Friday, November 17, 2017

The mesmerising beaches of Gokarna

 
Sunset skies 


Salt pans in Karwar

Kudle Beach

The Famed Om Beach 

We visit Goa so often and we love beaches, so it was only a matter of time before we added a trip to Gokarna via Karwar to a Goa holiday.
The car drive from Dabolim airport to Gokarna is about 4.5 hours. We took about 5 hours as we stopped for lunch at Rabindranath Tagore beach. This is a wide golden sand, clean beach which is spectacular lovely. Blue waters! No wonder that the great poet and Nobel Laureate fell in love with this beach! Fresh breeze in the height of a summer afternoon in May!
We ate at the beach side Waves restaurant – fresh sea food at really economy prices. No AC though.   
It was so good, we stopped here on our return journey, again for lunch. Ladies shouldn’t venture to the loo though.


Rabindranath Tagore Beach, Karwar


We drove past the spread out Indian Naval base at Karwar as well as the port and salt pans before driving up to Gokarna. Gokarna attracts 3 types of visitors: those who come for yoga, those who come because of its famous temples and those who come to smoke up. All we wanted to do was see the legendary beaches and experience a new place. We had a good time. 2 nights was sufficient for us.
Though we stayed on Kudle beach we visited Om beach which is truly in the shape of a huge Om. These beaches are clean but involve lots of steps to get there. Not for old or unfit people. We went in walking shoes so it was fine. I’d wanted to stay in Swaswara but they said no children under 15 so we chose Kudle Beach View Resort & Spa. 

Kudle Beach View Resort & Spa - view from our room
  
The spectacular sunset view from our room 

Al fresco dining area

View from the reception

Our stay in Gokarna
Kudle Beach View Resort & Spa is very picturesque. It’s built across several levels with the reception and restaurant at the road level, the highest level and the rooms are on the hillside slope downwards towards the sea.
We visited in summer and it was colourful with bougainvillea in full blooming glory.
We were on the 2nd lowest level. Our room had a spacious sitout with a great view of the water (not the beach) – we saw the most awesome salmon pink sunsets.
The rooms are spacious for 2 but with the extra bed (mattress) there wasn’t much room to move. Good choice of TV channels. Our package was with breakfast. The view of the sea and the property from the restaurant was breathtaking but the food was ok – 3/5
The a la carte menu offered Chinese and Indian (read as North Indian) and the only seafood was surmai! No prawns or anything else! I for one couldn’t bear it that there was nothing remotely local on the menu. (even in vegetarian). Food preparation was good. And service was prompt.
A nice pool located midway with loungers was a good place to hang out in the evening.

The beach entry was from the main road outside and down many steps. Lots of shacks on the beach and the way down which probably buzz in the season (winter). Quiet in summer but very picturesque. 

Check it out! And visit Paradise Beach and Half Moon Beach too!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

A stay at India's 1st Ibis Styles at Calangute, Goa

Welcome gift - a fridge magnet 


Full service, Value stay
We stayed at Ibis Styles Calangute for a night. The hotel is near a beach, in the Bardez Calangute area off the busy buzzing Candolim road. It’s a huge property (nearly 200 rooms).

It’s the first Ibis Styles hotel in India. The ambiance is vibrant and Goan from the reception to the rooms and bathrooms. All the colours you associate with Goa and its Portuguese heritage. As you know, I’m a travel, food and hotel junkie so we had to experience the new brand, and we did! Read on…

Ibis Styles is a hotel brand which is design-oriented  and aimed at all those who are looking for “the best of the best”, ibis Styles offers an all-inclusive package, with room rates including breakfast and internet access. Globally, each property has its own distinct personality and reflects a colourful, bright and energetic brand spirit. 

Simplicity, interactivity, quality and conviviality are the brand’s core values.
It’s a stylish, full service property with value pricing. Right from entering the double height lounge and reception area, the Ibis Styles will wow you.

The corridors are long balconies, so we got to appreciate the Goan outdoor atmosphere! The rooms are compact and comfortable. All rooms have a balcony and are pool facing.


The service is friendly and prompt. There’s a multi cuisine coffee shop off the reception – Spice it. We had a Goan meal here for lunch and it was very authentic. There’s a bar just off it – we didn’t have a drink here but it looked lively.

Shrimp Goan Style at Spice It

Goan meal at Spice It


The "Longest" breakfast is included in the package extending from 7am to 12 noon! Just right for Goa! The breakfast spread is fairly extensive, if there is something you want but cannot locate it just ask. It may be included and available on request.

This property has 2 pools! Free Wi-fi everywhere. There are conference rooms too!

Here’s what I loved:
The friendly and efficient service!
Free drops to the beach in the Ibis Styles fleet of Thar 4WD (we used it)
All the fun add ons - cycles to go around the spread out property, a free massage chair, free ice cream from the cart and the use of the Go Pro underwater camera!

If you’re looking for a good value, economy stay – this is it. It’s vibrancy is very Goa.




Spice it 

Glimpses of the Longest Breakfast at Spice It

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Eating out in Mumbai October update

Pied with meatballs

Grilled meat

Creme Brulee


With new places always opening in maximum city Mumbai every time we go out to eat there is a decision to be made – back to an old favourite or do we try out something new?

This is about our meals at Kode (4.5/5), Gustoso (4.5/5), Boston Butt (4/5), Bandra Project (4.5/5) and Café 145 (4/5)
Let me tell you why these places have ranked so high!!!


Kode, Lower Parel
We went once for drinks and dinner and once for the Sunday brunch. Both of them fabulous experiences. The cocktails are to die for and served with all the bells and whistles! Ensure you partake if you imbibe alcohol!
Our 1st visit was for dinner, so we ordered a variety of small plates so we could sample a wide selection: from the beef to the pork, the calamari to shrimp, all were uniformly good. The staff were well trained and we exited feeling completely sated and cossetted.
So we decided to return for the Sunday brunch. There are many options at various price points. We were a big group and decided to go for the basic one (no alcohol) and those who wanted to, ordered their drinks a la carte. The top of the line one is with unlimited champagne!
Laid out on the bar counter and elsewhere were:
Cold meats, smoked salmon and a variety of salads
Sushi
Cheese selection
The hot dishes you order from the brunch menu selection and its served on the table
We had Pied – a Turkish dish – with meatballs served on a flatbread – akin to pizza; and a variety of dishes from chicken, buffalo to pork.
Some yummy dessert – chocolate and crème brulee with a transparent honeycomb like sugar decoration
Our friends loved the place.
Children allowed for Sunday brunch.

Wheelchair accessible

Baked chicken wings

Frozen margarita

Bunny Chow

Cookie dough pizza


Café 145
Very buzzy place – young vibe though it’s a favourite of kitty party groups! Children under 21 years not allowed after 7:30 pm.
Good music played loud!
Pool table which the husband loved!
Seating on high bar stools, regular tables and chairs and at comfy couches.
A huge bar!
Here’s what we had:
Frozen margaritas – great
Baked chicken wings – yes, reduce the guilt with good taste  
Loaded nachos – yum
Mushrooms in a bread bowl (bunny chow)
Chicken tikka cigars  - good
Tandoori prawns with upma polenta – very very spicy so we had to abandon
BBQ pork bao – good but Fatty Bao’s are superior
For dessert get the cookie dough pizza
Stay away from (DO NOT ORDER)  the salted caramel eatshake! Served in a not so tasty chocolate bottle the shake is not well seasoned and very watery!
We saw lots of people eating the pao bhaji cones!
We saw lots of people eating the pao bhaji cones!

Wheelchair access and fast friendly service.


Combo platter non veg

The ribs


Prawns in bottle masala

The Pistachio grilled salmon

The rear view

Joggers Park & Bandra Fest




Bandra Project
Located just below the happening Café 145, this is equally buzzy and is run by Pizza Express.
A very lovely space but hasn’t gotten its service right – the main courses coming together or more or less together! On 2 out of my 3 visits there at least one mains arrives when everyone else at the table of 3-4 people have finished eating!!!.
The staff are friendly and courteous but if they (kitchen management) can’t fix this issue then I don’t think they can service the demanding market for long!
Drinks are good! We had Bandra Fest  - citrusy and spicy made with vodka and Joggers Park -  lavender scented with pineapple and gin.
Eat:
Prawn in bottle masala – it’s a small portion with no sides, suggest you order a salad or have it as a starter.
The grilled pistachio encrusted salmon is my fave! It is served with yummy sides of wild rice and cucumber tzatziki.
Order the non veg combo platter – with ribs, wings, bruschetta and sliders is a great start to a meal.
DO NOT ORDER – pizza – its not good (despite being Pizza Express) or the Drunken creamy prawns with spaghetti (you’ll be fishing for the spaghetti in a thin liquid which has no taste) even the penne pasta was cooked less than  al dente
So why did I go three times? To eat the ribs, the prawn bottle masala and the pista fish! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Experience nature at its best at SGNP

Part of the trail


Is that wishful thinking for a Mumbai-ite? Not at all. Sanjay Gandhi National Park always has some good nature focused activities on. So does BNHS. See links at the end
The reason for this blog is to inform all of you how easy it is possible to be part of the Great Outdoors right here in our mega-metropolis, Mumbai
For some years I had wanted to go for a walk /nature trail at SGNP but the thought of reaching Borivili on a Sunday morning by 6 am was too large a deterrent!
Finally this year, in June as I saw the walks on the SGNP Facebook page, I decided to go. 2 friends agreed to join me for the Monsoon Walk!
I cannot express what an exhilarating experience the walk was! We started at about 6:30 am and were back at about 11 am. The group was small – about 20 participants accompanied by naturalist, Dr Parvarish Pandya who is so knowledgeable! Shri MK Rao of the Forest Dept. and some of his team members accompanied us. They made the experience amazing! Can't wait for monsoons 2018 to return.
Walking in the forest we saw myriad and assorted frogs (tadpoles too), insects, fungi, spider webs and more, all pointed out to us by the experts. We heard scores of bird calls. In fact, the surroundings were drenched in green. So soothing you’d never think we are in crowded Mumbai.
The trail provides great opportunities for birding and exploring natural habitats as these evergreen forests are host to a rich diversity of life forms. Well-shaded for the most part, some of the trails take you to the highest point in the park providing a fabulous view of the forest.
Wear full sleeves and take tea tree oil as a natural insect repellent. We carried our breakfast and ate it while walking! (we brought our litter back to dispose it later)
There are longer trails returning around 3 pm.
Also expected to come up is the “Night Under the Stars” on Saturday nights at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
Mumbaikars go... and see what a treasure trove lies on our doorstep and reconnect with nature.

Next event

Birdwatching with Adesh Shivkar. Sunday, 22nd October 2017.

Bird watching is one of the fastest growing hobby in the world today and studies suggest that bird watching contributed USD 36 billion to the American economy in 2006! Human being has been forever fascinated and interested in watching and identifying birds since times immemorial – the question is have you gone bird watching yet?

Winter is one of the best seasons to go birding – several birds migrate to SGNP, to escape from the harsh cold of their native lands. Join Adesh Shivkar (one of India's most respected name in Birdwatching and introduce yourself to this passionate hobby, which will last you for your lifetime. This walk will take you through forested valleys, river beds and open rocky plateaus and will introduce you to the science, art and sheer joy of bird watching.

Itinerary
6.15 am : Registration at SGNP Gate, Tea
6.30 am : Departure by vehicle into the forest
7.00 am to 11.00 am : Birdwatching
11.45 am : Drop back to the main gate & Disperse.

Bird Walk Fees:
₹ 700/- Per Person (Max 20)

Costs Include:
Expert Fees
Entry Tickets (not vehicles entry fee)
Morning Tea & packed light- breakfast
Internal transport from SGNP main gate & back

Profile of Programme Expert:
Mr. Adesh Shivkar is synonymous with birdwatching in India. And over the last 25+ years of watching birds Adesh has crisscrossed the length and breadth of India and continues to do so zealously. At the same time Adesh sincerely believes that more and more people should take up birding and get close with the natural world; for this he is always ready and enthusiastic to help lead others on their birdwatching sojourns.


Check the events here regularly
https://www.facebook.com/SanjayGandhiNationalPark/


Monday, September 11, 2017

Our 1st AirBnB stay - hooked!

La Mer Entrance




Entrance



Our sit out in Goa

We had a great stay at the very first AirBnB stay ever and that too in Goa.
We stayed in a lovely home in Goa: Apartment # 6, La Mer, Reis Magos. Entire home/apt hosted by Heena. https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/8302437

As it was our 1st Air Bnb stay, we weren't sure what to expect. Heena's apartment No 6, La Mer, looked exactly like the photographs. It is a 1BHK apartment with a spacious hall with TV and AC, an open plan kitchen, and a bedroom with TV and AC. The ground floor apartment has great light and privacy due to the lush greenery in the garden.

The Vianaar complex, La Mer, is safe with security and also has a generator so at no time were we without lights and fans.

The apartment was clean and we felt quite at home. Having housekeeping service was wonderful. The complex is very pretty - I enjoyed coffee in the private garden outside the apartment among the flowering plants. (see pic above)




Living room
The Living room

Bedroom
The bedroom

Kitchen
The kitchen


Pool
The pool with the club house on RHS


Even the common club area (AC) in the complex was great. We swam and the children hung out there (free wifi). My son and our friend’s sons who were in Goa at the same time as us.
Verem market was a short walk away- we picked up fresh bakery bread (poi), fruit etc. 

Our host Heena had arranged to keep mineral water for us in the fridge. There was soap and toilet paper in the washroom. And ample crockery and cutlery. She was very responsive to any requests.

We chose AirBnB because this was a longish stay and we felt that s hotel room may be too cramped for us. With the money we saved on the hotel room we hired a car for the duration of our stay and roamed all over eating our way through North Goa! See link https://loveslifefood-mumbaifoodie.blogspot.in/2017/08/eating-out-in-goa-2017.html  We would eat lunch and dinner out and also often just drove to Anjuna to eat gelato

We will certainly return.

Several of our friends have some great AirBnB recommendations. 

Here's one for Barcelona from a family with kids https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/11831658

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eating out in #Goa #2017

Goa’s Restaurant Scene Hits the Right Notes (North Goa)
 Food in Goa is innovative, individualistic and responsive to the state’s culture. We visited Goa in May and got a chance to revisit favourite restaurants and try out some new ones.
Goa offers a smorgasbord of food from Hindu and Portuguese-style local cuisine, abundant seafood and a lot of international foods due to the large numbers of foreigners who love to call Goa “home.” This makes the restaurant scene vibrant with a wide assortment of cafes and restaurants offering an array of food.


Fish thali

We ate the famed Goan fish thali at two renowned local institutions both in Panjim. Casa Bhonsle and Ritz Classic. Go there for lunch and be prepared to wait. The thali serves a large slice of fried surmai, kismur, crab, veggies, rice, a bowl of gravy and sol kadi/kokum. Beer is available and you can order a la carte, The rawa fried mussels, calamari and shrimp here is delicious. In these traditional fish thali restaurants, it’s all about the food!
Many of the restaurants in Goa apply a higher-level restaurant ethos to a casual experience. The food and alcohol menu in many places is on par with fine dine, but the ambience is relaxed and approachable which is ideal in Goa. It is this vibe and the gastronomical offerings which attracts Indian visitors to Goa year on year.  

Gunpowder

Hogging at Gunpowder

Fairly new on the scene is Gunpowder, Assagao. It was worth the drive to experience the fabulous food of South India, in a glorious garden shaded by trees and a multitude of colourful umbrellas; accompanied by interesting desi-inspired cocktails and mocktails. Think jamun daiquiris and basil-ginger infused cocktails and watermelon-tender coconut based mocktails.
Try the delicious pork ribs, in a tamarind chilli marinade with a sweet note; awesome mutton pepper fry, beef chili fry, pandi curry, fried calamari and have it with Malabar parotha and dosai.

Crispy pork salad at Bomra's

Mussels at Bomra's

Ruling the roost of fine dining in Goa is Bomra’s, Candolim which is named after the eponymous Bomra, the Burmese chef who owns it.  This is a must visit alfresco restaurant  on the main Candolim road, offering contemporary Burmese cuisine in an al fresco setting. The food here is flavourful with delicate hints of herbs and spices. This is our #Top favourite in Goa, no visit is complete without eating there. Try the crispy pork salad with pomelo as a starter - this is the signature dish here. Other favourites are: crispy vegetable tempura, mussel curry, shrimp curry, Aldona pork, smoked shark salad with mango and rocket and chicken with white fungus. Oder the coconut rice or Phad Thai noodles with your mains. Order the Bomra's special, a cocktail redolent with lime and ginger flavours and the tamarind martini. For dessert, (keep space for it) order the tender coconut panacotta with passion fruit compote, creme brûlée with lemongrass and ginger and for my son who can’t have dairy, a coconut milk based ice cream with a sticky rice pudding. Great service.


For great pizza and other bakery products, visit Baba Au Rhum, Arpora. It’s situated under some ancient trees, next to green paddy fields. Most of the dining area is covered. Good friendly and quick service. Check out their all day breakfast, pizzas, burgers, filled croissants as well as their salads. Closed on Tuesdays, this café is open from breakfast to dinner.

See the sunset from Thalassa, Vagator.. Book a table and enjoy sun downers and some good Greek food. Or if you are like us and did not get a booking, hang out at the bar till you get a table or walk down the cliff side to the beach. It’s magical!

We could not leave without partaking of the best pork chops in Goa, head to House of Lloyds, Candolim. Situated in the garden of a beautiful, yellow coloured Portuguese home off the main Candolim-Aguada road. The steak here is excellent, so is the seafood. Try their amazing cocktails, the chili flavoured Mojito hits the spot. The dining area is covered. There’s a DJ who plays requests, both Hindi and English songs.
Ice cream selection at Cream Choc


If you like gelato (is there someone who doesn’t?) then please check out Cream Choc, Anjuna. The most delish flavours being churned out on the site, fresh daily like Pistachio and Hazelnut,  even better they have a range of sorbet. So important for my son who has a dairy intolerance.




View from The Square, Novotel Shrem Resort

my indulgent breakfast at Novotel Shrem


Breakfast icecream at Novotel Shrem

Doughnuts - kids loved them, Novotel Shrem

The best breakfast spread was at the Novotel Goa Shrem Resort in Candolim. Awesome breakfast buffet, better than even the Taj Holiday Village, in my opinion,  Loved the indulgent Icecream and doughnut selections with toppings! And the waffles with maple syrup! These made my day! Of course the usual was on offer: South Indian, eggs to order, bacon, sausages, fruits, selection of breads and pastries, cereals.

South Indian spread at Novotel Spa Resort

Baker selection at Novotel Spa Resort 

Loved the tea selection at Novotel Spa Resort

 A close second, in terms of breakfast buffet spread is at Food Exchange at the Novotel Resort and Spa, Candolim. Great South Indian and a vast buffet including lovely baked items and chole bhature to pao bhaji and doughnuts, Good food and stylishly laid out with a lovely pool and paddy filed view.

Fort Tiracol Heritage Hotel 

View from the restaurant perched high on the Fort

Visit the northernmost tip of the state, Fort Tiracol Heritage Hotel. Go there before sunset to feast on the view and see an amazing sunset. Check out the sundowners and stay for dinner if you can spare the 

Don’t miss Friday nights at Cavala Resort, Baga. Live music and dancing. So fun. A perennial favourite. Its always packed! Great food, drinks and the place is buzzing!

For party animals, Cohiba on the Aguada Siolim road is the right place. Saturday nights here are rocking.

Please check Zomato for timings, note that some restaurants like Bomra’s and Calamari close during the rains

Can’t wait to return to my adopted state. Go Goa..ah.