast, just south of Monterey. Here the Santa Lucia mountains rise abruptly from the Pacific Ocean making this stretch of coastline one of the most scenic in continental US if not in the world. 
The rugged coastline
                                         Much ink has been spilled praising this rugged piece of natural beauty and yet nothing prepares you for the undeniable magic of Big Sur. This is not something to cross off your bucket list by driving through in a hurry. That’s what freeways are for. You have to savor Big Sur slowly like an aged wine to really enjoy its nuances. 
Bixby Bridge
                                                       The most photographed bridge in California and the setting for many million dollar car commercials is the famous Bixby Bridge. It’s something of an iconic symbol and a graceful piece of architecture and a great photo opportunity for all of us.By the way, there is no service as soon as you enter Big Sur. So your Google maps or any other apps are not going to work here. Best is to do your research before you head to this paradise… I actually think not having any internet is a boon as it puts you in the moment ( by force) spiritually and physically. The wildflowers here are insane…just growing with wild abandon, with no care for the world. It makes you stop in your tracks for a moment and bask in the glory that is God. As I said earlier, Big Sur has to be experienced with your soul. 
Sunlight dancing on the water
                                 Big Sur is a photographer’s dream… whether in the early morn or at sunset, the vistas are unparalleled. When the sunlight shimmers on the water, it’s like gold. You don’t need any filters here to make your photos look amazing… the images will stun you with their clarity and beauty. 
Fog arising from the ocean
                                     The most amazing sight is when the fog rises from the ocean making the whole landscape look almost ethereal. Clouds wafting across the mountains, the slight nip in the air, the smell of the ocean… it’s just what you need to cleanse your soul. It has been described as”a national treasure that requires extraordinary measures to protect it from development”. And it is heavily protected to preserve its rural and natural character. Development is severely restricted and the California Coastal Commission has been very successful in preserving this stretch of unparalleled beauty. Big Sur has attracted plenty of poets, writers and artists who have spoken vividly about this piece of paradise. This has been and continues to be a popular place for self realization, self improvement, self introspection and in general, just being a better person, a better soul… and if you are lucky enough to experience Big Sur, you will surely realize that this pace can surely nourish your soul in ways you were not even aware of!!! 

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The gastronomic journeys in Ubud 

Ubud offers a large variety of restaurants from small local joints to trendy fusion cafes. It goes without saying that you should avoid eating Western food( who and why would anyone have a pizza in Bali?) and stick to enjoying the amazing delicacies of Balinese cuisine… tender authentic satay, grilled fish, suckling pig and local fresh vegetables.  1)One of our favorite restaurants in Ubud is Melting Wok Warung,which serves fresh Asian/ Indonesian fusion cuisine. This small charming place on Jalan Gootama is owned by Geraldine, a French expat. I remember meeting her a couple of years ago when I had visited the restaurant with my friend. She is vivacious and warm and very welcoming and her French accent is utterly charming.The menu is limited and is handwritten on a blackboard with fresh daily specials. But the food is delicious, flavorful and prepared with love. We ended up going there twice!! But you have to make reservations otherwise be prepared to wait a long time for your Chicken coconut curry noodle, the flavors of which are just divine . Be sure to enjoy the young coconut creme caramel for dessert with your coffee 2) Fresh coconut water-It is kind of mandatory to partake of fresh coconut water, which is available in plenty. Our favorite was Tukies which served the most delicious coconut ice cream … soft and creamy and utterly delicious. The fresh coconut was chilled and just what is needed while walking in the humid temperatures of Ubud. 3) Another great spot for lunch was Fair Warung Bale, located in a small first floor location.The food is prepared fresh and the flavors are delicious. It’s a good feel restaurant because every meal provides free medical examination to people in need and the meals are prepared on site by young people learning a job skill. We tried the delicious shrimp with vegetables and rice and it was just perfect for an afternoon meal.4) Some of the best coffee in the world comes from Indonesia. We headed to Bali Palina coffee plantation for a day of bliss… the fragrance of the coffee permeated through the green and lush gardens, tasting all the wonderful flavors of coffee and the warm hospitality of the staff . The coffee tasting includes the worlds most expensive coffee.. Kopi Luwak or civet cat coffee. The rice terraces view from the coffee plantation 5) We headed to Warung Siam Ubud, a small restaurant with rave reviews for some authentic Thai food. The decor was minimal but the flavors of the food were delicious and fresh, the presentation was beautiful and the cost very reasonable.6)Fresh roasted corn on the cob is everywhere and they even have the lemon and masala to rub on it. The locals even called it “bhutta ” when they saw us. 6)Some of the most amazing coffee shops are in Ubud (including an organic Starbucks) delicious coffee, beautiful decor … just perfect way to relax and while away the time . We loved the coffee at Cinta restaurant, Coffee and company, Startbucks( had to try it) and Anomali… and of course, fresh coffee at our Airbnb made daily by Wayan.Cafe Cinta StarbucksAnomali coffee – very popular local haunt great artwork on the walls of AnomaliFresh coffee at home                                         7)Ibu Rai is a must visit when in Ubud. It’s on a busy street but once you walk into the restaurant it’s completely unexpected. Beautiful gardens,traditional seating and great service. The grandson of Ibu Rai happened to join in our conversation while we were having dinner and we left the restaurant with a new friend. Beautifully presented plates The desserts were outstanding with amazing flavors-we tried the clove sorbet,ginger flower sorbet and the most delicious kaffir lime chocolate lava cake. The main door at Ibu Rai ( with our new friend, the owner and grandson of Ibu Rai)                                                                            8)Cafe Bunute serving Archipelago cuisine is a fun restaurant with live music and great ambience. We wanted to try the famous Bebek guling ( crispy duck) and were not disappointed.The Betutu paste used to season the duck includes spices like lemongrass, garlic, black pepper, coriander seeds, ginger, kaffir lime, chilli and turmeric. And of course, we had satays yet again. The bar menu was interesting and had plenty of detox choices( guess to clean up last nights indulgence) 

Bebek guling Satays on personal grills9) Home cooked dinner by Wayan in our Airbnb was quite delightful and actually the most delicious. The flavors were outstanding and her Sambhal matah was the best we have ever had -the kaffir lime and lemongrass were bursting in every bite.Home cooked Nasi Gureng with fresh vegetables                      Coconut dessert with palm sugar Fish satays on lemongrass sticks with the most delicious sambal matah Banana pancakes with freshly grated coconut for breakfast… beats IHOP any day!Fresh juice and coffee anyone 

The verdant rice terraces of Bali 

The world famous Balinese rice terraces are almost on everyone’s bucket list and for a great reason… they are stunning,breathtaking and spectacular. These sprawling rice terraces make for a perfect photo opportunity and are a great way to spend a leisurely afternoon strolling through the paddy fields. The Tegallalang rice terraces, a World Unesco Heritage site and the most famous of all are just about half hour north of Ubud and can be added onto your Kintamani itinerary.Visit Mount Batur in the morning and drive back here for the afternoon. These rice terraces are engineered using traditional Balinese irrigation systems dating back to the 9th century, by tapping the water from the mountains to keep the paddies wet throughout the year.Even though most rice is harvested using modern agricultural techniques, this gave me a new appreciation for each piece of grain that lands on my plate. Local farmers with traditional woven baskets happily take pictures with tourists like me(please do give them some money for they are but mere farmers turned actors trying to give you an Instagram worthy click)Beautiful verdant green fields filled with water, banana trees swaying to the gentle breeze…you will see plenty of these rice fields as you drive through Bali.Be sure to stop and take some pictures, as these are definitely worth the effort. A green so green,clouds floating up above,tropical trees lining the horizon,a lone farmer going about his daily chores …this bucolic picturesque scenery is abundantly visible from the busy Balinese roads. Thatched roofs on traditional houses make for picture perfect shots overlooking the ancient valley. Plenty of cafes and shops line the rice fields, so do plan on eating a Nasi goreng amidst all this natural beauty… who knows the fried rice you are eating is from the very fields your eyes are feasting upon. 

Bali- When green becomes your favorite color. 

Juxtapositioned with art, spirituality, and a feeling that God really was very benevolent when he created this place. Where the landscape is so stunning that it takes your breath away, where the greenery is so lush that it looks like someone took a paintbrush across the canvas … that’s Bali and it is perfectly named “The Island of the Gods”. Taman Amida – our gorgeous garden villa in Ubud is beyond beautiful. Once you are behind those antique teak carved doors, you feel like you are in another world . It’s so close to the center of Ubud, but yet feels so far away. The concept of indoor outdoor living has always fascinated me and no one does it better than the Balinese. What is it about this that is so alluring that it almost feels spiritual. And why does this elude me so much in Dallas? Why not have your living room, dining room and the kitchen be one with nature? Why not ? Can you imagine cooking in that kitchen? That favorite book, a cup of coffee, this blissful little nook and the smell of frangipani wafting through the air!!! Heaven probably? Outdoor showers are just something else, I have to say … especially when it’s raining outside. This has to be personally experienced to understand the temerity of the whole idea. But highly recommend it . The advantages of having your bathroom sink outside… perfect lighting!! This blissful area is part of the outdoor bathroom.Just so serene and peaceful, it actually makes you feel serene and peaceful. This piece of wooden sculpture sitting on the kitchen counter looking into the garden blends perfectly into the ambience This wooden sculpture of a man and woman, perched at the entrance of the house is so haunting at night… like they are awaiting something or someone.

The lure of the adventure… and the many benefits of traveling often

I often wonder why the fascination with travel? Why uproot yourself from your comfortable bed,your daily routine,spend time packing your bags,stand in long lines at the airport (good idea to get TSA pre checked) and then sit in a plane for hours. But when you view your flight tracker from the seat and countdown the miles to your destination, your heart starts thumping with the lure of the adventure that awaits you as soon as the wheels touch down.                                        And once you are settled into your hotel room or your Airbnb(I usually don’t like to waste any time if it’s daytime) its time to get the party started. But have you ever stopped to ever wonder how good traveling is good for your health!! Lets discuss why you really should travel more often.   1) Keeps your heart healthy and keeps you in shape- and isn’t that what your doctor said was really really important. Travel promotes physical activity whether it’s rushing through the airport, walking the streets of a foreign land or climbing a distant mountain. Tourists may walk as many as 20,000 steps in Europe or even Disneyland . This sure does not happen when you are sitting at your office desk staring at the computer. 2) Keeps your mind sharp-Traveling allows your brain to expand and literally see the world in a new way. When you travel your brain is introduced to new experiences and environments, it becomes challenged and builds resilience at a cellular level, which has been proven to delay degenerative disease. Planning your itinerary and getting organized in an new place keeps your brain on overdrive,  like the rest of your body . So while your body is doing its 15,000 steps your brain is thanking you for keeping it active. 3) Relieves stress and improves mental health- Its a known fact that there is a boost in happiness even at the planning stage of a holiday. Having something to look forward to is quite rewarding. While you are on cloud nine during your vacation,the benefits of travel can be felt even after your return. That blissful feeling has a ripple effect every time you talk about an experience or even browse through your pictures. All this helps in lowering your stress levels and can be very beneficial in the long run.                                 I have listed only 3 health benefits of traveling often , but the list is endless. And that is why I have just one piece of advice to everyone …So travel often and … . PS – Ibn Battuta was a famous 14th century Muslim traveler who travelled for almost 29 years and covered almost 75,000 which is the equivalent of 44 modern countries. Near the end of his life, the King of Morocco insisted that he dictate the details of all his travels to a scholar and today we can read about al his amazing experiences.

Browsing the treasure trove that is Fortnum and Mason, London 

Visiting this luxurious food Mecca during the holidays is an experience that is hard to beat, especially for the foodies( I claim to be a quasi foodie if not a die hard foodie) . With row after row of delectable hampers, sweet treats , merrily wrapped gifts , glittering holiday decor, Christmas puddings, cookies , teas and coffees, bubblies and a whole lot more… it’s like Alice in Fortnum and Masonland!!!When in Piccadilly, plan on spending an afternoon here and then finish off with afternoon tea British style.

I have this strange fascination for teacups,saucers and tea pots even though I am a true coffee drinker. It was hard not to buy these beautifully packaged mugs and teas. I literally had to be pulled away from sneaking these into my shopping basket. I especially love crockery that does not say “Made in China”.These make perfect gifts…even though they may not taste that great. The Tiffany blue colors are visible everywhere… great contrast with the red carpet. Organic honey and jams from Duchess of Cromwell ..I’ll take a few just because they are so pretty.Twinkling and sparkling Nothing like fresh flowers to make me smile Liveried staff bring back memories from a British novel set in a bygone era Those beautiful staircases and balustrades Charming ornaments deck the many trees on every floor of the store If you can’t indulge your sweet tooth during the holidays, then when ?? Go ahead and buy a few of those toffees and fudge and English pudding.My love for linens makes me stop at every table setting … it’s like inspiration on every table Fortnum and Mason, since 1707.

Myriad of Maltese balconies 

On a recent fascinating trip to Malta, one thing stood out prominently.. the countless balconies, windows and doors.Such a staple part of the architectural landscape here, these actually date back to the mid 18th century and have a tremendous Arabic and Spanish influence. The Moroccan balconies called Muxrabija(look out place)may have had a significant role in these. The Maltese government has started an urban regeneration program and actually helps people financially who restore their  baconies … great incentive and an awesome way to keep their heritage alive.Kelly green was the most popular color for these balconies. Their vibrant color made them stand out against the limestone buildings.

The Maltese are extremely proud of their heritage and their doors and the door knockers reminds you of a bygone era.Trees,limestone and wood …what’s there not to love.Beauty in simplicity… white window shutters look stunning.Extensive details are seen on most houses, it’s like the Maltese love making first impressions… and they sure did!! How utterly charming.Even the dilapidated windows had an aura of history.Here, the newer houses are keeping up the tradition of the balconies.Bougaenvillas add that touch of romance to this entry.Eveb simple doors look amazing.That Kelly green againJust look at that scroll ironwork embedded in the limestone… stunning.

What to see in London during the holidays

Decorated trees on every street 

Stunning colorful tree outside Covent Garden.. a must seeThe most stunning and colorful tree outside Covent Garden.. decorated with ornaments and fresh flowers.

The most beautiful decor in green and silver

Covent Garden takes you back to another era . The smell of wassail floats through the air,amazing shops for all your winter shopping. We had a quick bite at the famous Jamie Oliver pub and then had a macaroon at Laduree( yes,they have a Laduree here)

You plan to spend an afternoon here roaming around the many floors and then have afternoon tea on the top floor. Great place for gifts Spend an afternoon browsing through Fortnum and Mason and be sure to pick up a gift or two . Do have afternoon tea on the top floor.Regent Street is a must see with its dancing angels and sparkling stars.Thousands of people will be here along with you,especially if you visit on a weekend. But the hustle and bustle is part of the fun.

Fish and chips at one of these awesome pubs

Gotta have Fish and Chips at one of the many pubs.We tried the Mayfair Chippy which was outstanding.

Beautiful tree outside Covent Garden

Huge tree outside Covent Garden in a wooden barrel. This was one gigantic tree and lit up with millions of twinkling lights.