The pandemic rolls on unrelenting & no further travel looks possible for the remaining of this godforsaken year called 2020. As the weeks add on to months and with no end in sight, it gets more and more difficult to motivate myself to write about travel in such depressing times. Travel is something that I have enjoyed ever since childhood and has become a strong common point of interest between the better half and I. We have been lucky enough to be able to follow our passion for travel in the decade gone by and hope to be back at it as soon as it becomes reasonably safe for us to do so. With no new travels undertaken and old ones banked for future use I decided to take a break from my aptly named ” Random Musings”. Surprisingly more than one person asked me when I was writing a blog post again. Having been away from it for a full month now, I feel that I have enough thoughts gathered to ramble on for a post or two. So here goes!
In travel, weather plays a very important part in determining the place and the scheduling of a vacation. I’m sure most vacationers at least check the basic weather report before embarking on a vacation ( Maybe I am very wrong, but they should!). But we go a step (or maybe ten) ahead! Since we are always travelling in the shoulder season ( it’s more likely to rain at these times of the year) we are always checking multiple weather sites for the forecast months before booking the vacation (and even after it!). This is inspite of being fully aware that the odds of a long term weather report being accurate are as good as those of winning the lottery (maybe even worse!). The actual weather has never ever matched the predictions till date but it is an addiction that I can’t seem to get over.
Rain spoiling a full day or God forbid, multiple days while on vacation is something that is dreaded by all travellers. Travelling to Europe during Spring and Autumn we have had our fair share of rainy days. We have encountered rain even in India at times where no rain is expected for months. There have also been short vacations that we have undertaken during the Indian Monsoon knowing that there was a high chance of us getting drenched. But given a chance to do it all again I would not change a single thing about it.
Over the past decade we have accumulated travel gear that is perfect for a rainy vacation day. We may not carry much luggage to our vacations but we make sure that we carry our rain jackets and over trousers & wear waterproof trekking shoes. Most of my camera gear is weather sealed and I am not stressed out about the camera the moment it starts drizzling!. There are always 2 umbrellas tucked away into our luggage and the luggage itself is weatherproof . Well, as weatherproof as is possible, I don’t intend to ever test it by dropping a bag into a bath tub or a lake, but we haven’t had water seeping in to our packed clothes after carrying our bags through the pouring rain till date. All this may seem like overkill to take on every vacation but being prepared for it goes a long way into ensuring that the rain doesn’t spoil our vacation totally.
As far as European travel goes, the question to be asked is – Why travel in the Spring or Autumn at all? Why not go in summer when there is least chance of rain playing spoilsport. The answer I would like to give is that it is much more expensive and much more crowded during those summer months. The truth is that it (Spring or Autumn) is the only time we can take out of our professional commitments for a vacation. So we take what we get, that it is cheaper and less crowded is an added bonus.
The only time that I am praying overtime to all the Rain Gods possible to keep the rains away is when we are on Safari. Safaris in India means travelling in an open Jeep on mud tracks in the middle of nowhere. Neither the open jeeps nor the mud tracks go well with the pouring rains. Even the animals disappear into the depths of the forests to take shelter from the downpour, making the safari an absolute dud. It happened to us when we went to Ranthambore in January 2014 and the rains followed us there despite it not being monsoon by any stretch of the imagination. It rained so heavily that we had to stop in a decrepit information centre in the middle of the park and wait it out lest we get stuck in the mud!
The only place where the Safaris are not totally ruined by a downpour is the vast grasslands of East Africa. We got that experience in November 2010, when we went to Tanzania in the short rains, as I have documented in my recent series reminiscing our honeymoon. (Memoirs of Tanzania, Part 7 – A morning at the Ngorongoro Crater ) The Safaris there are in pop top Landcruisers, so if it rains you just pull the roof down and stay dry and watch the animals get drenched. In the words of our guide Haji, in those almost treeless grasslands ” The animals have nowhere to go!”
The other place where rains are not really ideal is when you are in the mountains. We have had a history of getting at least some rain every time we have been to any mountain range in Europe or back home in India.The rains seem to know that we are there and make sure that it makes an appearance and say hello!
In our time in Chamonix in 2015 we were lucky enough to see the Mont Blanc on the clear evening that we arrived on and the clear morning that followed. If we had put our visit up the cable car to Aiguille du Midi off by one day all we would have seen would have been clouds. (Chamonix – Dizzying heights of the French Alps) So if you get a clear day in the mountains make the most of it, you never know when the weather will turn for the worse!
The same view in Chamonix – Without and with clouds!
In our time in the Austrian Alps in 2018, we went on a drive along the Grossglockner high alpine road courtesy the Thapar – Sanghvi family who courteously offered to take us non drivers there. We gleefully accepted and soon we were driving along this picturesque mountain road and stopping regularly to take photos. We luckily got through most of the drive one way and even made a snowman before it started pouring buckets. Luckily for us Sir was a great driver and we managed to get back to town without incident. (Zell am See & Kaprun Part 2 – Riding the Grossglockner High Alpine Road)
Completed snowman on the Grossglockner High Alpine road with the impending rain
The rains refused to leave us alone even when we changed mountain ranges and visited the Tatra mountains in our trip to Poland last year. In fact it rained for almost 2 whole days making us abort our plans for a cable car ride and spend more time in the wonderful Willa Malinowa then we intended to. But it’s always good to have a plan B just for such bad weather. We had one, instead of going for a cable car ride that would have cost us a lot & shown us clouds, we went for a walk through the meadows and visiting some of the lesser known sites in Zakopane. In retrospect, it was better than our plan A. We got some much needed rest on our usually frantic vacations and we saw some really pretty places that we would have missed altogether. (Zakopane, Part 2 – Walking around in the pouring rain)
Even back home in the Himalayas we have had to change trek routes altogether and do a different trek in the Great Himalayan National Park. Our planned trek to Nada Thach was abandoned in favour of a shorter trek to Shilt as we lost a full day due to rain & walking on muddy slopes and falling into a deep valley was not on the itinerary. But we got the experience of sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag in the rain. The reward was that because of the rain we were the only group inside the park and it was an experience to remember. We will be back some day. (Trekking the Great Himalayan National Park, Part 2 – The climb up to the Shilt hut after a rained out day at Rolla)
Enjoying the rains in the Great Himalayan National Park
On top of Shilt – the only ones there thanks to the rains
Compared to the mountains, rain in a European City or Town is never really much of an inconvenience. There always is an interesting church or monument or museum nearby where you can duck in and see off the rain and enjoy some unplanned sightseeing. Paris, Rome, Krakow we have encountered rain everywhere and have seen a church or a town hall more because of it. No harm, no foul!
Even in cities like Venice which can get flooded to various extents in the rains we got lucky to a degree. It rained just enough to clear the crowds but not enough to flood the entire city. We got to experience what is called an “Aqua alta” with the famous St Mark’s square starting to resemble a small splash pool but that was as bad as it got. In fact if I ever do visit Venice again it will be in the Autumn rains – rains over unbearable crowds anyway! (Venice in the rains is just as beautiful.. and a lot less crowded!! – Venice Day 1 – This is my most read post on the blog!)
An empty St Marks square in Venice, just before it started flooding
The only time I remember getting stuck in the rains with nowhere to go is in the line to enter the Duomo in Milan. We only had a limited time in Milan & wanted to see the famous cathedral. There was no chance of us leaving a line just for some rain. We had adequate gear and we braved the rains with a few hardy souls with us till the cathedral literally gave us shelter. We lingered inside till the rains stopped and saw all the nooks and crannies of the beautiful Duomo in that time. (Milan, Day 1 – A rainy day in the historic centre of the fashion capital)
A rainy morning outside the Duomo in Milan
In some places the rain gives you the advantage of emptying out an otherwise crowded small town. We got that pleasurable experience when we visited the Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano. San Gimignano is known for two things – its towers and the crowds that fill its narrow cobbled lanes. Luckily for us we decided to visit it on a rainy day decked in full rain gear and enjoyed the towers with no crowds in those pretty cobbled lanes. Maybe we would not have liked the town as much if we had visited it on a perfect sunny day with thousands of other people. (A wet, wet morning in San Gimignano)
Enjoying the brief respite from the rains in an empty San Gimignano
Monsoon time vacations in India are times when it is not fair to complain about getting rained on. It is supposed to rain at those times! We have gone to two such short vacations. We went to Ooty and Mahabaleshwar in the rains! These are two of the rainiest hill stations in the monsoons. But we enjoyed both of these trips to the fullest. I have been to Ooty numerous times but never seen the famous botanical gardens or rose gardens as bereft of crowds as I did on that rainy vacation. It was like our own private garden and even though I did slip and fall there (No broken bones or camera!) it was something that made the rainy vacation worthwhile.
The Mahabaleshwar monsoon trip was to celebrate an occasion. We were booked in a luxury resort and intended to spend most of the time in it ( that we still ventured out in the never ending rain to visit a waterfall is a story I have told previously) . I haven’t seen a more dreamy location to spend a rainy vacation in than the Le Meridien in Mahabaleshwar. I am the last person to recommend spending so much on a hotel room, but I will make an exception for this. If you can afford it you should spend a day or two in this vast property – especially in the rains. It made the special occasion even more special for us.
As you can see we have a fair number of stories about rainy days on vacation and I haven’t even told them all (that would make for a very long and repetitive post). But the most important thing that I have realised is that bad weather doesn’t spoil a vacation only bad preparation does. With the right gear, an open mind and enough research to have an alternate plan in mind rains are not much of a barrier to having fun on a vacation.
Would I have preferred no rain at all – Absolutely! just like right now, I would have preferred no COVID! But the weather like the current pandemic situation is something that you can’t control. You just do the best with the situation in hand. As with the rains, so is it with this pandemic, you do your best preparation, always have a plan B, do the best with the bad situation and wait for the sunny day! We are bound to face a rainy day on vacation earlier than the next pandemic ( At least I hope so and have fingers and toes crossed) but we seem to have made our peace with it, in our opinion being rained out on a vacation is better than not being on vacation at all!
Till next time,