My Tryst with Europe

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This was my first euro trip. A trip that etched in my heart forever! Since I never attempted to write on travel blogs, I thought I would rather shape up this blog to highlight 4 things which I liked the most from the 4 European cities I visited ( although there are hell lot things to encapsulate but, a single blog can’t do justice to the beauty of Europe!!)

1. Amsterdam: Eco-Friendly transportation

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So Amsterdam was our entry point/destination in Europe. This city is known for many things. The beautiful 200 different canals winding through the city which is one of the most unique and gorgeous things I’ve ever seen in a city. The famous “coffee shops”. There are many ‘coffee shops’ that sell marijuana, but they aren’t advertised as such and are very discreet – no photos, they aren’t even on a regular map. The laws are of course stricter than you think, but I was amazed to see people are still walking around with joints like they would a cigarette in the rest of Europe. The beautiful world class museums which housed some stunning paintings by renowned painters like Picasso, Rembrandt, Van Gogh etc.

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The beautiful tulip gardens although we didn’t get the chance to witness them as we went in the month of June. But we did visit the Blumenmarkt which offered the insane amount of artificial tulips. It was beautiful to walk through, so bright and colourful and fresh.

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Then the infamous Red Light District known for erotic sex shops, museums, adult theatres and skimpily-clad commercial sex workers in brothel windows. It’s not for everyone.

But the thing which enthralled me the most was the eco-friendly transportation across whole Amsterdam. By the way, this city is also known as the “city of bicycles.” It is one of the beautiful cities that have very little to do with the grown-up transportation world of cars and trucks.  Amsterdam is home to more bikes than people, about 880,000.

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We all are aware that cities around the world are facing a crisis as cars are suffocating the streets, creating congestion and contributing to health-threatening levels of air pollution.

Having said that, it is highly commendable that some of the European Cities are now increasingly looking to discourage the domination of fossil-fuelled cars, and the banning of diesel vehicles. I loved the way the residents in Amsterdam are so perceptive towards making their city clean and green. The city has completely transformed their transportation system.

European Cities are now increasingly looking to discourage the domination of fossil-fuelled cars, and the banning of diesel vehicles.

The surprising thing was I didn’t see a single person in Amsterdam cycling for exercise purposes. The cyclists were not suction-cupped in Spandex gear, no attached water bottles to their bicycles, no speedometer or GPS trackers, just dressed in their regular clothes cycling comfortably and moving seamlessly through their environment with minimal effort.  

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Throughout the city, there are streets where cars are simply not allowed, and therefore the best way for all locals to get around is via bicycle. I remember when I was walking down the street, not knowing it was the bicycle lane, I was told by a biker “hey it’s a bike lane.” For us, transportation means travelling in cars, buses, local trains, metro which all contribute a great amount to pollution. But the people of Amsterdam have adopted an eco-friendly transportation to minimize the harmful effects of pollution.

Amsterdam is opting for a fully electric bus fleet within 2025, and its airport, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, recently pledged to become the world’s most sustainable airport. To achieve this, the airport will be electrifying all vehicles operating on the airport itself, as well as all passenger and public transport operating to- and from its facilities. For non-bikers, electric cars are a popular choice, and the city has over 300 charging stations.

2. Brussels: Comic Strip route

Belgium is famous for its beer, tasty waffles, potato chips/fries and for yummy chocolates!!  Brussels is the capital city of Belgium, where we visited the beautiful Royal Palace which is majestic and also the bigger than the Buckingham Palace.

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But if asked what I liked the most in this city, I would say the lengthy set of comic murals sprawling across the city walls.

Belgium has created more comic artists than any other country. The tradition dates back almost a full century ago when Tintin was created by Belgian artist Hergé and the Smurfs were created by Belgian artist Peyo.

This a place where you will find that your favourite comic book characters have escaped the pages and scattered themselves around the facades of the buildings in the city centre.

Brussels has also got a  comic book museum – the Belgian Comic Strip Centre, where one can learn useful and interesting information. But it is much more inspiring to just walk down the streets and get acquainted with your favourite cartoon characters in person.

Sometimes you might not even notice the murals as they are so well integrated into Brussels’ architecture.

It would require more than a few days in the city to find all the murals but I had a fun time seeking a few out and revive my childhood cartoon days. This one below my favourite:

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Besides wall murals, the city walls and the metro stations are also painted by colourful graffiti by some secret night painters.

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3. Paris: Great Architecture  

Paris always comes up in the mind, when we think about the most beautiful cities in the world. One of the biggest reasons is their architecture, every great period of architecture can be found in Paris. Paris gave birth to the Gothic style and has very important buildings that mark the Renaissance. I had only 4 days in Paris and so many things to see on my bucket list! But I managed to see the important ones:

The Louvre Museum

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Besides Louvre being the single largest art museum in the world, it’s also a great monument in the city. The Louvre is home to items spanning a period of nearly 5,000 years, from ancient cultures. It is also the most visited museum on the planet (8.7 million of visitors in 2017). It houses the famous work of Leonardo da Vinci “Mona Lisa,” who enchants hordes of visitors with her enigmatic smile. At the entrance of this great museum is  Louvre Pyramid. The pyramid was built in 1989 by the renowned American architect I.M. Pei. The glass pyramid allows the sunlight to enter the underground floor. It is flanked by three smaller pyramids and reflecting pools with modern fountains.

Notre-Dame Cathedral.

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French Gothic Architecture is showcased at its best by Notre-Dame Cathedral. I bet that if you were to guess how long it took to build, you wouldn’t get it right. The answer? Almost 200 years. Upon entering Notre Dame I felt as if I have entered one of the world’s great cathedrals. The view inside Notre-Dame was grandiose.

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The huge vaulted ceiling keeps visitors eyes gazing upward and the most stunning interior feature was the three stained-glass rose windows (north, south and west sides)

Arc de Triomphe

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One of the most famous landmarks in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe stands tall, proud and solid in the centre of the city. It was built as a homage to the soldiers who passed away in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. One can even see the names of war generals engraved there. Inspired by the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, India Gate in New Delhi is a memorial to India’s war dead from World War I and other battles during the time of the British Raj.

Sacré-Cœur

DSC_7383-COLLAGE (2)Located at the top of the hill of Montmartre, the majestic church offers one of the most amazing views over Paris. After Notre-Dame cathedral, The Sacré-Cœur Basilica is France’s second most visited church. It is also the second highest point of the city, of course, the first is the Eiffel Tower with the height of 324m.

The Iron Lady

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What would Parisian architecture be without the Eiffel Tower? The Eiffel Tower is also known as “The Iron Lady” is without a doubt the enduring symbol of Paris.

I always had the desire to visit Paris and click pictures near Eiffel Tower(what a cliche dream;-)) like every other girl for it’s the symbol of love. My dreams had come true once I took my first glimpse of its grandeur! After taking some 10-15 different shots of Eiffel tower, I felt something was missing from my pictures. I wanted the panoramic view of the city at the backdrop of the Eiffel tower. Montparnasse tower is best for such a view. We bought tickets to The Montparnasse Tower Observation deck which is located on the 56th floor. In 38 seconds, Europe’s fastest elevator will take you to the 56th floor. Yes, it’s real! I didn’t feel my senses.

It was a breathtaking view from the top of the Montparnasse Tower.

One can have a 360 view on all Paris from The Montparnasse Tower Observation Deck and the view on the Eiffel Tower remains the highlight of the show!

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What else but a glass of beer at the bar on the top level was the perfect way to toast to our Paris experience!

Milan: Confluence of fashion and history

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Milan is considered one of the most dynamic cities in Europe. It is known for priceless works of art, eccentric beautiful buildings and world-class restaurants. The city has amazing historical monuments which make this city one of the most beautiful cities of the world. In our short stay, we visited The Cathedral of Milan, Duomo which is one of the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. It is the most impressive structure in Milan that can accurately be described as awe-inspiring. The roof of the cathedral is intriguing with 135 magnificent towers. There are about 3,400 statues on this gothic-style cathedral more than any other building in the world has. This cathedral almost took five hundred years to build. A jaunt inside the 14th-century cathedral is worthwhile to glimpse the airy marble interiors and the exquisite stained-glass windows, which were wisely placed in a crypt for safekeeping during the Second World War.

Milan is also known as ‘The Fashion Capital of the World’. It is the home to the Fashion Week and to the world’s best luxury Italian and international brands namely Valentino, Gucci, Versace, Prada, Armani and Dolce & Gabbana. And therefore it is justified to say that why looking good is compulsory here in Milan.

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, built from 1865 to 1877,  is the oldest shopping mall in the world. So it’s a historic sight and architectural gem that non-shoppers will want to see, too. From the iconic Prada store to Versace’s latest gem, it’s impossible not to remain awestruck by the collections showcased in these spaces that tend to resemble museums rather than shops!

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La Rinascente: If you’re looking for a convenient one-stop-shop for fashion finds in Milan, La Rinascente dishes up a bit of everything. It is the most prestigious department stores in Italy famous for international and Italian brands. This giant department store carries fashion, home furnishings, small electronics, books, jewellery, and much more under one roof.

I believe travelling is a great way to rejuvenate oneself. Travelling is not only fun but also improves overall health and enhance creativity. Therefore, we should at least once in a year take time out from our daily tasks, office responsibilities and hectic schedule to travel and explore new places.

So, plan a tour to a new city, discover and explore new things and let life present you with the numerous opportunities that are waiting for you.

I will end up with this beautiful quote which inspires me to travel and explore more.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.– Mark Twain

 

Financial Literacy: The Earlier you Start, The Better!

 

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Recently I met two different families at a family event. Both the families are young parents having children who are nearly 6 years old. I noticed a peculiar difference in their parenting styles. Let’s call these families as A and B.

The child from Family A suffers from “I want it syndrome”. This kid is highly demanding and craves for (expensive) things and naturally makes the lives of its parents miserable with its demands. The parents, often give in to the child’s demands in order to avoid ugly temper tantrums and confrontations.

Financial literacy for kidsNot an ideal way to tackle with your child’s tantrums

The parent from Family B has a different approach when it comes to dealing with their kid’s demands. They believe that buying whatever the child wants – or giving them money whenever they ask for it – leads to a sense of entitlement and the false notion, that things will forever be this way. They want their child to know the value of money. They believe in what is called “delayed gratification”. According to their belief system delayed gratification builds up one’s resistance to spend impulsively and improves their ability to make sound decisions, including financial decisions.

Delayed gratification builds up one’s resistance to spend impulsively and improves their ability to make sound decisions, including financial decisions.

I am not here to judge which parenting style is best, but I resonate with the parenting style of Family B. Parents usually focus on inculcating discipline, good manners and other healthy habits, but overlook the importance of imparting financial literacy to their kids.

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Why? I think it is because many parents believe that kids are too young to understand money. Another mistake that parents make is that they assume that kids will learn about personal finance in school. Unfortunately, that is not going to happen. Our education system will not teach our children on how to spend money wisely. Surely, you wouldn’t want your kids to grow up into adults who are reckless about money matters, living from paycheck to paycheck! Such people are often in debt and are always whining about the lack of money in their lives.

I recommend that you start money-related conversations with your kid early. Perhaps, even before they know math and numbers. The sooner you begin to teach your kids, the more time they will have to develop healthy financial habits.

The sooner you begin to teach your kids, the more time they will have to develop healthy financial habits.

You can begin by teaching children about the relationship between earning, spending and saving, to help them understand the value of money. These are valuable lessons that will stay with them for life.

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However, lecturing them isn’t the best method to teach kids about money. It’s far more effective if you help your kids learn through hands-on experience. Here are a few simple ideas for incorporating financial literacy lessons into your child’s live:

8 Tips to Introduce Financial Literacy for Kids

1. Where does the Money come from?

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Children think that money is boundless and it requires no effort to earn it. You can start by teaching your children that when you go to office and work, or when you are rendering a service to someone, you get paid. Therefore there is effort involved in earning money. And it is this money, so earned, that you spend when you buy things for the house. You can also help the child to understand that even if money has different forms, the essential properties remain the same. For example, explain to them that when you use your credit or debit cards (or Paytm) to pay for groceries, it is equivalent paying cash.

2. (Almost) Everything costs Money!

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Next thing that children need to understand is that almost everything that we see in shops or buy online costs money. Young children do not have the conception that products and services cost money. You can make your child understand this rather easily by talking to them about how much each product costs. Putting a number (cost) to each purchase will help children realise that there is a non-zero value associated with every item. Gradually they will realise that some products are more expensive than others.

3. Balancing Needs and Wants

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Kids have a natural tendency to yearn for flashy (and expensive) stuff. They should be taught how to prioritize their needs and wants. Parents should explain to kids that why we don’t (and can’t) purchase everything we desire. This will be a great first step in getting kids to understand that one almost always has to prioritize one’s purchases. They will be ready to understand this concept only if they understand the first two points (that money is limited and that everything costs money).

4. Forms of Prioritization

There are three common forms of prioritization when it comes to buying a product:

  • Cannot buy this product as I need something else more and I have only a limited amount of money
  • Will buy something similar but that which is cheaper (as I have only a limited amount of money)
  • Cannot buy this now (as I have only a limited amount of money) but will buy it in future when I have enough

You can help your child understand these prioritizations if you can explain your thought process while making purchase decisions in everyday life. You can pose these as choices and ask your child to select.

5. Get them involved in real-life purchase decisions

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As the next step, you can include your children when making real-life purchase decisions – starting with the weekly grocery trips. Start by setting aside a budget for a set of items (e.g. Rs.100 for milk, eggs, bread). Here, you can carry out price comparisons with them by choosing items that are on offer while keeping to the set budget for the items required. Through this exercise, you are essentially teaching them simple budgeting skills that will definitely come in handy later. You will also help reinforce all the concepts (1 to 4) that we talked about above.

6. Piggy Banks

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Collecting money in a jar or piggy bank works well when kids are young. You can make the most of this by introducing the various coin denominations and putting money into a piggy bank. The more they practice this, the concept of “saving” through the piggy bank will become second nature to them.

7. Learning Through Games

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Games can be a great way to teach children what money is, how it’s used and what its value is. Playing money games with your kids makes learning fun and encourages children to ask questions about money. There are popular money games for kids which you can buy like Monopoly, Game of Life, Payday, Moneywise Kids, Money Bags, and Easy Money. But do be sure that the game you select is appropriate for your child’s age and areas of interest.

8. Lead by example

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Parents are the biggest influence on a child’s financial education and money habits. If you do not practice what you preach, no amount of lecturing your child can help in its financial literacy.

Bottom Line:

  • Financial literacy for children is important.
  • Starting financial education at an early age, at home, sets the child up for the life ahead.

How are you helping your kid to be money wise? Share your experiences in the comment section.

Be a Padman in Her Life

Be a Padman in her life

I remember the time when in one of our family gatherings I bumped into my mom holding a sanitary pad in my hand and asking her “what’s this?”. I was 6 years old then and oblivious to the existence of anything called menstruation in a girl’s life. Instead of an answer to my seemingly innocent question, what I got was an unusual silence in an otherwise bustling room. Most people present looked shocked or embarrassed. My mom was taken aback for few seconds out of shame. She dragged me out of the room and told never to talk or play with this “thing” again. She then took away that “thing” and shoved it into the darkest corner she could find in her closet.

I had no clue at that time why I was rebuked for this act of mine. It’s been almost two decades since that incident, but still, things haven’t changed. Talking openly about menstruation is still a subject of taboo and shame in today’s advanced times. Unfortunately, there are a lot of stigmas surrounding menstruation, pervasive in our cultures, societies and even our homes. Many girls are taught not to discuss their period with boys, or even their fathers. A menstruating woman cannot pass an object directly to another person, share a bed with her husband. During her period, she cannot enter a temple, and she must leave the house. Ads for sanitary products still feature a mysterious blue fluid to show absorbency, and buying menstrual products is seen as awkwardly embarrassing.

It has become quite a common phrase “is it that time of the month?” for most of the women to hear at one point or another by their boyfriend, spouse or any office colleague during a disagreement. It baffles me when many men show ignorance on this topic. And sometimes, because they don’t know how to deal with their partner’s period, simply use this phrase to excuse and effectively look away.

But dear men, it’s time to put your aversion aside towards menstruating women (not all men are same) and needs to understand that a woman’s period is completely natural and there is nothing to be ashamed of.

But dear men, it’s time to put your aversion aside towards menstruating women (not all men are same) and needs to understand that a woman’s period is completely natural and there is nothing to be ashamed of. Personally, I’m proud of my period. It makes me a strong, healthy woman, and it gives me a reason to celebrate the essence of womanhood.

There is no denying that a woman has to go through cramps, mood swings and emotional breakdown during her periods. Sometimes men have to bear with irrational behaviour, hear her screaming in pain or picking up petty fights, but you need to understand that it’s neither a picnic for her. Men should know how to deal with a woman during her period. This is something you should be proactive about. Be a hero in her life… if not Akshay Kumar ;-)… Be a Padman in her life. Here’s how to start:

Don’t run away. Give her more love and attention

Be a Padman in Her Life

It’s that time of the month when your partner is going through hell. Don’t make her life more hellish by simply avoiding her. Try to empathize with her and give her your attention and love. This may help to assuage her pain.

Surprise her with roses and chocolates

Be a Padman in Her Life

Pamper her with some flowers and chocolates! Girls on periods have a stupid craving for these chocolates :-). It will make her feel better in no time. Speaking from my personal experience, this tactic is a sure shot hit. My husband often surprises me with goodies boxes from Getbojo.com.

Take on some of her chores

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Help her out with her daily housework like doing the dishes or with the laundry or even making the bed. These little gestures will go a long way in helping her sail through the painful day.

Think twice before getting into futile arguments

Be a Padman in Her Life

During those days it’s quite common for a woman to get irritated on small things likely because of the period pain and if you notice that she got mad at you for no reason, you must know that it’s because of her hormones and it has nothing to do with you. Try to keep your calm and avoid fanning the flames further.

5 cost-effective ways to combat Air Pollution

India Air Pollution

“Love is in the air but the air is highly polluted” – Amit Abraham, author.

The dirty air seems to be the price to pay for growing affluence. As urban India expands in size and prosperity, cars are getting bigger and the roads are getting choked with many more vehicles, increasing the volume of dirt and harmful gas emissions.

Air pollution in India has reached menacing levels during the last decade. Today, out of world’s 20 most polluted cities, 10 are in India. Over seven million Indians die prematurely every year, because of air pollution.

While the government is doing its own bit to combat air pollution, here are few ways what we as an individual can do to tackle the menace:

Use plants to bring life

We all know plants help us breathe better by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing clean oxygen. But, according to a study by NASA, certain plants are better at eliminating significant amounts of benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene than others.

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Some top plants for air purification are

NASA recommends two to three plants per 100 square feet of home for efficient air cleaning to be accomplished.

The Masking Effect

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Buying air masks has become almost necessary to protect ourselves from the effects of air pollution. There are many face masks available in the market but N-95 and N-99 masks are the most efficient ones to trap the harmful pollutants. The N-95 respirator is able to filter out 95% of particulate matter (PM2.5) while an N-99 respirator is better because it filters 99% of particulate matter. Both these masks are easily available online. Among the recommended brands for N-95 masks are 3M and Honeywell. For N-99 masks you can choose from Brands like Vogmask, Cambridge, and SmartAir

Bag O’Charcoal

Activated charcoal or activated carbon is a great product proven viable in removing harmful toxins from the environment. It is a form of carbon which is heated under high temperatures in order to open up millions of tiny pores resulting in a highly adsorbent material which can trap harmful pollutants, allergens and also unpleasant odors from the ambiance.

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Brands like Moso and Dr. Charcoal make these air purifying bags, made of linen and filled with high-density bamboo charcoal. It can reduce the amount of formaldehyde, ammonia, benzene, and chloroform gases emitted from everyday items such as paint, carpeting, furniture, air fresheners, chemical cleaners, rubber, and plastics. The bamboo charcoal rejuvenates when the bags are placed in sunlight once a month. These bags of charcoal can be reused for 2 years.

Be Smart, be frugal, share your rides!

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Today vehicle transportation is the major contributor towards poor air quality in metropolitan cities. These vehicles contribute 75% of the total carbon dioxide emissions and this number is growing exponentially as the cities and the population is on the rise. You can use various modes of public transport such as a bus, metro or carpool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Besides, it’s cost-effective and reduces your stress levels – someone else is driving.

Detoxification

As the quality of air surrounding us is deteriorating day by day, it becomes imperative to have a detoxifying diet to help counter negative effects that breathing in toxic chemicals has on our body.

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  • Jaggery (aka gudd) should be included in the diet to flush out pollutants from the lung.
  • Fruits rich in Vitamin C, Magnesium and in Omega Fatty Acids help beat the ill effects of pollution by keeping the immunity up.
  • Herbal ginger and tulsi tea are also extremely healthy for minimizing pollution effects!

These, obviously, are not the only ways to help one prevent from the harmful toxins present in the environment. What are you already doing that we have listed here? And, what did we miss that you think could be effective in minimising the harmful effects of air pollution? Leave a comment in the comment section below.