Friday, April 28, 2017

Incredible India - an exotic destination for the Wandering Writer

If you ever watched any documentary about India, and fancied to go there, I heartily here encourage that choice. India is an amazing country, with thousands of different cultures, languages, sceneries and climates. This was our first experience in that mystical and wonderful land and we are committed to visit more of it, understanding that just visiting three cities won't tell you the truth about India.
The first thing was that not knowing what we had to expect from that trip, we decided to book the hotel only for the first two nights, extending our booking in case we were satisfied with the choice or search for other options.
Our destination was New Delhi, and logistically our trip was arranged a bit differently than it has always been. At that time, my husband was serving in Afghanistan, so I arrived the day before and waited for him at the hotel.
I arrived late in the night, and I was glad I booked an airport pick-up from the hotel; as this avoided me the fight between taxi driver to get me into their taxi.
The hotel looked nice from the outside, but strangely, inside the lights were very dim, putting a grotesque look to the people at the desk. I checked in and the bell boy took my luggage and we started to climb the stairs, paying attention not to walk over the people who were sleeping on the floor (!)
As a first impression, it made me a bit worried, but relieved that I had to spend there only two nights.
It was hot; damn it was hot, and as I went to the toilet to have a shower, I noticed a lizard on the shower. She looked at me with the same expression as to say "don't even think of thinking that I am going away from here!"
How to blame it?
I greeted my roommate and went immediately to the bed, trying to fall asleep for as long as possible.
Well, easy to say, but in practice... Not!
The sheets had a strange smell, and I wondered whether they had ever been changed or washed, but I was too tired to think about it, and regardless all the questions concerning hygiene, I fell asleep.
The day after my husband reached me, but only the following day we started seriously to look around the city and plan our route (of course, after having found a better hotel).
India, generally is a great place to understand something about how crowded, we might be on this planet, as I do believe there is no such a place that can give you this straight idea as India and China can.
The streets are always quite crowded, not just with people, but other animals too, mainly chicken, goats and cows. Many people might consider it uncomfortable, but personally, I was fascinated by how colorful those streets looked like and it didn't give me any sort of bad feeling.
The constant presence of any sort of farm animals, might result in unpleasant smells that come to your nose time by time.
The traffic on the streets is chaotic and to the eye of the foreigner, anarchy is the queen.
Only outside of the city, the situation gets better.
 Our next destination was Jaipur, the pink city.
A fun fact about this city, and why it is called pink, is quite straightforward, all the houses, monuments, and palaces are pink. The story tells that in 1853, during the regime of Sawai Ram Singh, the Prince of Wales came for a visit. Sawai Ram Singh, wanted to welcome him in a very particular way, and as he knew that the Prince of Wales like the color pink, he ordered that every single building would have painted in pink. Since then, all the new buildings were built in the same color and Jaipur was called "the pink city."
The thing that I really recommend to have a good look of the city and understand the amazing crafting skills of the Indian artists, is the Hawa Mahal,

 The Jal Mahal,


 And, the most spectacular Amer Fort, which is truly one of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen

We spent in Jaipur another three days, just to be able to see most of all the life around, and understand something more about their culture. One small and very precious advice for your own sanity, be aware that every time you will take a rickshaw or a taxi, they will bring you first to the shop of their cousin that is selling ceramics, then to the shop of their brother-in-law, which sells textile, until, at the end you know the whole family. One way to avoid this circus, is that you have made clear from the beginning that you do not have any intention of visiting any shop. Be even ready to show yourself angry; their resilience is legendary.
Of course, from Jaipur, we could not skip (particularly on our first trip) a visit to Agra, the city of the legendary Taj Mahal.
On our way by taxi, we had all sorts of incidents, first we had a flat tire, so we had to stop and change the spare tire. You might say that this is something that can always happen, and that is also true, but after a few other kilometers, we had another flat tire.... The driver had to leave us there guarding the taxi, as he was going to the next town and get another spare tire.
Also the camels and the people leading them were laughing at us!



The story says that the Taj Mahal was commissioned by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is considered by the Indian people as the most romantic place, and the ultimate love gesture, and it is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage."
Regardless the insistence of the taxi drivers to bring you to this or the other shop, I suggest, anyway to pay a visit to those art laboratories, where you will get the chance to be amazed by the crafting skills of wood carving and perhaps also to buy something for your house:

The plate in the middle is what we bought, and it was shipped to our address for a ridiculous price.
After visiting Agra, we decided to take our adventure even further and reach Nepal.
To reach Kathmandu, the best way is to take the train from Agra train station to Gorakhpur, where you will take the bus to reach the border, and from there, you will take another bus to reach Kathmandu.
The train ride was an experience I can recommend to everybody (+18 not because of adult content, but because for a child, it might be uncomfortable).
The funny thing was the presence of the rats roaming in the station, the great part was the chai tea served during the whole trip. The beds are very comfortable, and there are no ladies or men compartment, and unless you choose the first class, you are sleeping in a mixed one.
That didn't give us any sort of trouble, and as I was very tired, I fell asleep fast and soundly, soothed by the rocking movement of the train.
We reached the border in the evening, and for the rest of the trip, I suggest you to stay tuned and wait for the next adventure of:
THE WANDERING WRITER!



Friday, April 21, 2017

Something different-guess where? With the Wandering Writer!!

This time was a time to get into something more unusual than adventurous, and our wanderings brought us to Moldova.
I will start right away with a small introduction about Moldovan history just to introduce the country, I am going to tell you about.
Since this year (2017), we are also celebrating the centenary of the Russian Revolution, it seems to me appropriate to tell you about this incredible country, which history and the actual political situation is a bit uncommon.
Moldova is the formerly Bessarabia, and it was a part of the Principality of Moldavia until 1812 when it was annexed to the Russian Empire. However, with the Russian Revolution that dismantled the Tsarist regime, Bessarabia became independent under the name of the Moldavian Democratic Republic.
The independence didn't last long, as in 1918 it became part of Romania, which returned it to the Soviet Union in 1940, becoming the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 was great news for the Moldovian, who could declare their independence once and for all.
Nevertheless, the country is not united, and since 1990 the strip of Moldovan territory on the east side of the river Dniester has been under the control of the separatist government of Transnistria.
No other countries, besides Abkhazia, the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic and South Ossetia has ever recognised Transnistria as an independent country, but this didn't stop them from having their own government, president, army, border police, currency and constitution.
At the time we were there, the border was also watched by Russian Peacekeeping operation, so you might understand that the relationship between Moldova and Transnistria is not always very peaceful.
This little introduction is to make sure you get the situation of the country to understand a bit what shaped the culture and heritage of the people.
Talking about the city of Chișinău, the capital of Moldova, I have only nice things to say. Maybe because this city brought me all the memories of my youth, which I keep very dearly in my heart. Of course, we are not talking about SPA's, shopping malls, bustling cities, but about a very relaxed lifestyle, which can bring you back to the life of the small cities in the sixties or seventies.


The city is well kept and offers a lot to the curious traveller, who wants to discover more than just the secret of a perfect tan. Something that got me wanting more was the food experience, and since the value for money is perfect, I would recommend it heartily. I cannot recall all the places where we had a meal, but each of them was an experience, and if you decide to go there, don't miss the chance to taste their game meat (bear, deer, or wild boar). At that time, the country was not yet ready to particular dietary requirements, and whether there were possibilities for vegetarians, the only things offered for a vegan, would have been a plain salad.
From the hotel, we had the chance to have a taxi driver who would have brought us to visit also Transnistria. Of course, if you are in Moldova, you cannot miss the chance to visit its other side of the sky, the part of the country which still would like to be part of Mother Russia.
In a country where most of the population doesn't speak English, we were afraid about our communication with our taxi driver.
Nevertheless, with our great surprise, our driver spoke a perfect English, and we could ask as many questions as possible, not only about the history of Moldova and Transnistria but also about the point of view of the common people. What we got, by talking with him was invaluable information about the reasons why people wanted to separate from Moldova.
As we arrived in Transnistria, we could notice one thing in particular: how the general infrastructure was more taken care of, than in Chișinău.
So the actual border is drawn by the Dniester River:







Nevertheless, you do not need to ask or to know whether Transnistria is made of that part of the Moldovian population, which was not truly happy with the independence from Mother Russia, because already by the architectural style, you can relate it to a typical Soviet style.
That sober and elegant style, which doesn't skimp on richness, when required. As a beholder you will surely appreciate the beauty of the buildings, and perhaps they gained their right to their independence. Maybe one day, the world will realise that recognising Transnistria as an independent country (like San Marino or the Vaticans) won't cause any harm.
I am not here to do politics; my mission is just to bring you the places I have been, hoping you will be inspired and will give a try to each of them.
A couple other things that attracted my attention were the weekly market, which offered a bit of everything, from local food stands to clothing items, shoes and other sort of services like, for example shoe shining.
Once a week, the city centre closes its streets to the traffic, and people can stroll, bike, skate on the streets from dusk to dawn, even if I was too tired to testify this timetable.
For this time, I think it is enough... see you next time and stay tuned!!!

Friday, April 14, 2017

The rich pearl in the Caucasus, Azerbaijan with the Wandering Writer

As it arrived the time to say goodbye to lovely Georgia, Tbilisi, the great food experience, and unforgettable wine, we reached the point to decide the next destination.
As adventures seeking people, we were looking at all the possibilities offered by the neighbouring countries, and the first that attracted our attention was Chechenia, particularly the city of Grozny, mostly for the interesting political history it holds, and the two Chechen wars. Important events, such as Chechen war, have a very deep impact on the culture, life, and the development of a country, and the thirst of understanding the events from the people who lived them in first person, was the reason for that choice.
Unfortunately, Chechenia has also a very strict border policy and crossing the border from Georgia would have been quite difficult. The easiest, and Im really pushing the meaning of the word easy, was flying to Moscow, and from there take another flight to Grozny. Therefore, we decided to skip Chechenia just to move this trip to a better time, when for example we would have travelled to Russia.

Therefore, we had to decide whether visiting Armenia, Turkey, or Azerbaijan. Our choice, this time was for the latter, and we booked a place for the first class in the night train to Baku. The first class was not a snob choice, rather a convenient one. In this way, we wouldnt be separated for the night, making our journey more comfortable.
The price was not crazy, being about 80 USD but the purchase needed some patience. Besides trying to understand where we had to buy the tickets, (top floor of the railway stations shopping mall in Tbilisi) we had to wait some time in an endless queue, but as soon as we arrived we realised that we needed our passports to complete the purchase. I know we should have thought about it, but we also believed that they would have checked our passports at the border. Anyway, we went back to our hotel, got the passports get back to the railway station, waited on another long queue, just to realise that we were in the wrong queue.
At that point, you can imagine we were a little nervous, but grabbing the last vestiges of patience, we waited for another queue, and our perseverance paid off. We finally had the train tickets, and we were ready to go.
Now, if you will find yourself in the same position as we were, remember one very important thing; in the night train from Tbilisi to Baku, there isnt any restaurant, nor any sort of snack is provided.
We were lucky to arrive at the station quite in advance and that we asked to one of the ticket inspectors about the meal plan, so we could buy something to eat from a small kiosk at the station, and since the ticket inspector was very nice, we offered her also something to eat.
At 17:00 the train left, and we were happily on our way to Baku.
We reached the border in the evening at about 20:00 and at that point all the sort of checks and controls. Something interesting to know is that as an officer was checking the passports and allowing travellers with the visa to enter Azerbaijan, another went to check with a Geiger counter the wagons to be sure that there wasnt any radioactive material imported illegally into the country.
We had a good laugh about it, as for a western citizen might sound crazy to smuggle radioactive material to another country. We generally smuggle drugs, weapons, people Oh well, every country has its own problems, I guess.
Our cabin was very comfortable, and I would really suggest to invest a bit more money to get the first class ticket:

We woke up in the morning, and I went to check immediately for the kind of scenery Azerbaijan were offering. The first glimpse were the oil fields, giving me a foretaste of the main activity in the country.
Azerbaijan proclaimed its independence, for the first time in 1918, being the first democratic country in the Muslim orient world. The independence didnt last long, as the Soviet Union incorporated it already in 1920, but was able to proclaim its independence finally in 1991, just before the dissolution of the USSR.
The city of Baku is, at the first glance, showing off the richness coming from oil, gas and natural resources like precious metals and fertile/arable land that give them a great deal of independence from other countries, despite the economic highs and lows it had. Generally, the streets, the parks, the buildings are very well kept, and at the time of our visit there was a big deal of building new going on in the city. However, all that shines is not gold, and in some cases the front side of the buildings, like houses and flat house, were maintained in the front, and left non maintained on the back side.
Something really amazing of the city was the light show offered by the flame towers. Those are the tallest building complex in Baku, and consists in apartments, a hotel, and office blocks. The complex consists in three buildings flame shaped, which facades turns into an amazing light show using more than 10000 LED-lights.

They were indeed impressive offering a staggering show during the nights. The city itself is a real must see, and a tourist attracting hub, with its fashion streets, wonderful parks, restaurants to accommodate all the tastes and entertainments for everyone, from the young to the not-so young-anymore.


For the history seekers, there is plenty to discover, and as usual, the best place to ask is the local pub tender. They are always keen to share their experience about the history that shaped their country and can give great insights about the average lifestyle of the people. As much as the hairdresser can give you the latest gossip, the pub tender gives you the best knowledge about the other side of the world you wont see from the outside, or that is hidden from the main news; they know it all.
At the beach, one of the tallest flag proudly displaying itself to the wind, and I guess this is the first thing you will ever see, as you approach the country by the sea.

The city is divided mainly into three different parts, the ancient city, the Soviet city and the new one.
The old city, is a must see, and it is also a UNESCO Heritage Site; nevertheless, it is quite small, and can be easily visited in a few hours by walking, including the Palace of the Shirvan Shaha and the Maidens tower.
The city, it is fast building up its own cultural identity, and it seems as it is trying to forget the Soviet past. The new buildings in the city are built following a more classic style, rather than a modern one, which is reserved mostly for business headquarters like the flame towers. This creates a very interesting blend between old and new that will surely catch your attention, at least it caught mine, and made me want to have the same blend also in my hometown.
The food experience was interesting, but I was lacking something more traditional and local, like I have experienced in Georgia, but on the other hand, in such a multicultural environment you have to expect a blend of cultures also in the cuisine which is not bad at all.
In this way, I collected another country to the list I-loved-it-and-I-dont-know-why because there were too many things that made me love that place, but I could not put a real priority on any of them.



Friday, April 7, 2017

It's a publishing jungle out there!!! The Wa(rn)ing Writer!!

And by the title you have already figured out the topic of this weekly post.
If you are a first-time self-published author, and you know nothing about marketing strategies, you might find yourself struggling with the usual question.
Ok, I have published my book, how to make people buy it?
And that is a very important question, so the best thing that I can suggest is make an extensive search on the internet, about:

💥 Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ groups, where experienced indie authors are ready to share their tips and advice.
💥Blogs of indie authors who give hints about how to market your book.
💥Companies which offer free of charge or paid marketing/promotional services
💥Arrange giveaways of your book in exchange for an honest review.
💥Create a blog about your writings or about what inspires you to write
💥Organise book signing events
💥BE CREATIVE!

Social media groups for authors:

This is a very valuable source for any sort of advice, from how to market your book, to how to choose the right book cover and where to find cover artists, where to find a proofreader and many other forms of support.
Of course, be sure you open an author Facebook account, a Twitter account together with LinkedIn, Instagram and Google+ where to grow your audience and professional connections.

BLOGS:

There are many authors who constantly write in their blogs some important piece of advice on how to bring your book in front of the public. Many of them will share their experience, good and bad, to make sure that whoever reads will never find him/herself to the same problems, or will have the same success faster.

You might wonder why an author would give away his/her secret of success? Because we are not in competition, there are readers for everyone, and there is no reason to be mean to each other. Moreover, with your blog you can reach many other potential readers and fans, they might not be the ones who will buy your books, but you will increase your visibility, and after all, it is all fun, which is the best part of it!

Paid/free marketing services:

This one requires you a very careful look before you send money to whoever. There are many kinds of services, and as much as many offer a good service for a reasonable price (ranging monthly from 8-15$ to a yearly fee between 49-200$).
Most of them give exactly the same service, but they target different audiences, adding one or few extras. Therefore, you might easily believe that having two or three different subscriptions to those services can give you extra visibility without going bankrupt. Moreover, if you put into practice the advice you get from other authors you might easily have already a great starter package that takes you and your book out of the anonymity.
Then, of course, there are the free services, and those are totally risk free, as the biggest risk is that they won't much help, but on the other hand, you haven't invested anything right?

Reviews:

Those are crucial, because they give a reason to the buyer to stop and look at your book. It gives the message to other readers that someone bought that book, someone liked it and someone else didn't, The more the reviews, the more your book become interesting and visible. Be sure that the first action you take in your marketing strategy is getting those reviews. Ten is the minimum target you should aim at.

Organise book signing events:

You can ask one local independent bookstore, or library whether they could host your event. Generally they won't refuse, because you will attract potential buyers, not just for your books, but also for the books they are selling.

BE CREATIVE:

This means, of course, that you have the right to use your imagination to attract people to take a look at your book, to entice them with your writing skills, and ability to create original plots because nobody knows whether you will be their next super favourite author!!

One thing I warn you about:

BEWARE THE SHARKS!!!

Those are the people who ask for insane prices and offer nothing but fried air. How to recognise a shark from an honest service provider?
Generally, those are authors who found a miracle formula to attract readers and sell millions of copies of their book, they are going to promise you skyrocketing sales in just a few weeks or months. They show you how many millions of copies of their books they have been selling and since they are so kind, they are going to offer you the same success for crazy prices (600 to over 1000$ 💀💀💀).
The best thing is that they do not say "we are going to bring your book in front of 500K readers distributed into four different social media groups," they are just selling you an advice without even bothering to promote your book.
At that point my question is, if you made millions with your books, why would you need my money for a piece of advice? 
There are thousand of authors who give advices for free!!
Now being sure that what works for one book, not necessarily works for other books, and that nobody can promise you millions in sales, you can be sure that this person didn't sell much anything and all of his/her income comes from this kind of service he/she sells for a high price.

Many authors wrote already about this big threat at the expenses of inexperienced indie authors, but one more post (this one) is not going to harm, and perhaps will save the bank account of other indie authors, who feel depressed about the low sales of their books.
One thing always to remember is that success is not something that happen suddenly, besides some rare cases. With zillions of books in the market, the question is who is able to stubbornly continue something that resembles more a marathon? Remember that success might or might not come, it might come soon or it might take the publishing of other seven books, nobody has the answer.

The best advice I can give you is to never lose your hopes. If writing is your passion, treat it this way, and never give up. Always keep your passions alive, after all, Rome wasn't built in one day.

I am not a super bestselling author, but I would like every indie author to feel relaxed about their sales, and not to stress too much, we all want to succeed, but only time will teach us the best way to do it, which will be different for each of us. 





It's birthday week

It has been three years since the day when, for the first time in my life, I have pressed the ' publish' button on what it was ba...