Category Archives: Travel

Reflections of My Trip to Bangladesh

Family Home in Kulaura, Sylhet

I paid a visit to Bangladesh some time around February as an opportunity to make amends with the past. Since Dadu, grandmother had passed away, I haven’t felt the desire to go back because things were no longer the same. The nostalgic memories of childhood where my brother and I would be mischievous by playing hide-and-seek in the family home with our cousins, playing cricket and badminton with the maids and neighborhood children, eating numerous bags of Potato Cracker Chips, secretly watching the cooks prepare a delicious full-course menu, watching pithas being made over bonfires, and chasing the farm animals all seemed like a distant memory. What’s interesting is that these bits and pieces of memories are shared by all of my paternal cousins. When visiting Dadu’s home, it felt as if she was watching over me. I missed her so much and Bangladesh never felt like Bangladesh in the robust capital of Dhaka anyway. Once I got to Sylhet and passed through the serene nature: the mountain of tea gardens, the mango trees, jujube trees, and streets filled with fresh pineapple, I knew I was back to a place where I could call home. This was a place where I could re-visit moments of my childhood again as well as make new memories in the new year…

Rickshaw ride to the heart of Amtoil to visit the places where my father grew up.

Rickshaw ride into the heart of Amtoil to visit the places where my father grew up.

Local school children in Amtoil

Local school children in dad’s village in Amtoil

Boro Dada (great-uncle), my Dadu's older brother in Kotomata

Boro Dada (great-uncle), my Dadu’s older brother in Kodomata

Rena, my nanny during my first visit to Bangladesh at the age of 1

Rena, my nanny during my first visit to Bangladesh at the age of 1

Babu Kaka, the night guard after a long day of Saraswati puja festivities

Babu Kaka, the night guard after a long day of Saraswati Puja festivities

Colorful sari and shawl stands in Jaflong, Sylhet

Colorful sari and shawl stands in Jaflong, Sylhet

Stone collectors in Jaflong, Sylhet

Stone collectors in Jaflong, Sylhet

Stone collectors in Jaflong, Sylhet

Stone collectors in Jaflong, Sylhet

The making of dad's museum, the nation's first arts and sports museum

The making of dad’s museum, the nation’s first arts and sports museum

Carpenter making handmade intricate designs for furniture

Carpenter making handmade intricate designs for furniture

After a bath in the pond in Moulvibazar, Sylhet

After a bath in the pond in Moulvibazar, Sylhet

Tea collector in Ghazipur, Sylhet

Tea collector in Ghazipur, Sylhet

Hasina's Ma, Dadu's caretaker

Hasina’s Ma, Dadu’s caretaker


Reflections of My Trip to Italy

EasyJet

I have finally finished settling in and unpacking from my trip to Italy! I flew to England first and then my cousin and I flew to Italy together. In spite of all the months of mental preparation of not falling into typical tourist traps (i.e. dodging scam artists and pickpocketers), once I got to Rome, I actually got scammed! I admit that I may have been a bit thrown back by the thought of such mishaps in the first place; however, my trip in Italy was a pleasant experience overall.

Day 1:

We took a shuttle bus to Roma Termini from which our hotel would have been a 5-10 minute walk. The problem was that we arrived at 10:30pm and most of the shops were closed, we didn’t have a working cellphone, and we didn’t have a map either. We asked some locals who were of no help at all and so we walked over to the white official taxi cab line hoping that we would reach our hotel safely. Unfortunately, the cab drivers began to argue amongst themselves and refused to drive us to our destination. Why? Because a 5-10 minute route = 1km distance would earn them no profit. Then their scammer friend came along, who was forcefully persistent upon taking us safely to our hotel. Before we even gave him our word, he picked up our bags and began walking to his “cab.” (Note: If any of you decide to take a cab in Italy, make sure you take one of the white official cabs with a meter inside). He was trying to show off his license, taxi permit, and his decades of experience in this city but honestly it was all a scam! For a 5-minute distance he insisted that I pay him €20. I began to argue with him and said no that’s too much. He said that it wasn’t too much because rather than 5-minutes, it was a 15-minute route instead. My cousin and I settled for it because we really did not have much of a choice. Muttering some prayers under my breath, I was hoping that we would somehow reach our destination safely and thankfully we did. However, once I took out €20 to pay him, my cousin, who was sitting next to him in the front seat, turned back and said she would split the payment and give me €10 once we have checked in. The driver assumed that we were distracted, took the €20, and instantly flashed out a €10 note instead. He started arguing that I only paid him €10. I quickly told my cousin to step out and walk over to the other side of the car to take the baggage out while I settled the payment issue with the driver. The passenger door on the other end was locked and she was unable to take the bags out. He might have thought that I stepped out as well and suddenly began accelerating. I became enraged and started to scream at him in the little Spanish that I know (he told me he understood Spanish before our ride). I confronted him about trying to run off with the baggage and how dare he flash out a €10 note when he and I both know that I gave him a €20 note. The driver wanted to avoid confrontation, muttered some profanity, took out our bags himself, and drove off. I was infuriated. I got scammed on my first night in Rome. In a foreign country, with the language barrier and the weird zig-zag-like roads, I just couldn’t imagine what the next few days would be like. (Note: Please be sure to use Google Maps because the streets in Rome are like a maze!) Aside from the scam on our first night, the next few days went by smoothly.

Day 2:

We had a pre-booked morning tour at the Vatican City to see St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. Luckily the Repubblica train station, which is less crowded than the central Rome Terminal Station was nearby and we took the Line A train towards Vatican City. (Note: Every corner of the streets were filled with Bengali-speaking locals who were quite useful for tips and directions. They were enthralled to find another Bengali speaker just as themselves and didn’t hesitate to help us. These locals didn’t become pushy about buying their selfie sticks and etc. either. Even with a map at hand, they made our walks around the Vatican and Rome a lot easier.)

Vatican City:

Piazza di Spagna (Spanish Steps):

After finishing up our tour in the Vatican City, we headed out towards the Spanish Steps. Unfortunately, by noon, the train lines were all closed because of a national strike. Hence, the €7 spent for an all-day metro pass was a complete waste. We took a cab towards the Spanish Steps and spent about €6. Not too bad.

Ancient Rome: 

From the Spanish Steps, we took another cab towards Ancient Rome and spent about €10. Still not as bad as the first night! When I saw the exterior of the coliseum from the car, I was just at awe. It was a surreal moment because I have seen pictures of the coliseum in textbooks and have seen movies depicting it, but to be able to see it in real life, it was an awesome experience. For the entrance fee, I spent €12, which included entrance to the Coliseum and the Roman Forum as well.

Day 3:

After the previous day being spent walking around under the scorching heat, the trip to Pompeii through Naples was a relaxing trip. We took an all day tour in a comfortable coach with Green Line Tours to Mt. Vesuvius & Pompeii Ruins (meals included). Our tour guide did a fine explanation of the end of a whole civilization who inhaled toxic air from the volcanic eruption at Mt. Vesuvius; it was an informative and interesting tour. Mt. Vesuvius is also 8-miles away from the ruins and is still an active volcano (it can be seen at a distance in the pictures as well). Pretty interesting!

Day 4: 

Commute from Rome to Venice

TrenItalia

Day 5:

For our trip in Venice, we stayed in Marcon, which is a 25-minute drive to/from Piazzale Roma where we can take the train back to Rome or take a Vaporetto towards central Venice. From Rome, we arrived in Piazzale Roma anyway so we were quite familiar with the place. From Piazzale Roma, we took a Vaporetto to St. Marco in which our tour with Adventure Bellisime started in the Royal Gardens. It was an all day walking tour around Venice, in St. Mark’s Basilica, and ended with a Venetian tour on a water boat. It was a really nice experience. I think I enjoyed my time in Venice more than I did in Rome. In Rome, I was afraid to get lost but I found myself more comfortable walking out and about into the narrow streets in Venice. Perhaps the sight of the water was just mentally refreshing. Conversely, Venetian water is supposedly fatal because of how there is no official sewage system! So don’t try to dip your hands and feet in the water!

Day 6:

We travelled back to Rome from Venice and got off at the Roma Termini Station to take the shuttle bus back to the airport. This time, it was broad daylight and we arrived at the same place on the night we got scammed. Only this time, the walk to/from the hotel looked manageable. But oh well, the scamming was a memorable part of the trip! In the shuttle bus stand, I took my backpack off to take my wallet out for the ticket fee. I noticed that the zippers weren’t in their “designated” place, which should have been underneath the North Face straps. For 5-days, I had my zippers tucked beneath the straps with a lock on it because I was expecting for some pickpocketers to try to rummage through my bag. Anyhow, the straps itself were loosened and someone definitely tried to open the zippers. Had I not had that lock, our wallets, passports, and cameras would have been gone! I now recall when leaving Roma Termini, I suddenly felt a crowd around my back but when I looked back there was no one to be seen. I guess these pickpocketers work in groups so that you feel a force in one location while you disregard the feeling of their hands rummaging through your bag. Really scary but these things happen. Once we got to the airport, we met a lady who just finished her Italy tour, was about to check-in with her girlfriends for their trip to Portugal, and found out that her passport and wallet got stolen in Roma Termini. The poor woman was unable to join her friends and had to make an emergency trip to the embassy instead.

Italy is a beautiful country; however, as tourists, beware of scammers, keep your belongings as close as possible and don’t let it go out of your sight, try the gelato from Gelateria, and also note that the pizza is totally different from the NY slices that we’re typically used to but nonetheless, delicious! Chao! (For more information on tours, check out Viator. They have good tour deals for not only Italy, but for other countries as well.)


Reflections of My Trip to England

I had been anticipating my trip to England with my family since the beginning of earlier this year (I should actually say the last two decades of my life)! Earlier in February, I remember my brother and I were asking my dad how come we had not gone to visit so many of his aunts, uncles, cousins, and their children yet. So, the summer of 2014 was the year that we all collectively decided that we would finally take a family trip to England!

England Collage1

A. Buckingham Palace | B. Trafalgar Square | C. Warwick Castle | D. Big Ben U.K. Parliament | E. Shakespeare’s Birth Home at Stratford | F. Iconic Double-Decker Bus at Old Country Museum | G. Iconic Telephone Booths in the Streets of London

Diana Plaque

Unfortunately, I was only able to get a week off from work. But even within a week, I feel that we were able to get a lot of site-seeing done (loads of thanks to my wonderful family for taking the time, energy, and patience to take us around)! We primarily used the London Underground to visit some of the key attractions nearby (e.g. Buckingham Palace, U.K. Parliament, and Trafalgar Square). Starting off with Buckingham Palace, we walked through Green Park to get to the palace. The palace was elegant in a simple manner but the statues outside of the palace were even more impressive!

STATUES

Warwick Castle was another enjoyable attraction and family-friendly too. While grown-ups can get a gist of the history behind the castle and the Tudor family, there are fun activities for children too: sword fighting, archery, entertaining shows, and etc.

Black Country Living Museum is supposedly the “birthplace” of the Industrial Revolution. The coal mines, old buildings, villages, schools, and even transportation methods (i.e. trolleybuses and electric trams) were really interesting. Afterwards, we went to the “land of Shakespeare”, or rather Stratford-upon-Avon. It seemed like a very old town with cobblestone roads and shops. Much of its looks were probably never changed to mimic the times of Shakespeare. I mean even the tour guides were dressed to impersonate Shakespeare as well! The tours include a walk through the cemetery to the church in which Shakespeare’s tomb rests.

Shakespeare

Out of all the attractions, I think Big Ben, the U.K. Parliament next to the Thames River and its simple lighting at sun down evening time was my most favorite. If I could, I would go back there again. Trafalgar Square was quite lovely too. It reminded me of Union Square in Manhattan. Locals were just relaxing in the evening and listening to an old Jamaican musician jamming.

Furthermore, being in England made fish and chips an absolute must! My family and I went to Camden, which I thought was the hipster side of England, to a restaurant called Poppies. I was not disappointed at all! Fish and chips in England are so much better than the ones in the States (I’m not trying to be biased here).

DSC_0211

Camden1

Camden2

Camden3

The shops in Camden are quite diverse. It contains shops catering to those with styles ranging from ethnic to rasta fashion and to even goth too. There are tons of shops with very elegant accessories for the house as well as fake accessories like Beats headphones and Louis Vuitton items too. But that too can be found in the streets of Broadway in Manhattan. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it was still very interesting and worth noting!

Overall, my trip to England was memorable and I wish I could re-live every moment of it. I thank those of you who were a huge part in making every bit of this trip count. With the love and care of my English family, I am humbled to call it a second home away from New York.