My Friend, Alexa: A Short Story

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“Excuse me, please!… Move it, move it, move it!! I’m going to miss my trainnnnnnn!!!”, I yelled, manoeuvring through the milling crowds at New Delhi railway station. I made a run for the designated platform in a panic, leaving mummy papa behind. Thankfully the train had not left yet. As I frantically looked for my compartment, Papa pulled up, holding my duffel bag with the sleeping bag rolled on top.

“Were you planning to leave without this?!”, he mocked, handing it to me. Mummy gave me a bone-crushing hug, while attempting to hold back her tears.

“Take care of yourself bacche, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

“Oho, mummy I’m just going for a summer camp to the hills. Stop the drama please!”.

That’s when I heard a familiar tinkly voice, “Ruhi, your seat is with me. Just climb any compartment and walk to me!”.

I hugged my parents and climbed on, slowly making my way to Alexandra, or Alexa as she preferred to be called.

At an outward glance, no one would believe that 15-year-old nerd Ruhi Singh is best friends with 16-year-old Danish bombshell, Alexandra Moller. We’re like chalk and cheese- I mostly look like a malnourished boy, while she’s the epitome of feminine beauty; I’m usually at the top of my class, and she barely scrapes through each year. Yet, we’ve been stuck at the hip ever since Alexa happened to sit next to me on the first day of 8th standard, in school.

Now that her father’s diplomatic posting in India is coming to an end, we planned this adventure summer camp for children, as a girly farewell trip. Convincing our parents had not been an easy task. I had to cajole my ultra-strict, traditional mother by working extra hard during the 10th standard board exams, and Alexa, whose parents are always worried about protocol, organised a meeting with the camp owner and all the counsellors before she was allowed to travel. This trip means so much to us, there was no way I was going to miss the train!

When I finally reached the berth that I was sharing with Alexa, I enveloped her in giggles and hugs.

“I can’t believe it’s finally happening Ruhi!”, cried Alexa jubilantly.

“Honestly, I can’t believe it either! You should’ve seen my mother while she was dropping me. She was crying away like I was getting married or something!”, I rolled my eyes.

“Well, at least your parents came to drop you. My only companion to the station was my father’s security guy, Narinder.”

“Alexa, no glum faces today. We’re going on a summer holiday! Just imagine, mummy doesn’t even let me stay over at your place, and here I’m actually sitting in a train without parental supervision!!”

“Excuse me…”, we both looked up on being interrupted. A tall young man with a pierced ear, floppy hair, deep-set brown eyes, and the cutest smile, looked back at us.

“Sorry to barge in ladies. I’m Ajit, and I’m taking attendance for all the DiscoveryWorld campers. Please show me your tickets, and then sign here”, he said, passing me his clipboard.

We both were suddenly tongue-tied, but I managed to regain composure first. “Uh… I’m sorry, but who are you?”

“I just told you, I’m Ajit!”, he smiled, before adding, “I’m a camp counsellor.”

Finally finding her tongue, Alexa rudely blurted out, “but we met all the counsellors before signing up, and you weren’t one of them.”

Slightly affronted, Ajit said, “Neeraj is one of the regular counsellors, but he was diagnosed with food poisoning two days ago, so they asked me to fill in.

This isn’t my first camping experience, in case you’re worried. It’s my first time as a counsellor, as I turned 18 three months ago, but I’ve been an active participant in the camps ever since I was 12. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”

“Oh! We thought you were one of the campers, you look so young”, I couldn’t help saying.

“So, what activity will you be leading?”, asked Alexa, feigning disinterest.

 “I think they’ll put me in the outdoor activities group. You see, I’m just sort of learning the ropes, doing the small stuff… like taking attendance”, he said pointing to the clipboard in my hand.

“Oh sorry, yes, we’ll just show you our tickets”, and I turned to rummage through my rucksack.

“So, where are you from?”, Ajit asked Alexa.

I felt a sharp twinge of disappointment on hearing this frequently asked question. Everyone noticed Alexa, everyone flirted with her. I didn’t even exist when I was with her. The lack of male attention didn’t bother me when it concerned the twerpy boys from our class, but I was really hoping to be noticed by this doyen of cuteness called Ajit.

“I’m from Denmark, but I’ve been in Delhi for the last three years. My name is Alexa, and my friend Ruhi and I study at the Valley High school. What about you?”, she responded.

“Well, I just graduated from Study Smart Academy, after giving my 12th board exams. I’m waiting for the results and hoping to get into a good college. What class are you guys in?”, he asked, looking directly at me.

“We just gave our 10th boards, and I’m quite nervous about the results too”, I responded, with my heart thumping loudly in my chest.

Alexa piped in, “ah, these results are not all they’re cracked up to be! In fact, they won’t count for anything when I return to my country. I’ll have to give another exam so they can assess my level of education.

And, anyway Ruhi, what are you worried about? You’re the most brilliant person I know!”

I blushed at her compliment, as Ajit added, “don’t worry, she’s right. These results don’t matter in the larger picture. In any case, for the next 7 days, we should forget everything and just have fun- yes?!”.

“Yes!!”, we both yelled in unison.

“Alright, ladies, I better finish my round. I’ll drop in later to check in on you two. If you need anything, I’m two berths down. Enjoy the rest of the train ride!”. Smiling, Ajit moved on to the next berth.

“He’s super cute, isn’t he?!”, squealed Alexa.

“Yes, he is. Really cute”, I replied quietly.

Surprised at my tone, Alexa looked at me quizzically. I was prone to frequent insecure moments about my academic marks or my mother’s over-involvement in my life, but boys had never really entered the picture before. Hiding my face, I hoped she wouldn’t see how jealous I was at that moment.

“You like him!”, she teased, poking me playfully in the ribs.

“What’s the point, he’s obviously only interested in you”, I sulked, deliberately looking out the window.

“What? We don’t even know him Ruhi!… And if I’ve read the signals correctly, I think he’s actually interested in you”, she claimed.

“What? No! There were no signals!”, I said, secretly nurturing a ray of hope.

“Anyway, can you stop sulking please? Let’s go explore the train. I’ve heard Rhea and Akanksha are coming to this camp too. Let’s go see if we can find them”, Alexa prodded me to get up.

Half upset, I accompanied her as we made our way down the train, to say hello to the other kids we knew. Half an hour later, while leaving our friends’ berth, we found ourselves face-to-face with Ajit, standing awfully close to an attractive girl in very flattering clothes.

“Oh, hey ladies! This is my girl… uh, friend Aisha. She’s also a counsellor”, Ajit exclaimed sheepishly.

Aisha looked us up and down, before coolly saying, “Hi, nice to meet you. Ajit was just telling me about the girls from Valley High. I went there too before I switched schools”.

“Oh, that’s nice. Anyway, we’ll see you around. Let’s head back to our berth Ruhi”, Alexa took control of the situation, perhaps anticipating that I would be upset over this new development.

As soon as we were back in our compartment, however, I couldn’t stop laughing, “Hahahahaha! I can’t believe I was mad at you for him! Why would he ever be interested in a bunch of kids, when he’s off to college and prefers coochie-cooing with ‘Miss Aisha’ on a train!”

“Hahahaa, I think you were blinded by his cuteness, and I don’t blame you. But let’s never let a guy come between us ok? Sisters before misters, please!”, she requested.

“Yes, I promise. Alexa-Ruhi before anyone else!”. I gave my friend Alexa, the tightest hug possible, eagerly looking forward to the next 7 days!

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Hi everyone, this story has been inspired by Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa campaign.

If you enjoyed my attempt at Young Adult fiction, you can read more of my fictional works here

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I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

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*This is not a sponsored post.

**If you enjoyed reading this post, you will enjoy reading my e-book “Tales From My Travel Treasury: An Alliterative Anthology” which can be downloaded for FREE from here.

***Copyright in content belongs to nooranandchawla and cannot be republished or repurposed without permission from the author. As I am a copyright lawyer by profession, infringement of any kind will invite strict legal action.

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My Favourite Restaurants in Delhi!

best restaurants

As a lifestyle blogger, I am often asked to name the best place to eat in my city. With Delhi being a foodie’s paradise, it is almost impossible to pick one place from the plethora of viable options! However, for the #MyFriendAlexa challenge, I’m attempting the mammoth task of streamlining my top picks. Divided according to cuisines, my list consists of places that I have visited time and time again, and which I can wholeheartedly recommend. This is a list of restaurants that serve, what I consider, my comfort foods!

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “Comfort Food” as “food that provides consolation or a feeling of well-being, typically having a high sugar or carbohydrate content and associated with childhood or home cooking.”

I must begin with the disclaimer that my ultimate comfort food is my mom’s cooking. Nothing can beat her delicious rajma chawal, saag meat, khao suey, homemade pinnis and a host of other delectable items. My father’s to-die-for Yakhni pulao is another fail-safe comfort food. However, since I can’t share those with most of my readers, I will give you my pick of restaurants instead. These meals have a high calorie content, but if you’re looking for healthy eating options, you can check out my reviews of salad delivery services.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.lonelyplanet.in

STREET FOODS:

Bhel Puri:

As a college student on a strict budget, I developed a strong love for Bhel Puri. Made from puffed rice, onions and other herbs and covered in a delicious tangy tamarind sauce, this quick snack is a filling and tasty treat.

I have tried many roadside joints specialising in Bhel Puri, but my all-time favourite is sold opposite my college- St. Stephen’s in Delhi University. I loved the ratio of peanuts to puffed rice in this one. The Defence Colony Market Bhel Walla comes a close second, as he specialises in making the snack spicy.

Papri Chaat:

Papri Chaat is a typically North Indian fast food prepared with crisp fried dough wafers called Papris, and boiled chick peas, boiled potatoes, yoghurt and tamarind chutney, topped with chaat masala and sev (small fried pieces of crunchy noodles made with chickpea flour paste). Papri Chaat is my ultimate weakness. Against my doctor’s advice, I ate it once when I was 6 months pregnant and had to be hospitalised!! That may sound scary but it’s a true testament of my love for this Indian street food.

It is difficult for me to pick one favourite chaat place but I think the Shree Balajai Chaat Bhandar in Chandni Chowk wins by a hair over its competitors. M. I. Food Center in Meharchand market is excellent too- don’t miss the Aloo Chaat here when you’re gorging on Papri. Nathu’s chain of restaurants also serve good Papri Chaat as well as excellent gol gappas (pani puri).

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Picture courtesy: http://www.food.ndtv.com

SOUTH INDIAN CUISINE:

Sagar Ratna is the undisputed king of vegetarian South Indian cuisine in Delhi. No other chain of restaurants boasts a long line for entry, every single day, since it opened decades ago! The fluffy idlis (savoury rice cakes), crisp and voluminous dosas (fermented rice crepe), flavourful dahi bhallas (similar to papri chaat), and filling upmas (porridge made from dry-roasted semolina), are the best in town, despite their low price point. The original Defence Colony branch is my favourite, but they have now expanded monumentally. Saravana Bhavan in Connaught Place is another good place for vegetarian South Indian cuisine.

For non-vegetarian South Indian fare, you can’t go wrong with the thalis at Andhra Bhawan in Feroze Shah Road. You must also try the delectable South Indian style sea-food at Swagath in Defence Colony market.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.twitter.com

NORTH INDIAN/ MUGHLAI CUISINE:

North Indian is rarely my go-to cuisine when out for a meal, as that’s what we mostly eat at home. However, rich Mughlai food is favoured by most Delhiites and is always a crowd-pleaser. North Indian cuisine is also a fail-safe bet when entertaining guests from abroad.

My favourite restaurants for North Indian food are Bukhara and Dum Pukht, at the ITC Maurya Hotel. This iconic joint has appeared in various ‘Best Restaurants of the World’ lists for good reason. Their Bukhara Daal and Sikandari Raan are simply to-die for.

For less pricey options, I always choose Curry Leaf by Moets in Defence Colony market, while my husband enjoys the Kashmiri Kebabs at Pindi in Pandara Road market.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.pinterest.com

FUSION/ CONTEMPORARY INDIAN CUISINE:

‘Fusion’ may not be the accurate term to describe the creative contemporary Indian cuisine popular nowadays, however that is what everyone calls it.

Indian Accent at the Lodhi Hotel (previously at the Manor Hotel), is the original exponent of this cuisine. A meal at this restaurant is more than worthy of its hefty price tag, as the consumer enjoys a unique experience. The tasting menu is the best way to sample signature dishes, but make sure you try this on an empty stomach!

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Picture courtesy: http://www.pinterest.com

THAI CUISINE:

I love Asian cuisine. There’s something about the flavours of the Orient that appeals to most Indians. It could be the spicy tanginess or the vast variety of dishes/cuisines to choose from. Thai is probably my favourite Asian cuisine of all. I love the variety of curries they make, served with rice.

My go-to place for Thai food is Culinaire in GK-2 market. I am happy to say they have maintained their standards over the years.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.nbcnews.com

CHINESE CUISINE:

Chinese food can be divided in categories. For Desi Chinese or Chinjabi lovers, China Fare in Khan Market is an excellent option- easy on the pocket and tasty too.

For higher end and more authentic Chinese food, my personal favourite is Ping’s Café Orient in Lodhi Colony Market– their Baos and Dimsums are fabulous. Yum Yum Cha is another excellent chain. I usually order from Yum Yum Cha’s food delivery service known as ‘Noshi’– fantastic dimsum and sushi too.

Baoshuan at The Oberoi is a good Chinese option for special occasions, owing to its higher price tag.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.agoda.com

JAPANESE CUISINE:

Sushi is the ultimate comfort food for me. My first choice of cuisine for ordering in, is always sushi.

Noshi is the best sushi delivery service, in my opinion. However, the best sushi in town was served at Wasabi by Marimoto at Taj Mahal Hotel (now closed), and at Megu at The Leela Palace Hotel. It is a pricey option but worth every penny. For a mid-range option, you could try Guppy by Ai at Lodhi Colony market.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.bluristorante.com

ITALIAN CUISINE:

Italian is the only Continental/ European cuisine that makes it to my list simply because who doesn’t love a good pizza or pasta dish?!

The Big Chill Café chain will forever be my favourite, for the wonderful college memories attached to it, as well as for the large variety of delicious Italian food. Amici Café in Defence Colony and its newer version, Andrea’s Bar and Brasserie also serve delightful Italian dishes. Artusi Ristorante in GK-2 market is great for authentic Italian in a fine-dining ambiance.

A European Deli or cafe that I particularly like is Smoke House Deli.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.food24.com

AMERICAN CUISINE:

Growing up, there was only one place for authentic American diner-esque food- the All-American Diner in Habitat Centre. Their breakfast options were particularly popular. However, in recent years, the quality seems to have gone down.

Aku’s Burgers in Defence Colony market, serves arguably the tastiest burgers in town and is now a firm favourite of mine.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.eattreat.in

MULTI-CUISINE OPTIONS:

Children of the 90s, are familiar with the concept of multi-cuisine restaurants. It was the best way for everyone in the family to enjoy a meal of their choice, while being out together. Where earlier it would be coffee shops at 5 star hotels, now it’s food courts in malls.

My favourite coffee shops to this day, are The Pavilion at ITC Maurya Hotel, and 360 at The Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi. A budget-friendly option I have enjoyed in the past is Eatopia at the Habitat Centre.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.pinterest.com

BAKERIES/ DESSERTS:

The idea for this post germinated from my undying love for the Hot Chocolate Fudge from Nirula’s. Do you remember working hard in your term-end exams just so you could get a free HCF?! I did! This chain of restaurants began rapidly shutting down a few years back, but has been revived recently under new ownership. The best part? Their Hot Chocolate Fudge tastes exactly the way it did before.

My favourite neighbourhood bakery is Defence Bakery in Defence Colony market. They made the brownies that went with my wedding invite, and I love their chocolate truffle cake. However, recently, a new favourite of mine, is the Big Chill Cakery in Khan Market. I simply cannot resist their Hazelnut Chocolate Mousse cake!

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This is my list of my favourite restaurants/eateries and of course it can never be complete. I’ll call it a work-in-progress, adding and subtracting as the need arises. Do you love any of these restaurants as much as I do? Do share your own all-time favourite restaurants in the comments section. Please share this post with someone you think might like it!

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I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s #MyFriendAlexa

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*This is not a sponsored post.

**If you enjoyed reading this post, you will enjoy reading my e-book “Tales From My Travel Treasury: An Alliterative Anthology” which can be downloaded for FREE from here.

***Copyright in content belongs to nooranandchawla and cannot be republished or repurposed without permission from the author. As I am a copyright lawyer by profession, infringement of any kind will invite strict legal action.

2019- A Look at the Year Gone By!

2019

I brought in 2019 at home with my husband while my son slept. It was perhaps the most uneventful New Year’s Eve celebration I’ve had, but it was wonderful. On January 1st, we whizzed off to Goa for a family holiday, where I recuperated from a spinal injury I got at the end of 2018. The lovely family-focused beginning to 2019 heralded a lovely year overall, and I’d like to look back and take stock of this year’s achievements and setbacks. This will help me, and you in turn if you’re inspired, to plan for 2020!

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Started the year in Goa on a family vacation

HEALTH:

My health concerns were uppermost in my mind at the beginning of 2019. Acute pain in my back led to a debilitating, radiating pain in my right arm. An MRI disclosed that four spinal discs were protruding and pressing on a nerve. In order to avoid surgery, I explored my options by visiting a nerve specialist, a physiotherapist, and a chiropractor but all of them prescribed long-term, expensive methods of treatment. A friend of mine recommended acupuncture with Dr. Khan of Nizamuddin, and I decided to test it, just for a lark.

Six weeks into daily acupuncture sessions, at 1/10th the cost of chiropractic and ½ the cost of physiotherapy sessions, my pain had disappeared completely! I can’t praise this ancient Chinese practice enough.

Would you like me to dedicate a full blog post to my experience with acupuncture? Let me know in the comments below.

Though my back was much better, I was wary of working out. A long break of 7 months without exercise or a balanced diet, led to sudden weight gain. Finally, Neeraj David, my trainer from 10 years ago, contacted me on Facebook saying he had worked with spinal injury patients in the past, and knew what to do. I began working out at Craft Fitness Gym in July 2019. Though I have lost only a few of my targeted kilos, I am much stronger and fitter than I was this time last year.

The weight gain had resulted in hormonal acne too, which I battled successfully by eating healthy and working out.

My goal for 2020 is to lose some weight, with a focus on being strong, fit and toned- which will help my overall health concerns too.

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CAREER:

Though blogging is my main focus, I also work as a lawyer.

BLOG:

Of every category listed here, my blog saw the most phenomenal growth this year. At the beginning of 2019, I had published over 150 blog posts. My content was appreciated but my reach was minimal. After connecting with other bloggers from the Indian blogging community, I learnt the importance of marketing one’s posts.

I began by participating in Prerna and Vartika’s Valentine’s Day Blog Train, which I won. From there I took part in many blog hops, trains and challenges and surprisingly wonmost of them. This gave me immense confidence in my writing skills, and made me engage meaningfully with other bloggers.

The biggest event/ game-changer was the A-Z Challenge hosted by Blogchatter. I learnt about this epic challenge merely two weeks before it was set to begin. Without thinking much, I signed myself up and wrote 26 travel posts, each with an alliterative title corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. During the entire month of April, I read and interacted with many bloggers for the first time. My reward at the end of this challenge was the publication of my first e-book “Tales From My Travel Treasury: An Alliterative Anthology”. After being re-stocked once, it has now crossed the limit of 500 downloads and is no longer available.

Though I love this book with my heart and soul, I later realised that I rushed into publishing it. An important lesson from this experience was that things must happen in the right manner and at the right time.

In September 2019, I participated in my first #MyFriendAlexa campaign, which taught me the significance of regular posting and engagement.

By implementing these practices, I was able to increase my online rankings and get a significant following on my blog. This led to sponsored content, allowing me to earn money from my blog.

It wasn’t all rosy though- I faced cyber stalking by a deranged follower, and dealt with it strictly.

In 2020, I’m hoping to take my blog to the next level. I would love for my content to reach maximum number of people, and I would love to write for other platforms too. However, my primary agenda is to publish my first novel.

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Anchoring an event for the 1947 Partition Archive

LAW:

Since 2016, my legal career had taken a backseat. However, in 2019, I was elevated to the Senior Panel of lawyers that represent the Government of India at the Delhi High Court. I was assigned a few cases, which ensured that I don’t lose my legal practice.

Further, I began legal work from home, such as drafting contracts, drawing up documents and offering legal opinions.

I’m unsure where 2020 will take me, but I have a strong feeling that my legal career is going to pick up again!

ANCHORING:

A new feather in my cap was added this year, as I was invited to MC a few events. I love being on stage, and hosting events is always fun. Though 2019 was just a beginning, I’m hoping 2020 will see my name grow in this sphere.

Glimpses from my travels in 2019. From L-R: Elephant safari in Kaziranga National Park, Assam;  farm staycation at our family friends home in Bilaspur, UP; at the heritage property Clarke’s Hotel in Shimla; with my friends at the Jaipur Lit Fest

TRAVEL:

To say that I love travelling would be a gross understatement. I thrive on travel and if it was up to me, I would constantly be on the move! As pointed out earlier, we began 2019 in Goa and will end 2019 there too. Additionally,

-I took an epic trip with my girlfriends to Jaipur for the Lit Fest

-A family vacation to celebrate my son’s birthday with a safari in Kaziranga National Park, Assam

– A couple of farm stays in village Bilaspur and Laksh Farms in village Mangar

– A weekend getaway at ITC Mughal Agra

– Family summer sojourns in Solan, Himachal Pradesh and Landour, Mussoorie

– A memorable stay at the Clarke’s Hotel, Shimla

– An international vacation at Tuscany and Rome in Italy

– A luxurious birthday staycation at The Oberoi Hotel, New Delhi

– A staycation for my friend’s bachelorette at Andaz Hotel, Aerocity

– Re-visited Goa for a wedding and Landour towards the end of the year to chill.

Here’s hoping 2020 brings even more opportunities for travel and leisure!

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HOBBIES:

When I started blogging, my reading habit took a backseat. This year, however, I picked it up again. I began 2019 with a Goodreads goal of completing 25 books in the year, and to my immense pleasure I have surpassed that by reading 36 books and counting!

This was only because I received many books to reviewon my blog. Though I am honest to a fault, and sometimes harsh with my reviews, I am glad that people like and trust my reviews. That’s the only reason I feel publishers send books to me, despite the low ratings I may give their publications.

I hope to read much more in 2020 and of course, I will keep reviewing too!

As for other hobbies, I watched a few amazing TV shows but the best one by far was “Dark” on Netflix. I’m eagerly waiting for its 3rd and final season in 2020.

Scenes from 2019. At a family wedding; partying with Badshah at Dragonfly Club on my friends bachelorette party

PERSONAL (FAMILY/ FRIENDS):

I intentionally saved the most important category for last. There were some big life changes for members of my family that affected me too.

-My son began proper schooling, which led to major life changes. Not only do I wake early every day, but I also volunteer my time as a parent for various school activities 2-3 times a week.

-My husband submitted his Dissertation after two years of pursuing his Master’s degree at the University of Cambridge.

-My brother appeared in a hit TV show, “Made in Heaven” on Amazon Prime.

-A couple of my close friends and family members got married

– I met and partied with my favourite Bollywood singer Badshah, one lucky night at Dragonfly Club

-I made new friends with the parents of my son’s schoolmates

-I enjoyed some fun times with my old friends

These may not seem like big, noteworthy achievements but I’ve come to realise that it is the little things that count.

An overall assessment of 2019 shows me that it was a positive year of personal and professional growth. There were a few setbacks, but I chose not to let them overshadow the good stuff. Here’s hoping 2020 is better in every way- I’m manifesting positivity in the hope that it translates to success!!

How was your year? I would love to read your personal 2019 year recaps- do tag me if you end up writing them 🙂

Do check out my blogger friend Cindy’s New Year Resolutions on her website.

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*This is not a sponsored post.

**Copyright in pictures and content belongs to nooranandchawla.com and cannot be republished or repurposed without express permission of the author. As I am a copyright lawyer by profession, infringement of any kind will invite strict legal action.

The Ultimate Travel Guide to Tuscany Italy

insanely picturesque landscapes

My family and I visited Tuscany in Italy, this past summer. One trip can never do justice to this wonderful part of the world, and one post isn’t enough either. This was my second visit to the country, and we explored Tuscany over 7 days. Having covered good ground, I am highlighting the top recommendations from my Tuscan vacation.

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Our villa in Tuscany- Il Cortile Di Pratolino

WHERE TO STAY IN TUSCANY:

I highly recommend setting up base in one place and driving around Tuscany. Though its medieval cities are very charming, constantly packing, un-packing and being on the move every 2-3 days, can be very annoying. Find a villa in the countryside, or an out of the way hotel. It will allow you to explore nearby cities, and also enjoy the beautiful countryside at leisure.

My family booked the villa at “Il Cortile Di Pratolino”. Here are the features of this stunning 8-bedroom property:

Fabulous swimming pool (the water was cold but bearable)

– Access to tennis courts, horse-riding and lovely walking trails

– Resident staff that was courteous and efficient, including a world-class chef, and housekeepers to clean and cater to our needs (with the exception of lunches and Thursdays)

– Beautiful gardens with a breathtaking view of the Tuscan valley surrounded by mountains

It was like living on a Hollywood movie set! We booked the villa for 13 people, including 2 senior citizens and 5 children, for 7 days, and had a delightful time here.

If you prefer staying in a hotel, with access to more amenities, you could check out my post on Badia a Coltibuono, which was nearby.

Book a stay here on booking.com

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The wonderful view of the Tuscan valley from the swimming pool in our villa

HOW TO GET AROUND:

The easiest way to get around the countryside is by renting a car. You can choose from various car rental companies and pick a vehicle at the airport itself. We chose Budget Car Rentals and were very happy with our car.

Keep these things in mind before booking:

– The number of people

– The amount of luggage you are carrying

– The narrow roads in Italy (sometimes smaller cars work better!)

– Whether you need to hire a car seat for your child

– You do not need an international driver’s license, but you will need to show your passport and driver’s license from your own country

Book online to avoid long lines and waiting, as there is a high demand for cars at peak season

– Pay for the insurance when you take the car, you won’t regret it

If you would rather use public transport, all major towns are connected via buses and trains from Rome and Florence.

THE PLACES YOU MUST VISIT:

Florence is the cultural hub of Tuscany and demands a visit, if only to see the world-famous sculpture of Michelangelo’s David. Pisa too has an undying allure because of its Leaning Tower. Lucca is known for its medieval charm, and Forte dei Marmi is a lovely beachside destination. I didn’t visit any of these places due to time constraints and long distances, but I’m not complaining- it’s just an excuse to go back! Here are the places I visited and my thoughts on them:

  • Arezzo

This medieval town is best known for the National Archaeological Museum, that houses ruins from the Etruscan period. It has a beautiful Basilica as well.

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Though the town is charming with some interesting sights, I feel it can be skipped in favour of other cities in the vicinity.

The famous designer outlet mall, Valdichiana is located near Arezzo. It offers massive discounts on designer brands.

  • Siena

This medieval city is known for its museums, art, lively city square called Il Campo, and beautiful cityscape.

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I highly recommend a day trip here if you can manage it.

  • San Gimignano

The cramped cobblestoned streets add character to this lovely place. Its black and white Duomo stands apart from the others, and its world-famous gelaterias boast the longest lines! You must include this in your Tuscan itinerary, if possible.

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  • Gaiole In Chianti

The heart of the Chianti countryside is known for its rolling hills, pleasant weather and delicious wine! We took day trips to the beautiful estate of Badia a Coltibuono in this area, for an Italian cooking lesson, a winery tour and wine tasting. This monastery converted to winery converted to hotel, is simply wonderful!

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THE SIGHTS YOU MUST SEE:

Apart from the sculpture of David, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the various Duomos in every town, the Chianti wineries, and numerous little museums; Tuscany is also home to many hidden gems. Here are some of the ones I saw and highly recommend:

  • The Chimera in Arezzo

A Chimera is a creature from Greek mythology- a lion with a goat’s head protruding from its back, with a snake instead of a tail. The Chimera sculpture discovered in Arezzo is known to be the best example of Etruscan art, and is definitely worth a dekko. It is housed in the National Archeological Museum in Arezzo.

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  • Madonna Del Parto in Monterchi

Depictions of a pregnant Madonna are a rare sight. A fresco made by Pierro Dela Francesca, housed in a tiny museum in Monterchi, is the most well-known one. We drove an hour outside of Arezzo to see this work. Its arrestingly beautiful simplicity, was worth the trip!

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  • The Church of Saint Catherine in Siena

Saint Catherine of Siena is one of the few female patron saints of the Catholic Church. The little church dedicated to her in Siena is beautiful and much quieter than the main sights of the town. Do visit when in the area.

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  • The Black Roosters in the Countryside

While driving around the Chianti countryside, one cannot miss the large black roosters. These are symbols of Chianti wine, and usually mark the location of a famous winery– local gems that no guide book talks about!

  • The Biblical Frescoes in San Gimignano

The Duomo in San Gimignano was special for its gorgeous fresco paintings that showed stories from the bible. Though we saw many churches in Tuscany, this one really stood apart.

THE FOOD YOU CAN’T MISS:

Honestly, the food in Italy is fabulous, no matter where you eat. Their pizzas have the perfect thin crusts, topped with the freshest of ingredients. The pastas and meat platters are cooked to perfection, and bursting with flavour. Even the most touristy spots provide delicious meals. However, here are the things I recommend trying over others.

  • Meals cooked by the chef at “Il Cortile Di Pratolino”. These were cooked and beautifully presented four course meals and each one was unforgettable.
  • The Coffee aperitif at Il Retorivo Ice Cream parlour in Siena. The alcohol added in was probably responsible for making it uber delicious
  • Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano has been voted the world’s best gelateria. The 30-minute-long line was definitely worth the amazing gelato we had there
  • A meal cooked by Benedetta Vitali at Badia a Coltibuono. This fabulous chef has appeared in an episode of the Netflix original documentary, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”, for good reason

Clockwise from top: Enjoying the world’s best gelato in Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano; a cheese and meat platter made by the resident chef Giuseppe at our villa; the community meal made by chef Benedetta Vitali at Badia a Coltibuono

This is my round-up of recommendations to make the most of your trip to Tuscany in Italy. I had a fabulous vacation there and I hope to return soon. Do leave your Tuscan recommendations in the comments section below, for the benefit of other readers. Please share this post with someone that may like it.

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*This is not a sponsored post, however it contains affiliate links. When you book a stay using my link, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I would be very grateful if you helped support my blog by using my links to book.

**If you enjoyed reading this post, you will enjoy reading my e-book “Tales From My Travel Treasury: An Alliterative Anthology” which can be downloaded for FREE from here.

***Copyright in content and pictures belongs to nooranandchawla and cannot be republished or repurposed without permission from the author. As I am a copyright lawyer by profession, infringement of any kind will invite strict legal action.

15 Tips For An Easy and Smooth Pregnancy!

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The 9 months of pregnancy are the most difficult, yet arguably the most exciting for a woman. While some blessed women sail through without complaint, most of us suffer from nausea, heartburn, indigestion, swollen limbs, bloating, weight gain, unexplained aches and pains, and so much more. My pregnancy was a tough one, and I left no stone unturned to make it as comfortable as possible. Here are my tips for expecting mothers to make their pregnancies easy, and to prepare you for the colossal change ahead.

  1. PICK A TRUSTED GYNAECOLOGIST THAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU WAIT TOO LONG

Your gynaecologist is your guide, mother and best friend throughout your pregnancy. There is no harm in meeting multiple gynaecologists before zeroing in on one. The doctor must be trustworthy, easily available during emergencies, have patience and be knowledgeable. If you can find one that prioritises the pregnant patients over regular ones, you can save time on waiting in endless lines too. Ask around in your network for personal experiences, to receive the best advice.

My gynaecologist is Dr. Harmeet Khurana, who practices only at Neptune Hospital in Navjiwan Vihar. I cannot praise her enough. She is everything one could ask for, in a doctor.

The distance of the hospital from your home, the facilities it offers and the friendliness and capability of the hospital staff are also important factors to keep in mind.

  1. ATTEND CHILD BIRTH PREPARATION/ LAMAZE CLASSES

This is more important for first time parents, but even repeat parents can benefit from brushing up their memory! I highly recommend that both parents attend these sessions, as fathers tend to be clueless when the baby arrives. These classes help make baby’s birth a reality for fathers.

My husband and I took ‘Child Birth Preparation Classes’ with Divya Deswal at Zaazen Wellness Center at the Phoenix Hospital in Delhi. This set of four 2-hour classes helped in clearing many concepts, that no book could have told us.

Many of my friends swear by Nutan Pandit’s Lamaze classes in Delhi. Lamaze is a technique of breathing and other exercises that helps to prepare you for labour.

Research online to find classes of this nature, in your city. Trust me, it is a worthy investment.

  1. GET YOURSELF A DOULA

A doula is a trained, non-medical person that provides guidance and support to women during and after labour. Divya Deswal, apart from being my childbirth teacher, was also my doula. Having her by my side, during an intense 18 hour labour, really helped ease the process. Doula’s do not perform any medical technique, but they massage/ ease out/ help position the woman in labour to have the most comfortable delivery, possible. They are companions and support systems.

Most urban cities in India have doulas. If you are in Delhi, you can get in touch with the Facebook group, Delhi Birth Network.

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  1. BEGIN PRE-NATAL YOGA OR EXERCISES FROM THE 4TH MONTH

I cannot stress enough the importance of exercising during your pregnancy. Personally, I took pre-natal yoga with Diya Kapoor of Kriya by Diya from my 4th till my 8th month. The yoga stretches helped my body adjust to the sudden changes, and eased the aches and pains.

In hindsight, I would have liked to work out with a specialist trainer in addition to yoga, to avoid putting on extra weight which became harder to lose after birth.

If you do nothing else, ensure you go for daily walks to stave off pregnancy diabetes and other complications.

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  1. GET SPECIAL PRE-NATAL MASSAGES FOR ACHES AND PAINS

Every woman’s pregnancy comes with its own unique set of problems. I developed a severe pain in my foot, that refused to leave no matter what shoes I wore. Finally, it was treated through foot reflexology and pre-natal massages at the Mamma Mia center in Fortis Hospital in Delhi.

Even if your city does not have fancy pre-natal massage centers, you will be able to find dai’s or local masseuses who are skilled in this field.

  1. KEEP A SCHEDULE OF IMPORTANT APPOINTMENTS

Make sure that you have a record of all your important appointments for tests, ultra sounds etc. It can be difficult to keep track of everything, but timings are sensitive in pregnancies. A fourth week appointment must happen in the fourth week itself!

I find the calendar app on my phone indispensable, so my life functions smoothly and I never forget appointments.

  1. READ BOOKS/ TALK TO YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS

The best way to prepare yourself for this monumental life change, is to talk to your family members and friends who have recently given birth. Advice from personal experiences is better than any book. However, keep in mind that everyone is different and each pregnancy is different. Resist the urge to compare yourself to others.

Books also help, but I preferred reading my weekly email updates from WhatToExpect.com and BabyCenter.in. The books I highly recommend, include What to Expect When You’re Expecting” by Heidi Murkoff, and “The Contented Baby Books” by Gina Ford.

If you’re looking for the best blogs to read online that will prepare you for what lies ahead, check out this list curated by blogger Surbhi Mahobia.

  1. BEGIN APPLYING THICK BODY BUTTERS/ OILS FROM THE 2ND MONTH

I don’t want to mislead you- stretch marks are genetic. If they run in your family, you will definitely get them during your pregnancy, no matter how hard you try to keep them at bay. However, you can control the intensity and appearance of the stretch marks by applying thick body butters and oils, right from the second month. My favourite product was Bio Oil, and I recommend applying it in any upward motion all over your belly, chest, thighs and bottom.

  1. TRY ACUPUNCTURE FOR NAUSEA AND HEARTBURN

I suffered from terrible nausea through the bulk of my pregnancy. Someone gifted me Sea Bands, which are based on the Chinese concept of applying pressure on the pulse points to stop the queasy feeling. These bands helped a little, but I wish I had known about acupuncture, which is a more concentrated and effective treatment on the same principle. In Delhi, you must consult Dr. Aadil Khan, who sits in Nizamuddin.

  1. BE PREPARED WITH A LIST OF POST-BIRTH SPECIALISTS

Once the baby is born, you won’t know what’s hit you! Get your act in order beforehand, by visiting and compiling a list of numbers of people that you need right after the birth. This includes the paediatrician, a lactation consultant if you plan to breastfeed, a post-natal masseuse for yourself, and a custom tummy belt maker to help the loose skin around your abdomen, get back in place faster.

  1. TRAVEL WHILE YOU CAN

You may feel ill, you may not have leave from work, or you may not enjoy travelling in general, but believe me, you must take at least one trip with your husband, before the baby’s arrival. The baby will become the centre of your life very soon, and your equation with your husband will definitely change. Travel while you can!

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  1. TAKE SOME DIGENE TO CURE INDIGESTION

Digene is the easiest and quickest way to combat heartburn, acidity and indigestion during pregnancy. Its mild formula is safe for the baby too. However, consult your doctor before taking any medicine.

  1. JOIN AN ONLINE PARENTING COMMUNITY

Facebook groups or chat groups on baby websites, are the best way to connect with other parents in similar situations. You can get answers to any query, from completely genuine sources. I personally rely on Mommy A-Z on Facebook, as my go-to source, till today.

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  1. BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU ARE EATING AND APPLYING ON YOURSELF

Keep a check on what you are eating, as it is extremely important to eat healthy, for yourself and your baby. Give in to cravings once in a while, but not beyond a reasonable amount. Heidi Murkoff’s “Eating Well When You’re Expecting” is a good resource to have at hand.

I suffered from a bad bout of hormonal acne during my pregnancy, but I could not take medication or apply strong products with salicylic acid in them. Consult a dermatologist if you have the same problem, and always be mindful of what you are putting into and on yourself during pregnancy.

Don’t feel like you need to invest in separate maternity clothes- Indian kurtas and tights are the most comfortable maternity clothes possible!

  1. SLEEP, SLEEP, SLEEP!

Ignore everything on this list if you must, but get as much as sleep as you can during pregnancy! It will become a luxury after baby’s arrival. If you find it uncomfortable to sleep with your big bump, invest in a maternity pillow to help make you more comfortable.

I hope these tips prove useful to you in this important phase of your life. If there is any advice I have missed, please leave it in the comments below for the benefit of other readers. If you like this post, please share it with someone that might need this information.

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*This is not a sponsored post, however it contains affiliate links. When you buy a product using my link, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I would be very grateful if you helped support my blog by using my links to buy.

**If you enjoyed reading this post, you will enjoy reading my e-book “Tales From My Travel Treasury: An Alliterative Anthology” which can be downloaded for FREE from here.

***Copyright in content and pictures belongs to nooranandchawla and cannot be republished or repurposed without permission from the author. As I am a copyright lawyer by profession, infringement of any kind will invite strict legal action.