Saturday, July 22, 2017

Plitvice National Park - A hike to remember!

As someone who is not completely independent physically, Plitvice was never meant for me. That's a harsh line to start with, but that's how it is. Although I was completely in awe of Dubrovnik in the south and taken by the beauty of Plitvice National Park, I had several lows during this vacation which continue to haunt me. I was obviously questioning myself continuously - how can I not like a vacation? And so I tried to have the best time that was possible. Writing about it, well, not so easy!

You see it was not the location's fault. Plitvice National Park has 16 waterfalls and several small ones. One of the most beautiful ones lets you feel its mist when you pass by it. It is no Niagara falls, but here you are on foot and you can stay as long as you like. 

The mountains around it gives the National Park the most beautiful views. You can choose from several routes depending on your ability to walk and hike. I did my research really well. I spent hours over the Internet reading how this area was for elderly. It was not wheelchair accessible so that should have been my first clue about the effort it takes to walk around - I ignored it.

We took the most downhill walk - Route E for Upper lakes on Day 1. We started at 4.30 in the evening so that there are fewer crowds - it was ideal. We stopped a hundred times - I did! We took in all the love nature had to give us. It even rained a bit while we were walking. We were literally walking above the falls and lakes which is so rare in this world.

The most beautiful moment for me - where I could feel the mist.

I am a nature lover. I love to get lost amongst the trees even if there are just 5 of them. So Plitvice was high on my priority list. Croatia is not the richest country out there yet they have tried to maintain this place in all its natural form. There were paths that were uneven clogged by small stones. The wooden tracks were really well-maintained. But there were far too many steps for me. I have never climbed this many in a single day in my entire life. It was hard - very hard, especially at the end. 

I hardy took any pictures and I couldn't do the Lower Lakes the next day because I thought that my body won't be able to take it. Wise decision! 

At the end I was pleased with myself. This route takes 2.5 hours at max, I took 5. But I did it. It was like running a marathon for me. Or climbing Everest. Really, it was! I have to give it to the Boy, I can't imagine anyone else with the amount of patience and love he has. He was there - at every step, every climb, every resting spot - with a smile on his face and a joke to make me laugh. Have I told you he is an angel?

Howeverrrrr, being proud is not good enough! This hike took a toll on my body and my muscles are yet to recover from the fatigue even after 3 weeks. My only fear is what if they don't recover and I have this new low for life? I am trying to do all that is in my capacity to get back to normal - including wining, dining, dancing, laughing and standing on one leg.

I still don't blame the lakes, I don't even blame my health for how I am feeling. I love this beautiful life in all its glory. And I love the fact that I am strong in the mind and happy in my soul. I am grateful for the capacity to travel and I am thankful for having the most patient and most giving partner. Is there anything else we need in life? 

P.S. Since I am not the right person to give tips on these lakes, I would refrain from giving you any. To anyone else who is normal physically - do make an overnight trip to Plitvice Jezera. Do half of it after 4 and the other half at 8 in the morning. The paths are really narrow, and the crowds are humongous. You will love the space and time you get in the evening. Don't make a day trip - that's so boring!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Visa Trivia

When you reach a time in your life when you can travel frequently, that is when you realise the nationality that you have and how it affects your travel plans. You begin to look for countries where you can travel visa-free and feel disheartened when those countries are not in your priority list. India ranks a sad 77 in terms of strength of passport and we have flexible visa options with only 49 countries. Oh, the third world problems!

Me and the Boy have a 10-year multiple entry US visa. We also have a touch-wood-wear-evil-eye worthy 3-year Schenghen visa. With this comes the benefit of entering quite a few countries because, well, when the big Daddy has give you legal entry, who are small kittens to deny you one!

Now America and famous European countries have consulates in major cities. But what happens when you want to go to a place like Cuba which has confusing entry terms and no consulate in your country? They expect you to post your passport to the nearest consulate for visa. Now a passport is something which is more dear to me than my, I was going to say life, but I heard how childish I sound, so, something a little less than that! How could we courier our passport? Can't you just spy on me on Facebook and give me a damn visa! I've found husbands for my friends through that, this is just a tiny entry stamp!

However, in comparison, if you are born in a rich, white country, you are a saint. You can enter several countries without any prior visa stamp. On last count, Americans can travel to 156 countries without a visa, Germans to 158. These are the people who go to Google Flights and don't type a destination city. Google baba entertains them with several options and they can take a flight to the cheapest destination without having to worry about an 'interview' date. The rich become richer and we remain as poor as a church mouse when it comes to travel. See, you will never find any Indian who has traveled to all countries in the world while there are many from these privileged nations who have achieved their target, albeit in a very stupid way. More on that later.

In another comparison, citizens of Afghanistan can go to 22 countries without having to worry about immigration - and I thought we were a much more developed and friendly nation. The difference here doesn't make us look that way.

My cousin who wanted to celebrate her brother's birthday in Croatia couldn't travel because of visa. Vacationers from smaller towns have to take visa appointments in metros like Delhi and Mumbai and travel there several weeks before their actual travel dates just to get a stamp. And imagine the woes of a family member who's loved one lives abroad and is in dire need to travel because of some emergency. Sushma Swaraj certainly cannot help everyone on Twitter.

Yes that's a serious problem unlike mine. But hey, I have other problems, so lets not judge here! I wish to travel freely... that's the only thing that keeps me alive. If the planes were faster, and tickets were cheaper, we would be flying a lot more than we already do. Or maybe not, 'cause the border restrictions will remind me that I belong to a country that is not welcome in more than a handful without legally checking my status. We would then be forced to give up our careers and move to Canada or Australia because somehow these countries have a solid passport and need more people to populate their region. We will get residency and citizenship thereafter and then lead a blissful life. It is another thing that without a job, we won't have the money to travel. But hey, atleast we will have freedom and old-age benefits... oh yes, more on that later as well!

Visa problems have made us alter our next vacation plan and hence the rant. India is a beautiful country with diverse flora, fauna and culture. Our food is next to none and the love in our country is unbeatable. We should be welcoming more people so that atleast the reciprocity rate will improve. I am glad Modi is trying to improve foreign relations, and hopefully that will benefit us in terms of immigration too.

Although India offers e-visa for several countries, reciprocity terms are not equal. In the 70's Indians could travel to countries like England and Germany without a visa, but illegal immigration led to stricter rules. I agree that we jump at the first opportunity of getting a stronger passport, but we need to have some flexibility for people who, atleast on paper, look like they won't migrate.

Since the smart-phone came into the picture, traveling has become much easier. Booking, navigating and exploring has become a cakewalk. Lets hope before my joints start to pain and before we have to use our entire savings on some God-forsaken disease, we will be able to travel freely and more frequently. Border control - are you listening!?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Back, Back Baby!

It's a mean thing to do - abandoning your baby for this long. I mean this blog of course. Hasn't it been there for me in all the ups and downs in the last few years?

This year has been tough. Although I like challenges, I am finding it hard to look at the bright side. Socially I am doing supremely well; you know, putting up pictures of the vacation, laughing out loud with friends, the works. I like that part of me but internally, internally I am struggling to find peace, hope and happiness. Oh well, it is not as bad as it sounds. Let me not be so melodramatic!

You see, when I refuse a friend to go to a mall, that is where I draw a serious line. That is where I know I am really not feeling well. I did that yesterday. It was hard, refusing to go and shop, window-shop and just enjoy good company - ah, only I know how I did it. I looked at the whole world on the Internet just to get over that trauma. I planned all our vacations for next year as well!

But this planning, it lets you down sometimes. I went to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia last month. I read everything to the T. I planned, I asked around, I made sure I would be fine. Heck, I even bought a stick so that I am not completely relying on the Boy. Damn you Internet, you betrayed me for the first time. My day in Plitvice was the hardest day in the fun movie that is my life! I struggled with every step, every hike, every simple walk. I did not regret it one bit - it was an achievement in every way. I even told the Boy that now I can feel how marathon runners feel. Yes, the simple hike in one of the most beautiful natural parks was like that for me. I rejoiced in my victory.

The days that have followed have not been so joyful. I am not allowed to tire myself out. And this time, I took advantage. I squeezed my muscles like Indian moms squeeze out the last bit of toothpaste from the tube. Now my body is use to being treated like how Indian moms treat their sons, sooo...

To cut a long story short, I've been down but not completely out. I have learnt that old people in this world have become immensely fit and so I cannot Google about their experiences and feel I will be able to manage. I even find some women in their 70's so sexy! No, no, I am not kidding. Watch Grace and Frankie on Netflix and see how to age gracefully. Jane Fonda is 80 years old and she can give a few 40-year olds a serious run for their money. I am totally inspired! You must Google her aerobic videos - they were a rage in the 80's!

So coming back to meee - I'll be kind to my baby now. I'm planning to write a whole lot in the coming months. I am not sure how I will document my vacation because I did not enjoy it so much and I don't want to brood because I hate to be that person who cribs! I will show you the rosy side and you will love it. I leave you with this amazing picture the likes of which made me take up the challenge I was never meant to:

Where the woods are lovely, the waterfalls are serene and the Boy makes his usual faces!
Plitvice National Parks, Croatia.