Scandinavia to Iberia, by Train

A Holiday Inn isn’t typically where I’d choose to stay, but in Helsinki it made perfect sense. It was centrally located, and provided a view like none other; winterscape as far as the eye could see, and trains – lots of them – within earshot. One such train whisked me into Helsinki Central Station from the airport in under 30-minutes, and once there, I could get to practically any part of the city on Helsinki’s excellent tram network, or for the heck of it, take a metro to Mellunmäki, the northernmost metro station in the world. Obviously, I did. Across the streets of Helsinki, Christmas decorations and festive lights persisted well into the New Year, as if to make up for all the gloominess. Of the many buildings I admired along the way, Saarinen’s Helsinki Central Station might have been my favorite. Home, amongst other things, to possibly the most attractive Burger King on the planet. The Oodi Library being a close second.

Daylight was limited and temperatures were frigid – as one might expect for the first half of January – but the Finns, everyone I interacted with in my short time there, were welcoming and friendly. It helped, of course, that most do speak English. The country actually has two official languages (the other being Swedish), a fact I was thoroughly ignorant about till my curiosity into the overwhelming presence of multilingual signs got the better of me. They drink copious amounts of coffee – more than anyone else on the planet, as it turns out – and often, that’s accompanied by an excellent selection of cinnamon rolls; a combination any self-respecting Nordic would subscribe to. And yet, somehow, the country felt culturally closer to Russia.

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2021: The travel year that almost took off

0525 am, an unearthly hour by any standard. Even more so if its a flight one has to catch. And that’s precisely how it went down for me on my first flight in 17-months. A journey that lasted less than an hour, from Burlington, Vermont to JFK. Fleeting as it was, being cocooned with a bunch of strangers – in varying states of mask compliance – within the cramped environs of a regional jet, felt entirely unnatural. Some six flights and a half year later, it still does.

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Temples, Tuk Tuks and Longtails, in the time of Covid-19

Its surreal, almost irreverent, to be writing about travel at this time. And hard to believe that I was on the road only about a month ago. When I flew out at the end of February, there were no travel restrictions in place, and not a single confirmed case in all of NYC. When I returned on the 10th of March – to absolutely zero checks at JFK – confirmed cases in the area were in the double digits. From the 13th, we began working from home, in what was then only deemed a precautionary measure. The words lockdown and social-distancing had yet to make inroads in our collective lexicon.

For the few of us who made this trip – despite being warned by friends and family – it was a calculated risk all along, or so we thought. Not in our wildest imagination did we consider a scenario as dire as the one we’re all living through today. We were all incredibly lucky, in hindsight, to go through with our itinerary as planned, and return to our respective cities unscathed.

This is, no doubt, my last post for a while, but I eagerly look forward to the day when the world goes back to being the open and welcoming place its meant to be, and we can all make travel plans with confidence once again. Till then, I remain immensely grateful for the privilege accorded to me last month, and to be able to share those memories with all of you today.
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2019, and looking ahead

2019 was an exceptionally good travel year for me. I visited a handful of new destinations. Revisited old haunts. Spent several precious hours, and many a memorable night, riding the rails. Ate some amazing food. Met some incredible individuals. Checked off a few more boxes on my bucket list. And through it all, had a good deal of retrospection too. All told, I circumnavigated the globe almost thrice last year. And that didn’t come cheap. Not to my wallet, by any means, and not to our planet either. So I’ve decided to start the New Year by being a little more responsible. Responsible towards my travels – everything this past year, and anything going forth. Its a drop in the ocean, I’m aware, but a drop nevertheless.BV_Ecert_CO2Offset Continue reading “2019, and looking ahead”

Giving Thanks, in the Spanish Virgin Islands

One year on, quite a bit has changed in Vieques. Cellular service is a shade better. Electric supply is a lot less erratic. Street lights, where they exist, are now in working order. The Malecón has been patched up. Credit card acceptance has gone up considerably. Who would’ve thought, but ferry tickets can now be booked online. And the most prominent group visiting the island these days are young Chinese couples. Other than that, Vieques remains as laid back as ever. El Blok feels like a second home; Mojitos flowing at its ground floor bar, and sunset from its rooftop as remarkable as I can recall.P1160124 Continue reading “Giving Thanks, in the Spanish Virgin Islands”

From Sea to Sky, on the Andean Central Railroad

To most visitors, Casa de la Literatura Peruana is nothing more than an architectural landmark, sandwiched between the Government Palace and a baroque monastery, in Lima’s historic quarter. The more discerning know of it as a library, famed for its exquisite stained glass skylight. But very few are actually aware that this was, in fact, Lima’s main train station. While regular passenger service ceased decades ago, the Ferrocarril Central Andino or Andean Central Railroad still runs a monthly service from here, to the Andean city of Huancayo. And on this characteristically foggy October morning, I’m here to board one of their last departures for the 2019 season.IMG_1002 Continue reading “From Sea to Sky, on the Andean Central Railroad”

The Denali Star through Alaska

The snowcapped Chugach Mountains recede, as does any semblance of a clear sky, the dipping sun eventually blocked out by cloud cover thats getting progressively thick. Down below on the Kenai Peninsula, what I took to be low clouds, are in fact wildfires, still burning. The air quality index marks Anchorage as “Very Unhealthy”, and that unmistakably putrid odor is everywhere. The gloominess hardly helps. We haven’t had rain since June, the Uber driver informs me, and the smoke’s been billowing over from the peninsula for days on end.IMG_0326 Continue reading “The Denali Star through Alaska”

Basking in Barbados

Barbados, much like Argentina, was not a destination I chose. And although I was there for a very short amount of time, it’s a country I grew to like very quickly. So much so that I wish I could’ve stayed longer. And while eight days might seem too long for an island nation less than two hundred square miles in size, it is, in fact, barely sufficient to do it any justice. Barbados, as it turned out, had a lot more to offer than its renowned coastline, and these are some of my most memorable experiences on the island.

Café at the Garrison

My Airbnb was located just off Carlisle Bay, in the Bayville section of Barbados, a stone’s throw away from the historic Garrison area. A World Heritage Site today, The Garrison, as the name would suggest, was home to British troops for much of their occupation of Barbados. Surrounded by barracks and officers quarters, a lush parade ground known as the Garrison Savanah formed the centerpiece of the area, as it does to this day. The military parades are long gone, of course, suitably replaced by horse-racing, and fittingly, it was on this very patch of green that the Barbadian flag was raised for the first time in 1966.   
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Despatches from the Silk Road :: The Great Tibetan High

The traditional ceremonial scarf in Tibetan Buddhism, the khata symbolizes purity, and as a part of our welcome into Tibet, each of us is draped in one. Feeling like true VIPs, we file into a van and make our way from “New Lhasa”, where the station is located, to the old city. We’re booked to stay at the Gang-Gyan Hotel, a property owned by the family of the Panchen Lama, apparently. One look at it though, and the ownership credentials hardly matter, for this is a Tibetan-run establishment through and through.P1130159

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Despatches from the Silk Road :: Train to The Roof of the World

Headed west out of Shanghai, we’ll be retracing much of our route from this morning – a few hundred miles of it in fact – with quick stops at Suzhou, Wuxi, and eventually Nanjing, whose station looks even more impressive by night. Not that we can see the river at this hour, but as a token nod to it, its lights out after the crossing of the Yangtze.P1110998 Continue reading “Despatches from the Silk Road :: Train to The Roof of the World”