Preserving Your Travel Memories on Travelibro


I was looking back at all of the trips I did last year, and I realized I couldn’t even recall a few! On an average, I had been on at least one trip a month in 2015. If I struggled to remember 12 destinations, I would certainly find it it a task to remember 12 times the-number-of-years-I-live (assumiing I keep up my pace of travel for the rest of my life 😉 ).

As I flipped through my Poland album (see What Warsaw Whispers – A Photoessay), I was suddenly gripped by the fear that I would someday forget all about those wonderful moments I spent there.

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

I knew there were myriad ways I could store all the pictures, but I wanted to keep a trace of the path I took at every place I went. That is when I stumbled upon Travelibro. This site showed me (and quite literally with its video and user-friendly prompts) how I could preserve some practical bits of my trips so I would never have to worry about forgetting anything.

My travel map on Travelibro

My travel map on Travelibro

After I created my account on the website, I could colour the world map with all the places I have already seen (and also pick those on my bucket list). I quickly filled up the list of countries as I went through one photo album after another, remembering my moments in every place I have been.

I stopped at Colombo (see First Impressions of Sri Lanka), and longed to plan another trip there.

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Sri Lanka is almost synonymous with palm trees

Travelibro created a neat little travel tracker for me with the flags of the countries on a timeline. I have only been to 10 countries so far, and that makes me a “globe trotter” already on the site. 🙂

Tracking countries on a timeline

Tracking countries on a timeline

After I marked my countries, I got to the task of documenting my trips. I started with Latvia (see The Romance of Riga). The process of creating an itinerary is very simple on Travelibro – you pick your country, the cities you have been to, the dates of travel, the type of trip (adventure, budget, romantic, etc.), the places you stayed at, the restaurants you ate at and the activities you recommend. Most of these have preloaded options to guide you. You can then start telling your stories (by each city/town/village) and create a day-by-day plan. You obviously get to upload pictures with captions and finally select the cost of your trip before you publish it for the world to see.

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

I currently have most of my recent foreign itineraries up on Travelibro. Do visit my profile – http://travelibro.com/users/oindrila-de. It will be fun swapping itineraries and taking travel tips from the growing community of travellers and travel bloggers on the site!

For those who prefer flash-packing, do check out their On-The-Go app feature. It lets you create shared timelines with your travel buddies on the fly with simple things such as check-ins, photo uploads and status updates.

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

My easy-to-use country-itineraries

I understand that many travellers prefer to have their hands held through the tedious process of preparing for a trip (think booking flights, hotels, planning the itinerary etc.). I have also gone through moments when I wished I could outsource the boring stuff to an agent, especially when I was planning a trip to Lithuania (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) – applying for a visa was a real hassle! If you like to relax while someone else plans your trip for you, Travelibro has something that will make you smile! You can choose from a collection of travel agents to bear your headache for you.

While I was running through Vingis Park - the largest park in Vilnius

While I was running through Vingis Park – the largest park in Vilnius

Of course, there are many of us who truly enjoy the task of planning every bit of our trip. (And I belong to this group.) Travelibro lets you search for itineraries (created by real people who have actually undertaken those trips) by destination and type (luxury, business, roadtrip, etc.), so you can look for some inspiration. Do read their blog posts for useful tips!

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

Hundreds of itineraries to help you plan a holiday

The site also interfaces with Skyscanner for flight search and Homestay for accommodation search. Now, you can’t even blame laziness for not taking that long-pending trip! 😀

We are never the same people when we travel. It changes us in beautiful ways. If you ever forget how fulfilled you felt when you just returned from a trip, you will thank yourself for storing your memories on Travelibro.

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

Puppets hang grinning inside a souvenir shop in Prague

I read my own itinerary for Czech Republic a while back and remembered I haven’t written about it on this blog yet. Now, I know I won’t have to wrack my brains to recollect all my experiences there.

How do you record your travel memories? Let me know by commenting below!

What Warsaw Whispers – A Photoessay


It is India’s Republic Day today. I will take this opportunity to take you to the Republic of Poland, a relatively new republic in our world. The word ‘republic’ politically means a country which has chosen to be governed by its own representatives. However, on a personal level, it signifies equality – a state where no one is above another, and all are equally valued. Poland’s story is inspiring for its unwavering spirit of perseverance in the face of multiple wars and public strife.

I was in Warsaw last September, and I was moved by a lot of things I saw. I could not keep it all to myself, so I have decided to share those moments with you. Everywhere I went, the city whispered its secrets into my ear. Today, I will let you in on those secrets through the pictures I captured in this extraordinary city.

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

View from the Royal Castle in Warsaw

Some Gates Open into Warsaw’s Past

Warszawa (as the Polish call Warsaw) has built its entire Old Town from the ground up. From inside the Royal Castle, the Castle Square looks like a  page out of a fairy tale. The Baroque architecture is a reminder of its 16th century history. Behind the beauty lies its devastating past – the invasion by the Swedish army in 1655, and later, destruction by the Nazi Germans during World War II. Yet this UNESCO World Heritage Site was reconstructed in the 1970’s, silencing its plunderers.

These roads are made for speed

These roads are made for speed

The Road to Prosperity

Warsaw is an Alpha global city, and the 32nd most livable city in the world (as of 2012)! Zloty, the Polish currency, happened to be one of the few currencies in Europe to retain their worth when the recent economic turmoil plagued most of the continent, especially those in the Eurozone. This central European country’s progress is evident in its express roads that make driving an experience of sheer pleasure and speed.

Modern trams run noiselessly through the night

Modern trams run noiselessly through the night

Tram Cars to Sports Cars

Poland is one foreign country in which I have tried all the modes of transport! 🙂 Most of that was unplanned, but it reinforced my faith in the Polish infrastructure and mass rapid transit system. I spent very few days in this city, and managed to take the tram, the bus, the train, the metro and also a taxi to get from one spot to another (not to forget the plane I took to reenter this city from Prague). I had initially planned to take on Warszawa solely on foot. But the city is HUGE!!! Even a consistent half marathoner like me could not wing it just by brisk walking. I did not want to miss any corner of the city, so I had to swallow my pride and buy tickets to one mode of transport or another. But I’m glad I did that, for Poland charmed me with its speed and environment friendliness. Given the number of cars and other vehicles that throng the busy, wide streets of Warsaw, its air and noise pollution levels are rather low (almost negligible).

How can there not be a horse-drawn carriage in the Old Town!

How can there not be a horse-drawn carriage in the Old Town!

The “New” Old Town

Compared to its contemporaries, Warsaw perhaps has one of the youngest Old Towns in Europe. Not because it lacks history, but because everything that you see here is an exact replica of what once stood before its repeated demolition across centuries. With every step you take towards the centre of the Old Town, you come to terms with what the residents must have been through during those disturbing times. You are allured by the spotlessly clean cobbled streets and the groomed horses that draw tastefully upholstered carriages. At the same time, you weep inside at the horror of the Holocaust.

No dearth of walking spaces in Warschawa

No dearth of walking spaces in Warszawa

Pedestrians’ Right of Way

If you think Warsaw only has broad roads, think again! The city’s sidewalks are arguably just as wide as the main roads. If you went absolutely nowhere in the city and chose only to walk along its extensive maze of roads, you would still fall in love with Warszawa! The picture above is not that of a park but of a walking lane alongside an important street full of foreign embassies. The main streets are separated from the paved walkways by patches of green grass with deciduous trees shielding from the pedestrians the view of traffic. These promenades are great for rollerblading and skateboarding. For the cyclists, there’s a separate lane. 🙂 There is no dearth of wooden benches to rest those tired feet or if you just decide to sit quietly and meditate on the canopy of arresting greens and browns in the sky.

Gardens that can colour your whole world green

Gardens that can colour your whole world green

Streets are Green; Gardens, Greener!

On my first evening in Warsaw, I decided to walk to the Ɓazienki Park – the largest park in the heart of the capital. The park is 76 acres of paradise! ❀ I was in Poland just before autumn could set in, and I was lucky to see the green trees in their full splendour before they would start shedding their leaves and colouring the city in hues of yellows, oranges and browns. Although that would be another sight to die for! Those walks through the gardens did a whole lot of good to my lungs.

Ɓazienki Palace - a wonder on water

Ɓazienki Palace – a wonder on water

Palaces, Guardhouses, Towers and Temples

The Ɓazienki Park and Palace Complex is an indulgence in grandeur and culture. Labyrinthine tree-lined paths lead to more than a dozen gorgeous structures. There is the Palace on the Isle, a Bath House with a Latin inscription that literally translates to “This house loathes sorrow, loves peace, offers a bath, recommends a happy life and strives to host sincere men.”

Then there’s the Myƛlewicki Palace which has managed to survive WWII. Ɓazienki Lake covers a large part of the complex, and a number of bridges connect the monuments scattered all over the park. The Egyptian Temple and the Temple of Sybil were constructed at the behest of the Russian Tsars in 1822. There are still more structures which would serve as guardhouses and observatories and even theatres.

Chopin is omnipresent in Warsaw

Chopin is omnipresent in Warsaw

The City of Chopin

Throughout Warsaw, FrĂ©dĂ©ric Chopin, the famous composer and pianist, has been immortalized through statues, museums and even musical benches! An interesting aspect of the Old Town is the ubiquitous ‘Chopin bench’ – a granite bench which plays different Chopin compositions at the press of a button. These benches also act as maps and location identifiers. Your current location is marked by a brightly coloured stone on the map of Old Town etched on the surface of the bench. The walk through Old Town becomes incredibly romantic in the company of such beautiful music.

Stage of the Roman Theater on the Isle

Stage of the Roman Theater on the Isle

Multiple Cultures in a Single Park

Somewhere along the Ɓazienki Park, you come across a Greco-Roman style amphitheatre, complete with a circular stage bordered with white columns. This stage is still used for live performances. The park is home to more theatres, the Old Orangery and New Orangery being two of them. Most buildings in the palace complex have been converted to museums. But what strikes one the most is how these man-made edifices exist in harmony with nature. One can spot numerous birds, both in the sky and in the lake and ponds, gliding and paddling softly throughout the park. I was in a different world in the middle of palaces with quacks of ducks, honks of swans, cries of peacocks and songs of many airborne birds ringing in the air.

Inside the Uprising Museum - war on the walls

Inside the Uprising Museum – war on the walls

The Museum of War

Poland deserves to be applauded not only for rising from its own ashes as a phoenix would but also for accepting its past. The country has carefully maintained proofs of the holocaust and the wreckage caused by multiple battles. Warsaw does not bury the horror stories that would make the dead turn in their graves. Instead, it displays the pain and pillage of its past. Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego (The Warsaw Rising Museum) is an experiential museum where you can touch and feel everything you see. You can pick up the phone-receiver to listen to actual conversations in the voices of former political leaders. You can walk into the War Room to hear gun shots and feel what it is to stand in the middle of a battleground. You can touch replicas of bullets and guns that were use to kill millions of innocents. You can also watch short films inside a theatre.

The tall buildings of Warsaw gleam at night

The tall buildings of Warsaw gleam at night

Modern Warszawa at Night

The city that once wept now knows how to celebrate. The skyline of Warsaw is impressive with umpteen skyscrapers that glitter when the sun goes down. Amidst office buildings and hotels, you will find the Palace of Culture and Science – the tallest building here. Nighttime is also perfect to go pub-hopping or shopping at its numerous designer stores. I smiled from ear to ear when I found elegant skirts to fill my bag with.

Bottles of kvass and jars of honey beg to be picked off the shelves

Bottles of kvass and jars of honey beg to be picked off the shelves

Don’t Forget to Drink! 😉

One does not just leave Warsaw without having some beer! Or for that matter kvass – the local drink made of fermented rye. I had my best craft beer at Dzik Malina, a nice place with walls decorated with bottles of kvass in different flavours and also flavoured honey. To go with your drink, order a plate of the national dish – pierogi (pronounced pee-row-zhee) stuffed with sauerkraut, mushrooms or anything else you like. You will be surprised to know that bagels originated in Poland, so don’t forget to eat some of that while you are in the country.

Ending the day with a party with my Polish hosts

Ending the day with a party with my Polish hosts

Learn to Say ‘Dzięki’

You remain an outsider in any new place until to make the effort of learning their language, or at least a few words. You will be so moved by the graciousness of the Poles that you will want to thank them again and again. On my trip, I discovered how warm and loving these people are. At my hostel (Warsaw Downtown Hostel – the best one in all of Warszawa ❀ ), my hosts picked up some Hindi phrases because they wouldn’t teach me Polish without also learning my language from me! 🙂 I also had an interesting situation when a man caught me off guard and proposed to me in front of the giant bronze Chopin Statue in the middle of a park.

Warszawa, I want to say ‘thank you’ for making those days so memorable for me. Dzięki (pronounced jenky) from the core of my heart!

St. Petersburg – A Scintillating City


Last year, my first international trip began with a week-long visit to Russia. We spent our first few days in Moscow (read Glimpses of Moscow – A Photo Essay) and took the Sapsan superfast train to St. Petersburg – the more European of the two cities.

The road to St. Petersburg is coloured with water and ice

The road to St. Petersburg is coloured with water and ice

Stepping into Sankt Peterburg

Travelling as we were in the winter, I expected the city to be a sullen, grey shadow of its summer-self. But “Sankt Peterburg” (as it is called in Russian), was out to surprise me with its colours and a strange warmth in the frozen climes.

Our home in this winter-city

Our home in this winter-city

A Taste of Russian Hospitality

I made this trip with my parents and little sister. My folks had been wary of my travel planning skills, but they were delighted when I kept revealing one wonder after another. Our place of stay (Soul Kitchen – more on that in another blogpost) in St. P was something they absolutely loved! After all, I had booked us two private rooms at the best place in (possibly) all of Russia! 😀

The evening we entered the city, we chatted with our friendly hosts and got some nice recommendations on places to see. We had a quick dinner at a nearby cafe and slept early for the next day was going to be an exciting one! 🙂

Saint Isaac's Cathedral - the largest orthodox basilica in the world

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral – the largest orthodox basilica in the world

Saint Isaac’s Cathedral

The icy winds could do nothing to stop us from leaving our temperature controlled haven. We strutted out in our boots and overcoats and followed the map to our first stop – Isaakievskiy Sobor. More commonly known as Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, this is the fourth largest cathedral in the world. You can climb a spiral staircase to reach the roof of this building, from where you shall have a panoramic view of the entire city.

Bejeweled Easter eggs with a replica of Isaakievskiy Sobor inside

Bejeweled Easter eggs with a replica of Isaakievskiy Sobor inside

The cathedral has opulent interiors which take at least an hour to admire. There are also shopping kiosks for those looking for good quality amber and ornate trinkets to take back home. This cathedral deserves a blogpost of its own, so I will reveal more about this Sobor in that article.

A couple dressed in traditional royal attire glides past the Kazan Cathedral

A couple dressed in traditional royal attire glides past the Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral

Before you read about the cathedral, you must be aware of ‘Our Lady of Kazan’. She is a venerated icon, often regarded as Virgin Mary, and the guardian of the Russian city of Kazan. The cathedral, also known as Kazanskiy Kafedralniy Sobor, is inspired by the St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Many events of political importance have transpired inside this semicircular splendour. It is mandatory for every woman to cover her head before she enters, as a mark of respect for Our Lady of Kazan. It’s unfortunate that photography is prohibited inside, I cannot show you the palatial and lavish interiors.

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

The Church on Spilled Blood

The Church on Spilled Blood is so named because it is here that Alexander II (who happened to be the Emperor of Russia, the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Finland), was assassinated with grenades. The church stands beside the Griboedov Canal and has mosaic interiors to match the magnificence of its elaborate exterior.

Lunch at MarketPlace - a delightful restaurant

Lunch at MarketPlace – a delightful vegetarian-friendly restaurant

A Marketplace of Happiness

We lunched at a bright, cheerful restaurant called MarketPlace. This cafe is highly recommended for its artisanal breads, fresh vegetables and a wide selection of Russian dishes. The ambiance is warm and welcoming, and the decor, homely, with pots and pans suspended from the ceiling.

On a side note, I have been so impressed by Russian food and places to eat that I’m going to write an exclusive guide to eating in this country.

River Neva refuses to freeze in the sub-zero temperatures

River Neva refuses to freeze in the sub-zero temperatures

The Other Side of Neva

River Neva is the third largest river in Europe and has a number of bridges connecting its banks. From Nevsky Prospekt, one can see the Palace Quay and the Winter Palace on the other side of the deep blue waters. The river itself is home to wild ducks and fresh water fishes. It is difficult to describe what a walk along the Palace Embankment feels like. Pushkin puts it much better in this poem from his novel, Eugene Onegin:-

Filled with his heart’s regrets, and leaning
Against the rampart’s granite shelf,
Eugene stood lost in pensive dreaming
(As once some poet drew himself).
The night grew still… with silence falling;
Only the sound of sentries calling,
Or suddenly from Million Street
Some distant droshky’s rumbling beat;
Or floating on a drowsy river,
A lonely boat would sail along,
While far away some rousing song
Or plaintive horn would make us shiver.
But sweeter still, amid such nights,
Are Tasso’s octaves’ soaring flights.

The Palace Square with the Alexander Column at its centre

The Palace Square with the Alexander Column at its centre

The Palace Square

The Palace Square is an expansive open space with the Alexander Column as its focal point. The column was constructed to commemorate Russia’s victory over France in the 19th century. This square has seen a lot of history – revolutions and bloodshed. But today, it’s a place for teenagers to skateboard and toddlers to scamper around; a place where lovers walk holding hands and the romantics take horse-carriage rides.

The Russian tricolour flutters atop the Winter Palace

The Russian tricolour flutters atop the Winter Palace

The Winter Palace

Once upon a time, this green palace would house the Russian royal family. Today, it forms a part of the Hermitage Museum which has a colossal collection of European art and antiquities spread across more than a hundred rooms! It is said that to properly see every room, one needs an entire month. It is awful that we only had the better part of an afternoon 😩

An exquisitely designed chandelier hangs from the ornate ceiling of the Hermitage Museum

An exquisitely designed chandelier hangs from the ornate ceiling of the Hermitage Museum

The palace and museum complex is one of the most grandiose I have ever seen in my life. There are throne rooms that have been privy to coronations, reception rooms that have held many spectacular balls, guest suites and nurseries, apartments for the Tsar and the Empress, and umpteen private rooms, apart from the halls that housed arms and gilt.

My fingers are already itching to write another post specifically for the Hermitage complex. But right now, I must take you across the Palace Bridge to another spectacle on the other side. 🙂

Peter and Paul Fortress on the Zayachy Island

Peter and Paul Fortress on the Zayachy Island

Peter and Paul Fortress

This fortress was built by Peter the Great (the ruler of the Russian Empire) on Zayachy Ostrov or Hare Island to protect the city of St. Petersburg from a potential Swedish attack. The fortress served a dual purpose of being a military base and prison for high-profile inmates.

There is also the imposing Peter and Paul Cathedral in the fortress complex which has a gilded spire that makes it the tallest Orthodox church in the world. The complex has an array of museums with separate entry fee, canon exhibits and interactive statues for photo-ops.

Someday, I shall rule from my iron throne :-P

Someday, I shall rule from my iron throne 😛

I was in St. P for less than 3 days but I got glimpses of history spanning hundreds of years. Some trips are too short to search for answers to all the questions we have. I know in my heart that I will return to Russia someday.

The Romance of Riga


I want to… but should I?… looks like I can’t… wait, maybe I can! 🙂

I fought a dozen thoughts before I caught one by its wings while I was two days from flying to Europe. It was never supposed to be a part of my plan. It was last minute. Then again, the best memories you make are never by design. I booked my tickets to Riga on a whim. And that is how I learned I should do such things more often – doing things on a whim, that is.

Riga's cityscape breaks the blue monotone of the river and the sky

Riga’s cityscape breaks the blue monotone of the river and the sky

Love at First Sight

When I first looked at Riga, I had to take off my sunglasses to see it with my naked eyes. Dazzling under the afternoon sun, the river Daugava glowed like sapphire. The endless waters seemed to separate the new town from the old, which were joined by impressive bridges. I saw the famous railway bridge made of iron – quite hard to miss since there’s always a train crossing it with its accompanying sounds. It was my first time in Latvia, and I could not tell the old town from the new one (at least from where I stood). So, I decided to toss a coin and cross the Stone Bridge (which is for cars and pedestrians).

The Latvian National Library

The National Library of Latvia

And that is how I ran into Latvijas Nacionālā bibliotēka, the silver building with an interesting architecture. After walking about on this side of the town for a few minutes and hardly finding any humans on the streets (the population here must really be low! 😛 ), I finally decided to open up Google Maps for help. But thanks to Murphy’s Law, it wouldn’t work! So, I did what I best do when I am lost – found me a place to eat. 🙂

At Picas Meistars

At Picas Meistars

In the tranquilizing ambiance of the quaint diner, I decided to stop being my own compass and texted my only friend in Riga. From our short chat, I knew I was on the wrong side of the bridge (that is, if there can ever be a “wrong” side). I ordered something with ƥampinjoni (mushrooms, if you really want to know) after some difficulty interpreting the Latvian menu. You will be delighted to know that English is rarely used in this country. That means, you have a great chance of picking up some Latvian. 🙂 (On the contrary, if you don’t like to open up to other cultures and languages, you will be in a tight spot! 😀 ) After crossing over to the Old Town, I managed to pose for a picture with the notable library in the background.

Blue and white - I did get my colours right! ;-)

Blue and white – I did get my colours right! 😉

Old Town

I entered VecrÄ«ga (the Old Town of Riga) to the melody of a Latvian folk song. Strumming a blue acoustic guitar, stood a man by a lamppost at the centre of the old town. His partner, dressed in a long yellow frock, swayed and sang a fast paced country rhyme – or daina – as called in Latvian. Oh, how beautiful it felt to gaze at the towering steeple of St. Peter’s Church (first built in the 13th century) – with the perfect music to set the mood!

I could see that Riga was all out to impress me – first, leading me astray and building up the suspense; then, finally taking me on a musical date in the heart of Old Town. I had but 24 hours in Latvia, and my surprises had only just begun! 🙂

Fresh music in the Old Town - a poetic welcome!

Fresh music in the Old Town – a poetic welcome!

In Love and War…

I was awed by the impeccably maintained buildings which looked as though they had just been constructed. I soon discovered that most of these structures were first erected in the 13th and the 14th centuries. They saw the biggest of wars – The Great War (Polish-Lithuanian-Teutonic War) and the Second World War – and suffered destruction at the hands of the Germans and the Soviets.

It is almost ironical that the Germans in 1941 should bomb the House of the Blackheads – a church initially built for a guild of unmarried German merchants in Riga – Brotherhood of the Blackheads. Even its remnants could not survive for long as by 1948, the Soviets razed everything to the ground.

Dine under a patio umbrella in front of the House of the Blackheads

Dine under a patio umbrella in front of the House of the Blackheads

Riga is Born Again

Despite the wars, Latvia picked up its pieces and restored its heritage buildings. The Historic Centre of Riga is now a World Heritage Site, and tourism has gathered steam in the recent years after Latvia became independent again in 1991.

Strolling by the souvenir shops, one can’t help but notice cute figurines made of ceramic gracing the window displays. From sheep to barristers to village-huts, the mementos one can take back home are diverse. The red and white Latvian national flag is also visible everywhere.

Adorable little things that almost beg you to pick them up

Adorable little things that almost beg you to pick them up

Sauntering down the cobblestone streets of the Old Town, I counted rows and rows of houses that looked like they had come out of a children’s story book – red brick roofs, attics which looked like small houses themselves, windowpanes which appeared to have been made of ice-cream sticks, striped awnings, and even tall chimneys! So, these were the houses I had always been drawing in primary school! 😀

Gingerbread Man houses for real?

Gingerbread Man houses for real?

Meeting My Latvian Friend

I had wanted to see Riga for more reasons than one. 4 years ago, I was not even aware of a country called Latvia! I first heard of it when I was in interning in Lleida (see Lleida – A Reminiscence and Flashback to 2011: How I Started a New Life in Catalonia) and had a Latvian flatmate. This year, when I was planning my big Lithuanian run (see Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad), I couldn’t imagine not visiting my friend, Alise, who lived in the country right above Lithuania.

Riga did pop up once in a Bollywood movie (Agent Vinod), and I watched it at the theatre just to have a look at Riga. But that movie did no justice to the lovely capital city that Riga really is.

Groupfie in lowlight!

Groupfie in lowlight!

It was an emotional moment for both of us to meet after such a long time. Neither of us had really believed our paths would cross again in due course of time. We ate our dinners with a shot of Latvian balsam (a really strong spirit) and some pale ale from Bauskas alus, a brewery in the southern town of Bauskas. Then, my friend gave me the most beautiful parting gift by taking us on a walking tour of the city at night.

Dimly lit alleyways - perfect for romantic walks in the night

Dimly lit alleyways – perfect for romantic walks in the night

Riga at Night

Riga gets a makeover as the sun sets. From its colourful, cheerful self in the daylight, it transforms into a seductive, mysterious character. Depending on which part of the old town you are in, you will either find yourself amidst rows of nightclubs that play booming music and have a lot of partygoers celebrating loudly on the streets, or you will be able to escape into a quiet corner with not a soul in sight.

My love affair with Riga reached its crescendo when I found myself in this deserted cafe tucked inside the patio of an old building whose paint had chipped off to reveal the blood red bricks beneath.

The most romantic cafe in Old Town

The most romantic cafe in Old Town

I sat there looking up at the cloudless sky for a while before I decided to head back to my room.

Saying Goodbye

I woke up next morning excited for a new day of unplanned adventure, but I was sad to have to leave Riga. I stood by my window for a long time, taking in that unforgettable picture of the Old Town until I could remember it with my eyes closed. I left Riga at dawn, and our story would have to end there, like most romances that always have to end. They just cannot be perfect otherwise. That final image of the historic centre swathed in grey, before the sun fills it up with colour, will stay with me forever.

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

The silhouette of Riga as I last saw it

Have you ever been to a place and fallen instantly in love with it? Or did your love grow over time? Share your travel-love-story with me!

Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad


I had been running various long distance stretches for almost two years, and half marathons in particular for about nine months. I did not think I was ready for what I was about to do in September 2015. But I took a leap of faith in myself and decided to do it anyway. A little more than a month before the D-day, sitting in my room in Mumbai, I booked my slot for the Vilnius Half Marathon. And that, my friends, is how this story started!

The pacers gather before the marathon

The pacers gather before the marathon starts

The Quest

For someone who had never run outside of Mumbai, this was BIG! I had not even run in a different Indian city or even Asian for that matter. One fine afternoon, when I was possessed by the idea of vacationing in Europe and running while I was at it, I started searching for half marathons in the continent. I had to park various marathons because they were either too expensive or had a qualifier which I did not meet or would have water/snack stations more than 5km apart (I just need something to sip/eat every 2km). When I came across the Danske Bank Vilniaus Maratonas, I had a feeling this one was made just for me – affordable, no qualifier, snack stations every 2 kilometers and also an English version of the site (and that is rare for European marathon sites, believe me)! 🙂

Who wouldn't want to run on roads like these!

Who wouldn’t want to run on roads like these!

The Litmus Test

I had a few challenges to conquer before I reached Lithuania. Firstly, the Lithuanian consulate in Mumbai does not do visa processing. But more on that later (in a different blog post). Secondly, if you participate in extreme sports (and marathons are considered extreme sports), you need a special kind of visa and your travel insurance amount goes up. I only had about a month to get to Vilnius and I had so much to do – book flights, plan my stay, arrange for documents for the Schengen visa… sigh! Administrative worries aside, I would also have to train for the run. With a full-time job that ate up most of my weekday time, I barely had weekends to get any running done. (And we all know weekends are sacred days meant for resting, partying and catching up with friends! 😛 )

The Neris River which flows all the way from Belarus!

The Neris River which flows all the way from Belarus!

Silver Linings

With the challenges though, came innovative solutions. I figured out my visa and tickets and everything bit by bit. I realized it is very easy once you tackle just one thing at a time. And for the marathon training, I joined a high-intensity cardio and pilates workout class in my office building. It did not seem to make much sense in the beginning. (Why would I waste my time worrying about flexibility and upper body strength when I would actually only need strong legs!) I thought initially that the post-work sessions were doing little else than raising my heart rate for those 45 minutes. But as the days progressed, I found that I was running better as my core muscles strengthened. My strides had become longer due to the increased flexibility in my legs. And as I had expected, my heart learnt to cope better with a faster heartbeat for prolonged durations. I had never trained for any run like this before. I would only rely on running, and simply more running. But only time would tell if this new regime would make a difference to my finishing time!

First Impressions

When I was finally in Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania), my Airbnb hosts were delighted to learn that I was going to be running. When I went to pick up my race-packet, I could feel the excitement building up. The volunteers wanted to take pictures with me and the locals were excited to see a foreigner from a faraway country. I must tell you now that I was the only Indian (and possibly the first one ever) to be participating at the Vilnius half marathon (I still can’t believe I hold that record 🙂 ).

Vingis Park from a bridge above

Vingis Park from a bridge above

The Goody Bag

The running kit had the usual suspects – my running bib, instruction sheets for the half marathon and some freebees (beer can, porridge mix, cod liver oil tablets, ankle guards and cold gel for pain relief). I was really thrilled though to see them give a complimentary energy gel. It is so hard to find one in Mumbai’s sports or medical stores. (I have been hunting for carbo snack gels for many months now, hoping some store would finally stock up, but no luck there.) You can only hope to order online or if you are one of those wealthy elite marathoners, buy gels from your trips abroad.

View from the bank - Vilnius cityscape

View from the bank – Vilnius cityscape

It’s All About Money, Honey!

People think running is the cheapest sport one can pursue. What does one need after all, save for a decent pair of shoes? Let me debunk that myth for you. As you have more runs behind you, you realize the importance of shoes with special features – extra cushion at the soles and ankles, form and memory retention, pronation-control, and what not! These sort of shoes from big brands cost you upwards of INR 7000. And because you don’t want to wear only one pair out, you invest at least in two. Then there is the question of good running clothes – tees and shorts/track pants made of sweat wicking (ordinary cotton can absorb sweat and become heavy) and anti-chafing material (most fabrics will cause rashes when they continuously rub against your skin). Depending on the brands you hanker after, this should set you back by another few thousand rupees.

The expenses rise if you are a woman. You additionally have to invest in some excellent quality high-impact sports bras (the yoga-variety simply won’t give you enough support). And because we like to be fashionable, the colour and design element will make it impossible for those to cost anything less than 3 grands. Many pro runners wear fitness bands, waist belts and hydration packs and carry all their gatorade, water and carbo-gels on their person. Some special trail marathons also require you to have a Road ID which can only be imported from USA. (Looks like I’m digressing from my theme.)

While I was running through Vingis Park - the largest park in Vilnius

While I was running through Vingis Park – the largest park in Vilnius

Marathon Day

Few moments compare to those I experience when I am running. On 13th September, 2015, I woke early and prepared me a nice meal of oats with yogurt. Vilnius was unusually cold for its summery September that morning. It must have been 9 degrees Celsius outside. For someone who had only run in humid Mumbai with the temperature seldom dropping below 20, it was fricking cold! I was almost about to wear stockings, but I stopped short of such buffoonery and got on with some thick moisturizing. When I stepped out of the temperature controlled house, I was hit by the gust of icy winds. Maybe I am exaggerating, but how else do you feel in flimsy sweat-wicking clothes when you’d rather wear an overcoat.

On that lovely morning, all modes of transport had been closed around the marathon route. That meant, I would have to walk 3km to the starting tents. It was good in a way as that gave me a chance to warm up well and adjust to the cold. Even the local runners found it cold! When I reached Cathedral Square (where all the runs would begin), I was dazzled by the carnival-like atmosphere! That day, Vilnius truly was a “marathon town”! There were runners from so many countries! Hundreds of locals had come out to cheer for us. I met a Polish girl who was running a half marathon for the first time in her life, and was the only runner from her village. We had decided to run together.

The amphitheatre inside Vingis Park

The amphitheatre inside Vingis Park

The Route

Despite such a huge international crowd, the announcements proceeded in Lithuanian. We knew it was time to run only when the runners before us started running. 😛

By now, you must have had a view of some of the places that my half marathon route took me through. I was so mesmerized by the natural beauty and old-worldly charm of Vilnius that I just had to stop and take a few snaps. We ran over bridges with the River Neris looking up at us from below, through the Vingis Park – the largest and most imposing park in Vilnius, past a stadium, an amphitheatre and a church, up a hill, on a forest trail with trees lining our narrow path, and up and down the undulating cobblestoned roads of the Old City. The run did not feel boring for even a second. We were entertained by several international bands, drummers, percussionists and dancers along the way.

And...this is how I became the first Indian to run the Vilnius Half Marathon

And…this is how I became the first Indian to run the Vilnius Half Marathon

After the Run

The Vilnius Half Marathon was easily the toughest one I had run so far. Notwithstanding, I clocked my best ever time! 🙂 The credit goes not only to the new workout, but also to the clean air and the resounding support of the volunteers and spectators.

I did not have the energy after the run to wait for a free massage or stand for my turn in the shower-truck, so I stopped to buy a kibinai (a local delicacy) and after that filling snack, started for my long walk back to the flat. That morning, I had walked/run for more than 27km! When I reached my host’s place, she had a little surprise waiting for me! 🙂

My host made me comfort food for after my run! :-)

My host made me comfort food for after my run! 🙂

It was the sweetest and the most useful thing any host could do for a tired and hungry runner! She had made me cottage cheese and potato pancakes and left a couple of cute notes on how to eat them.

Vilnius saw me through my very first international marathon. I will hopefully go on to run many more runs abroad. But this one will always be the first. Always the most special – where it all started. I don’t have more pics from the run, but you can watch this video to see what it felt like:-

Have you ever run outside your home country? Or been on a “runcation”? I would love to hear your experiences! 🙂