Bangladeshi Millennial Wins the prestigious Diana Award

Career, People, Travel

Interviewed by Faria Ahmed

Even with significant progress in women empowerment in Bangladesh, it still remains a social taboo for women to travel to far-off destinations on their own. Religious, family and social restrictions have limited travel and adventure for young, enthusiastic travelers for decades. However, in September 2017, one millennial decided to take action through the creation of an online community for female travelers. We caught up with Sabira Mehrin, the founder of this online travel platform called Wander Woman.

Sabira Mehrin, Founder of Wander Woman
Sabira Mehrin, Founder of Wander Woman

“There was a need for a platform which could bring all female travel enthusiasts together to exchange information and travel together. That is why I started Wander Woman,” explained Sabira Mehrun. “I believed, we women had to cross extra barriers to pursue global opportunities and lacked the courage and confidence required to explore a new destination alone. This is why we needed to hear stories and experiences of avid Bangladeshi women from all around the world to get motivated and step out for change. I started with a closed Facebook group to create a safe space for the like-minded travel enthusiasts”. 


What started off with 200 facebook friends is now an 8,500+ strong community of women travellers who are constantly empowering and supporting one another and lifting up their love for adventure. Over these three years, Sabira has achieved several key milestones, starting with registering Wander Woman as a Travel Company.
She was able to introduce the first ever credit less EMI system on her travel platform, a sim card exchange plan, launched petty currency exchange plan and other incredible ways to make traveling easier for her members.

She even established the WW Academy to teach women skills required for safe adventure traveling, such as swimming, self-defense, etc. In the last three years, Sabira has been able to arrange 20+ trips for women to travel to various parts of Bangladesh and beyond. The WW instagram page is used to promote female travelers of Bangladesh to the world.


“Wander Woman members have been supportive to help with any query placed by other travelers. This has created a trusted peer network where women are coming forward with their first hand experiences in order to help fellow travelers. As a founder of the community, I have been strict about maintaining a positive and non-judgmental environment to ensure that everyone feels safe to share their stories without any fear. I focused on collaboration over competition to show that nothing is more beautiful than women uplifting other women.”


The Diana Award recognizes the young change-makers who are youth-led, inspiring and able to create social impac. Wander woman’s vision to provide access to travel information to women from developing countries has inspired thousands of women to explore global opportunities and new destinations. The Diana Award is the only charity set up to honour Princess Diana of Wales.

“This award is truly special as my late mother was a big follower of Princess Diana and her humanitarian acts. Recognition as her legacy is indeed a worthwhile milestone as an individual as well as organization. We will be receiving mentorship and development programmes recommended by Diana Award organization to further our cause.”

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. TV Show Themed Birthday On A Budget!

Money

As the pandemic lockdown continues in Canada (currently at Phase 2 of soft opening), we decided to have a cosy and casual birthday dinner for my boyfriend’s 30th. Even thought it was just his immediate family and I celebrating the event, I couldn’t help but come up with a simple and affordable idea to bring a fun theme into the party. Here are a few simple things I was able to get even during the lockdown in order to bring in flavours of his favourite TV show “FRIENDS” into his party.

1. FRIENDS Font Banner ($12.99)

I was able to find a banner saying “Happy Birthday” in the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. TV Show theme font on Amazon for only $12.99. Since it wasn’t customized, it didn’t take long to get delivered (about 4 business days). I found it to be great quality and it came with the perfect sized string, ready to be hung up immediately. The cardboard didn’t bend and can be used for many more themed parties and I’m excited to add it to my decor collection.

2. Small themed Gifts (Less than $30)

I also ordered a small notebook saying “The One Where You Turn Thirty” in the show’s signature font and a giant cup/soup bowl with the Central Perk Logo on it. These were add-on gifts to bring the flavour of the theme for the birthday. His main gift was a pair of Jordan Air branded shoes that he had been wanting to get for a while.

A soup bowl with the central perk logo that I got as an additional gift
A notebook with writing in the FRIENDS signature font

3. Cards ($10 or less)

It turned out to be a great idea that I had shared the themed party idea with the rest of the family. In the end, they also ended up bringing gifts and cards related to the F.R.I.E.N.D.S. TV show or characters from the show.

4. DIY Decor from Phoebe’s “CUPS” Party ($5)

If you are a hardcore friends fan like us, you will surely remember the episode where Phoebe and Monica co-hosted a party, and Phoebe went overboard with the cups and ice because those were the only two things she was allowed to be in charge of. In the end, there were so many cups that they ended up using the cups for decor and party hats! I went with the same idea and used the typical college party style red plastic cups and some rope to make a garland of red cups for decoration.

A garland of cups I made to go with Phoebe’s crazy CUPS party

5. Generic Party Decor (Recycled, $0)

I love having some items in stock at home that can help add some glamour to any themed party. For this event, I used some generic red balloons, red polka dot wrapping paper, and my letterboard to add to the colour palette of the show’s main logo. I used the letterboard to write the words “Why God Why”, a famous dialogue from Joey Tribbiani’s character spoken on the day he sadly turns 30!

All the wrapped presents and the candy basket I made for my boyfriend’s 30th FRIENDS themed birthday.

6. T-shirt for the Birthday Boy! ($30)

Custom FRIENDS TV Show themed T-shirt for 30th birthday

The Purrrfect Bubble Tea at Meow Tea Ottawa

Ottawa Living

The pandemic lockdown of 2020 is starting to ease up in Ottawa and this is a perfect time to start supporting the local businesses who have been hit the worst financially. Today my boyfriend and I went on a drive and decided to get some bubble tea. He happened to be a bubble-tea-virgin until today (I know, crazy, right?).

Ottawa Ontario's cat themed bubble tea restaurant on Elgin Street in Downtown.

So right there in the middle of Elgin street was this small and adorably decorated place in a cat theme! I was already sold with the decor and the reviews I had read on the way there were also pretty solid. So the special thing about Meow Tea Ottawa is the customization options for ice and sugar! They literally had it on their menu board and you could choose between 0%, 20%, 50% all the way till 150% of sugar. This was brilliant because I often feel too guilty about getting a drink because there is just too much sugar in a single cup. I tried their Mango Green Milk Tea and I got three extra toppings added on to it for 50 cents each. Yes, I do go a little overboard on the jellies and the tapioca, but that’s the whole point of bubble tea!

A cat themed bubble tea cafe in downtown Ottawa showing Chinese cat decor.

It turned out absolutely delicious! Definitely a spot I want to go back to. Also, I realize Elgin Street is just a cool and hip place overall and I think there are a whole bunch of amazing local stores and restaurants to check out there. One more for the bucket list.

These Bangladeshis helped revolutionize the state of animal rights and cruelty in the country

News, People

Interviews by Faria Ahmed

Even fifteen years ago, the general population of Bangladesh did little to nothing to promote animal rights or to fight animal cruelty. Whether it was to help rescue and rehabilitate stray animals, abused and injured animals, or those living in the wild. When a few scattered animal rights proponents would speak up, they would often be shut down with the dialogue that there is no room for animal rights in a land where many humans don’t receive basic rights to safety, food, or shelter. Nonetheless, the online and offline community of animal rights activists has grown significantly over the past decade. From individual volunteers feeding stray cats and dogs to full-fledged non-profit organizations pushing for legislative change – the animal rights scene has undergone drastic changes. I was lucky to have been able to track down and interview some of these key individuals and organizations who have helped make significant progress on this issue. Today, I am excited to introduce them to my readers at Millennial Things to demonstrate the power of our generation and what we can achieve despite socio-political and economic challenges.

Rubaiya Ahmed

Founder, Obhoyaronno

My first over the phone interview was with Rubaiya Ahmed, who founded Obhoyaronno in the year 2009 as a way to heal from a very personal loss. After spending 10 years in the United States of America, Rubaiya returned to Dhakaand began to work at her full-time job, unaware of the system then implemented in Dhaka to control the stray dog population. In 2009, Rubaiya’s own pet dog was killed by Dhaka City Corporation workers, as part of their program to ‘control’ the population of stray and thus reduce the risk of rabies. With the loss of her furry friend who was confused for a stray dog and killed, Rubaiya first became aware of the inhumane practice which didn’t need to be the solution to prevent Rabies.

That incident motivated her to look deeper into the problems of this system and try to come up with better and alternative solutions. By founding Obhoyaronno, Rubaiya and her team of trained vets are now able to implement a system of Rabies prevention called CNVR (Catch Neuter Vaccinate Return). “Since then, Obhoyaronno has been running the country’s first CNVR programme in Dhaka with support from Dhaka City Corporation, Humane Society International and FAO”, explained Rubaiya. 

She elaborated on how the team of  3 veterinary surgeons and 14 animal welfare officers (all of whom refresh and update their training every year) helped make this program a reality. “It is not done in random areas based on requests but rather it is very methodical. Say we work on Ward No. 46, at least 80% dogs in this ward need to be covered  before moving on to ward no. 47. We cannot respond to complaints of stray dog populations out of order as we need to follow the schedule and continue in that manner.Till date 17,000 dogs have been processed by our CNVR program.”

Obhoyaronno team
Photo Credit: Allison Joyce Source: Facebook

The CNVR program has since then been well-accepted and appreciated by the government of Bangladesh, local authorities, the local community and has received several local and international awards including the “Humane Society International Animal Advocate of the Year” award in 2012.

When asked if this is a model that should be copied and implemented by other volunteer groups, Rubaiya also explains the risks associated with it. The importance of trained, skilled and certified professionals to carry out the surgical procedures is paramount to bring about good health outcomes for the animals. Furthermore, there are unique aspects of the type of surgery performed so the animals can be quickly released back into their natural habitat without requiring extensive post-op care. All these coupled with the essential collaborations with local authorities make it a slightly more strategic project that may not be possible for civilian volunteers to necessary partake in. However, the overwhelming support of civilians through small donations and acceptance of the program symbolizes their appreciation of what Obhoyaronno has achieved.

Advocacy from individuals, online communities of animal activists and non-profits have helped change the general attitude of the average Bangladeshi on the issue, although a lot more work remains to be done. The animal cruelty act of 1920s was the only piece of legislation that covered this issue and needless to say it required updating. Finally, 100 years later in July of 2019, this became a reality in Bangladesh.

Rakibul Haq Emil

Founder, PAW FOUNDATION

In the year 2012, Rakibul Haq Emil found himself rescuing stray animals, often injured and tormented by automobile accidents or direct civilian abuse. Rakibul felt an innate moral obligation to do something for pets who didn’t deserve to suffer at the hands of humans desperate to urbanize and self-preserve.

In particular, Rakibul recalls a paralyzed dog named Maloti, whom he had rescued and attempted to give a better life to. Unfortunately, he was not able to give Maloti a better life, but he became determined to find friends and community members who felt the same way he did. In 2014, he began to organize people who also supported animal rights and preservation of their lives. Finally, in 2015, he was able to form PAW FOUNDATION.

While the main goal of this foundation is to promote compassionate values towards animals and fight for legislative change, there are many different “wings” of the foundation which are helping to work towards the goal. One such wing of this foundation is the non-profit veterinary clinic called “PAW LIFE CARE.” The in-patient part of the clinic is great for rescue and rehabilitation of animals, while the out-patient wing allows community members to bring in their pets for swift treatments and consultations from the trained vets.

Photo Credit: Shafiqul Alam Kiron

Apart from that, there is a legal wing of the foundation which actively engages perpetrators of animal cruelty by using legal avenues and tools. This wing has filed multiple police cases against animal abusers, sent legal notices threatening to file cases against communities who actively torture or cull animals.

“We have sent A Demand of Justice to the Forest Department and Rural Electrification Board to remove and stop the electric lines passing through the reserve forest of Modhupur. It caused the injuries of local monkeys by electrification”, said Rakibul.

In order to encourage other young animal rights activists to get involved across the country, the foundation has started an award for the most compassionate animal lover working at the root level. The award is named “Pranibondhu Award” and it is a way to encourage the humanity and compassion among the youth for stray animals who face the brunt of abuse from civilians.

Stray animals were referred to as “Bewarish”, a slang for unwated and orphaned, by local authorities and even in legislation. Through advocacy from organizations like these, the term has been replaced to “unowned” animals, who do not belong to any particular human, but are free. Changes like these, accompanied by legal proceedings followed up by the foundation are helping to pressurize authorities to begin to take animal cruelty seriously. Every positive verdict in support of animal rights groups that brings animal abusers to justice adds to the power of this movement.

Dipanwita Ridi

Founder, Animal Lovers Bangladesh

At the age of 12, Dipanwita Ridi rescued her first kitten when she saw some children bothering and hurting her. A week later, she rescued a puppy from a similar situation. It didn’t take long for Dipanwita to realize that she has a special spot in her heart for these furbabies and that she needs to do something to help them.

As the number of rescue animals kept increasing, it became difficult for her to house them in her apartment in Dhaka city. Soon enough, people were bringing rescued animals to her to foster while they figured out how to house them with loving families. In 2013, Dipanwita moved to a spacious village home which she transformed into an animal shelter.

General people;s understand of animal cruelty was still limited and so cases of abuse and cruelty were rampant. She was getting dozens of injured animals who had been rescued. The goal of the Animal Lovers Bangladesh shelter is to temporarily house rescued animal and helped them find good, loving and permanent homes.

Many people use pets to breed them, many then try to sell them for a profit like commodities. These are aspects of the pet industry that Dipanwita and other activists find deeply disturbing. This is why their shelter’s slogan is “Don’t buy, Adopt!” With that in mind, her goal is to help find loving homes for all the hundreds of rescued animals that end up at her shelter. Dipanwita also points out that simply adopting isn’t enough. Any responsible pet parent would need to cat-proof or dog-proof their homes so the pets do not leave the home. Often run-away pets get lost, injured, pregnant, or infected when domestic pets end up on the streets.

Source and Photo Credit: Animal Lovers of Bangladesh Shelter Website

“The purpose of my shelter in Narayanganj is to shelter cats and dogs in need who won’t survive on the street by themselves. Most of them were extremely sick, injured or abandoned by their owner. We rescued orphans without a mother cat, pregnant mother cats and dogs, handicapped animals with permanent physical or mental injuries. We have paralyzed, blind cats, and cats with epilepsy or nerve problems. They get to have safe place, food and treatment at the shelter until we can find a loving home for them. Since 2013 I sheltered around 2000 animals. And there are always 50/60 cats and 20 dogs at the shelter at any given time. They get their monthly routine check up, defleeing and dworking medication here and all of them are vaccinated and neutered”, said Dipanwita.

With her enthusiastic group of youth volunteers from the community, she is hopeful that things will turn around with awareness. Purchases of pets are dropping and adoption rates are increasing, according to Dipanwita’s personal experiences. These shine a ray of hope that someday every cat and dog in her shelter will have a loving home to return to.

Fahim Zaman

Wild Animal Conservation Activist & Facility Manager

Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA)

Since his childhood, Fahim Zaman was awestruck by the beauty of wild animals of channels like National Geography. In 2013, Fahim would go out for adventures in the wild where he would observe wild animal in their natural habitat. As much as he adored them, he knew that the wild if where these animals belonged.

“In terms of conservation the first real project I volunteered for was with Creative Conservation Alliance (CCA). They were radio tracking wild pythons and Elongated tortoises in north east Bangladesh. We would go out to the fields to track those animals to know further about how they behave when relocated form/near villages. Later I did volunteer for them quite a few more time in some other projects.”

Fahim is currently working for Creative Conservation Alliance as a facility manager for their Turtle Conservation Center. It is a Captive breeding facility for critically endangered turtles and tortoises of Bangladesh, who are bred to increase and reinstate their normal population for future release into the wild.

Photo Credit: Fahim Zaman

“Our main focus is the forests of Chittagong hill tracks. The bio diversity is incomparable to any other forest in the country and the government pays very little attention to it due to its remote location. We take both a top down and a bottom up approach to save the forest, the wild life and the communities living there”, explained Fahim. In his case, Fahim is mostly working with Asian Gaint Tortoise species which is almost on the brink of extinction. His favourite part is to see the released tortoises laying eggs and those eggs eventually hatching to make more babies in the wild. “It’s takes a long time to see the fruit of this work since these animals take about 20 years to reach sexual maturity.”

Photo Credit: Fahim Zaman

The CCA also focuses on awareness and education. “We do speech and presentations in schools and universities to inspire youth to come forward and work in this field. Out center is open to them to know further about how conservation work being carried out in Bangladesh. We even teach kids in our remote school located deep inside Bandarban about the importance of the forest for their survival and how the symbiotic relation can help both parties. We believe teaching the next generation will ensure the forest stays protected by the communities living in them. For tourism it’s a totally different issue, bigger things like that need policy changes which is a whole other chapter,” mentioned Fahim.

All animals, be they stray animals on the streets of Dhaka or wild ones on the sandy beaches of our country deserve to live, grow and continue the existence of their species. Human intervention, be it in the form of cruelty and abuse or taking away their breeding grounds essential for the survival of their progeny, have ultimately endangered these creatures and trampled on their rights as a member of the ecosystem. Nonetheless individuals, organizations, volunteers and donors of such initiatives give us hope to a changing landscape when it comes to animal rights in Bangladesh.

This Millennial Queen Was Just Crowned Miss South Asia Canada!

Career, People

Since 2011, Raaga Models & Talent Agency based in Toronto have been organizing the prestigious pageant of Miss (&Mrs.) South Asia Canada! The goal of the event is to help build self esteem and confidence among young women of the South Asian community, nurturing competitive but friendly peer learning opportunities, teaching good sportsmanship, public speaking skills, poise and elegance. Most importantly, they are to encourage participation and involvement in the community and taking part in fund raising events, donations and volunteering.

In December of 2019, a young woman named Sunita Pun stunned everyone on stage with her mature and well thought out answers and won the title of Miss South Asia Canada! Before the final title, Sunita also bagged the titles of Miss Bollywood Diva and Miss Congeniality.

“I first participated in a pageant in 2015 for a charity to help victims of an earthquake in Nepal. It was then that I realized how a pageant can be an opportunity for me to come out of my comfort zone and explore
my inner potential. I participated in Miss South Asia Canada 2018 and I made it to the top five and also won two subtitles. Not winning the crown was unsettling but a learning curve for me. So I came back in 2019
and competed in Miss South Asia Canada 2019 to prove it to myself that hard work pays off and that we can do amazing things when we don’t give up,” said Sunita in an exclusive interview with Millennial Things Blog.

Since missing the title in 2018, Sunita knew that she had to believe that she really deserved the title from her heart and so she practiced positive self-talk, self-acceptance, and self-love, including Meditation and yoga.

Sunita Pun in Toronto, Canada being crowned as Miss South Asia Canada 2019 on stage

Q. Can you tell us about the different rounds in the pageant and what skills they tested?

“The first round was a traditional round which was my favourite, because I got to see all the beautiful and colourful outfits representing South Asia. The second round was called the saree round and I was a bit nervous about standing on stage for so long in a neat but delicately wrapped outfit. We said our introductory speeches, and after delivering mine, I became more confident about my presence on stage. “

Sunita Pun in her traditional outfit

“I eventually made it to the semi-finals where we picked a question and answered it. The question was a bit tricky but I told myself that I will have to remain calm and answer the best I can.”

“The last round was the final question answer round. This is the most important one and I was always nervous thinking about this round prior to the completion, but during the competition I was the most calm and
confident in this round. I told myself that I would give my best and that it was my time to shine.”

Q. What is the one moment of the competition that you are the most proud of?

“The answer I gave was something I truly believed in my heart so instead of being nervous I had fun answering my question. I got so emerged in the moment that I did not care about the result at that time. I knew I got to say what I believed in and I felt truly satisfied from within.”

Sunita Pun answering questions in the Miss South Asia Canada 2019 pageant in Toronto, Canada.

Q. Can you tell us how you felt right before the final results were announced!

I was a bit nervous in the beginning of the show thinking about things that could go wrong. I reminded myself of how gracefully I handled failures in the past and how much I have learnt because of it. I reminded myself that I have worked hard and I am ready for this. As the rounds went on I started feeling more excited and
hopeful that I will win. After I won, I felt accomplished and very grateful.

What was your take away from this competition and the title you receive? Do you plan to continue to partake in such competitions in the future?

“My take away from this competition is that hard work pays off. There is nothing you cannot achieve if you put your mind to it and try relentlessly until you achieve it. I do not have plan to take part in another pageant in the future, but you know life always surprises us.”

Sunita holds a bachelor’s degree in public health and I works in community mental health. “I want to continue working in mental health. Mental health is challenging at the same time very rewarding because it gives me
opportunity to make someone’s life better at the same time expand my own knowledge. In my community, I often participate in local charity events where I showcase my dance skills and I would like to continue doing so. I am passionate about public speaking and in the future I hope to become a motivational speaker and advocate for mental health issues in the community.”

Q. As a millennial, how do you think this competition helped to inspire you or encourage certain values in you?

“When I lost my previous pageant, I thought about reasons why I lost it. Insecurity crept in and I started thinking that maybe I lost because I am not beautiful enough or not smart enough. But deep in my heart I knew I had to stay true to my values. I came back to compete to prove to myself that hard work, integrity, and self-acceptance is what makes someone a pageant winner. Winning the title has made me believe in myself more than ever and I am ready to take on new challenges.”

Q. What is your message to other South Asian women out there?

My message to other young south Asian women out there is that our self-worth is not dependent on what anyone says or thinks of us. Our self-worth is made of our resilience, compassion, and all the challenges we overcome. Chase after your dreams and have a courage to live a life true to yourself.

Sunita Pun in the center as Miss South Asia Canada 2019 along with fellow contestants and runners up in Toronto, Canada.

This Ottawa Artist Immortalizes Memories with Her Sculptures

Lifestyle, Ottawa Living

There are some moments in life that you want to save in your memory forever. That big belly bump of your first pregnancy, the adorably tiny hands of your toddler in the hands of their great grandparents.. some memories are truly too precious not to be sculpted into your memory. Unfortunately, photographs can only capture so much. That’s why a new way or immortalizing these moments and freeze them in time is by creating a cast and turning it into a decorative sculpture.

Pregnant Belly Bump Sculpture made using a cast.
Cast Mould Sculpture by “Cast Your Life Away” Showing a Pregnant Mom’s Belly Bump

Cast Your Life Away is a local Ottawa-based business in Ontario, Canada run by an adorable family of three. Steven, Audrey and Ashley help create unique life casts of hands, feet, pregnant bellies and children/hands & feet using a process that replicates every fine detail. The result is a solid stone sculpture!

Cast Mould Sculpture by "Cast Your Life Away" Showing a toddler's hand and foot in a wooden framed sculpture hanging
Cast Mould Sculpture by “Cast Your Life Away” Showing a Toddler’s Hand and Foot in this beautiful framed sculpture

Let’s face it, the most adorable aspect of a toddler’s footprint and handprints are lost in pictures without their cute wrinkles and the curling of their tiny toes. That’s one reason we adore Cast Your Life Away‘s beautiful way of setting these memories and the feel of those flesh memories in stone forever. The best part is, they are mobile and can come to your home to get the imprint! If you live in Ottawa or are planning to visit, this might me one family you need to plan ahead with..so you can leave town with something super precious!

Cast Mould Sculpture by "Cast Your Life Away" Showing three arms of three people, Mom Dad and Child making up a family of three.
Cast Mould Sculpture by “Cast Your Life Away” Showing the hands of unity of a family of three

Around the World in 20 Plates: Mouthwatering Tales of a Millennial Food & Travel Influencer through her insta-photography!

People, Travel

Written By: Eriko Sultana

We all enjoy the process of exploring new cultures differently. For some of us, it is the stunning sights and remarkable history of a place that makes it memorable. For others, it is the people and their colourful traditions which keep ancient cultures alive. For foodies like us…it is the mouthwatering delicacies that are unique to that area which helps us relish and immortalize the trip through our taste buds. Today we are sharing the experience of such a food-lover and travel blogger, Eriko. Over the years, Eriko has developed a palette that enjoys mouthwatering and diverse cuisines as she travels to the various corners of the world. Her adventurous spirit allows her to appreciate every aspect of foreign cuisines, from street food to michelin star restaurants. That’s why today we have chosen to feature her journey through 20-Food images that she took during her trips. Scroll down and check out the 20 plates of food which she selected to share with us at Millennial Things Blog!

Romania

1.1568 Bistro

Romania is the first country I visited in Eastern Europe, and I loved how cheese was such an integral part of their food. I visited a lot of higher-end restaurants during my time there, and I came to this restaurant twice (the second time to try the dessert which we couldn’t have the first night as the restaurant was closing). The building is from the 14th century, and the food is inspired by Transylvania’s colorful cultural background. The cheese-stuffed mushrooms were particularly outstanding, as the balsamic dressing complimented the flavour of the cheese beautifully! The duck breast with wine plum sauce, arugula salad and glass-plated yellow carrots was an interesting mix of sweet flavours—usually “sweet” isn’t what I look for in mains, but this was actually really nice. The crème brûlée was amazing as well, and it was completely worth the trip back there just to try it!

2.Cabinet de Vin & Cocotte

Although Cluj does not have any Michelin star restaurants, a lot of people feel that this restaurant should have one. I tried to get a table here on the first night, but it wasn’t possible to do so without a reservation, so we made one for the following night. We tried the escargot, beef tartare, duck with risotto, and seafood with a creamy mash, and most of the items were delicious. I am not the biggest fan of risotto, which is probably why I didn’t enjoy it too much (although it was highly recommended online). The restaurant has some quirky decorative pieces, and the waiters were very helpful and knowledgeable.

3. Baracca

This restaurant was another fancy place in Cluj that I visited on my last night there. A more modern restaurant, the décor was simple yet eye-catching. We ordered the foie gras, soup, lamb chop, and angus beef steak, and the presentation of each item was top-notch. In particular, the lamb chop with Jerusalem artichoke texture and coffee was incredible. The notes of coffee that could be tasted hit the spot, and I would gladly fly back to Cluj just to go back to this restaurant!

Bulgaria

4. Hemingway

While researching restaurants in Bulgaria, Hemingway was one of the highly rated restaurants in Plovdiv that kept coming up, so we had to check it out. It was definitely amazing– the beef tartare was excellent, and so was the trout! The fish soup was fairly good, and the mushroom and cheese main dish was superb. I cannot stress how great the beef tartare was. It’s a bit tricky to get a table at the restaurant without a reservation, but we went a bit after lunch, which worked out for us! I’d wholeheartedly recommend this, and I shall definitely go here again next time I’m in Plovdiv.

5. Samurai

Located in a cute corner of Vitosha boulevard, Samurai is a casual yet fun restaurant. We originally went there for drinks, but ended up trying the mussels which were surprisingly good. We also tried the seafood risotto and the grilled mushrooms, both of which were good. I particularly enjoyed the tiramisu (which is my favorite dessert in the world). I loved the colors in this restaurant, and the location made it a perfect place to grab a bite!

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Intrigued by my first introduction to Balkan cuisine in Bulgaria, I was curious to see how it differed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I set out to try the local items in restaurants that were recommended by other foodies around the world.

6. Ćevabdžinica Željo

: A Bosnian staple is ćevapi, which is a dish made from grilled minced meat. It’s typically served with “Somun” bread, and onion, yoghurt, and cream. I settled on this restaurant in the Old Market Square in Sarajevo due to the raving reviews it had online, which were supported by the bustling atmosphere within the restaurant, filled to the brim with customers (perks of travelling solo: most restaurants will always have room for one more).  Service was swift; it reminded me of the kebab shops in the UK or Gulshan Plaza Restora in Dhaka. It tasted quite similar to kebab and rotis/naans that are served in Asia as well, and the addition of onions definitely drove that deshi flavour home!

Photo Credit: Eriko Sultana

7. Buregdzinica Bosna

Another must-try on my list was burek, which is a pie made with ground or chopped meat, onions, and spices. It’s rolled into a thinly rolled phyllo dough, and served with yogurt. There are numerous places offering burek, so I researched a bit and settled on this restaurant. It was by far the more popular burek restaurant in Sarajevo, and it didn’t disappoint! Even after my ćevapi from earlier, I scarfed down the entire plate of burek alone. Living on good quality grilled meat served with a dollop of yogurt and veggies… hmm I can definitely see myself living in Bosnia and Herzegovina for sure!

Photo Credit: Eriko Sultana

8.Aksaraj

This café is situated in a corner of the Old Market in Sarajevo, overlooking the mosque and the shops. It was my first time trying Turkish coffee, and I fell in love! The strong, deliciously bitter flavor of the coffee was complimented by the excessively sweet locum, a traditional sweet served with Turkish coffee. This café had over options for food, which I didn’t try, but I’d recommend it for the coffee itself!

Croatia

9.Olive Tree

By the time I arrived in Croatia, I was a tad bit tired of the grilled meats and cheese-based items that are a staple of the Balkan cuisine, so I found myself gravitating towards seafood or vegetarian/vegan meals. This spaghetti with mussels was one of them, and it was fantastic! The slight hints of lime in the spaghetti made it the perfect lunch under the scorching Croatian sun (while watching the myriad of interesting people making their way down the promenade on this nice summer day).

10. Terminal F

This restaurant was chosen primarily because of its fun vibe. The shrimp burger (once again chosen because of the desire to avoid meat) was so good that I went back twice to have it again (usually a big no-no for me while travelling). It was juicy and light, satiating you without making you feel sluggish. The Terminal F special pizza, on the other hand, reminded me a bit of the Shwarma House pizzas because of the ground meat. It was a bit heavier, so we ended up taking some of it home (despite being big eaters– having so much meat and cheese for a week does that to you I guess!). They also served a variety of interesting drinks and cocktails. My choice for the night was a drink called Adios Motherf*ckers, which was what I had to say about all the people hating on my extended holiday (let a girl live!).

11. Zoí

Now, I’m all for trying local cuisine when I visit a country, but I also LOVE fine dining. Zoí is a Michelin plate restaurant that is located on the south wall of the Diocletian’s Palace where the emperor’s apartments were located in Split, Croatia. I knew I HAD to try this place, and after attempting it for two days, I was finally lucky enough to get a reservation on my last night in Split. This was not Croatian or Balkan food, but a nice fine dining restaurant. The beef tartare was excellent, and the mushroom risotto was creamy yet light, with the right amount of flavour without overpowering the senses. The tagliatelle was fairly good, but as someone who is overly picky about any kind of pasta with red sauce, it was my least favorite item from the restaurant. However, what some of the food lacked in flavour, the restaurant made up for with the ambiance. I may have taken 1209432 photos against the glowing moon over the promenade, and shall cherish the memories from this night forever!

Belgium

12. De Zuikant

I visited Bruges for a weekend, and immediately knew that I have to venture out to Damme, a neighbouring town, just for this Michelin star restaurant. The items were served based on my tastes, and unfortunately I don’t remember the exact items that were served that day. The started was a salmon with interestingly served greens, and the main was juicy steak with some seasonal squash. The memory of the rhubarb and ice cream served for dessert still lingers in my mind. Fun fact: After this delicious meal, I walked 5km back to Bruges because there were no forms of transportation heading back there as it was a weekend. I’d do it again in a heartbeat though!

United Kingdom

13. Christmas Market

A staple for me at every Christmas market is a plate of cheese fries. The cheese fries in the UK are not your average cheese fries that you find around the world. No Sir, after moving to the UK, having gravy with fries (also called chips here, NOT to be confused with crisps, which are what potato chips are referred to in this country) has opened my eyes to a whole new range of possibilities. The cheese fries here are essentially a plate of fries, with melted, gooey cheese poured in abundance over the them. The cheese stays warm enough to withstand the cold outside while you devour the fries to warm up your soul, which is definitely an added bonus!

14. Pimlico Fresh

Now, boomers are quick to complain about how all millennials do is complain about their inability to buy property while wasting their earnings on avocado toast. I may not have reached the age where I am thinking about buying property, but avocado toast can literally make your day better when served right. I’ve become a bit of a narc about avo toast, so after returning to London from a trip and finding myself with a bit of free time before having to catch my coach back to Nottingham, I decided to try what was supposedly the best brunch place near the station: Pimlico Fresh. It’s one of those super busy places with people sharing tables with strangers, and I loved it. My avo toast came with a healthy serving of smoked salmon and cream cheese and some freshly squeezed lime. It was actually heaven on a plate; so good that I momentarily forgot that I was amongst complete strangers who witnessed me inhale the toast within a few minutes. I washed it down with some kombucha, because hey, your girl couldn’t be more millennial or basic if she tried!

15. Dalloway Terrace

I came across this restaurant on one of my favorite Bangladeshi bloggers in the UK’s profile, @bsiddlife (https://www.instagram.com/bsiddlife/). It was the first fine dining restaurant I visited after moving to the UK, and the restaurant was decorated in full autumn galore. I tried the octopus carpaccio, which was immaculate. The grilled organic salmon main was super light, and zesty with the squeezed lemon, served with some truffle fries. I tried the dark chocolate fondant with hazelnut ice cream as the dessert, and it definitely took the cake for this meal! The menu at this restaurant changes seasonally, as does the décor, so it’s definitely one of those restaurants that you can keep going back to without getting bored.

16. Le Quai Saint Tropez

Did you even go to France if you didn’t try escargot? I knew when I booked my trip to the south of France, I HAD to try it. Escargot is a French delicacy, comprising of cooked edible snails. It might not be something that appeals to everyone, but I was definitely game! I arrived at Saint Tropez a bit late for lunch, so my first choice to try escargot was closed. This restaurant was possibly even better than the first, as it was located right on the promenade with a bunch of boujee yachts parked out front. The other patrons were having a whale of a time, and the fans which sprayed mists of water was definitely welcome in the intense summer heat found in the island in mid-June. The escargot was served with some lemon butter, and it tasted quite like mussels or oysters. The only off-putting part of trying them was that I could see the nerves and veins of the snails through the skin, which was a tad unsettling. However, on the taste aspect, it was perfectly fine, so I would totally have it again, next time I’m in France! The oysters served at the restaurant were also cooked well, so it definitely knows what it’s doing with seafood!

Bangkok

17. L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon

I’ve been to a number of fancy restaurants in my life, but this one is definitely in the top three of my favorite restaurant experiences ever. The restaurant is dimly lit and the interior is mainly red and black (my two favorite colors, yay!), and patrons are seated around the bar. It has one Michelin star, and the cuisine is largely French, and the chef Olivier Limousin came to speak to me during the meal. We tried the foie gras and avocado rolls (not French, but I love my sushi so I just had to!) as starters, and a lobster and vegetable fricassee with lobster bisque and some lamb for the mains. My favorite item was the lobster, which was beyond delicious. I was also celebrating my birthday, so I got a complimentary dessert, which is always great! This restaurant is currently closed for renovations, but it is a must visit! They have stores all over the world, and I’d definitely recommend visiting one!

Nepal

18. Boomerang Restaurant

This chicken thali that I tried in Nepal tasted very light and fresh. I don’t like my lunches to be really heavy, so I was a bit apprehensive when I saw the rice in this meal. Surprisingly, it did not leave me sluggish, and the chicken, vegetables, and daal served with the meal were flavourful and delicious.

19. Momos

Momos in Nepal are a whole different level of goodness. My love for all kinds of food that are served wrapped in dough knows no bounds, and I went crazy over the momos in Nepal. There are so many kinds, and they all tasted so good! I love both steamed momos and fried momos, especially those with a chicken or mushroom filling. Your options are limitless in Nepal; the ones pictured here are from a random roadside restaurant in between Kathmandu and Pokhara!

Dhaka

20. Premium Sweets

I realize how Bangladeshi I am when I think about this restaurant. I literally couldn’t stop thinking about it after I booked my flight back this year, and writing this now is making me salivate. The letka khichuri at Premium Sweets, with the kala bhuna and mehzbani ghost is my favorite Bengali food of all time. Through in the brain masala into the mix and I couldn’t be any happier! It’s moist and spicy, and cooked to perfect. The khichuri is served in a clay pot, and a rumali roti on top (which is what I usually have my brain masala with). The faluda at this restaurant is also top notch!

Photo of Eriko Sultana, Travel Influencer

5 Sustainable Gift Ideas for Christmas!

Lifestyle

By Faria Ahmed

There are a million little things we can each do to help save planet earth while still enjoying the joys of gifting. Here are 5 simple things that I decided to try out!

1.Baked Goods

Nothing says sustainable like some homemade baked goodies made from scratch! As much as we want to buy ‘things’ and put them into gift boxes and gift bags, food is actually not a bad gift idea and it does put a big smile on everyone’s face at the party!

2. Used Books

A lot of us may not like the idea of using pre-worn clothing, but used books are a whole different story. For centuries we have shared books and borrowed from the library..so there’s no shame and no harm in buying some used books as a gift! It’s more sustainable than buying new ones…and the best part is that you might get some rare books, and first edition books, or even autographed books by opting for second-hand!

3. Goodie Jars

Instead of buying each of your friends separate boxes of candy or goodies and increasing the amount of plastic & paper trash in this world, you can buy wholesale and split it up in these cute glass jars! You can check out our step-by-step process to customize these goodie jars.

4.Handmade Ornaments / Coasters

Although cutting down trees for decor items isn’t exactly environmentally friendly…these trees were cut down for other reasons, and instead of wasting the branches, the farm decided to slide up the wood and sell them to be used for crafts. The best part is that it is entirely biodegradable! You can check out how we made these handmade ornaments here.

5. Wooden Gift Basket

Again, I managed to put together this gift basket with pretty sustainable items. Glass bottle of champagne, wooden coasters and ornaments, pine cones I had collected from the park, and some paper for sparkle. Always fun to come up with no-plastic and low-paper-waste solutions to presenting our gifts!

Quick 5-Minute DIY Gift Ideas For Any Occasion!

Lifestyle

By Faria Ahmed

I absolutely enjoy giving gifts, but I enjoy personalizing them even more! Living on a young adult/student budget makes it hard to buy beautiful gift items from the store all the time, so I make up for it using a tad bit of customized creativity! Here are some of the super quick and super affordable Do-It-Yourself gift ideas for any occassion.

1.Handmade Personalized Ornaments

Whether it’s to hang from your Christmas tree or simply to be hung up on the wall or used as coasters…these personalized gifts are an all-time staple for affordable gifting! All you need is:

  1. Slides Wood (I got them for $1 a piece from a local farm where some trees had to be cut down this year)
  2. Twine Rope
  3. Hot Glue Gun
  4. Sharpie or Etching Tool
  5. Scissors

Cut up about 2 inch of the twine rope. Use the hot glue to attach the rope to the sliced wood coaster. You can also glue on embellishments to make it even more fancy. Let it cool for 2-3 minutes. Use the sharpie to write the gift receiver’s name or a cute message to them. Ta-da!

2. Goodie Jars

I love how sustainable these gifts are and how you can practically customize it for absolutely anyone. For some friends, I filled these jars up with candy, for others with popcorn, and for some diabetic friends- I added cute little tea candles from Ikea! Again, this can be used for christmas, a new year gift for coworkers or clients, as a lootbag item for children’s birthday parties and so much more! Here’s what you need:

  1. Small glass jars (I got them from the dollar store for $2 a piece)
  2. Twine Rope
  3. Paper, Sharpie, Scissors
  4. Goodies to fill up the jar (candy, cookies, candles, potpourri etc)
  5. Hole puncher

Fill the jar with whatever goodies you have chosen. Wrap some twine around the jar and before typing up a bow add your note. For the note, fold up some plain white paper into a little card, white on and in the note as you wish, then punch a hole in the corner so you can slip it into the twine rope but tying it up into a pretty bow.

10 Reasons Millennial Travelers are LOVING Chennai

Travel

Written By: Arkapriya Dhara

Chennai is truly a bustling destination in South India that has almost everything- starting from colonial architecture, century-old temples to golden beaches. Although known for its old historic sites,Chennai actually has a perfect balance where its ethnic culture and metropolis lifestyle are thriving hand-in-hand. It’s absolutely amazing how you will still find young girls adorning fresh flowers in their hair on their way to the temple while technology and international brands keep life as comfortable as anywhere else in India. As a Millennial Traveler out to explore all of Asia, I’m glad I made this one of my first travel destinations. It was truly a dreamy escape from regular life.

Photo: Arkapriya Dhara

1. The Temples

Photo: Arkapriya Dhara

The medieval temples will blow your mind and try to visit in the evening to see the actual magic happening with all the rituals. Parthasarathy, Vadapalani Murugan, Kapaleeshwarar temples are some of best temples that you should check out.

2.  The Churches

As I said temples are for nights, days should be used to visit numerous churches both in Chennai and Pondicherry. In Chennai St. Thomas Cathedral Basilica should be top of your list.

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Photo: Arkapriya Dhara

3. Chennai lighthouse

The landmark lighthouse is just beside the Marina beach and takes the elevator up to get a panoramic view of the sea and the city.

4. Affordable Shopping spree

Go straight to Tnagar for budget shopping and you can pop by malls for international brands. Chennai is truly a Saree heaven and leaving Chennai without buying at least one Nalli Silk Saree will be a grave mistake.

5. Beaches

 Among the beaches, the Marina Beach is the most significant one and it is the second-longest beach in the whole world. Try to take a morning stroll by the beach and observe historical building which will remind you of old Madras.

Photo: Arkapriya Dhara
Photo: Arkapriya Dhara

6. Local Food

Chennai is known for a mix of cuisines along with the authentic Idly, dosa and vada. You should pay a visit to Saravana Bhawan and Ratna Cafe for typical South Indian vegetarian dishes.

7. Flowers, Dancing, Music and Culture

The flowers are the true essence of Chennai and truly it is an integral part of their culture. Try to buy flowers to put in your hair while visiting temples. Chennai is maybe the only city where you can always attend a high-quality classical dance performance and these are mostly free for all. Bharatiya Vidya Bhubaneswar is really the place to experience the culture here .

Photo: Arkapriya Dhara

8. Mahabalipuram

While visiting Chennai, it’s absolutely necessary to visit mahabalipuram on the way to Pondicherry. The rock sculptures beside the sea are astonishing. The Shore Temple, Arjuna Penance, Cave Temples, etc are some of the must-visit places.

Photo: Arkapriya Dhara

9. Pondicherry

You just cannot I mean cannot miss Pondicherry while visiting Chennai. It’s only two and a half hours away from Chennai. The French colony called ‘White Town’ will make you feel as if you are not in India at all. Other than that Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Rock beach, French war memorial, and different churches are worth the visit.

Photo: Arkapriya Dhara

10. Instagram-Worthy Spots Everywhere!

There is a certain charm to the authentic culture that still exists in Chennai, while the busier cities like Delhi and Mumbai are lost in the fast-paced globalized lifestyle. As they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder…so if you have an eye for it, you will find endless spots in this city for striking instagram photos! The colours of the buildings, the smiles of the street vendors, the drippy deliciousness of curries and street food…all make for an amazing travel destination.

You can check out Arkapriya on her travel adventures in South Asia and beyond by following her instagram account here!

Photo: Arkapriya Dhara