Exploring Tenerife with a baby in a backpack - The Lively South

We had already completed one week in the idyllic north of Tenerife. On Day Seven we left the north for an Airbnb house in a fishing village called Alcala on the South West coast. The house in the south couldn’t be more different than the one we had in the north. It was located on a busy square surrounded by restaurants, cafes, playing areas for children and a small beach a pebble throw away. And to enhance the experience, the central courtyard of the house had no roof! We could hear and smell everything in our environment. From the children playing, people chatting, music throbbing to the food cooking in the kitchens. After the initial shock of such an immersive experience we soon felt the sense of being part of the lives of the people around us.

The house itself had floors decorated with colourful tiles, but the steep cement staircases were a nightmare. Our baby who suddenly developed staircase climbing skills in the previous house we had stayed in which had wooden stairs, now wanted to tackle the new ones. There was no real safe place for her to play in, so we were constantly on our guard for the six days that we stayed there

The best solution I found, was to put her in her stroller and step out the door. It was gorgeous outside every day. The square was bustling full of people, the waves lapped on the shore and the sun greeted us like an old friend. The day we arrived, it was already too late for adventures so we went for a short walk and ordered pizza from the nearby Gastrotapas restaurant. The staff were very friendly and accommodating and over the next few days, we learned that their food would vary from yummy to ‘what is this?’ I would certainly recommend the pizzas though, they were exceptional.    

Day eight was market day on the square, which is held every Monday. Lots of tourists turned up, mostly older, calmer folks. Music was played loudly. There were handicrafts which didn’t interest us much. And island produce that did. We bought tropical fruits like papaya, avocado, kaki, tomatillo and banana, all of which were cultivated in the nearby mountains and were just ripe for eating. Sweet, juicy lovely fruit. We then walked around Alcala and discovered that there were natural sea water pools where you could swim protected from harsh waves. We decided to check these out later during our stay.

We ended the day relaxing on the huge roof top terrace where we could people watch, while the baby played with the toys we brought along. We were experiencing a completely different vibe from our first week in Tenerife. As it was for much of our trip, the incredible difference in the environment, climate and plants on the island as you move from one place to another amazed us.

Early on Day nine since it was my turn to manage the baby overnight (hubby and I alternate turns every two days to keep our sanity intact) I put my hyperactive baby in a stroller and headed out the door. It was serene outside with only the sound of waves on the shore and birds chirping away. We watched the sea together, she pointing at the seagulls overhead and me enjoying the breeze on our faces. We watched the sea and sky change colours as the sun rose overhead. There were lots of rides for children to play on and my little one wanted to try every one of them even though she was much too small for them. Then we headed back home for an elaborate breakfast.

I got freshly baked croissants and pain au chocolade from Café Veril located on the square. It was joy to eat them and we had various baked good from them for breakfast almost daily. Afterwards we decided to visit Masca, a little village that the guidebooks claimed was a gem to visit. The ride to Masca we were warned would be very difficult. It is located in the Natural Park of Teno which is reknown for it’s rugged mountainous beauty. I often forget that in the Netherlands we live below sea level. The searing headache brought about by such a ride however does remind me of this interesting fact. The headache could also be because of our ‘no-sleeping-on-car-rides’ baby hollering for attention the whole way. By the end of the drive I had new respect for my husband who had driven mostly in the very flat Netherlands and had now managed to stop on extremely steep slopes to let cars pass and maneuver blind curves on the very edge of the mountains we drove on. All along the way we stopped at beautiful miradors to admire the view.

When we finally reached Masca, we found that there was no place to park. At all. It was after all a tiny village on the side of a mountain. So we drove on to the nearby Mirador de la Cruz de Hilda where we had surprisingly yummy food at a tourist café. Hubby had noticed that there was a walking route to Masca so we decided to hike over to check out the village on foot. After a short paved path the route led to a rocky narrow pathway with breathtaking views of the valley. It was a hot day and the sun shone down on our skin as we made our way through the winding paths. I remember pausing along the way, looking at the scene in front of me and smiling to myself. Words cannot describe the elation of standing there looking at nature thriving all around us. Bees buzzing, lizards sunning themselves, green everywhere.

It was tricky path with a steep downward slope and although I enjoyed finding my way downwards I knew that we would have to use the same path back up. That thought didn’t bring me much joy. After a long hot climb downwards, we reached a tarred road from where we couldn’t find any walking routes to Masca which was visible further down the mountain slope. We realized that the rest of the route to our destination would probably be on the tarred road of the type we had driven on, which had no pavements meaning that we would have to walk alongside passing cars. Having no interest in risking our lives on tarred roads, we decided to head back up the same route to the Mirador. It was very heavy climb. The heat of the sun tore at us, the baby had had enough of mountains and greenery and lizards and was airing her frustration loudly and the two of us were exhausted. We comforted and cheered each other on and finally reached our car park. And then we had the long difficult ride back home where we stopped to gaze down on Masca. At home, we rested our weary bones and thanked ourselves for daring to hike.

On Day Ten we decided to visit Los Gigantes; huge cliffs rising like giants out of the sea, hence the name. As we drove towards the cliffs, the view out of window became increasingly touristy and at some point it was chokingly so. Sam and I took one proper look out of our car windows at the camera toting, hat wearing, awkward beachwear dressed tourists milling about and the endless souvenir shops and cafes they were gazing at. We resolved to turn the car around and drive away as quickly as possible. Further on we got out to look at the cliffs from a distance. It seems that no one is allowed to go to the cliffs themselves so people hang around in the nearby beaches and look at them. Sounded like a perfect waste of time to us so we set off with no real destination in mind.

On our previous drive we had passed by Santiago del Teide which seemed like an interesting place for hiking. So we parked ur car there and decided to look for tourist information or hiking routes. We found one further down the road that looked very interesting. It was apparently an old route used to commute between villages. There were stone walls bordering the rather easy route with cacti bearing edible red fruits and almond trees in blossom. It was pleasant enjoyable walk that lead to a beautiful view of the countryside. We saw that there were several walking paths from this junction one of which was a circular route for El Molledo. We decided to return in a day or two with renewed energy to continue the walk

We headed back to Alcala, and parked near the sea water pools. Got into our swim gear, put the baby in a swimsuit and walked to the pools. Hubby being braver than me, went first while I held on to the baby. The water was very chilly and he giggled for a while which amused his little daughter. Soon he was floating freely in the salty water with not a care in the world. Utterly peaceful as the salt water effortlessly carried him. The water came up to his chest so I knew it was shallow enough for me.

It was my turn next and having recently learned to swim but in a heated shallow swimming pool, I was nervous. The cold hit me as soon as I put my feet in. I thought of paralysis and drowning and other such unpleasant thoughts. Finally warming to the idea of being able to swim in such a beautiful place I immersed myself. It was amazing. The bottom was covered in pebbles which showed through the clear water. It looked beautiful but it hurt to put my feet down. There were rocks in the middle which looked elegant but were not so pleasant to swim or float onto. The steps were also covered in slippery moss. After having assessed the difficulties of my environment I finally proceeded to do what I had come to do. I let go and swam. I did a breaststroke, floated about, put on my goggles and went face first into the water. I could see pebbles of many shapes and colours and there were shoals of small fish as well. It was incredible! We tried to give the baby a feel of the water and although she was excited about the concept she cried because of the shock of the cold water on her little feet.

On Day Ten it dawned on us that we had only two days left on paradise. We also heard from friends and family back in the Netherlands that it was snowing there. We counted our blessings and went for a walk around Alcala exploring streets we hadn’t wandered into during our stay there. On the non-tourist route we discovered a long steep staircase that descended to an isolated rocky outcrop. We took turns descending the stairs since it was impossible to get to the outcrop with the baby in tow. As I walked down the stairs as I could see and hear the waves furiously crashing onto the rocks. Screaming as they pulled away from the many rocks that lined the rocky beach next to where I stood. I recall being filled with an overwhelming sense of the power and the majesty of the sea as my heart beat with a bit of fear and a lot of awe. It was hypnotic almost. And after many videos, selfies and landscape photos that couldn’t capture an ounce of the sensation of standing there we headed back to the natural pools for one last swim.

The tide was high and there was more water in the pool. It was colder than the last time we were in the water. But we had a wonderful time swimming in the pool and ventured to the very edge where we stood up surveying the powerful waves protected by the many rocks that rose up from the sea. Standing there looking at the water rushing towards me, seeing the birds soaring in the sky far above, tasting the salt of the ocean on my lips, I felt absolutely at peace. Calmed and blessed in a way that only Mother Nature can. We relaxed back home with a nice home cooked meal.

On Day 11 the baby and I left the house early for a visit to the larger beach that was a longer walk away. We hadn’t been to the beach till then and it was now or never since we had to pack and leave the next day. It’s a pretty long walk past a huge luxury resort, probably the only one in Alcala. When we got there it was still early so the water was cold but the waves were easy going so we could at least dip our feet in the water. The baby enjoyed the sensation of water rushing towards her and washing over her legs. She squealed in glee and tottered further into the water. I held on to her as tightly as I could as she kicked her legs in the water and dug her feet into the stony black sand of the beach. We explored the rocks along the shore lines, noting the strange formations the water had carved into the stones. Some of them were cave like and I was tempted to crawl into them to explore what the water had left behind. But it was time for a nappy change, warm clothes and a nice breakfast so we headed back.

We had one last trek planned so we drove to El Molledo to find the circular route we knew must originate in that area. We found the information about the path pretty easily but we had a dilemma. The circular route was of medium difficulty and sounded good. But there was another route starting from the same point, also of medium difficulty but the description was much more tempting. There was a water tank on the route that was used by the locals for collecting water over centuries, a cheese factory, a small village and a volcano to boot. The altitude variation was quite difficult but the views could be exceptional. We decided to take the tougher route of course. After a short hike through El Molledo’s street we found the route into the mountains and soon we were at the junction we had arrived at during our last walk in Santiago del Teide. From here it was a rough rocky steep ascent with beautiful paths lined by stones of different colours and textures. The valleys below were smooth, almost chiseled and covered with green vegetation. Cacti of various forms stood alongside evergreen firs. Finally we reached the base of Risco Blanco, a volcanic mountain composed of strangely light coloured rock. Our attempt at observing a moment of silence was ruined by the baby who decided to ‘sing’.

Taking full advantage of the vast emptiness and our solitude we demonstrated the concept of echoes by loudly shouting out her name. She looked more amused by the idea of mommy and daddy shouting than impressed by the echoes. But we persisted of course, echoes are fun. You can never get to shout at top volume in the built up concrete wilderness of the city without attracting neighbours, police and firemen. We quit before the baby could decide that her parents had lost their mind and set out to follow the route we came from back to El Molledo.

The path was more difficult on the return hike, we were getting tired, running low on water, baby was getting cranky and it was getting pretty late. The water tank didn’t look very hygienic. The “village” appeared to be a fenced in house and the cheese factory seemed to be a two room house fallen into ruins. Grumpy and exhausted we trudged back to the starting point, wondering why we over estimated our trekking capacity with a baby. We had to stop often since my hubby’s shoulders were aching painfully and the baby wanted to get out and stretch her legs. I myself had reached the end of my tether even though I had a much lighter load to carry and could stretch my legs. We shared energy bars, our home packed sandwich and a few sips of water and persisted onwards. After what felt like eternity we finally reached the junction of our previous hike. Victorious we hugged each other and the baby and did the short walk through the village to our car.

Back in the house, we made peace with the fact that we had to leave Tenerife the next day by being grateful for the opportunity to be on the island. Of course we had booked the tickets and the houses and made the journey ourselves but the beauty all around us, the taste of the food and the friendliness of the locals had nothing to do with our effort. This was all the island’s very own, and we were lucky to have been able to experience it.

Day 12 was pack and go day. We had to check out at 12pm although our flight was only at 6pm. Early in the morning I made a quick round of the area with the baby in the stroller, and walked to the nearby beach for one last visit. She enjoyed playing in the water as I held on to her little hands. I tried to tell her that we couldn’t come back here tomorrow and that it would be cold in the Netherlands when we got back. I’m not sure she understood me. Babies live in the moment, in the here and now. The pain of goodbye would be my husband’s and mine only.

We packed up, said goodbye to the café staff who had been so kind to us and left Alcala. Since we hadn’t yet seen the highest mountain on Tenerife, the El Teide up close till then we decided to drive over to the area and have a look before we headed to the airport. Strange lunar landscape surrounded us. I was too exhausted to keep my eyes open on the drive. Even our ‘no-sleeping-in-the-car’ baby dropped off for a quick nap. Once we reached as far as the car could get us we had a look at the mountain and decided to drive back to catch our flight. Perhaps if we visit Tenerife again, we could hike in the El Teide area. It was quite unlike anything we had ever seen.

We had an unbelievably long wait at baggage check-in by which time the baby had lost her patience and started wailing. Perhaps because of this, we got a three seater arrangement in the front of the plane so we had more space on the return journey. It was still four and a half hours of torture, trying to get our baby to sleep and keeping her entertained. We got a look of sympathetic looks from passengers and she got a lot of smiles as well. We landed back in Amsterdam airport at midnight, collected our luggage, got to our car (which we conveniently parked at the airport for an exorbitant fee) and drove back home.

It had been a wonderful journey. Completely different from any of the lazy, schedule free, non-responsible trips we had made as child-free adults. Every day was an intense experience, there were few moments where we could truly relax or let our guard down (aka when the baby slept). But having our baby with us made the trip a hundred times more richer than if we had been alone. Watching her smile, play and enjoy her surroundings was priceless. It was also so nice to be able to share the experience of being in the mountains and at the sea side with her. There’s so many small things that babies notice that we miss simply because we’ve forgotten that the little things matter. Her playfulness and curiosity had transferred to us as well and we found ourselves examining pebbles, insects, stones, smelling flowers and watching birds.

I hope I can go back to Tenerife someday. Go to the same beaches and mountains and relive the emotion of having been there years ago. Maybe my baby won't be so little then and we can walk hand in hand over the beautiful land that Nature carved in the midst of the ocean. For now, we have memories of this...

Exploring Tenerife with a baby in a backpack - The Scenic North

Tenerife is without doubt a splendid island. Gorgeous nature coexists hand in hand with chilled out islanders and both welcome the thousands of tourists who arrive on their shores with warmth. After two weeks on this beautiful land, I felt honoured to have had a chance to be there and experience all that I had.

Before we set off I wasn’t sure what to expect on this trip. We had visited Gran Canaria (one of the main Canary Islands) two years ago and it was fantastic but then it was just my husband and me. Free from responsibilities, schedules and precautions.  On this trip however we had a vivacious, inquisitive, active and loud one year old who was going to experience her first flight, four and half hours of it, and try to put everything she laid hands on straight in her mouth.

The flight was hell. Hats off to our baby for not screaming her lungs out but we were really hoping that since it was about 4 am that she would sleep. There were too many exciting and interesting things going on around her. So even if her cheeks were flushed red with tiredness, she refused to close her eyes. Eventually she did drop off for about fifteen minutes only to wake up and start wriggling and attempting to crawl about in the congested space of our seats. We continuously plied her with food and drinks all far beyond acceptable responsible-parent levels of sugar. But hey in times of dire need one must do what one must do. When the flight finally landed we were all ready to sleep for a week


We landed in Tenerife south airport and it took hours to pick up the rental car and baby seat we had pre-booked. The rental car pickup area is a maze and the baby seat they gave us was an enigma. Not to say anything about the baby seat setup instructions with lines like ‘pass the red strap below the blue tag under the flap behind the seat and bring it to the front as shown in Fig A’. All the figures were mysteriously missing from the paper with instructions. And the staff was not allowed to install the car seat for us for “legal reasons”. After making a big fuss and barely stopping ourselves from cussing we made one of the car rental people install the car seat. So more than an hour later than planned, when we finally set off from the airport, the baby finally slept in her spacious non legally installed car seat. It was the most peaceful ride we had in Tenerife. Whoever said babies sleep on car rides hasn’t met our baby on one. She’s wild.

We arrived at our Airbnb house in San Cristobal de la Laguna which is to the north east of the island. Three bedrooms, two bathrooms with tubs, living room with fireplace, dine in kitchen, a study and a play room full of toys. The huge garden had roses and fruit trees alongside palms and flowering succulents. We couldn’t help grinning to ourselves. This was real luxury.

The north of Tenerife is much cooler than the south all year round. But we’re still talking about temperatures of about 18 to 20 degrees mid-winter. The temperature and humidity vary erratically during the day so you need to pack a variety of clothes for your stay. We stayed in the north for a week. On Day One we did groceries, ventured into the city centre clueless and mapless and then returned to the house to relax, explore the garden, cook dinner and sleep.

Day Two was also a relaxed day spent in the house recovering from our flight. On Day Three, we packed our backpacks, put the baby into a backpack baby carrier and set out for the mountains. We started at Aguamansa opposite a fish farm and planned to do an easy 3 kilometre walk. But somehow having lost our bearings somewhere near Pero Gil, and having taken some “short cuts” we ended up walking for 6.5 kms. The baby started the trip smiling and cheering us on and at some point decided she had enough of our aimless wandering. From then on we endured not only the wailing baby but the stares from passersby who seemed to think we were into baby torture.

Any regrets? Not really. The walk was gorgeous! The dark trees rose in lovely asymmetric forms, lichen hung from the tallest branches and the sky was misty. Birds sang to us as we walked, it seemed to us that they didn’t mind the intrusion.

We met more people along the way who had also seemed to have lost their way but no one was really complaining. It was a beautiful place to get lost in. We had such a sense of victory when we trudged back to our car and put our backpacks down. After having checked the baby’s diaper, we resolved to dress her more warmly on our next trek. Her legs were freezing. Back home, after a warm meal and a hot shower and some baby management, we were finally able to stretch our legs and talk about our adventure.

On Day Four we went to the market in the nearby city of San Cristobal de la Laguna. There were fresh fruits, vegetables, fish, cheese, flowers among other things. It’s not a fancy affair but you can get good island produce for very little money. The cheese made from fresh goat milk on the islands is unlike anything you could find anywhere else in the world. If you go to any of the Canary islands, be sure to check out the white hand sized disc-like blocks of cheese. After a nice takeaway lunch from Tapaste (fresh veggie food) we drove to the beautiful Playa Jardin, the city beach of Puerto de la Cruz. The beach is designed as part botanical garden part beach and with its black sand, it is incredibly pristine. By the time we arrived there it was a bit too cold to play in the water but the baby was able to get her first real taste of the sea. I mean literally. She scooped handfuls of the black stony beach sand into her mouth. And while we struggled to get the sand out, she found more pebbles to taste as well.

On Day Five the mountains called to us. So we packed up, dressed the baby up warmly and headed to the Agana region in the far north. It is a beautiful wooded mountainous region accessible by winding roads. So we had a few viewpoints along the way, called 'miradors' in Spanish.

From the Agana visitor centre we followed the signs for the ‘Sensory Walk’ and walked into paradise. Beautiful laurel trees on either side, the rays of the sun filtered to the leaves barely making it to the ground. Signs everywhere for where to stand for a whiff of smell, mossy rocks to touch and sights to see. It was a short easy circular walk with one bonus mirador along the way and we enjoyed every minute of being there. The baby attempted to grab everything she could get her hands on along the way so we had to check every now and then to see if she was munching on leaves or bugs. Afterwards we headed back to San Cristobal de La Laguna where we explored the charming city centre.

Day Six was a rainy day. Most of the areas near us were not sunny but we found a spot, San Andrés, on the North east coast that the weather man promised would be sunny thanks to its position on the lee side of a mountain range protected from rain. To get there however we could chose the quicker route through the capital city of Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Or we could take a long winding perilous route through the mountains. We chose the mountains of course and were rewarded with beautiful picnic spots along the roadside, ringed with old trees and flowing brooks.

The beach at San Andrés has golden sand and easy rolling waves and in the background are towering mountains. From the beach restaurant I got a large grilled fish and huge grilled prawns for the baby and me and salty potatoes with traditional Canarian mojo sauce for the veggie hubby as a takeaway. Then we changed ourselves and the baby into beach wear, lathered on sunscreen and headed to the sea. The fish was incredibly fresh and bursting with flavour. The simple dressing of garlic, oil and herbs allowed the fish to take the limelight. I was too full to proceed to the prawns, which sadly were a disappointment. They looked yummy but tasted weird.

The baby had her first feel of waves lapping at her feet and she loved it. She held on to our fingers and toddled her way into the water gurgling with happiness as she went. Turns out she’s a sea lover like her mommy. She also managed to eat some sand and taste some stones, making sure her parents couldn’t take their eyes off her and relax. Sated, we drove back home through the capital to our comfy home.

On Day Seven we had to leave our spacious quiet house in the north for a Airbnb house in a fishing village called Alcala on the South West coast. We packed calmly, bid adieu to our beautiful surroundings and drove south.

Check out the next entry to read about our second week in the bustling south of Tenerife!

Book Review: The Woman in Black

The Woman in Black: A Ghost StoryThe Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When some people write, you want to take a book (preferably hardcover) and slam them repeatedly on the head while yelling “What the hell is that sentence supposed to mean!?” That was the recurring thought in my head while I read Susan Hill’s Woman in Black. Let me elaborate.

I picked up the book because of the tantalizing abstract at the back of the book. A lawyer who had to look into the financial affairs of a deceased old lady ends up in a remote English village where he encounters a strange woman in black. His curiosity is aroused but none of the villagers would talk to him about her. Unfortunately for me, my curiosity was pricked too.

I knew I wouldn't be able to sit through the movie version of it since it starred little Mr. Harry Potter himself (how can anyone see him as anything but a nerdy wizard?). If I wanted to find out anything about the mystery, I would have to read the book.

The very first sentence in the book was literary blasphemy. A long meandering sentence that started somewhere, roamed about a bit here and there and ended somewhere else. And the trend continued throughout the book.

It could be forgiven if it didn't interfere with the story itself. Sometime she would describe where the hero was, which direction he was running to, something happening in between and suddenly he’s somewhere. And it is bothersome because there‘s a ghost on the loose and you need to know where the damn guy is!

It was not just the length or the lack of direction but the random usage of words that got to me. Every sentence was speckled with unnecessary period specific words; a trick that a true litterateur wouldn’t dare to try. And this woman has actually won awards?

As for the story play, the less said the better. Would you for instance, go to a random house, which you realize is haunted and then keep going back to prove that you are brave? Especially when you have no interest in ghosts, there is no audience for your bravado and you are actually a gigantic coward!

The worst was the way in which the book ended. I’ll tell you this much, it had a scene where the ‘scary’ ghost in a billowing black gown dances in front of a horse to scare it. The books wraps up pretty quickly after that scene. Almost as if the author was relieved to be done with all the hard work she put into writing this nonsensical book. I wish the person who wrote the abstract had written the book, he or she would've done a much better job.

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Book Review: The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's WifeThe Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Téa Obreht weaves a mesmerising yarn strung together by a chain of beautiful stories. She manages to skilfully convert old fables and folklore into a much more personal story of a country at war, a young girl trying to come to terms with the impact of it and her bond with her ever optimistic and entertaining grandfather.

The tiger’s wife is not a book that requires you to ponder over anything in particular. It simply lets you sit back and relax as the many characters engage you in wonderful stories spanning over hundreds of years, many bordering on what can only be fantasy but tempt you to believe they could be true.

The story of the Deathless man is both mysterious and humorous and you wonder till the very end how his story will unfurl. I was moved by the tale of the merchant’s daughter whose inspiring spirit is touching and the plight of her sweet sister, the tiger’s wife. And then there’s the tiger himself, beautiful, powerful and wonderful. For anyone who has stood and admired a tiger at any point of their life, this tiger is one you can directly relate to.

Téa makes you feel that she experienced all of the events first hand and you tend to believe her sane voice as she recounts them to you. There’s so much maturity in her writing style that you simply cannot imagine that she could be as young as she is. I’m looking forward to more work from her, she has charmed me with this wonderful book and I know that anything she ever writes will have the same magical quality as this book does.

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Book review: Haunted by Chuck Palaniuk

HauntedHaunted by Chuck Palahniuk

Haunted is simply crazy. It’s a whirlwind of a book that takes you through several incredible journeys, many of which you wish you never ever went on. But that’s the beauty of it; a gory horror fest scripted by one of the most talented writers of our time, Chuck Palahniuk (of Fight Club fame). No ghosts, vengeful spirits, just the terrifying exploration of the depths of human depravity under severe duress.

The books premise is common, a couple of people ‘escape’ for 3 months, to what they think is a writer’s retreat, to lounge about, explore their creative geniuses and piss off the rest of the world, who have no clue where they disappeared off to. They were promised comfortable living quarters, food, clothing and were instructed to bring nothing along but what they absolutely needed to create their masterpiece.
Instead they were trapped behind steel doors, walled off from reality. Whatever means of refined living were available (phone lines, heating, plumbing) were quickly destroyed by the hostages who sensed a chance for fame as tortured victims. What followed was a plummet to decadence, self mutilation, cannibalism, starvation all forming the background to the stories of personal horror of the individuals who tried to run away from the world for a good reason.

I wouldn’t suggest this book to anyone but those who can look beyond the disgusting imagery and see the message within. The message itself is surprisingly enlightening. The first story, “Guts” starring the impossibly bony Saint Gutfree, is a good indication of the general feel of the book. If you can get through that, you may make it through the rest of the book. If that is too much to digest (pun intended) don’t bother proceeding, it gets worse, much worse.

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Book Review:The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Unbearable Lightness of BeingThe Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An incredibly heavy read for a book about lightness. Milan Kundera makes you ponder over all those questions that you don't dare to address yourself, simply because it is too painful. He dissects his characters one by one leaving nothing to the imagination. Every fear, dream, hope, secret desire, disappointment of theirs is explored, not without sympathy, even a certain degree of empathy, but never with pity. They are who they are, his creations, and he is not ashamed of them. As a reader one also feels for these flawed creatures who are as real as humans can be.
It took me a while to read this book. I dreaded facing the harsh reflection of myself that I saw in his characters so I kept putting off reading the book although I carried it with me every day. I feel an incredible amount of relief now that it is over and done with and have quickly moved onto a highly implausible horror story book just so I can delve back into a nonsensical world to shake off the tension created by the all too real one.
It's a real masterpiece. One that took me on a long journey and finally put me right back on my feet, feeling a lot more human.

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When in Rome ... act like a tourist and you'll be just fine

I’ve always wanted to write a travel blog. Wait that seems too simple. I’ve always wanted to host a travel show! Travel to fantastic places all over the globe, comment on food, shopping and sightseeing locations, mix with the locals and speak the language. Sometimes I think that’s exactly what I was born to do :D And on that note here’s a piece on the mind blowingly awesome trip I just went on, to Italy, for 9 days with the love of my life - my darling hubby!

The ‘Travel to Italy’ idea sprang to mind when I saw a picture of Cinque Terre; this picture to be precise

Courtesy: The Cool Hunter

5 villages perched on a hill side with heart stopping views over serene blue waters. Simply magical! How could a place like that not calm a troubled soul, worn out from the exhausting task of running the daily rat race! So I started plotting and planning, vacation days, travel dates, cheap flights, places to stay, articles, comments, reviews... Interestingly we didn’t end up going to Cinque Terre after all. Too many mixed reviews and a ‘it would be too boring for a jumping bean like you’ comment later I set out looking for other places.

That’s when a friend suggested Sardinia. Ah Sardinia! What words can I say to express how my heart leaped and my grin widened as I gazed at the pictures on Google images (Google Costa Smeralda) Crystal clear blue-green water lapping white sandy beaches. I set my radar to Sardinia. And then, you probably already guessed it, we didn’t end up going to Sardinia either. It turned out to be a pretty difficult location to travel around for two people with no driver’s license. Yes you read that right, we don’t have a license. We are very environmentally conscious :D Ok ok we just never got down to getting a license but it’s going to happen, sometime, hopefully, I think.

Back to topic at hand, the process of deciding where to go in a country like Italy is only compounded by the fact that there are so many options! There are regions like Umbria, Puglia and Toscana. Cities like Rome, Naples , Genoa, Sicily and Florence. Sites offering advice and accommodation options like Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, Booking.com and Zoover.com. It became so hard to make a decision till I saw this picture:

Courtesy: Vissershuis Comomeer

It grabbed my heart and attention in one go with its ‘Awww ’ factor. Look at the cute blue arrow! A little apartment in a tiny village by a lakeside in the very north of Italy. A perfect getaway from the mad rush of everyday life with its needs and requirements. So that’s where we went for 4 nights; a village called Nesso on Lake Como in the Lombardia region

Dotted with stone paths running up and down the hillside, cute arched bridges, ducks swimming lazily in the clear water, waterfalls popping up unexpectedly while lazily wandering about, coupled with a comfy modern apartment overlooking the water, Nesso was exactly what we were looking for. Not having a car wasn’t really a problem since the village could only be explored on foot anyway.

We also took advantage of public transport (rickety crowded buses and spacious relaxing hour long boat trips) to access other cities on the lakeside. Como turned out to be a tourist haunt with nothing much to offer. Bellagio which was even touristier had a lot more charm, beautiful gardens (Villa Melzi) and a fantastic restaurant (Ristorante Bilacus). Check out the King prawns below

We followed up the 4 days at Nesso with a 3 day trip to Rome. Big grand bustling impressive Rome. The city is truly Alive. Hordes of people of unknown origins throng the Metros and buses, going from one end of the city to the other, continuously in motion. Rome takes the idea of being Metropolitan really seriously. And in spite being a major tourist attraction it is really a functional city where people live, work, eat, chit chat and party!


There are two major Metro lines that service the whole city and we stayed at a little hotel (Hotel Appia) mere minutes away from a Metro stop with the kindest hosts I have ever met. The hotel itself is tiny but has a class of its own. But I may be biased because of the courtesy we received (free drinks and treats in the room’s cool bar and we were even allowed to leave our luggage in the room hours past check out time).

We decided to tackle Rome region by region. First stop was Monti, a former red light district and childhood home of Julius Ceaser, which is now a hep urban area known for its edgy fashion boutiques and village vibe. We had the best pizza of our lives at an impressive bakery called Panella l’arte del pane. The pizza al taglio (pizza by slice) took its own sweet time to arrive but when it did, it was really hard to choose. I had a fresh mushroom pizza while Sam had one with pumpkin, gorgonzola and walnut.

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We also gorged on pastry filled with cream and orange compote. Trust me, I’m only getting started!. Next stop was the oldest gelateria in Rome, Palazzo del Freddo di Giovanni Fassi. A spacious ice cream parlour, with a huge number of people and enough marble top tables to accommodate all of them. With an impressive list of flavours including Riso (creamy rice, with chewy bits even) served with a dash of fresh cream it’s no wonder middle aged men in suits felt free to walk in and feast on yummy ice-cream!

Next stop was that evening was the Trevi area where Sam and I looked on unimpressed by ogling crowds clicking endless pictures of what felt, at that moment like a grand but soulless monument, the Trevi fountain. For me it is simply not possible to find a spot romantic when you are told to do so and are surrounded by hundreds of other people who have been given the same instructions. And luckily I’m married to someone who heartily agreed. So we drowned our disappointment in more icecream. Il Gelato di San Crispino. A small outlet, selling miniscule quantities of superb icecream. If you do go, take a risk and try new flavours. I tried apple, and after that day, I will never look at an apple the same way. It was perfection.

The next day we set out for glamourous Tridente, an amazing shopping haven for Prada and Gucci lovers as well as the rest of us who want to class up without pauperization. Here too we saw the famous heavily photographed Spanish steps, made skeptical faces, took pics of our skeptical faces and moved on. Lunch was at ‘Gusto, which didn’t really impress us much but then we visited a favourite coffee haunt of the Prada princesses, Café Gina. A classy, pretty café where we had impressively good pastry chocolate and cheesecake.

For modern art lovers with a leaning towards street, pop and comic art, Mondo pop is a must visit for inspiration and perhaps like us, nice mementos that you can’t find elsewhere. The surprise hit of the day was a vegetarian restaurant called Margutta RistorArte. Attentive service, creative menu and a delectable array of dishes. Needless to say my veggie hubby, who opted for a 7 course Spring Menu, was almost reduced to tears and declared, humbly, that it was the best meal he had ever eaten.

Day three began at a relaxed pace. We headed to Italy’s left bank,Trastevere. It’s not easy to access but that’s where you get to see the city at its relaxed pace, with winding streets and old buildings dotted with greenery. It rained while we were there but the rain had a refreshing quality, it made us and everything around us feel fresh and new. We had authentic Roman pastry from paticceria Valzani, pizza from wood fired ovens at Forno la Renella and finally dinner at an Indian restaurant (which I won’t bother to mention since the food was average and was a quick compromise because of the time and the weather)

The most wonderful part was the trip to Orto Botanico, a botanical garden spread over 30 acres with some of the coolest plants I have ever seen. Varieties of palm I’ve never seen before, rose gardens, Japanese garden, city views and greenhouses. But the most impressive for me was the elegant bamboo forest where I stood alone for a full 5 minutes mesmerized by the tall shoots moving to the gushing wind and the leaves ruffling far above my head. It was hypnotic and I was loathe to leave it and move on. Here’s a video clip so you can see what I mean

Gastronomically speaking, it was mostly hits and a few sore failures but it felt so good to have covered so many areas and to have really gotten a sense of life in Rome. Of course we played it smart and stayed away from museums and gazed upon the Colosseum from a distance instead of doing the big tour of it along with the Roman Forum and the Palatine. I honestly don’t know if we really missed anything.

But the big surprise was the final day at the Vatican.My Lonely Planet called it the ‘home of the world’s longest queues’ and boy oh boy were they right! I decided that St. Peter’s Basilica was a must visit and headed out to witness it, on a Sunday, of all days. We got off the metro and started walking towards Vatican city and ran into what Sam called Zombie mobs. Huge gangs of people moving at the same pace towards and alongside us. We tried to walk as quickly as possible into St Peter’s square hoping to escape them only to meet a much worse fate. The longest queue I have ever witnessed in my entire life right there at the Basilica.


And that is just a tiny fraction of the continuously growing queue. I read somewhere that the Basilica could accommodate 20,000 visitors a day. I was just hoping that it could hold that many people in one go because there were certainly that many queuing up to get in. More maybe! So we stood in queue in the hot sun, sweating our asses off for a grand total of one hour and fifteen minutes. Why you ask? I think it has something to do with ‘once in a lifetime’ and ‘mass mentality’. The Basilica did not fail to deliver.


Larger than life marble statues, enormous pillars, gold gilded ceilings. Sheer power and craft. I was speechless for a considerable period of time, opening and closing my mouth like a goldfish. I tried to take as many pictures as possible. Interestingly I have at least one Chinese person in every picture. Fact not racial joke :D

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Finally hungry thirsty and really tired we left in search of food and rest and then realised, that we would probably starve. It was a Sunday in the Holy city so of course most places were closed. We also had a flight to catch and after much confused babbling, ate bone dry sandwiches at the train station before picking up luggage and taking the train to the airport.

I wish I could say we ended our stay in Italy with a magnificent pizza but we did have pretty good Arancina (fried balls of rice cooked with meat or veggies) at the airport.  

There’s one part I have left out, Milan. We actually ended up in Milan because we got a cheap flight there. Thanks to too many articles criticizing Milan for its pricey setup, designer clothes and posh crowd I figured it wouldn’t be worth really exploring and just didn’t bother doing any research. I was sorely mistaken. For anyone who likes the urban vibe of a city, Milan is glorious! The crowd is young and vibrant, the streets are posh but accessible. The beautiful Gothic cathedral Duomo, the largest of it’s kind in the world, is totally worth the travel.  Lesson for next time, don’t trust the guide books, just go and make up your own mind.


And thus ended my trip to Italy. Near perfect food, gorgeous views, warm weather and jovial welcoming people. Quiet and solitude of a village by a lake combined with a tantalizing taste of a world class city. And like it says in the title, don't be afraid to be yourself. They love it if you can speak a few words in Italian (I got quite a lot of sweet smiles for my attempts) but even if you can't utter a word you will still be welcomed. If I could, I would do the trip all over again in a heartbeat. Italy, you have really won me over!


The Lost Art of Creativity

It’s been a really long time since I blogged. And again, so much has been happening around me, which does mean I have less time than before to talk/write about it. But here’s something that has been bothering me for a while, Creativity.

I’ve been told me whole life that I’m creative. Must say I believed that I am what one would call a creative person. But if I think about it, in the last few years, I can’t recall doing anything I would call particularly creative. The day to day tasks of waking up in the morning, getting to office, working, getting home, having dinner and sleeping., and of course a little bit of socialising on the side is just about all I do. Nothing creative there. So where did the creativity go?

Today I watched this fantastic video on TEDTalks about creativity titled Schools Kill Creativity. It’s an easy going, light hearted take on a very serious issue

“We are educating people out of their creative capacities”

I must say to a large part, I was lucky when I was in school. My parents were the sort of people who believed in bringing up well formed individuals and allowed my brother and me to dabble in any artistic activity we were interested in. I experimented with dancing, painting, playing the piano, debating, public speaking, quizzes, singing, sports...What my education system missed out on, my parents more than made up for by being indulging. Hats off to them for having the foresight! By the time I got to college though, the opportunities reduced but did not totally disappear. After college, it just plummeted. As an adult I was suddenly expected to go to work, work, come home and repeat the routine. In my free time, I could hang out with friends, watch movies, eat out or go clubbing. Where did the creativity go!

The video really got me thinking. It’s probably just the way the system is built. It’s quite unlikely that you will be encouraged to be different or to explore your uniqueness. I got a few job offers because my ‘uniqueness’ was identified as a fascinating factor but I’ve been quite clueless as to how to take it from there. It feels as though there is no wide open room for creative adventures at the work place. But for mundane day to day tasks there is indeed a lot of room and definitely no barriers.

"All children are born artists; the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up"

I loathe believing that the creative edge is lost! When I write this blog, I feel like I’m finally expressing myself again. But even then, I wouldn’t call it a truly creative act. It’s more a comment on something I‘ve seen or experienced rather than a brain process that constructs something shiny bright and new. More Reactive than Proactive. Then again perhaps this is actually me being creative and I’m just too hard on myself.

I few days I was using an app to scribble on my smart phone with my finger (isn’t it awesome that you can use your mobile as a digital tablet?) I must say it wasn’t as easy as I had expected A few years ago when I saw my college class notes , overrun with all the sketches I had done, I was amazed at how much I had done and how little I remembered of them. Not just doodles, real sketches. I couldn’t stop sketching. But sitting there, with a cool app at my disposal, I was having Sketcher’s Block. I couldn’t think of anything to sketch. I finally started looking into the comic book my hubby was reading and drawing characters I saw in it. It turned out pretty ok actually, for a finger sketch ;) Here they are

And here’s one out of the blue. That just appeared, out of nowhere. My creative juices expressing themselves on e-paper

And maybe that’s just the key. Do what you used to do, back when you were a kid! Pick up a pencil, crayon, chalk or a smart phone and just draw! Or think of something random, a fictional character you wish existed and just write about him/her/it. Pick up that old guitar or piano or flute and play the songs you used to play. Maybe at first you will wonder why the quality of your work is so childish, but I think if you just keep going, your brain will find a way to rewire itself and before you know it, you will be a Creator par excellence! Just imagine how fantastic it would be if you could just make that breakthrough. Good luck and let me know how you are faring; in the meantime I plan to re –invent the genius in me!

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So here’s something strange I’ve been up to off late. I’ve been reading comic books. And guess what I’m hopelessly addicted :D

So here’s how it all started. I had been for several years, like many other nerds before me, reading interesting, intellectually challenging, literary masterpieces of the non bright-coloured-wicked art sort from back in the day of Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree (which is still a classic I wouldn’t mind reading all over again) And then I bumped into, not quite by accident (thanks a lot my darling Sammy Vooren!) a comic book called Y: The Last Man. It had a simple but interesting premise; an unknown disease kills every living man on the planet except for one guy and his pet monkey. In the absence of men, civilized society collapses and women have to deal with the loss of their loved ones as well find a way to pick up where the men left off figuratively.

Now before you think this is a feminist piece of literature, let me quickly correct you. It was more of a comic book for guys than anything I’ve ever read. I mean just imagine, if you were the last guy on earth and every living breathing woman wanted desired and lusted for you how would you feel! But then being the last of anything may have dire consequences.

Is Y: The Last Man a literary masterpiece? Perhaps not. A lot of the plots and subplots are designed to keep adolescent males hooked; tooth, drooling mouth and claw. But is it an interesting take on what society is built on, how humans function and what is ultimately important? Oh yes! It was all out entertainment packed into a series of beautifully drawn, brilliantly coloured and wonderfully lettered books that showed me that sticking to Bookers and Pulitzers would mean I would miss something equally, if not more brilliant.

After this adventure I moved into a series of comics, some of which I’ve completed and some are still being written by the author. And here they are:

The Walking Dead – If any comic book can be called a brilliant novel, this is it. Robert Kirkman, the series creator, took the kitschy zombie comic concept and elevated it to all new unprecedented heights. The books are not an extended thesis on the many ways zombies can attack and devour humans. It is not about blood, gore and spilled intestines. To start with they aren’t even in colour. Instead it’s a stark grim peek into what drives a man, the thin line between right, wrong and murder, And how man can survive in the midst of calamity, loss and starvation. There is a new TV series based on the comic which does to some degree capture the essence of the book but looses a lot in the attempt to make it ‘popular television’. But this is one series I would sincerely recommend to everyone who isn't afraid of delving into what it means to be human and perhaps getting a tad depressed along the way.

100 bullets – Again a smart concept, brilliant dialogues and edgy art work. This series is about crime and revenge. If you were offered a box with absolute proof that one person is solely responsible for ruining your life, a gun and 100 untraceable bullets to off him/her with, would you do it? The rule is there are no rules; if you shoot and the bullets are found at the crime scene you will not be prosecuted. Of course an offer that perfect is never that simple and as you read book after book the plot becomes increasingly clear. I must say that at some point I stopped reading this one. Perhaps the violence level was a bit too much for me to handle and the plot felt like The Godfather on xtasy. But if you can take the constant bludgeoning, this is a really good series to get your blood pumping.

Runaways- This seemingly innocent looking book for teens (it seemed), about teens turned out to be actually frighteningly adult. Main characters, many of whom you grow attached to, are killed off unexpectedly but in keeping with the storyline. If you decide to try it out, check out the first three books. The third, for which a new writer was commissioned, was a dud.

ChewWhat a series! What an infinitesimally intelligent series! Every bibliophile out there who has never tried a comic book, this is your modern day Jeeves meets Huckleberry Finn kind of comic . The artwork – brilliant! The dialogues – sharp, the storyline – well ummm maybe we need to talk a bit about this. Tony Chu is a cop who is Cibopathic (one of the many words invented by the writer, John Layman). Which means the moment he tastes anything he gets an idea of its entire history till the moment of consumption. This holds true for dead humans as well. He’s not a cannibal, just a regular guy who is forced to ‘taste’ things, including humans at times, to solve crime. He hates it, his homophobic gay boss hates him, and his partner pretends to hate but secretly adores him. There’s also a bizarre take on what would happen if the government banned chicken consumption due to an outbreak of bird flu. A fresh cast of characters, a wickedly twisted storyline all make this one helluva series to follow!

Ex Machina-Sometimes you read a book that’s big, ambitious and has a storyline that makes you wonder, ‘how is this going to end?’ And you keep reading because you want to know what happens next. And finally when you reach the end, it falls flat. Ex-Machina is not one of those books. In fact its plot is so grand that you wonder if it is possible to write an ending that would do the series justice and then when you finally reach the end, you realise that the ending is what made the series, everything was just a means to reach it. Simply Brilliant! The protagonist is Mitchell Hundred, who thanks to a freak accident acquires a special ability. He can speak to machines, anything from a toaster to a gun. His plan to fight crime as a super hero doesn’t quite take off and he decides to run for mayor of New York City and makes it. So far it sounds like a regular Marvel comic hero story. But there’s a subplot, Mitchell didn’t get his powers by chance. There may be other powers at play who would love to make him their pawn, perhaps not human powers. Check out this series and walk with Mitchell through an alternative NYC which seems familiar and alien all at the same time.

Some others that I’ve tried and are worth mentioning are The Preacher (have read only the first book so far but I’m hooked), Fables, Scarlet, Black Panther, Powers (found this one lacklustre), Hack and Slash (B-grade entertainment for those who like slasher movies), Pride of Baghdad (one of Brian K. Vaughan less impressive works)

I’m back to reading big novels again, but I’m so happy to know that when I tire of reading page after page of the printed word, there’s always the sketched one to entertain me. Btw if you are a comic aficionado, feel free to talk to me about any and all comics (except Manga). Cheers!

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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is a book that has deep personal meaning for me. For one, David Mitchell is my favourite author; no one can seamlessly combine fact, fiction and fantasy to create a brilliant believable book, as beautifully as he can. The main character Jacob de Zoet (pronounced Yakob the Zoot) is a lovable Dutch guy who goes through a life altering adventure. I started reading the book on the 1st of August, the day I joined my first job in the Netherlands and finished the book yesterday, the day I got my first ever pay check! And thanks to my hard work and persistence in learning the language, I can actually read the names of the characters the way the Dutch would pronounce it!

Although the tall red haired, green eyed Jacob seems to be the chief character, the real protagonist is the weird and wonderful land of Japan where the entire story unfolds. Japan in the 1700’s was an island cut off from the rest of the world. The Dutch, known even today as the sharpest tradesmen in the world, managed to set up a trading post on Nagasaki. They had to agree to a plethora of conditions but the trade in copper was considered vital for the survival of the Dutch East India Company.

Into this largely unknown world, stepped Jacob, with his ambitions, Christian ideals and (like every other Dutch person) bag of principles. But just as it is today, what is considered normal in Japan can make the rest of the world cringe and what is normal elsewhere is considered eccentric in Japan. As a reader, you begin to settle in to the environment, get comfortable with the settings and before you know it, you have been sidetracked into another weird unrecognisable setting and you start all over again.

The story is populated by Japanese scholars who have spent years learning Dutch to communicate with the Dutch traders, Dutchmen who are forbidden to learn Japanese and are confounded by the strange environment they habit, Japanese women have no real social standing and aristocrats who believe in honour and pretty much nothing else. So as expected, book takes you through page after page of a riveting story that makes you wonder where the line that divides right from wrong lies, if indeed such a line exists.

It takes liberty in portraying people as they are; some stereotypes abound and may cause offence but the larger picture is as honest as it gets. European greed which desired to possess the entire world’s wealth is examined closely from the perspective of the French, The British and the Americans.

At the end of the book, I felt like I had been on a journey myself, something so personal that I wondered if I should share this book with anyone at all. I thought that I should keep it to myself, like a precious discovery that is not for the world to see but for me alone to savour. But then sense prevailed and here I am!

I must admit that I’m a bit biased thanks to the Dutch and David Mitchell angle but I sincerely request you, if you see the book, pick it up; you won’t regret it. And don’t forget to let me know what you think. Happy Reading!