Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Planet Iceland- Day 1

29.5 hours

The day finally arrived when we reached Bangalore Airport at about 11:00 PM in late night for the flight at 1:30 AM on the 8th of September. This was a special night considering that we were kicking off our 5th year anniversary in a very memorable way.

A quick celebratory selfie at 00:00 and the boarding started soon enough.

The flight was a Malaysian Airlines to Amsterdam and in the quintessential anniversary celebration, we downed the fine wine that came along with the dinner and relaxed into the long flight after practicing the phonetic names of the places we were about to visit. Rey-kya-vik, not Rek-ya-vik we blabbered.

Just before the flight landed in Amsterdam, we were appreciating the view from above - the city was really well designed - the careful juxtaposition of the waterways and the roadways was a sight to behold. Lots of green and blue with a good sprinkling of colourful houses and spotless white wind turbines was very poetry like.


Amsterdam airport was huge - and lots of walking - and this was the entry point to Europe - the continent we were setting foot on for the first time. We had a couple of hours to kill and we had this major goal in mind - to exchange some of our Euro currency into Icelandic currency - and we found one of the Banks which advertised the currency exchange. After a brief wait in the queue, we exchanged some of our Euros into Icelandic currency - only to realise later that the exchange was at a terrible rate - it dawned on us later that when currency A is exchanged for B, you get the best value when A is not the common currency - essentially do not give Euro for any currency in a place where there is already lot of Euro - we should have exchanged Euro in Iceland and not in Amsterdam. 

This was also the time to ensure the new credit card that we signed up for actually worked outside India - so a quick testing of the contactless feature to buy some sandwich and coffee gave us a lot of relief apart from filling our tummies. Found out that Holland and Netherlands are pretty much the same after studying some memorabilia in the airport. While walking around the airport aimlessly, we visited an open garden - and that is where we got the first sense of the chill in the wind ! Soon it was time to catch the next flight - Anniversary was still on !

The next flight was Iceland Air and KEF was just 2 hours away now. We were hoping to see amazing landscapes before landing at KEF, but realised later that KEF was right at the shore - so, ocean ocean all along and suddenly the flight lands in KEF. It was 3:10 PM.

We held our hands and congratulated each other on successfully landing in the land of our dreams - Iceland was finally here, well, Iceland was where it was always, we were here now ! and that too on our Anniversary. It was super windy and raining and cold and ultra gloomy, but hey, it was Iceland !


We quickly used the Airport free WiFi to call back home to let them know we were still alive and kicking. Then back to planning - two SIMs, finish the formalities and pick up the rental car, settle down in the car and get set. We'd pre-booked the rental car (Hertz) - and on the advice of several blogs also picked up the GPS and WiFi in the car. The two SIMs for each of our phones was very interesting - the prepaid pack was (a) shit costly and (b) had only like 2 GB limit ! I couldn't help but think of how dirt cheap internet is so important to a country - in India we hardly have such limits and it costs next to nothing. Anyway we went to the parking section of the Airport and loaded the KIA - this was two things different - (a) Left-hand-drive and (b) Automatic - so we quickly took multiple rounds within the Airport to comfort ourselves. The one thing that was really troublesome for us was the rear-view window - somehow the muscular memory could ever look on the right side to view the rear-view ! But you get adjusted to the situation much faster than you expect when there's an adrenaline rush.

Our AirBnB at Reykjanesbaer was a quick 10 minute drive from the Airport, in Keflavik - we had chosen this place in order not to drive around a lot on the very first day considering the jet-lag and adjusting to the opposite driving direction.

Gulli (Guðlaugur) was the name of our host and going by the zesty name, we were expecting a fun loving cheerful young lady who turned out to be a really warm 6.5 foot gentleman in his late 70s. Our room / cabin was the basement and it was arranged so well - and was so warm. In most hotels in India, on the towel, there's a small Hamam or Mysore Sandal Soap placed on it - but here in Iceland, the very similar looking bar on top of the fresh towel was not a soap but yummy white Chocolate ! :)


Upon noticing the washing machine in the corner, we immediately proceeded to wash our travel wear - but there was only one problem ! The machine had all modes and measurements in German !

Google Translate quickly helped us understand the various modes and the clothes were getting washed. We wanted to quickly pack and plan for the next day and decided to go to the super market to get some staples. We drove around the small town which was by now practically empty - we visited Netto and bought some eggs, vegetables and a slice of brown bread.


By now, we had decided that our longest Anniversary was to be celebrated outside - so we searched around for places to dine - while most places were closed by 6:00 PM, there was this one quaint little cafe which was open. We ordered a hot-chocolate and a vegetarian dish called Hekla !


Hekla was this wonderful combination of sweet-potatoes, mushrooms, tofu and veggies in a brown sauce - it was the perfect way to end our longest anniversary of 24 + 5.5 hours.

We headed back to the BnB after the sumptuous dinner and again used Translate to open the german washing machine. Quickly repacked clothes and planned to leave early next day at 7:30 AM. The jet-lag exhaustion, the warm meal and the warm BnB helped calm the adrenaline and we were in deep sleep within minutes. 

The 29.5 hour anniversary finally came to an end.

Planet Iceland - The beginning

This travelogue has been on my mind from the time I was back from a magical and strange land but it took me almost a year to get my mind back on track into writing about this epic trip before it remains ONLY in my memory. For the initial few months after the trip I kept admiring the pictures but later, my mind itched to write and words just wouldn't flow. I wasn't sure, what to write and how to explain about a trip which definitely was a dream which we had ( my husband and I) had worked on, so that it comes true. Iceland, as a travel destination was NEVER on my list. In fact I hardly knew about this place unless I was forced to see various pictures and videos of the Northern lights, which can also be seen in Iceland. just like other countries close to the Arctic belt. 

So, what is it that made me come out of the phase of procrastination?????

Well...... it was a little bit , a lot of push from my partner, an old blog post surfacing up and a promise that I had made to a little someone. 

It was one of own my older blog posts( Living our dreams together on Valentine's Day), where I had to imagine a situation where I had been granted a wish of my choice for Valentine's Day 2015 and how I would utilise that wish to make it special for my partner. Back in 2014 and 2015, it was only and only Iceland that was on my husband's mind whose photographic and explorative eye exclusively wanted to go to places which are unique and are filled with natural wonders. I was quite a novice in travel planning 4-5 years back so, for me it was easier to imagine and write about Iceland, than to attempt planning for the trip or even thinking about executing it. I did a lot of research and compiled a beautiful post for Valentine's Day, won accolades for it and even forgot about the content after a while. The irony here is that, in reality, I never showed it to the Valentine for whom I had written the above travelogue conjured completely out of my imagination. 

2-3 years post that we both sat down to reconsider if we could plan a trip to Iceland in November. We discussed extensively with our travel planners( Pick Your Trail) and were about to book tickets when we suddenly dropped the plan and changed our destination. Going to Iceland in November( one of the core winter months) had its own challenges. The only advantage of going during that was longer and darker nights which increased the chances of sighting the Northern Lights. After a careful risk and benefit analysis,  my husband dropped this plan with a heavy heart. That's how New Zealand happened and that place washed all the gloomy feelings away. We stopped discussing about Iceland and decided to leave it to time. After a gap of 2 and half years, (late 2018) again my husband brought up this crazy idea of going to Iceland during winter. After being with him for almost 5 years now, I had gotten used to contradicting his statements which did not seem to be serious. I told him to not waste time thinking about a plan which was not going to work out. He took a week's time but meanwhile he had already done his background work. He was not just planning but serious about executing the trip this time. He started considering September as a good time to go to Iceland instead. Now, this seemed reasonable to me and if we planned well we could also make our 5th anniversary special. And, that's how it all began.

Thanks to Pick Your Trail for helping us create a trip itinerary keeping in mind our interests and giving us the flexibility of choosing our hotels and suggesting what could be done when we are in Iceland. They also created a WhatsApp group chat with constant day-to-day reminders so that we could not miss out on anything important. Oncet the flight tickets were sorted we went ahead and got the VISA done. We chose a mixture of Airbnb and hotel/ motel like set-up for the trip which could match with the other activities in our itinerary. We had to do this part by ourselves , which was a good learning experience , especially when we were applying for a Schengen visa. Our challenge was to pack smart, as the airlines had told us that only one baggage per person would only be allowed for check-in and we could just carry a minimal weight in our cabin luggage. We made a list of the items and even the number of clothes that we exactly needed for trip and kept everything accordingly. Decathlon was our go to place for shopping regular travel wear and also the winter+water-resistant wear. We had some thin fleece jackets and woollens which we could use as layers below the thick jackets. Layering was the key, as we had read in many websites and blogs. The weather could be a mixture of rain+ wind+sun as September was a mid-way time between the summer and rainy months and the beginning of winter in Iceland. Seeing many blogs mention more about the rain being persistent during this month, made us feel a little irritated as we had to even carry rain jackets. We did not have any specific water-proof shoots etc, but a pair of good sturdy shoes from Decathlon each and open sandals were what we had kept along with multiple pairs of socks. I wanted to flaunt a lot of beautiful t-shirts that I had but after going to Iceland, I ended up mostly in one jacket which was the go-to outer wear clothing for the maximum part of the trip. This probably was a good decision because packing minimal helped us manage our clothes better, we could carry stuff while coming back without increasing our luggage weight and we managed to wash our clothes in most of the places where we stayed. Gloves, jackets, sunscreen, medicines, shoes, socks, t-shirts, water-resistant/comfortable pants, grocery items like rice, poha, Maggie, instant soup/noodles, spices, etc with a very useful and multipurpose lightweight, microwave safe plastic cooker and light weight re-usable cutlery and tiffin boxes. The microwave-safe cooker was the best investment we had made for the trip as cooking a on-pot meal was quick and easy for us. Being lacto-ovo-vegetarians we we able to adjust to eggs, dairy and bread but it would not help us sustain for a one week in Iceland as we both love our food and cannot manage by having just soups and salads apart from eggs. So, these hacks saved us the trouble of hunting for vegan/vegetarian food in Iceland. We did our bit of research about what we could purchase after going there from Supermarkets and also utilise what we had got with us. Packaging of food items that we got from Nilgiris was good enough to even withstand the in-transit air pressure. These were some of the go-to places for grocery shopping that we banked on during our trip : Nettó, Krónan and Bónus. This website : Guide to Iceland, gave us most of the relevant info related to trip. Keeping Google Translate handy in our mobile which could convert Icelandic to English and vice-versa helped us to prepare well for the trip by learning to pronounce some basic names of places in Icelandic. Having heard that the language is tough, we practiced spelling and understanding few Icelandic words while we were sitting at the airport waiting to board the flight. Overall, these small key points made us feel a lot better during the trip. The rest what we did was based on everyday's exploration which will unfold in the upcoming blog posts. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

My little contribution to #NationalScienceDay

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National Science Day, celebrated on 28th of February every year is a day dedicated to mark the Nobel prize winning discovery 'The Raman effect'  by Sir. C.V. Raman. Many educational institutions keenly participate in this celebration where information about the scientific work in all the fields in spread as both awareness and knowledge for even a layman. Every year there is a theme based on which presentations are made. I always wish this kind of celebration could have started in the early 90s in my younger school days. Although we had science exhibition and workshops conducted by the school children which was open to the public where we had an opportunity to showcase our talent in all fields. 

In my current workplace and institute, National Institute of Mental Health and NeuroSciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, we celebrate Science Day every year and the entire institute participates in a day wide programme and exhibition where school children, students from various colleges, para-medical and medical educational institutions are invited to attend and also it is thrown open to the common public. The laboratory(Metabolic Lab) and the team from the Department of Neurochemistry where I work in, also participated and represented our scientific work in a simplified manner which could be understood by students and general public. 

This time the theme of Science Day was , "Science for the People, and the People for Science."  The preparations had started almost from the beginning of this year for this day. There were more than 250 volunteers from 30 different departments with 65 stalls spread across various disciplines like basic, behavioural and neuroscience who had participated in the day long event. Every team had ensured that they are able to convey important scientific work in a manner which could be creative and help children understand our work better. Many had made models, prepared charts, organised games, created puzzles and also conducted a street-play, which could kindle interest among the young minds and get their thinking caps on. 

While I was preparing the stall with our team and also interacting with the public and going through the course of the day I felt like I was transported back to my school days when I had the same enthusiasm in preparing for the school science exhibition. It was a way to interact with new people, spread and share our knowledge, get feedback for our work and also make new friends. After I started working, I almost forgot what it was like to be a part of this kind of a creative activity. In the scientific community at the research level we are only bound to scientific posters and presentations but science day triggered the creative juices in our minds so that we could also represent our high level scientific work in a way that could help the young bright minds think of new ideas based on our work and divert their interest in it as they are the flag bearers who would carry forward scientific knowledge.

We represented our work related to newborn screening where children/affected patients are screened for inborn errors of metabolism using just a small spot of blood. Presenting the scientific work that we do along with a more than a decade long specialized diagnostic service that our laboratory provides, was a moment of pride for us as we felt that we were able to reach many who were unaware of the importance of newborn screening and also were new to the fact that such facilities of testing were available for everyone in the country as well. 

I personally took out time to go to each and every exhibit and stalls kept by various departments to know about their work and also appreciate the amount of work put in by each and everyone in presenting their work in the best possible way. There were extremely good facts about neuroscience that were depicted by every team in the best possible way. Everyone had a message to share with the general public and especially a great learning for the students. There were also slogans like- ' Go green' and ' Say No to Plastic' message that were spread in the form of models which were like an interactive teaching tool for everyone.

Young minds and the Gen-Next are very talented and have access to technology and knowledge in a way I couldn't have imagined when I was in school. Technology has its own peril but science day explains how technology can be used in a productive way and teaches as to why a student who is interested in science should try to look beyond just books and learn to apply science in their day to day life. Overall, the experience of participating in the science day was an enriching one, not just for me and my team but also for those who took time to visit this and took home a positive message related to science, not just as a boring subject but as a practical approach to life. 

This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.'

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Eat fit, Grow fit and Be fit

In the current scenario that we are living in, where we have better access to technology which is full of gadgets, I wonder the kind of world we are heading towards? We have so many smart applications included in our day to day lives just to make our lives a little easier and better. Smart devices are useful at the same time also addictive. We are so dependent on smart devices that we have forgotten what is it like to even look at the time on a wrist watch or ask someone for directions or remember phone numbers and important dates in our schedule calendar or also take note of important notes, passwords etc. Devices have gone to an extent that they also help you in predicting the most fertile days to even try for pregnancy! Woah!! now devices are directing us in even planning for a pregnancy. Aren't they slowly encroaching our lives and our minds hence disrupting the natural flow of events which were always bound to occur?? I was watching few episodes of the series Black Mirror on Netflix the other day and the stories they have portrayed about technology engulfing our lives like a pathogen being engulfed by our immune cells are scary that I fear they will eventually be true some day. It was difficult for me to accept the fact that our future could be headed towards something like that and even imagining about it and visualising it gives me chills. I felt more scared watching this series that I would have felt watching a horror movies because I know what Black Mirror is trying to tell us could be not just fiction but reality in the near future.
Now, having said all of these, let me get out of the worrisome and the negativity zone. Let me look at the most important benefits of including smart gadgets in my life. For me, the first and foremost help would be from smart phones. The introduction of a good quality smart phone has made my life very very simplified and it goes beyond the use of phone just for social media and networking with people. My smart phones have always been bought from Flipkart and they have a wide range which one could choose from which allows users to buy what they exactly need. I am not a very gadget friendly person as I use gadgets only for what I need them the most. The phone I am currently using is Mi A1 which is able to give me the best out of what I need from a smart phone. Since I work in a hospital where research is involved I have used technology to the best when it comes to capturing clinical photos of patients with rare conditions which have added value to scientific data and has helped solved many clinical mysteries. I have used to capture processes and videos of my experiments, the type of equipment set-up I have used and put them in posters to explain to the scientific community about my work. And all this was done perfectly by using my phone which could capture photos and give a great output whose resolution was quite clear to be put up even on huge posters. I tried to use my phone in better ways than just capturing regular memories. There were times during travel where we have chosen to go without a DSLR and the images captured through my phone have been amazing enough to be blown-up into a large print. I have used this to download Apps which add relevance in my life not just with social media interactions but also by giving me the opportunities to connect with groups which talk about fitness, discuss about dietary regimes and also about doing things thr right way when it comes to fitness. If there were no smart phones I wouldn't be able to listen to the choice of music I want to. They are the best forms of additions that one could make into their lives.

The next in line would be the introduction of Smart televisions which is an important component of #SmartHomeRevolution. Although the use of mobile phones and televisions are not new but what we can do using a smart tv is much more than just watching the regular daily soaps. We are basically spoilt for choice when it comes to the use of a good quality internet facility at home coupled with a smart TV. Amazon prime, Netflix, Youtube and other channels which can viewed through a smart tv as well have added extra value to the concept of watching television. Although, these things can get addictive but if watched in limits they have added extra value to our life with a variety of entertainment and information which looks amazing on a big screen rather than being watched through a laptop.

Smart Home devices are the next gen revolution which give us answers for everything. You just need to say ' Ok! Google' and everything works post that. I personally haven't liked using them so I have limited their use for only playing songs of my choice. The other day, my friend, a busy mom of two kids was running around in the house doing multiple chores while I visited her. One of her 4 year old came in interrupting our conversation many times asking her to tell her some rhymes so that he could be entertained. She tried telling one or two rhymes but he kept coming back. So, after a point she was fed up and she told him to ask google and find out. He, being a 4 year old next gen smart kid asked Google and got all the rhymes that he wanted to hear to keep himself entertained. So, this clearly tells as to how much it had added value to every busy parent's life. There are cons to it too but in times of need this serves as a boon. At last, my friend and I were able to sit and have a cup of coffee together after 10 years. She had also installed a Smart Camera, (CCTV camera) linked with a door opening system in their house entrance so that even in their absence anyone would be very careful before opening the door and everything would be recorded which they could monitor even when they were at work. This added so much security to their lives and would be helpful for others as well. They are easily available on Flipkart and can be installed very easily.

My favourite among the smart gadgets is the Mi fitness band which is a Smart Wearable gifted by my husband. I am so thankful to this fitness revolution introduced that we have moved beyond expensive gadgets like FitBit where tracking our fitness goals isn't that expensive anymore. It is one of the simplest smart watches where all you need is the time, the number of steps walked per day, the number of kms done during the day, the calories burnt, the heart rate and foremost, once we connect it with the Mi Fit App it can tell us about the progress correctly. I usually put my phone in silent mode while I am at work and forget to put it back to the ringing mode. This band help me set a vibration so that every time I get a call my band vibrates which helps me not missed important calls. Every day seeing the number of steps I have taken and the number of kms I have walked/ run gives me a motivation to do more. Those little rewards that we get after our set target is reached for the day is very helpful in pushing me to do more. There are many gadgets available which have many other additions and functions but this basic fitness band works for people like me who are not gadget friendly yet want to use technology in the best possible way. After buying this band and using it for over 10 months now I can see my fitness progress and in the true sense this is #GetFitWithFlipkart. I am extremely motivated to evaluate my fitness progress at the end of 2019, after the goals that I have set for the year with this App.