Weekend Guide | 36 hours in Belgium

Weekend Guide | 36 hours in Belgium
IMG_2114Belgium is one of those hidden gems that often gets (rudely) overlooked by its more popular neighbors- France, Netherlands and Germany. Considering Belgium’s central location, it’s an ideal location to swing through and stay for a 3-5 day trip. I managed to convince my parents to visit over Thanksgiving break for my mom’s birthday. In their honor- and because I’m craving some frites right now- I wanted to share a very quick (read: RUSHED!) overview of my most recent trip to Bruges & Ghent. I hope you enjoy.
– Aheli
Belgium 101
Location: Nestled between France, the Netherlands, and Germany, Belgium is the perfect central location- make it your primary stay or a pip-stop during a European adventure. An ideal stay, in my opinion is about 3-5 days.
Currency: Euro (€)
Language: There are three official languages: French, Dutch and German. Please note that language (and national identity) are a sensitive subject. In the North (Flanders), residents typically speak Flemish (Dutch). In the South (Wallonia), residents speak French. In a small section of the east, residents speak German. To avoid, offending anyone, it’s best to stick to English. And also read up on this history before you go…just to be well informed.
Electric: Type C two-prong plug
Weather: Temperate, though make sure to bring a jacket if you’re traveling in the winter months. That means you, Dad!
Transportation: Within the major cities— Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp- you can easily walk from place to place. Between cities, you can easily and unexpectedly travel via train.
Deciding Where to Go:
I’ve only been to three places- Brussels, Bruges and Ghent in Belgium and I’d recommend them all. Brussels, being the capital, has a lot to offer.  Bruges (Dutch) or Brugge (French) is one of my favorite cities. This charming UNESCO World Heritage site is filled with cobble-stone alleys, picturesque canals and the most quintessential market squares. It honestly looks like it came out of the set of a medieval fairy tale. Ghent is equally charming- but is much larger and cosmopolitan.
Where We Stayed: 
We opted to stay in the most charming medieval hotel the Hotel Ter Brughe.  Seriously, our room overlooked a bridge, canal and a tree that looked like it was painted.
Where We Stayed:
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Things I Ate & Liked in: (Bruges)
  • We had a wonderful Vlaamsche Stooflees (flemish stew) at ’t Gezelleke
  • The best beer — and I say this as a none beer drinker— was the house beer at the Staminee de Garre  Warning: it does look like you are breaking into a private courtyard. There are no signs at all.
  • The waffles at Chez Albert are completely instagram worthy
  • If you need a fancy dinner, try the Park Restaurant.
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Franz* in front of ’t Gezelleke
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G and the best Vlaamsche Stooflees
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Waffles from Chez Albert
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Fancy Birthday Dinner at the Park
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Things We Ate (& Did) in Ghent
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Postscript: I know G is reading this and shaking his head because I named Franz post trip. I tried to convince him that all cars- see Lord Dashell of Steph and my UK+ Ireland Road Trip— need names but he was not convinced. Also, I was tired and not creative.

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“A” is for Apple Picking

“A” is for Apple Picking

 

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Over the weekend, G and I ventured out of the city to the spacious apple orchards of Fishkill, NY. Surrounded by the other “leaf peepers”, we did the most quintessianal basic couple activity around- took Instagram-worthy photos of us picking apples. Now G spent a long time researching different apple orchards within a 2 hour drive of NYC, and landed on Fishkill Farms. It’s a wonderful small scale sustainable farm and apple orchard. Seriously, they have FIELDS of eco-certified apples that won’t leave your mouth tingling from chemical pesticides. From now until Oct 29, they are running a Fall Harvest festival with apple picking, fresh apple cider donuts, live music, wagon rides, a corn maze and fresh (hard) cider tastings. G and I weren’t actually into apple picking (don’t let the staged photos fool you), but we drawn into the live music, super fancy food truck (hello, truffle fries!), and the PYOV, where we picked as many cherry tomatoes as our hands could carry. It was such a wonderful day trip, complete with a dinner stop in Sleepy Hallow for the ultimate Fall festival. Enjoy the apple-related recipe, coming soon. – A

Quick Stats:

Fishkill Farms

9 Fishkill Farm Road, Hopewell Jct, NY 12533 (around 2 hrs from Brooklyn)

Fishkillfarms.com

Admission: $5 per person (Kids, CSA & Farm Members Free)

PYO | 9am-5pm (entrance closes at 5PM).

 

 

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Diving into Durga Puja

Diving into Durga Puja
This past weekend, I traveled back to Connecticut to celebrate Durga Puja– a jubilant multi-day celebration of the hindu goddess Durga. I’ve been attending these celebrations- filled with prayers, performances and most importantly, good food- since I was a little kid. But this year in particular was special because I brought G along for the first time.
 
I won’t lie. I was both excited and terrified that G was coming. I find it super hard explain Durga Puja and honestly, I usually rely on my mom- -an internationally renowned scholar on human rights, women’s rights, peace-building and religion- to help explain Hinduism and the significance of Durga PujaThe problem was- she was in Los Angeles doing very important work for the weekend. I didn’t want to give any lackluster explanations about what was happening so I asked my mom for help. She- being the wonderful WONDERFUL woman she is- filled a dropbox folder with different articles, videos, blog posts and images for me to read.  I regressed to my former college self- highlighting, taking notes and binge-drinking cups of tea- trying to learn the full history and social context of Durga.
 
And…the weekend went well. G impressed everyone with his knowledge of Durga (and all the Bengali terms he learned last year on his trip to India), and enjoyed the “inclusive” “relaxed” and “unstructured” nature of the whole event (his words, not mine). I thought, given the amount of work my mom did for me (amidst all her other commitments), that I would try to piece together a blog post about Durga Puja. If you are really interested in the subject, I highly recommend reading Living Our Religions and The Religion of Man (Tagore). They do a far better job of capturing the essence of religion. I hope you enjoy.
– A
 

Diving into Durga Puja

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A couple of caveats before I start this very simplistic breakdown of Durga Puja
  • I am not an expert
  • There is no way to capture “what is hinduism” because it varies from person to person
  • Hindu celebrations vary widely and few are celebrated the same way
  • Most spiritual terms cannot be wholly translated into English
  • My most wonderful cousin- Sanchita Bhattacharyya- is an incredible photographer and provided me with all the photos of Kolkata Durga Puja.
  • I could not do this with out my mom- I am indebted to her brilliance and compassion.
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What is Durga Puja?
Durga Puja is a four day celebration in late September or October of the goddess Durga. During Durga Puja, Hindus celebrate her victory over evil with special prayers, readings, decorations and dramatic events recounting her legend.

Who is Durga?
Durga is the goddess of strength and power. Accordingly to Hindu mythology, when a particular Asur (demon) got too strong for the male gods, they collectively appealed to Durga to vanquish the demon. They showered her with their most potent weapons, one for each of her ten hands. But victory was not easy. The asur kept changing his form to evade her. Finally, Durga tracks him down, hiding in the skin of a water buffalo, and slays him.
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Durga is typically depicted in moment she victoriously kills Asur.  This image (above) shows her in action, yet her face is calm and serene. Durga is violent, not because of her hatred, egotism or pleasure in violence, but because she acts out of necessity, for peace, for love, and for preservation.
She is also often shown surrounded by her four children- Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, Saraswati the goddess of learning, Kartik the god of war, and Ganesh, the god of benevolence. Now Durga is powerful enough to be shown by herself. She was the only one capable to defeat the Asur. However, she is not alone in the universe. She was strengthened by the gifts & knowledge from the other gods. She acts in the interests of protecting her children and the future generation. This is why Durga is known as both the “warrior goddess” and the “mother goddess.
 
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During Durga Puja, we are reminded that we are all connected.  No one person can act alone, autonomously, without affecting others. It is our manava dharma (religion of mankind) to become more human by acknowledging and enacting this interconnectedness to the universe. Durga represents everyone regardless of religion, gender, or orientation. During this time, we are reminded to think about our place in the universe, renew our ethical commitments, reconnect with family & friends, and stand up for goodness and justice in the world. Durga is a part of us- representing our ability to challenge wanton violence and might, and a figure we aspire to be.
 
The Cool Social Justice-y History of Durga Puja
Durga Puja as we know it today was popularized in the 20th century as an act of resistance.
 
Worshiping Durga dates back millennia. Originally, worship occurred in temples throughout India, most abundantly in Bengal. In the 18th century, Kolkata’s elite- wealthy kings, landlords, and merchants- began organizing pujas within their homes- combining the religious ceremonies with theatrical and musical performances.
 
As Durga Puja began to shift into a elite cultural event- the British started taking over India, imposing rules, segregations and hierarchies. During this time, Durga became a symbol of resistance- a goddess who fights against “evil” (British colonialism). As interest in Durga increased, community members initiated Durga Pujas in outdoor areas- like like fields and parks, and away from the private temples and residences. These sarbojanin pujas (collective worship) were open to all- irrespective of religion, gender, age or class. What was originally an exclusive family affair transformed a whole community event.
 
Celebrating Durga Puja
 
Durga is rarely a permanent deity in a Bengali temple. Her image is created in clay before each puja and at the end of the five days, her image is immersed into the river water. Her image is housed in a temporary public edifice- called a pandalEvery Durga image and pandal are different as you can see below. Each reveals a mesmerizing display of artistry and skills, made even more special given they are only created for a short period of time. Below you’ll see a series of images taken by my cousin. She and my mother visited Kumortuli where they create the images of Durga.
 

1. Acquiring Clay

© Sanchita Bhattacharyya

1B. Durga head

© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
2. Details
© Sanchita Bhattacharyya

3. Skilled Craftsmen Skilled Craftsman from Kurmatoli © Sanchita Bhattacharyya

4. Photographing Durga
Photographing Durga © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
One of the best places to celebrate Durga Puja is in Kolkata. You may have read my account of crossing the street or tales of chili garlic prawns, but Kolkata during Durga Puja is a whole atmosphere.  During Durga puja, Kolkata transforms into a multi-day open air art festival filled with makeshift artistic displays and performances. The city closes, as a carnival-like atmosphere descends on the city as people hop from one pandal to another, enjoying the sensory overload.  Each neighborhood and club in Kolkata tries to outdo one another  through the form, material, and beauty of the images and pandals they commission. As you will see below- the themes & images range dramatically.
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© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Pandal Detail- Bosepukur Sitalamandir
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Shibmandir Pandal
Shibmandir Pandal © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
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© Sanchita Bhattacharyya
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti Scale
Chalta Bagan Lohapotti © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
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Sponsored by Google © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
7. Beliaghata
Beliaghata Pandal © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
6. Durga Beliaghata
Beliaghata Durga © Sanchita Bhattacharyya
 
Conclusion(-ish)
The celebrations in Kolkata are magnificent. I truly cannot wait to visit one day. My own experience celebrating is very different. Growing up in Connecticut, I took time out of school to celebrate with my family and the rest of the (very small) Bengali community. Durga Puja was squeezed into a weekend, where we’d head over to a local school auditorium or church hall. On Friday night, men and women would set up the hall with our recycled images while playing Bengali music and eating Bengali food. At this time, I’d join my other Bengali friends in extreme games of hide & seek or tag as the grown ups did their thing. On Saturday morning, we’d all come together, say some prayers, and then watch various performances over the next two days.
To me, while growing up, the religious ceremony was one small part in a larger celebration to hang out with other Bengali people- something I didn’t get to do in my normal day to day. As an adult, I struggle to contextualize this experience to my partner and many friends who grew up attending church or temple. I was brought up in a non-faith based, non-ritualistic Hindu tradition. We did not gather at a specific temple, have a specific priest or follow any set of rules defined in a book. Instead, I was brought up to live religion in a spiritual, philosophical sense. I was expected to figure out for myself — hence my typical inability to express feelings about religion as actual articulated thoughts- how to be connected to a larger universe. It is an evolving process, and something that I will continue to ponder here as I wander around.

Weekend Guide | 72 Hours in Montreal

Weekend Guide | 72 Hours in Montreal

When my parents announced they were tacking a couple of vacation days onto my mother’s conference in Montreal, I did what any good kid does: let them have a mini-vacation for themselves invited myself along. I’ve made a couple of trips up to this beautiful city and fall more in love with the cobblestones, electric dining options and massive public art collection each time. Plus, they are obsessed with bagels so really it’s paradise. I hope you enjoy this quick guide to a weekend trip in Montreal.

Overview

If Amsterdam is a city of canals then Montreal is the city of food. I read somewhere (and am now to lazy to google) that the number of restaurants per capita is greater than New York City. So spend your time gawking at public art and then fill up on tasty delictables from across the globe.

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Track Hacks | The Essentials

Track Hacks | The Essentials

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I travel A LOT.  I’ve made 19 trips this year alone and it’s only September! I generally don’t dole out a lot of advice (except obviously when it comes to my true passion of recommending where people should eat and what dish they should try ) but a good friend asked me what I can’t travel without…and this blog post was born.  I promise there are no #ads and I have absolutely no allegiance to any brands.  Let me know what you can’t travel without in the comments below.

– Aheli Continue reading “Track Hacks | The Essentials”

Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode

Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode

Meet Steph Jones; she is the author of the popular running blog, Remote Rhode, and does (sometimes crazy) cool things like swim from Alcratraz, packs a single backpack for a wedding in Scotland, and starts marathoning with infamous Marine Marathon. She’s also one of my best friends. We met 3,068 miles from our homes, carrying the same awesome (some people may say ridiculous) green and pink flamingo sheets, conquered creepy hostels, chased old ladies for lapin recipes and have wandered through ten countries together. It made perfect sense to feature her adventures in wandering…of the totally impressive and hardcore running kind.

// Continue reading “Wander with Steph Jones of Remote Rhode”

Things I Ate & Loved in: London

Things I Ate & Loved in: London

So we already know that I have a contentious relationship with London & Travel guides (see here). To rectify the situation, I thought I’d share some thoughts and reflections from the last trip I made with G back in early January (2017). It was G’s first time and I was EAGER to show him around. Unfortunately I was too eager, dragged him out to afternoon tea and he immediately got food poisoning for some random item and spent the rest of the time eating cereal and plain pieces of bread. Buuuutttt since I didn’t get sick, here are best places that I ate at. And yes, I know, I am a terrible person for writing this post. I hope you enjoy.

-Aheli

 

London Eye

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