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I love love bhindi/okra. Very few restaurants in the city make it well, most of them make it with tomatoes or “kurkuri”/fried crispy okra. I love the one where you fill in spices and cook with gram flour. Since my nosy siblings read my blog, I thought of enlightening them as well with my cooking! I tried to take photos today, I find that photos help a lot for recipes.

Besan/gram flour – 1/4 cup, I add 1/2 cup because the spices get absorbed in the flour and it gives a very nice taste. Bhindi/okra 400 grams or 25-30 big pieces, salt, turmeric 1/2 tsp, roasted cumin powder 1/2 tsp, garam masala (can find in any Indian store) 1 tsp, Amchur/mango powder 1 tsp, crushed fennel seeds 1.5 tsp, red chilli powder to taste (I use 1 tsp), coriander powder 1 tbsp (or 3 tsp), onion seeds/kalonji 1/2 tsp, peeled shallots 8-10 (small onions).

Trim okra and slit it in the middle, make sure you don’t halve the okra, it should just have a vertical slit on one side without cutting through. Take salt, turmeric, garam masala, roasted cumin powder, amchur powder, fennel seeds, red chilli powder, and coriander powder and mix. Fill this mixture in the slit of every single okra. Sprinkle the remaining mixture over the okra. Pour 1 tbsp of oil over the okra, mix, and place it aside.

Heat oil (3 tbsp). Add onion seeds and saute. Add shallots and saute for 1 minute.

Add besan/gram flour and saute for 2 mins till it turns golden, make sure it doesn’t turn brown and burn. Some shallots may start losing their skin at this point. The gram flour will absorb most of the oil.

Add stuffed okra/bhindi and mix. Turn the flame to low, cover the pan and let the okra cook. Okra gives off water so you do not need to add water, but if it starts sticking to the pan add some oil. Keep stirring occasionally. It took me 30 mins to cook on low flame. You can make the flame higher but keep stirring. I like keeping the flame low because it gives the spices time to be absorbed fully.

Touch the okra and when all of it is soft and done, turn off the flame. Okra usually shrinks to half of what you started with. Garnish with coriander leaves. The spices inside the okra make it very tasty, but shallots retail their original taste and don’t absorb spices much. Since I use amchur powder, lemon juice is not necessary, but you can add it at the end if you want. The okra tastes even better the next day, when spices are absorbed and the gram flour turns crispy. Yummy!!

Of late I have gotten into trying out new Indian recipes. Growing up I hated cooking, probably because I kept hearing how I had to “please my husband by cooking good food”, the feminist in me rebelled. I also hated making rotis/bread, there was just something about getting your hands dirty kneading dough, standing in front of the stove making bread after bread sometimes burning my fingers. I made my sister do it instead!

In my newly renovated kitchen, cooking is fun. I have gotten into trying out new recipes, and really enjoy cooking at times. While doing so, I remember every single thing my mother taught me. Its interesting how I recall these small things while making food – cover the pan as soon as you add the final “tadka” so the smell stays in, mix vegetables and let them soak in the spices before adding water, always use cooked water instead of new tap water, etc. It makes me feel close to my mother, thinking of her words and following them.

My favorite website for recipes is my mom’s favorite chef’s, Sanjeev Kapoor. I tried so many recipes and they all usually come out good. Kala chana, Paneer Makhni, and Besanwali Bhindi are some of my favorites!

Today I tried out badam pista kulfi. Every Indian restaurant in NYC has kulfi as dessert, yet it is not as well known as mango ice-cream or samosas. Kulfi is a creamy milk ice-cream, the difference being that its creamier and melts slower than ice-cream. After searching far and wide, I found medium sized earthen clay pots to freeze the kulfi in. Here is my recipe.

Ground unsalted almonds – 15, Ground unsalted pistachio – 20, saffron – a pinch, Whole milk – 1.5 litres, Sweetened condensed milk – 1 can of Nestle or similar, khoya/mawa grated – 1/4 cup.

Heat milk till it becomes half. Start on high flame stirring and when it comes to a boil, add the saffron. Bring it down to a low flame and stir periodically till the milk reduces to half. “Malai” forms at the top, each time mix all of that in and scrape off milk stuck at the edges of the pan and keep mixing it in. This gives it a nice thick taste, like rabdi. It will probably take 1.5 hours to bring the milk down to half of the 1.5 litres. When it is half, add in condensed milk, pistachio, and almonds, and mix it in. Heat while stirring continuously for 4-5 minutes. Cool it down completely. Since I don’t have a fan, I take a larger pan, fill it with ice, and put the hot pan over the ice to cool down. Once it cools down, add khoya/mawa. Sanjeev Kapoor recommends 1/4 cup, but I really like the taste of khoya in the mixture so I added more. You can get Nanak khoya in most Indian stores in solid and powder form. I used solid, but it didn’t dissolve as well. I think powder may dissolve better. Even though I heated the milk a lot and followed Sanjeev Kapoor’s directions to the T, the milk didn’t turn out as thick. It may impact the creamy texture of the kulfi. I think heating it more and reducing it even more may not hurt. Some people use half and half, too fattening. Sweetened condensed milk is sweet enough so sugar is not needed, I found it sweeter than my liking.

If you have earthen pots, even better. Keep the earthen pots in water for 2-3 hours. Remove them and turn them over to dry. Once the milk mixture is ready, pour it in the earthen pots. Cover the pots with aluminium foil and freeze for 6 hours. When ready to eat, keep the pots out for 5-10 minutes to thaw. While serving garnish with pistachios. Serve with wooden spoons. Yummy!!

If you don’t have earthen pots, get popsicle moulds and pour the liquid in. Keep in freezer. While serving, let it thaw a bit, put the kulfi in a plate and serve. You can garnish with pistachio, chocolate sauce on the side, dry fruits, fresh fruits, etc.

For a creamier texture, take a large earthen pot, fill it with ice and rock salt, and place the kulfi moulds in the pot to freeze. This may take longer though. Of course you have to be careful to prevent the liquid kulfi from spilling over if using a large pot. My mother has many-a-times spent hours after dinner moving the large pot repeatedly to get the kulfi to freeze faster while conversing with guests visiting.

There are so many variations of kulfi – you can make it with strawberry, mango, oranges, rose water, etc.

Aamir Khan has the midas touch – anything he touches turns to gold. His films make the most money and every new launch breaks previous records. He shuns award shows, rightfully so, award shows have become ways to award film industry children more than talented actors, and anyway Aamir is laughing all the way to the bank! Any movie that has Aamir’s stamp is bound to be awesome. I think he is the most respected actor in Bollywood today, and he has successfully stayed out of controversies unlike Shah Rukh (proposing to Priyanka Chopra in an audience full of politicians and the like while married with children, mid-life crisis?) and Salman Khan (bad boy of the industry). So while Shah Rukh and Amitabh Bachchan are making money from Kaun Banega Crorepati (Who Wants to be a Millionaire), Salman from Dus Ka Dam (Power of 10), Aamir is making greater waves with his Satyamev Jayate.

Aamir launched his new show this month with Star Plus, Satyamev Jayate. Satyamev Jayate means truth always triumphs, from the inscriptions on the Ashoka pillars. I caught up on two episodes yesterday after my mother told me that he is getting Rs. 3 crores per episode ($3MM)! Every single person, adult or child, should watch this show all over the world, not just Indians. The show is doing a great job bringing awareness about age-old practices in India, and possibly worldwide.

The first episode touched upon foeticide. When the British took over India, they tried to eradicate the practices of female infanticide. Even today, 72 years after independence, foeticide is still being practiced across the country. One would think that advancement in medicine would save lives, quite the contrary. Sex is detected sooner now, hence a better likelihood of foeticide. Doctors are running clinics especially for this purpose. Despite documented proof, the government doesn’t do anything. Like Fareed Zakaria said at an event I attended, “China is advancing because of its government, India is advancing despite its government”. Its true. Indian government does more harm than good in the country. The show brings that to light since lawsuits go on for 10+ years even with solid proof.

A few women came on the show to discuss their plight. In all cases mothers wanted to keep their child but their husbands and in-laws got girls aborted, sometimes without the mother’s knowledge by taking her for “doctor checkup”. Doctors are in on it. In one case a man ate, I mean ate his wife’s face while his family looked on, she lost her child and had to get stitches. What types of animals are these men? I am filled with disgust for men and their families in general just with the thought of this. In a lot of cases, educated people do this. One woman herself was a doctor, her husband a doctor, MIL Vice Principal of school, and FIL similarly educated. Yet they practiced female infanticide and tried to kill the live daughter after she was born. Who are these people? Why kill women? Because of the dowry system. It is hard to get poor women married due to dowry demands. Population of men has exceeded women, now men are finding it hard to find women to marry. So what do they do? Buy women from poor families, sell her, or have sex with her and get others to do the same. Either way a woman loses.

The second episode was about child abuse. One guy talked about his abuse, in most cases the abuse happens at their house right under the parents’ nose without their knowledge. It was so heartbreaking. I know someone close who was sexually abused for several years and it all came out in resentment years later. It is so depressing and heartbreaking that men abuse others as young as 6 years old, innocent kids who have no idea what is going on. Who are these fucking assholes? One guy shared on the show how he was abused for years since he was 6, he tried telling his mother who wouldn’t believe it. He said he was bleeding, and she said perhaps he is eating too many mangoes! Parents cannot even fathom sexual abuse. The only person he spoke to is his German shepherd dog, who somehow sensed what he was going through as soon as he came home.

I wish the show showed photos of abusers so that they become social pariahs and everyone shuns them. There is very little awareness about child abuse in India, in a lot of cases parents cannot even imagine that people they know so well could do this. Children don’t know what is happening so cannot tell their parents. One girl came on the show to share her story, she spoke of how communication is very open in their family yet she could not tell her parents. 53% of people surveyed were abused as children. A lot of Indian men live in a repressed society where topics of sex are taboo and there are restrictions around what women can wear and do, this is how that repressed society pays.

I feel like having a Facebook page and asking all the abused to join and post photos of abusers, get everyone to shun these disgusting parasites. Despite education and advancement, instead of moving ahead India is moving backwards.

This time when I went to India, my sister shared horror stories about life in Delhi. I thought Delhi would be the safest place being the capital of India, quite the contrary. People don’t talk, they shoot. I feel so much safer being in the US. There is so much corruption in India, terrorists shoot innocent people in broad daylight yet cases continue for years. Why? I feel for the people who have to go through this. Its so terrible.

Aamir’s show not only brings about awareness, but also talks about solutions. He promotes relevant NGOs, and asks people to text their support, all proceeds from the texts will be donated to support the NGO. He conducted a workshop with kids as well to communicate which body parts others should not touch. Now if only Aamir took a portion of that Rs. 3 crore and donated to these NGOs as well, he doesn’t need the money!

Top Bollywood movies

Since AM is away, I spent my Friday night and all of Saturday watching movies, given how much it snowed today and I could not step outside. I am always looking for lists of Bollywood comedies, off-beat movies, and classics to fill my time, so I decided to do one myself. Here goes…

Bollywood comedies – some of them are completely mindless and slapstick. A lot of them are with Akshay Kumar, he is my favorite comedy actor. Years back when I went to get my US visa in India, I had to take an entire wedding album of photos to prove that I am married since I wanted a dependent visa, the guy at the counter asked if my the guy in the photos was Akshay Kumar instead of AM, haha, I was quite flattered, so silly. Not that Akshay is the best looking guy, but he plays comedy so effortlessly, and his performances during award shows are so energetic.

  1. Delhi Belly – I can watch this movie again and again, it has toilet humor but is so so hilarious, the dialogues are so funny. Amir Khan never disappoints. And it doesn’t have people breaking out into a song out of nowhere, there is a 30 seconds song in the middle and one at the end. The film falls in the category of Hangover.
  2. Chalo Dilli – Offbeat and satirical, it stars my favorite actor, Vinay Pathak, and Lara Dutta has changed for the better these last few years.
  3. Andaz Apna Apna – The funniest movie ever and a classic, totally mindless though. Wish Amir and Salman would get over their egos and do a sequel.
  4. Hera Pheri – Another classic comedy (slapstick) that brought Paresh Rawal, Sunil Shetty, and Akshay Kumar together, the rest is history. The sequel Phir Hera Pheri is not as good but has its funny moments.
  5. De Dana Dan – A laugh-out loud riot with Akshay, Sunil, and Paresh back together. Akshay is a housekeeper for Archana Puran Singh, a cruel employer, and he pays her back at the end. A comedy of errors.
  6. Houseful – Akshay never disappoints, another comedy. Akshay is unlucky for everyone around him and has a hard time keeping relationships till he finds the one. It is completely slapstick, but I enjoyed it.
  7. Malamaal Weekly – This movie has classic old actors such as Om Puri and Paresh Rawal, both can carry off a movie even today. The movie revolves around a dead man winning lottery and the rest of the village wanting a piece of it. I lost count of how the amount would be distributed…
  8. Awara Paagal Deewana – This is a copy of The Whole Nine Yards. It is very slapstick, so watch this only if you don’t mind a mindless film.
  9. Chup Chup Ke – This is an under-rated film and came right after Jab We Met starring Kareena Kapoor and Shahid Kapoor. A very nice movie, but like usual Bollywood films the end became mushy and unrealistic.
  10. Hungama – Another mindless comedy flick from Priyadarshan. His movies promise a laugh-out loud hilarious ending, no matter the rest of the film.
  11. Bhagam Bhag – Slapstick, debut of a new slimmer and more stylish Lara Dutta.
  12. Hulchul – Very loud but has some funny moments.
  13. Dhamaal – Another slapstick movie but if you like Arshad Warsi it is funny. I would skip the sequel Double Dhamaal.
  14. Welcome to Sajjanpur – A highly entertaining and simple film about a village letter-writer and his love trysts.
  15. Bend it like Beckham – A sweet look into an Indian family that moved to the UK. The only Keira Knightly move without her smug-face.
  16. Monsoon Wedding – A sweet movie about family, love, and a feel-good ending.
  17. Chameli Ki Shaadi – A very funny old movie, Amrita Singh is hilarious.
  18. Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron – Another classic, black comedy.
  19. Gol Mal – The old one released in 1979, one of the funniest old movies starring Amol Palekar directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
  20. Padosan – I like Sunil Dutt and he was amazing in this movie, really funny.
  21. Chupke Chupke – Another funny oldie directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

I will keep adding if I think of more.

Good, some offbeat (new-age) films

  1. Black – Serious and slightly depressing, about a woman who is deaf, mute, and blind.
  2. Khamoshi – Excellent actors, but serious. Nana Patekar is a brilliant actor as is Manisha Koirala. Manisha is a beautiful singer but both her parents are deaf and mute.
  3. Tanu Weds Manu – A charming movie, Kangana looks gorgeous.
  4. Udaan – One of my favorite movies, bitter-sweet, depressing moments with a very positive end. This is one of the most heartfelt movies I have ever seen emerge from Bollywood. I wrote a review about it.
  5. No One Killed Jessica – A good comeback for Rani based on a true story about Jessica Lall.
  6. Tahaan – A very charming film, the little boy steals the show. My review is here.
  7. The Blue Umbrella – A very sweet film, Pankaj Kapoor as usual delivers his best.
  8. Jab We Met – The charming duo Shahid Kapoor and Kareena Kapoor come together for this one. Rumor has it they broke up while shooting, but they continue to ooze chemistry on-screen. An American friend’s favorite song is “Nagada Nagada”.
  9. Swades – Slightly serious, but a very charming and patriotic movie, takes me back home. It performed better overseas than in India due to its nostalgic tone.
  10. Chak De India! – A must-watch about a hockey coach’s comeback.
  11. Bheja Fry – A copy of the French movie Dinner Game.
  12. Dasvidaniya – A poignant and sweet movie starring Vinay Pathak.
  13. Khosla Ka Ghosla – A trying time for a family.
  14. Mithya – A comedy version of Don.
  15. Johnny Gaddaar – Talk about irony.
  16. Being Cyrus – I loved Saif, Shabana, and Naseeruddin in this.
  17. Corporate – The first time I took note of Kay Kay Menon.
  18. Mixed Doubles – This is a bit serious but tackles a serious subject of couple swapping. It keeps the viewers wondering, did she or didn’t she.
  19. Kaun? – A thriller from Ram Gopal Varma, Urmila overacts a bit.
  20. Rangeela – This is one of my favorite movies, and it put Urmila on the map. The songs are amazing, AR Rahman at his prime.
  21. Omkara – A story about Othello.
  22. Maqbool – A different take on Macbeth.
  23. Company – Mumbai underworld by Ram Gopal Varma.
  24. Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Naa – A cute take on friendship turning to love.
  25. Band Baaja Baaraat – Two partners turn from lovers into rivals.
  26. Tere Bin Laden – A hilarious underrated movie based on a Bin Laden look-alike.
  27. Dil Chahta Hai – Amir’s movies are always classics and so much fun to watch even after all these years, and the songs are amazing. He is like Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, he always makes movies for the youth.
  28. Ghajini – Wonderfully acted, another one from Amir. Serious but very interesting.
  29. Hum Tum – Not one of the best films, but good time pass about men vs. women.
  30. Taare Zameen Par – A serious story about dyslexia.
  31. Earth – A story during riots when a jealous boyfriend acts out.
  32. Rockford – If you grew up in a boarding school, you will relate to this one – a very good movie.
  33. 3 Deewarein – A good suspense movie from Nagesh Kukunoor.
  34. Karthik Calling Karthik – The final wedding song used in the TV show Outsourced was from this movie (uff teri ada). An okay movie to watch when you have nothing else, it has some suspense.
  35. Lagaan – Another classic by Amir Khan, a truly inspiring movie about cricket and an attempt at sending the British back with their tail between their legs.
  36. Prahaar – Madhuri looks so natural in this movie. Nana Patekar is at his best. A slightly serious film.
  37. Bluffmaster – A light movie.
  38. Dostana – I really liked this film, its funny and has good songs. Abhishek and John have amazing chemistry, and their Koffee with Karan together is a must-watch. I hear there is a sequel in the works.
  39. Lage Raho Munnabhai – While I was not too crazy about the prequel Munnabhai MBBS, this sequel is very entertaining. Arshad Warsi steals the show.
  40. Life in a Metro – Another offbeat decent movie.
  41. Rajneeti – A brilliant cast, Ranbir brought his acting chops to this one. A good political movie. Katrina looks too old for Ranbir though, he needs to work with younger actresses.
  42. Rocket Singh – Another Ranbir movie. I liked 3/4th of the film, the ending was poorly done, but worth watching once.
  43. Outsourced – I chanced upon this movie after watching the TV show Outsourced, its such an under-rated film, and quite charming.
  44. Sarfarosh – Another charmer from Amir Khan.
  45. Wake up Sid – This is a very light film, a love story about an older woman falling in love with a younger man. Very light and average.
  46. Jhankar Beats – Another charming under-rated film.
  47. Pyaar Ke Side Effects – I don’t like Mallika Sherawat and she cannot act to save her life – she should stick to item songs. But Rahul Bose steals the show in this decent movie.
  48. Kaminey – I like this one only because of Shahid Kapoor, he does a very good job in a double role.
  49. Sardar – I am including this one because AM likes it – I haven’t seen it yet. According to him, Sardar was very practical during the partition of India and Pakistan; Nehru, on the other hand, wanted partition to fulfill his own desire to become Prime Minister, while Gandhiji was always against partition of any sort. In the fight for power, Sardar stood, an unsung hero, the most practical of the lot. Had he prevailed it would have caused India much less grief from the spurts of riots that continue between Hindus and Muslims. Totally AM’s opinion, not mine. Its on my list to watch.
  50. Border – No list can be complete without Border. Its a very heartfelt movie based on a true story where the bravery of Indian soldiers protect an area of Punjab from Pakistani attackers. Akshaye Khanna made his impressive debut.
  51. The Japanese Wife – A very charming Rahul Bose movie where he tries his stint in long-distance relationship with a Japanese. The visuals are very calming and pretty.
  52. Zubeidaa – An art film with a great cast in Rekha, Manoj Bajpai, and Karisma Kapoor depicting the tug of war between a wife and a mistress.
  53. Water – A Deepa Mehta movie, it shows the plight of widows. I had to watch it for John Abraham.
  54. Jodha Akbar – A stunning portrayal of the relationship between Akbar and his wife. Hrithik and Aish ooze chemistry, and the visuals and fashion are all very stunning. Breathtaking!
  55. Choker Bali – An art film starring Aishwarya Rai. She looks beautiful.
  56. Mujhse Shaadi Karogi – Another slapstick movie starring Akshay Kumar and Salman Khan.
  57. Fashion – Starring Priyanka Chopra, the film is about the rise and fall of fashion models. It is a serious film and gets unrealistically emotional at the end. Of course Priyanka could never walk in Paris, their models are stick-think, “almost” anorexic, while Priyanka has a healthy figure.
  58. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara – The movie is a decent watch for an afternoon at home, kind of like Dil Chahta Hai but less funny, like Hangover but less slapstick, it is loosely based on The Hangover. Farhan Akhtar is fantastic, he plays comedy and serious roles perfectly, Abhay Deol was quite good too as always.
  59. Taxi No. 9 2 11 – Good entertaining movie starring Nana Patekar and John Abraham. A remake of Changing Lanes.
  60. The Namesake – A serious and heartfelt film, I love Irfan Khan in general and he plays the role of a patient father and husband quite well. Based on a book by the same name by Jhumpa Lahiri.

3 Idiots does not make my list because even though it was a top grosser, the pregnancy scenes were over the top and unrealistic, I would not watch it again. Rang De Basanti also started off well and then went into an unrealistic mode.

Roja and Bombay are good movies as well, just not at the top of my list.

I was shocked this morning when I saw on the Yahoo homepage that Heidi Klum and Seal are getting a divorce! Really shocking! This is the same couple that renews marriage vows every single year and holds the craziest halloween parties. I watched Germany’s next top model and Heidi brought Seal in for an episode to promote his music, and she was all over him, kissing him. They decided to call it quits after being married for 6 years, just 6 years, of which Heidi has been pregnant for 4 years – with her first child with someone else and then 3 with Seal. Methinks there is more to this story, I will not be surprised if it comes out the Seal cheated on her given his constant tourring. If anything, both have gotten busier than ever, perhaps they didn’t give each other much time?

What a way to fake it all by showing so much “love” in public. This is the last couple I ever expected to divorce given their PDAs. And it is not normal to renew vows every year, what is the point of marriage then? I am waiting to see what skeletons come out now. Cheating and divorce is so common in Hollywood, why do they even bother to get married anymore.

Trip report to Brazil

I went on a trip to Brazil two years back but never managed to write about it – I didn’t have a blog back then. It was one of my favorite trips ever, so I have to reminisce it now. Here is my report.

My itinerary:

  • Day 1: Land in Sao Paolo, leave for Iguassu, stay at Hotel Mercure
  • Day 2: Spend the night in Hotel das Cataratas, visit Iguassu falls
  • Day 3: Leave for Manaus
  • Day 4: Leave for Juma Lodge
  • Day 5: Juma Lodge
  • Day 6: Juma Lodge
  • Day 7: Leave for Salvador, Bahia
  • Day 8: Salvador
  • Day 9: Leave for Buzios
  • Day 10: Buzios
  • Day 11, 12, 13: Rio
  • Day 14: Fly back to NY

Iguassu falls is similar to Niagara but more amazing, and its best to view the falls from both Brazil and Argentina. Unfortunately we are not US citizens and didn’t get a visa for Argentina, so stayed on the Brazil side. We spent the first night in Golden Tulip, the hotel was really good and reasonably priced. The next night we stayed at Hotel Das Cataratas right next to the falls, the hotel was disappointing and full of mosquitoes, taxis were also more expensive. In hindsight we should have stayed at Golden Tulip since the higher price of Das Cataratas offset taxi price from Golden Tulip to the falls.  The falls were amazing and worth a visit once, the walk to the falls was also quite pretty.

The next day we left for Manaus, a small dirty town and gateway to the Amazon. We spent the night here in a dirty hotel, previously Best Western. I didn’t like Manaus at all and felt that the day spent there was a waste. The next day we left for Juma Lodge, it took us all day to get there. The way was beautiful, we saw giant lotuses that are featured on many pictures of Brazil, we also saw the place where two rivers meet, the line of union was so vivid due to differing densities. We finally reached the Lodge – we were in charming hut-like rooms. The lodge had no hot water but it was in the middle of the jungle with limited transportation. The next day we went fishing, hiked in the jungle, and spent the evening learning about fish. The day after we went to a local resident’s house and learned how people lived there, our guide himself (Moe) grew up there and was very knowledgeable. It was really amazing! At night, the guide took everyone to see caymans. I fell ill due to showering in cold water so skipped since it was raining, AM went and the guide actually caught a cayman and educated everyone on them. I really liked our stay here, our time was well spent and we learned a lot.

The next day we left for Salvador, Bahia. We stayed at Tropical Da Bahia, a wonderful hotel with very good rooms, breakfast, and business center with Internet access, it was also well connected with public transportation. Unfortunately it is closed now. We wanted to sample all aspects of Brazil – city, beaches, history, and the Amazon. Salvador was rich in history, and a very charming and pretty town. It was AM’s turn to fall ill – he tripped and sprained his foot, so I did some laundry in a nearby location and checked out the town by local buses, and visited a mall. The town was well connected and the center was easily reachable, overall it was safe as long as I travelled during the day. The ice cream was absolutely delicious with flavors of tropical fruits, an absolute must. Like most ancient towns, the city center had cobbled streets and it was a pleasure walking around, checking out stores with beautiful jewelry, and nibbling on yummy tropical fruit ice cream. I wanted to try out a Capoeira class but it was closed.

We then left for the charming beaches of Buzios. Buzios has 7 pretty beaches, AM and I beach-hopped using public transportation, some were beautiful and tiny, some big, and there was a turtle beach. The shops were good but pricey, in the evening there was a lot of live music. We nibbled on crepes and listened to some good oldies music, and got drunk on capirinhas, and had some more ice cream. After he was drunk, AM danced a bit on the street, it was just so hilarious, I had so much fun in Buzios, we let our hair down and loved the little town. Our hotel was quite nice too minus mosquitoes, we stayed at Abracadabra Pousada.

Finally we had to leave for Rio – a very well developed city. We stayed in Best Western Ipanema right in front of Ipanema beach since Copacabana was not as safe at night. We wanted to go hang gliding and booked with Paul, but he wasted our whole day. He took us to the park then complained about the bad weather even though he took another couple, and we returned to our hotel by noon with nothing. By the time we went to the beach it was so crowded there was no space to even put our feet, we left and instead checked out the city. We took the ferry to nearby areas just to experience the surroundings a bit.

Next morning we booked surfing lessons, the teacher was so late that by then the beach was very crowded and there was danger of hurting swimmers, so another waste. That night we took a taxi and visited a favella to see them practicing for the Carnival, it was good fun singing and dancing to good music in a room packed with people. We thought of doing a favella tour but there are already slums in India so it would not have been a different experience anyway. The next day, we were done with Rio and very disappointed overall. There wasn’t much to do in the city, and the beaches were ridiculously crowded. We wished we had spent another day in Buzios instead. On New Year’s eve we checked out Copacabana where people wore white and set candles to sail, it was beautiful, then we went to Ipanema to catch festivities. At the end of the night drunk people were lying around and we had to be careful not to step on them, we returned to the hotel and continued watching from the terrace.

We always use local buses to get a feel for the city and just see the city overall, in every single location we visit. We did the same in every city of Brazil. Overall it was a very good trip. In hindsight, we didn’t need to spend that much time in Rio. From a food perspective, I am vegetarian and AM doesn’t eat beef, while Brazilians are very big on beef – they have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We had limited food options but there was always pizza. Our trip was well planned since we experienced all of Brazil in little bits, and this is my favorite trip to date – the only disappointment was Rio. The best part is that Brazilians don’t care – on beaches they may wear thongs, and no matter the size or age, even a grandma may wear a bikini with thong or just a regular bikini. It was liberating to be in a place with no inhibitions, you could wear a thong on the beach and nobody would think the worse.

I went on a trip to Iceland and Norway in September, but am getting around to blogging about it now. AM and I were looking to go someplace exotic like Turkey or Egypt since we had not taken a trip in a long time. However, due to Ramdan in Turkey and unrest in Egypt, we settled on Iceland and threw in Norway as well. Among all other Scandinavian countries, Norway seemed the most interesting, and Iceland is just a 5 hours flight from NY. A friend also highly recommended Iceland saying there is no place like it in the world – she was right.

Here is my itinerary:

  • Day 1: Arrive in Reykjavik, visit Blue Lagoon
  • Day 2: Golden circle
  • Day 3: Reykjavik
  • Day 4: Leave for Jokulsarlon
  • Day 5: Jokulsarlon + Skaftafell, return to Keflavik
  • Day 6: Fly to Oslo
  • Day 7: Oslo
  • Day 8: Train ride to Bergen
  • Day 9: Sognefjord in a nutshell
  • Day 10, 11: Bergen
  • Day 12: Leave for NY

We took a late night flight from NY to Reykjavik and landed there at 6am. We had booked a car rental with Budget and decided to have breakfast at the airport. We headed directly to the Blue Lagoon since it was closer to the airport. We had to wait for an hour till it opened for visitors, we were among the first ones to arrive. I loved loved the hot springs, it was amazing being in the sulfurous hot water, we moved around to pick the hottest spots. The funny thing was my nose kept running and I kept wondering why, till I realized that the water had cleared ALL my sinuses!!! It was amazing, so amazing, to be so sinus-free for once! We spent two hours in the water and headed out right around the time hordes of people thronged the water at 11am. We were glad to have escaped the crowds, while there was enough space for everyone, the springs are not that large hence less privacy. My hair turned to straw despite my applying conditioner before getting into the water and after a shower, and it stayed that way for the next 2 days.

We drove to Hotel Laxnes on the outskirts of Reykjavik and had a wonderful large room and view of the mountains, the towel warmer was icing on cake. We had lunch and slept till evening and headed out to find some dinner after. Everything was closed by the time we got to the city, and after driving around in circles we found a 24 hours Subway and called it a night.

The next day we did the Golden circle – Pingvellir national park, geysir, and and Gullfoss waterfall. It was great walking around Pingvellir, it was interesting to see the huge ridge, at the geysirs we saw Strokkur erupt several times and in between it had three consequent eruptions, quite amazing, I loved loved watching the geysirs. Then we went to Gullfoss which was quite amazing as well. As we were driving towards Golden circle, we got closer and closer to a glacier, the view was breathtaking, I have never seen a glacier before, this one was mighty.

It was a Friday night, so we did some bar hopping and danced to tunes from the 80’s to the latest pop music. There were all kinds of bars with all kinds of music and crowds. Icelanders are party people, it was such a contrast seeing the city on Friday vs. the day before when the whole city seemed dead and we could not even find a place to eat! Before partying, we sought out an Indian restaurant, Indian Mango. One look at the menu and we realized that Indian ingredients were hard to find in Iceland, so most of the dishes were of limited ingredients that overlapped with Scandinavia. We waited for an hour for our meal to arrive, the place was completely crowded, but food was delicious and well worth the wait.

The next day we decided to go at a relaxed pace and visited National museum of Iceland. The museum was very interesting and informative, went into Icelandic history, and it was interesting to see Nordic influence. I so badly wanted to visit the Saga museum but wasn’t able to make it in time, so unfortunate. AM had one of the delicious hot dogs highly recommended and he loved it with tons if jalapeños. I really liked Reykjavik, Iceland is such a small country with a population of only 300K, 40% of this is in Reykjavik. Compared to NY’s 10 MM population, Iceland feels so tiny… There was a nice restaurant and bakery near Hotel Laxnes that had very good croissants and coffee. I like European coffee a lot, American coffee is very bitter but European coffee tastes different, like it has a nice distinct flavor. I had a lot of delicious coffee. The croissants tasted different too, very soft, not at all crumbly.

The next day we left for Jokulsarlon. The drive was long (7+ hours) but beautiful, absolutely breath-taking! The first stop for photos was through an area with a lot of hot springs, we saw small smoking patches on the hills indicating hot springs all over the place, it was amazing. Overall the country was cold and I dressed in leggings and boots, with a warm trench coat, but these pockets of heat made it interesting, its a hotbed of lava boiling underneath waiting to burst! Our next stop was an area of waterfalls and we walked behind the falls and took a ton of photos. Then we entered barren land with vast rocks of lava from volcanoes that had hardened into rocks. It was so barren, and the rocks were shaped in an interesting manner. Our next stop was Vik, we walked to the black sandy beach and took photos, the water was freezing. We continued to drive, it was such a land of surprises, we didn’t know what was next or how far was the next town. On one side was the vast Atlantic ocean with seagulls and nothing more, on the other large looming mountains touching the sky, we could not see beyond the mountain since it loomed to our left and met the ocean, so we didn’t know whether a town waited behind.

We saw lots and lots of sheep that climbed very high to eat grass at the top of hills. When I saw some, I rolled down the window and bleated and bleated to see their reaction, but they stopped and stared at me like I was crazy or something, so I left. Its like when I see cats I have to meow, when I see dogs I have to bark, just to see their reaction, and they either run away or stare at me like the sheep. Along the way I read about Iceland in my Lonely Planet guidebook, the history was so interesting. I also started reading a book on Viking Age Iceland and it touched upon their culture, very very interesting. We saw houses that were buried in the mountains of lava rock, with some portions peering out from under the mountains. The country is so ravaged by volcano, and I am amazed that people still stay there in the dark nights when there is no sun and its deathly cold.

We drove alongside a mighty glacier, we stopped to take photos, I walked on a pathway thinking as I walk I could take a closer look at the glacier but it did not get closer. It was a mighty mighty glacier, with a big pit between the mountain and the pathway from the road, the pit was far away. Once we reached closer, a beautiful sight greeted us – the same pit was actually Jokulsarlon, the iceberg beach. The ice from the glacier broke off and fell in the water as iceberg, the icebergs then melted to form Jokulsarlon. We stopped to take pictures, we saw a few seals as well. Jokulsarlon is beautiful, and was AM’s highlight of the trip – not for me, I found the journey more interesting. We stayed at Gerdi Guesthouse nearby and made the trip to Hofn for dinner. On our way back, we were the only ones on the road and it was scary driving on the narrow road, we were glad to get back to Gerdi. Sunrise was around 5:30am and sunset at 9pm, it got completely dark after 9pm since the country had just come out of the midnight sun.

The next morning we woke up at 5am and drove to Jokulsarlon, 15 mins away, to see the sunrise. It was beautiful, the ocean on one hand, Jokulsarlon on the other, the first rays of the sun kissed the mountain peaks till they reached the icebergs that glistened bright yellow, it was beautiful and we were the only ones there till a photographer joined us to take some photos.

We left for Skaftafell National Park. Skaftafell was a very good walk, we walked for a few hours since we had to head back to Keflavik, I would have loved to have done some glacier walking but we didn’t have the time.

We headed back, the drive back was boring and long. We stayed at Keflavik for our early morning flight. Keflavik is a bland boring area, with nothing to see, and the drive along is so barren. We stayed at Hotel Berg, close to the airport, it had decent rooms and amenities. We ate at a Thai restaurant nearby, it wasn’t too bad.

We took a flight into Oslo the next morning. What can I say about Oslo, it was a bit boring as a city. We stayed at Thon Hotel Spectrum, close to public transportation. The city had a large Middle Eastern population which surprised me, I guess due to the short distance. We walked along Karl Johans Gate, the main street in Oslo, it had interesting shops. Fashion-wise a lot of the women wore leggings and booties, looks like booties were in. We found an Indian restaurant, Jaipur, the food was quite good but felt a tad heavy. A lot of the Indian restaurants we visited in Norway had tacky decoration, as if a Indian king gagged and out came all this tacky stereotypical decoration with lots and lots of pinks, puppets, and statues. It seemed as if Norwegians found the decoration to be in line with what India is like or something – who knows! We visited the museum and a few other places, and unfortunately didn’t get time for the Opera House. My favorite place was Vigeland park – it was breathtaking, kind of like Central Park in NY but with fewer people, greener areas, and mighty beautiful sculptures. It was great walking around, I would have loved loved to bike around the park, but it started raining and we didn’t have much time.

We had an early morning train ride to Bergen, the hotel was nice to pack us our breakfast for the way. We were debating whether to do the Norway in a Nutshell, but decided to just go to Bergen. We took the Bergen Railway, a beautiful ride. The initial part was okay, but it got prettier after Flam. The next day we took the Norway in a Nutshell tour to Sognefjord – the tour was very beautiful, with a lovely ferry ride to Sognefjord with small towns along the way. Unfortunately a good portion of our previous train ride was repeated so we would have saved a day by doing the NIN instead of Bergen railway. We spent two days in Bergen and visited Hanseatic museum (nothing to write home about) and rode the Funicular. Bergen was a charming city but two days was too much, in hindsight we should have done NIN from Oslo to Bergen, 1 day in Bergen, and done another fjord trip. It rained for 3 days in Bergen and one day was spent with nothing to do. Overall we were so mesmerized by the beauty of Iceland that Norway paled in comparison.

Transportation in Bergen was super easy, the city is well connected by buses and tram, a lot of the places are walking distance. It had nice cobbled streets, and weather was like NY – cold and rainy.

We found a couple of Indian restaurants here as well. I forget the name of one, it was close to the railway station, again the decor was very tacky but food delicious. Another one was close to our hotel, Thon Bergen Brygge, Maharaja restaurant, the food was absolutely delicious and rich in spices. The waiter told us that Norwegians like a “kick” in the food, the more the spices the more they like it. I guess it has to do something with the weather.

Overall we had a wonderful trip, in hindsight I would have skipped Oslo and probably done Stockholm and/or Copenhagen, and done one more fjord. Or we could have visited Landmannalaugar in Iceland by booking a trip on a 4-wheel drive. I really really liked Iceland, it was just so beautiful, and I cannot wait to go back. Norway truly paled in comparison…