Thursday, March 17, 2016

An African Adventure in Mombasa

An African Adventure in Mombasa
by Preethi Lalwani

When dreaming of potential scenarios for a perfect getaway, some typical defendants usually come to mind; luxury islands with ivory colored beaches, quaint towns that ooze character or urban jungles with the right mix of ‘It’ shopping and eateries. A place like Mombasa would probably not feature in that palette of ideas. However, opening up your mind to the prospect of visiting Mombasa will certainly change that perception.

Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city is a land of poetic history. Also going by the Swahili name – ‘Kisiwa cha mvita’ which translates as The Island of War, it is a fascinating conjugation of African, Arabic and Indian culture. Being the largest port of trade in Eastern Africa, it attracts a fair amount of vocational visitors every year. Be it for business or pleasure, a trip to Mombasa and its array of visit-worthy attractions will have you returning with fascinating memories.

Mombasa Town
Mombasa has a cultural personality as diverse as its famous exotic spices. A walk down the modest streets of Mombasa will put you face to face with religious architecture, colonial Omani styled buildings and a sea of people clad in the traditional ‘bui-bui’, ‘khanga’ and ‘kikoy’ outfits. A visitor’s first sighting at the inception of Mombasa’s old town would be the Fort Jesus Museum. This UNESCO world heritage site is a good starting point for those who want to gather a little knowledge about the city’s tumultuous past and historic war scars.  After musing over the fort, wandering into the old town will lead you into alleys of old facades, spice markets, and antique furniture. The local vendors with their ‘Mkokteni carts’ may even tempt you into a little knickknack shopping, or to stop by and sip tea or home-grown ‘mafadu’ (coconut water).

The North Coast
Mombasa is divided into two coasts, both of which are seafaring delights for those intending to rejuvenate by the beach. More central to the main city is the north side, which comprises of the beaches Nyali, Bamburi, Shanzu and Kikambala. Apart from the usual water sporting activities that one can indulge in at any of these beaches, the Bamburi beach is home to the Mombasa Marine National Park, an impressive marine life reserve. Also in the vicinity is the Haller Park, Mombasa’s unique and unsurpassed wildlife sanctuary. Visit the Haller Park to experience serene nature walks, mini-safaris, and animal feeding opportunities within the city. Close to Shanzu beach is The Ngomongo Village, a place where visitors get a magnified insight on nine Kenyan tribal groups. Exploring this rustic locale would give tourists a chance to visit tribal huts, sample local food and brews, and interact with the native people (maybe even a tribal which doctor!). Those zealous enough can even indulge in a little tribal dancing, archery, fishing and other customary village routines.

The South Coast
For more upscale and secluded beach dwelling, the south side of Mombasa is idealized as a haven of Africa’s most sumptuous sand. As the only way to access the south side is by air or ferry, the exclusivity factor of this coast is higher and the beaches are home to some high-end resorts. Shimba Hills National Reserve, Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary and Kiseti Marine National Park are the south coast’s answer to travelers interested in exploring marine or wildlife ecological reserves.

Safaris in Mombasa

Tsavo National Park is one of the oldest and largest animal reserves in Kenya. Closest in proximity from Mombasa, it is a must visit for travelers who want the comprehensive wildlife safari experience. The park is split into Tsavo East and Tsavo West, and both are equally good hosts to quality game encounters. Tsavo East is especially popular for its size, drier planes and mammal sightings. The famous maneless Tsavo tigers and red elephants are found in this region. Some other highlights of this incredible animal oasis are the Yatta Plateau (world’s longest lava flow), Mudando Rock (heightened rock that doubles as a water enclosure; attracts animals to gather especially in the dry season) and Luguard Waterfalls. There is no dearth of accommodation within the park, and most of them are close enough to watering holes that are frequented by birds and animals alike.

 By Preethi Lalwani

Sunday, March 13, 2016

NYC: A New York State of Mind

NYC: A New York State of Mind

What do you think of when anyone mentions New York? Depending on your interests the answers could range from a building, a monument, a park, a museum, a giant Christmas tree, a stadium, a concert hall, a television show, music, art, a bridge… There is just so much that comes to mind that it’s overwhelming! When you first see the skyline of the city from the window of your plane seat, you think you know what you will feel or even what you are about to experience. But wait till you get out of the airport (of which there are three!). It’s almost akin to a car slowly trying to merge into the highway. You better be prepared to keep up with the pace.

New York is not just a city, it’s an attitude… a way of life. Everyone is on their way, doing what they need to do, making their way through the crowd, getting to where they need to go. The whole city is on the move. What did you just picture? Let me guess… Time Square in the day, flooded with pairs of feet strutting along the sidewalk, hurrying to their destination. Welcome to New York! Once you manage to navigate your way through, what can turn out to be a sometimes amusing and oddly entertaining ride, the subway and climb up to the street level out of Times Square 42nd Street Station… you find yourself in the middle of a sea of people, from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds, with familiar looking giant electronic billboards surrounding your peripheral vision plastered over tall buildings that make up this impressive metropolis. It feels like you have been there before but yet not quite. Seeing the streets nearby listing the choicest of shows in the most prolific of theatres, the word that immediately jumps to mind is - ‘Broadway’! Having seen the city through movies can only do so much. Right then watching a bunch of yellow taxis go past can give you a real sense of final confirmation. You are truly here!

As you make your way around Manhattan, you’ll find countless stores housing the biggest luxury brands along 5th Avenue. It’s a true shopaholic’s paradise. Walk through central park to fully experience the expanse of greenery and nature that envelopes you right in the midst of the tallest buildings you may have seen. One would be remiss to not check out Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and also the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa). Make sure you don’t miss out on the best of street side delicacies the city has to offer, as you pass the numerous food trucks that serve Tacos, Hot Dogs, Falafel, Shawarma, Waffles etc. It is bound to feel like the world washed up along the streets! As you munch on your favorite nibbles, make your way towards yet another iconic structure – The Rockefeller Centre. You can then walk down to what was once known as tallest building in NYC – The Empire State Building. I won’t blame you for humming the lyric ‘Let’s hear it for New York…’ from a famous song by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z when you get to the top. Even if you don’t have a Sleepless in Seattle like moment, it makes for a stunning view of the skyline reaching outwards from where you are. That’s when you get to take in all that the city stands for. Reaching your dreams with hard work. Getting to the top and feeling resilient against all odds. It’s an incomparable and inspiring feeling!

Do pass through the Hell’s kitchen to find a wide array of eateries and restaurants. From hole-in-the-wall to upscale styled venues. The selection is hard to not get enticed by. As you make your way down through the Meat Packing District, do make sure to walk through the High Line Park which was built on an elevated unused rail track! It is a must-see place to include in your to-do list. Especially if you can go during sunset, it really provides for beautiful views looking over to Jersey City across the shore on one side and Chelsea on the other. As you proceed further down South, you must stop by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. It truly reminds you of the unwavering spirit of the city. The next stop involves taking the Statue Cruises ferry to reach Liberty Island. It would really be an incomplete trip without going atop the Statue of Liberty - the night skyline of the city is just a pure vision to behold. Once you get off the breezy ferry ride back, it is imperative you make it to the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s a reason why it is found as inspiration for art on T shirts! To wind down you may walk through China Town and get some of the best Chinese cuisine in those familiar yet typical take away boxes and chopsticks.

As for the night life, if you aren’t able to find a concert to attend in Madison Square Garden (it makes for an excellent concert venue and not just sporting events), there are plenty of bars and clubs that make for a vibrant scene for nocturnal instincts to kick in for you to party the night away. To do all of the above, one definitely needs to plan for at least more than a couple days stay in this amazing city. It’s really worth making the memories!

By Dhiraj Korwani

The Un-touristy New York Trail

The Un-touristy New York Trail

New York is a versatile city. A high-octane urban jungle of mixed nationalities. The front porch of the Unites States. It is limitless, in all matters conceivable. New York is like that over achieving friend that never fails to impress, without even trying.

Invariably when we think of New York, mental images of a metropolis with dizzy lights, infamous yellow cabs and Times Square take center stage. It may well be all those things, but it definitely has a personality that is far more endowed. A traveler can visit New York many times and return each time with a fresh perspective. If on any such visit to the Big Apple, one wishes to tread the road less taken, these not -so- famous-yet New York nooks should be put on the list:

For the View

It is said that taking a few steps back from a subject gives a better focal point for its observation. Sunset park in Brooklyn is one such aptly named park that offers the best twilight vistas of Manhattan. From here, you can’t help but gape at the best views of that celebrated skyline. Walk to the highest point in the park to catch a glimpse of everything from Lady Liberty to Staten Island and New Jersey.

For Avid Foodies

Pulling in a massive local and international crowd of 6 million visitors every year, the Chelsea Food Hall is a heaven for everything delectable. It can be found nestled in the meatpacking district in an old biscuit factory where the Oreo was once invented. Whether you are on the lookout to buy fresh produce, off the counter quick meals or a sit-down gourmet experience you are bound to be satiated. Within the same area, The Gansevoort Food Market is another one to watch out for.

For The Art Lover

The new cousin of the well established MET (Metropolitan Museum of Art), Cloisters is a quirky little extension that houses Medieval European Art. Parts of European Abbeys were actually shipped to New York to form some of the structure of this quaint little museum in the Washington Heights area.
If a contemporary art experience is what you would rather indulge in, head over to The Whitney in the meatpacking district, a promising new feather in the cap for New York’s bustling art scene.

For a Park Day

Highline Park is a linear structure that quintessentially isn’t even a park. It could be called an adult version of a tree house. Built on a historic freight line at an elevation above the city, the Highline sprawls from the Meatpacking district all the way to West 34th Street. Dotted by picturesque sightings, food and entertainment along the way, its has different stops that are flanked by interesting things to see at every juncture. Some Highline Highlights- seriously scrumptious ice-cream sandwiches, astronomical star-gazing opportunities, hanging open air cafes and a historic boat called the ‘The Frying Pan’ (built in 1929) which now serves up as a dive bar.
Also, take a stroll in the Greenacre Park if the vision of a dramatic 25-foot waterfall right in the heart of Midtown is more your fancy.

For the off-beat Shoppers

The shopping scene in New York requires little to no introduction with its colossal department stores and endless shopping Avenues. But if ‘something different’ is what you are set on scouting, cross over to the Brooklyn Flea Market where more than 100 vendors showcase carefully curated vintage clothing, jewelry, collectibles and crafts. Up and running on Saturdays and Sundays from April to November, you are sure to find some atypical pieces to take home from this flea market.

For the little ones

To spend time doing something peculiar yet fun on a trip to New York, have your brain picked at the MoMath (Museum of Mathematics). There is entertainment for adults and children alike with a special focus on activities for middle school children. To entertain the younger ones, take an excursion up North to the Bronx Zoo which is the biggest urban zoo in the world. It is less touristy than the Central Park Zoo, and larger in size, stature and animal habitat.

When one thinks ‘off -beat’, New York will surely come to mind as the cauldron of multicultural yet urban experiences. If for any reason you find yourself in New York this month there are few amusing events to consider partaking in. Put the 5th Avenue St Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17th, Macaroon Day on March 20th, and The Easter Bonnet parade on March 27th (also on the 5th Avenue) on your to-visit list.

Injected by an overdose of energy, and many such events, New York is THE city that beckons one to keep returning, and then some.  No amount of travel to New York City will have you saying “Iv Seen It All”!

by Preethi Lalwani

Tuesday, March 8, 2016



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Paris has forever been looked at as the epitome of love and beauty. A city that is a symbol of romance. After all, so many movies have been written weaving love stories in the context of this magnificent city. Art imitates life and vice versa. We see, we learn and we apply. For anyone who maybe be far removed from the European region, Paris definitely holds a special place in people’s hearts the world over – based on all that we have heard and seen in collective media – whether books, paintings and pictures.

No one can be blamed for putting down Paris as one of the top 10 cities to see hand in hand with a special someone. For it is truly a sight to behold. The sheer architecture and history that drips from every built structure the human eye can see, carrying rich accounts of a gone by era. The immediate word that comes to mind is ‘Renaissance’ and you don’t have to be a history major to begin appreciating what it all stands for.

The best way to discover Paris is on foot. The metro is well connected enough to get travelers to far enough distances in between sites to see. The cobble stone streets make you imagine horse led chariots that perhaps made their way across them in the distant past. The local café’s and patisseries that you may find along the way are the best way to enjoy all the French food items you may want to have first thing in the morning.

A beautiful start to the day in Paris is complete with a croissant and a warm cup in the hands. As the streets, lined with trees provide shade from the summer sun, with a clear and crisp air to breathe, one can discover architectural marvels and roadways leading to the most iconic of structures and buildings known to us. Top on the list is the Louvre which has long been known to contain the greatest artworks ever created by mankind. Along the way, one can find pad locks adorning both the sides of the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge. It truly is a reminder of why the city is associated with the emotion of love.

Well, if you are with the one you love, you will definitely will end up on the famous Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Besides being the boulevard for shopaholics (Paris remains one of the top most recognized fashion capitals of the world today), the avenue is decked with theaters, restaurants and cafés on either side. It is also where the military parade takes place every year on the 14th of July to celebrate Bastille Day. One must make their way to the summit of the butte Montmartre, which is the highest point in the city. It makes for a great observation deck of sorts, with the world famous landmark – Basilique du Sacré-Cou, a Roman Catholic Church and minor basilica, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus situated right atop. The view from here of the entire is city is just as expansive as it is breath-taking.

Created to serve as the entrance arch to the The Exposition Universelle of 1889 (World Fair a.k.a World Expo), the Eiffel tower glitters against the backdrop of a setting sun in the evening. It really is worth making it to the top and experiencing this iconic structure up close and observe the city lights at night. Touristy it may be, but its effect is undeniable when it comes to fully realizing where you stand in that moment. After all, it is the first structure that comes to mind when one mentions the name of the city in the most general of conversations.

Like a true metropolis, this city makes for way for a culturally diverse population that comes together in one of the most vibrant nightlife settings in all of Europe. Bars and clubs, ranging from the most traditional styled to the most decadent ambiances that offer a variety of music genres to enjoy depending on one’s taste. From rock bands to live performances and concerts, from some of the best DJ’s playing deep-house and techno music to EDM concerts – there is no dearth of opportunity to dance the night away into the early hours of dawn.

Whether with friends or with a special someone, Paris has much to offer to the most varied of tastes and preferences, no matter where in the world one might come from to visit. Its rich history, people, cuisine, culture and iconic buildings remind you of how art, music and food can amalgamate to create an experience that be may be difficult to summarize in a short blog post as this one. One thing, however, is for sure – after having all your senses stimulated – a day in Paris is definitely something one doesn’t easily forget for years to come.

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-Dhiraj Khorwani