World Travel

Destinations for the heartbroken

Destinations for the heartbroken

Soho, New York

When you are traveling with a heavy heart, you need a place that can lift the weight. If you have a bunch of friends or a good travel companion you can travel with, then any destination is good. Because you will have each other, camaraderie and enough distractions through the dynamics of group travel. But if you want to take off on your own when nursing a broken heart, you may need to choose a little wisely. Some may prefer the neon lights and the heady cocktail called Las Vegas. While some may seek out the solitude of Leh for some soul searching. You will have to figure what works for you. The first time I could afford a proper heartbreak run, I think I was around 25. The grief made me bold. The lack of clarity gave me a quest. And the fog all around my head made me seek out music and sunshine. And I reached Paris. Alone. On my way to Scandinavia. And while I spent more time discovering the utterly beautiful Scandinavia, my heart found a strange soar in Paris. Which is when I figured. For me, what works most are places where throngs of people are out on the streets. Laughing. Loving…living.

Theater district, NYC

New York
This tops my list. For the city’s joie de vivre.
New York is bursting at it’s seams with life, pace and the right kind of attitude. People here do not have time. And yet, they have plenty of time for a bagful. Think about it like a roller-coaster. You get in, strap in tight, get ready for a heart racing ride. And you shriek your heart out, knowing that that’s what everybody else is doing.  And that is liberating. The rush of Manhattan, the buzz of the Meatpacking district, the walk across the Brooklyn bridge, the amusement park at Coney Island, the iconic statue of liberty or the Chrysler building, being boho at Soho, the crowd walking at Times Square, the Met museum, the many musicals, and of course, hours and hours of Central Park. And these are just a few of my favorite things. Another week [ a month would be even better] and I would have managed a lot more.
People are friendly and very colorful. I would have said chic, inspired by Breakfast at Tiffany. Or the more recent Sex and the City, but I found them more pro life and pro funk, than just pro fashion. I stayed in Soho, fed myself on a variety of food ranging from Mexican to Ethiopian and went on a heavy dose of musicals. If you are an ABBA and a sing along fan, definitely catch Mama Mia. The crowd bursts into a chorus with every song. Like one big happy family. This energy is infectious.  It is the much needed distraction to pull your soggy heart out of the little puddle of pain. If traveling solo, try to stay in a dorm. They do not come so cheap really, but you will get a great crowd to hang around with, and make some new friends.

Paris, a view from the Eiffel tower
Paris on a World cup weekend

Ironical, isn’t’ it? A city that is known to be romantic, one would think should be avoided like a plague. Especially when one is picking up the pieces. But it is the very same reason that it makes your heart soar. Because it builds hope through its beauty and romance.
The first time I did Paris, I did it solo and a little tight on budget. I stayed in the very bold and colorful red light district called Pigalle [ which many might consider unsafe for a single girl]. But it kept me in walking distance from the Moulin Rouge, so that I could walk back after a late night show. And the place was surrounded by revelry and party goers, cheap maybe, but not sleazy. After a day of figuring out how to cope with the language challenge, I sunk into its beauty and started discovering the art, starting from Louvre’s fantastic collection to the magnificent palace of the Versailles. Music almost wafted into your presence in any corner of the city. Culture and intellectualism is in abundance in the alive Latin Quarters, St Germain and in & around Sorbonne university. And even if you are the kind of person who just wants to soak up the atmosphere, your feet will drag you to the usual list like the Cathedral Notre Dame de paris, Eiffel tower, Pantheon etc. All these will keep you greedy and busy. The second time I went to Paris, I was with a friend. A keen observer of love, romance and all things that ruffle the heart. And with her I also discovered the stretch near the river Seine. Where many a heart musings hang around.
I would suggest stay near the Latin Quarters for the buzz. And let the beauty of the city work it’s magic on you.

Charles Bridge, at sunrise Prague. Photo courtesy : Valerii Tkachenko 
Old town centre, Prague

The land that popped out of tales of pointed castles, huge clock towers, cobbled squares, and palaces of the past. And yet, managed to throw in a rocking night life, throbbing taverns and a vibrant countryside. That’s Prague. Or Praha, As it is fondly known. First it will completely distract you with it’s fairy tale beauty. Then it will win you over with the fun it offers on a platter. A walk across the Charles Bridge will take forever. Watching the painters, musicians, and artists of all sorts hawking, laughing and engaging with the people walking by. I stopped and let a whole bunch of minutes, maybe more, go by, waiting for a set of Jazz players to finish their piece. Before I could gather my senses and head towards the utterly beautiful Prague  Castle. In the old town square, try the Bombay Cocktail Bar, or the Bugsy’s bar. A favorite with both the locals and the tourists, the place is high in spirits. And not just literally.. The square itself is a great place to just hang out and watch happy people, with happy shopping, ordering food and drinks from happy menus. In and around the place, there is also some art to find. I just happened to walk into a display of Dali’s best. Quite the bonus. Old town square is also a good place to stay. Though I stayed in a small ship called Boatel Albatros, now docked on the river, and serving as a small lodge. It was quite the experience staying in a small cabin, overlooking the water. Just a short walk away from the old town square.
If Paris was beautiful, Prague is enchanting. Just make sure you walk around a lot, and take in as much of the visual delight as you can.

The art of Gaudi,, Barcelona
A Tapas bar, Barcelona

Hola! Pass the Sangria. Yes, even at 11 am.
If you ever wanted to see what the other kind of fairy tale houses, like the gingerbread house, or the house made of treats in Hansel and Gretel looked like in real life, you have to head to the candyland of Gaudi. Barcelona is sun, shine and sangria. The people are loud, the music is booming, the language is robust and the food is dished out in tiny samples of many. Tapas bars mushroom the city, with one in every 20 steps. Feeding variety of small quantities of delight. And an assortment of different kinds of Sangria and local beer. La Rambla, the pulse of the city, is a sight in the night. With many restaurants popping up, with beautiful lights, pitchers of fruity wines and live music.
One of the major reasons why Barcelona works on the heart is because of Antoni Gaudi. A catalan architect, he worked more than a 100 years back, designing some of the most mind blowing buildings, parks, and giving birth to a style unknown to the world at that time. Thought to be quite radical, I have been quite taken in by how he changed the face of rooftops

Chimneys on rooftops, Gaudi architechture

by making something as mundane as a chimney look funky. The fabulous Sagrada Familia Basilica, the large Roman Catholic Church in the heart of the city, even though under renovation most of the time, will still leave you speechless. An evening of live music and flamenco dance performance is a must. And while walking around the city, you will realize the mad spirited fire of the city is captured very well in the street art in almost every wall and corner. And as if so much of art wasn’t enough,  the city is also the home of Picasso’s early years. Head to Museu Picasso to see his work from his formative years. And by chance if you manage to land in Barcelona during a festival, be sure to be greeted with a riot of colours and the sound of music floating in the atmosphere. There is nothing subtle and quiet about Barcelona. Just what you need to knock that silly pain right out of your mooning mind.

A view of the Bosphorus, Istanbul

The melting pot of east and west. Asia and Europe. Hub of the Ottoman empire. And a fabulous display of the Byzantine architecture. Istanbul is mellifluous of a different kind. A walk around the shores of the Bosphorus is a must. Let your sorrow dissolve with one street food at a time. Oysters. Fresh fish in big buns. Squids. Doner kebabs. All lined up for sampling while you shop, look at the sunset or just soak in. A visit is the Topkapi palace and it’s beautiful gardens. armed with a doner kebab, a book, and some little tidbits from the city, is the perfect place to while away an afternoon. Watching the fresh flowers, green grass, little fountains, and packs of friends and family doing the same. While the sun plays patterns on you through the thick foliage. The Blue mosque and the Hagia Sofia are landmark

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul

sites. A place of reverence and a place of  architectural splendor. The Grand bazaar is like Aladdin’s cave, only much bigger. Full of little finds, vintage jewellery  sparkling lamps, weaves and pottery,  enter if you have the art to haggle. A walk around the old town and it’s cobbled streets, multitudes of shops displaying the beautiful Iznik pottery, souvenirs, generous amounts of beautiful turquoise splash, kitsch art on display, and flirtatious men all around, are all good for the heartbreak. The nightlife is no less than rocking. Istiklal street, by day a mad long stretch of shopping with all brands that one can find, turns into a stretch of pulsating party place till wee hours of the morning. Nightclubs are churning out the latest everything, including bollywood. And if you want to party by the sea, Ortokoy is the perfect place. But I think it’s not the rush and the mish- mah that works ultimately. There is so much to know about the history of the world, the invasions in this region, the rule under the legendary Ataturk, that suddenly whatever you are grieving looks really really small. That moment when you realize that the world out there is quite big and beautiful. And still mostly unexplored by you.

So, save up for the heart-beak fund. These places aren’t really cheap, but will make your world soar a little bit above the broken pieces of the heart, leaving the toxic pain behind.

An afternoon in a New York library
Small town detour while globe tripping

Small town detour while globe tripping

A Boston afternoon
New York left me breathless. Exhilarated is more apt a word. But Boston slowed me down. Like an afternoon nap. That leaves you fresh, so that you can extract more out of the evening. And that is the beauty of these little jewels around these big sprawling main metropolis. They are beautiful, unhurried, and come with a distinct flavor of their own.  And if carefully added in the itinerary, they add another dimension to the big city holiday. But most of the time in our rushed schedules, when we are trying to squeeze out as much as we can from the big city, we do not have much space for a breather detour. And we do not even know what we have missed. So here is a tip, just in case you are planning a visit to these big destinations. Yes New york, London, Paris, Vienna and Istanbul are must visits. But take the detour. Because Boston, Oxford, Normandy, Salzburg, Cappadocia are headline destinations on their own, just a short curve away

Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum

While visiting New York, keep a night or two away for Boston. And if you have watched The Social Network, yes it is quite the hub of buzzing brains. The university town that will want to make you go back to books and do a course, even if you have shirked books all your life. It has lively markets with crazy hang out joints, livelier squares, beautiful museums and pretty parks with a generous helping of talented musicians doing their thing. Harvard square in the night is a must do. The buzz around the place is a high. A walk around the Harvard campus will play with your imagination throwing up images from Erich Segal’s Love Story. Sitting around the Charles river, you might just catch a practice for a rowing competition. And the visit is incomplete without vising the John. F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and the very famous Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. While the first one is a very up close and personal peek into JKF and Jacqueline Kennedy’s romance, challenges, and everyday life, the other is a delightful time machine, bringing alive events that changed the course of American History. And on one hand, while this funky erudite city is a perfect platform  and docking station for academic passions, on the other, it is quite the cup- cake land. There are little and big cup- cake shops strewn across the city, feeding away all kinds of frosted fantasies. In one word, this city is delightful.
Oxford town
Take that train from London and in just a couple of hours you will be in Harry Potter land. Another university town, but with a feel so very different. It is almost magical in its charm and regal in its attitude. This place is a delight for an architecture observer. A walk-around will open up ancient churches, lovely libraries, and beautiful structures just tucked away in corners waiting to be discovered. And it is not just Hogwarts you will feel you are walking around in, while in the many Oxford University buildings. But the place is strewn with book fantasies. Oxford is also the birth place of Alice in Wonderland and many inspirations for the stories came from this place. In fact, the main market square has the original The Alice’s Shop – the authentic Alice in Wonderland Shop that found it’s mention 150 years ago in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. And today the shop is a Victorian treasure trove of Alice in Wonderland gifts and memorabilia. Two days and one night is totally worth it in this magical little town. 
Normandy. Mont St. Michel. Photo credit : The Telegraph/ Greg Ward
Inside Mont. St Michel
While in Paris, take a day off and head out to the  extraordinary abbey of Mont. St. Michel. A tiny island near the frontier between Brittany and Normandy, that has stood there for well over a thousand years. The Gothic church perched on top of the hill makes quite the first impression,when one can see it from a  distance. And once inside the fortress, while making your way up to the top, you will feel you stepped into a very different kind of history. The medieval ages. The view from the top is breathtaking. With land water and sky merging effortlessly. And while you take time out to visit this place, don’t rush back to Paris. Stay a little, or just a day, in and around. You can stay in the capital of Britanny- Rennes, a lively little town, just an hour away. But I would suggest, put in another hour and stay in Rouen, the capital of upper Normandy. A very ancient town that saw the execution of Joan of Arc and was almost entirely rebuilt post World war 2.  Among the many attractions in this town, The Cathedrale Notre Dame de Rouen is a splendid Gothic structure, with an even more breathtaking laser show depicting the life of Joan of Arc and the famous painter Claude Monet. So step out of Paris, and step into medieval France, if just for a day or two. 
Salzburg- waterfront
On way to the ice caves- Austrian alps
I went there for just a couple of days, and went back to Vienna [ Austria] feeling I could have done another week there. It is a small [ only when you compare it to the sprawling Vienna] boutique town. With beautiful cobbled streets in its old town, and hopping busy city square in its modern side. It is the headquarters for Red Bull [ the energy drink]. It is the  childhood town of Mozart[ birthplace of the famous musician]. It is the backdrop to the famous musical Sound of Music. So it is, by nature, plentiful. If you stay at the right place here, you can wake up to the beautiful view of the Austrian alps. One of the best places to stay is on the border of old and new town, near the river. Best of both worlds will be just a walk away. Since Salzburg is located close to the German border, you will find lots of boundary hoppers hanging around in the pubs at night. A short ride away, on a high hill is the Eagle’s nest- Hitler’s retreat turned to a watch place, while he kept an eye on Austria. And another short ride away, into the Austrian alps was my dream come true.  The ice caves. One of the oldest and largest.  Full of giant stalagmites and stalactites.  A walk inside the ice caves was straight out of an Enid Blyton adventure, a feeling difficult to capture through words or pictures. The whole Salzburg package for me was so much more than the city of Vienna could have ever given. Bavarian and mesmerizing.
Cappadocia rose valley
Sunrise Balloon rideCappadocia
Ok, Istanbul is magical. And pretty much the melting pot of many settlements and cultures. Which is why you will feel a little greedy to let go of even a few days from this city and try to max it. But a short flight away, the land of the chimney fairies await you. Cappadocia. Or Kapadokya as the locals call it. A natural wonder and a must do for people who love road trips. Hire a bike, ATV or an open jeep, hit the road. and get prepared to be hit by sights that one would think were only possible in pop up books or in Lord of the Rings series. Stay in a cave house, do the morning balloon ride, visit the Haman and the tiny towns of Cappadocia next to each other. Make it to the underground city and see how people lived for months, in the face of invasion. And shop. Because you will get the same things that you get in Istanbul’s grand bazaar but a lot cheaper. I stayed in Goreme town, full of fairy chimneys and cave houses. Close to all the natural wonders. But Avanos, a short bike ride away, is also a good place to eat, shop and hang out in the night. So step out of busy Istanbul and get this dose of surreal.
A Boston evening

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