US Chronicles – I

From spending time with my family here to the many great travels undertaken, it has been a memorable visit to the United States of America. It was a voluntary break I took from work, to relax and rejuvenate. Mark Twain had said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that 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 your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Yours truly explored, dreamed and discovered. Each travel experience was unique and left me marvelling and reflecting on certain aspects.

The 17-mile Drive was enchanting – it took us through some promising sites. It was a drive through the pebble beach and pacific grove on the Monterey peninsula in northern California.

17-mile-drive

Pebble beach

San Francisco was a beauty. The streets looked busy and pretty. We drove through the crooked, Lombard street. Any traveller would be smitten by the Golden gate bridge. Pier 39 was buzzing with activities.

GoldenGateBridge

Golden Gate Bridge, San Franciso

The trip to Los Angeles and around was wonderful. We stayed at a bungalow on Hollywood hills. The visit to Disneyland was like walking bang on a fairy, fantasy land!

DisneyLand1

Universal studios was stupendous. The studio tour especially left us spell-bound.          The visits to the Dolby studio, Chinese theatre,  Madame Tussauds, etc in Los Angeles were worthwhile. We got an opportunity to see the bungalows of some popular Hollywood celebrities while on a trip to the Beverley hills.

UStudios-II

Universal studios

We went around Santa Monica (a beachfront city in Los Angeles county) on a guided tour. The Aquarium of the Pacific around Long Beach (a coastal city near Los Angeles), followed by the harbour cruise over there were wonderful. My little nephew was thrilled to see the octopus dancing in its own charismatic way in the aquarium.

Redwood forest was yet another nature-friendly place. Thomas train festival was being organized that weekend and it was a total fun zone for kids. Apart from the train ride, it was a walk through the forests I enjoyed most.

RedWoodForest

Redwood forest

We spent quite some time exploring the magnificent Stanford University. We also went on a guided tour of the University.

Standford

Stanford University

The Japanese gardens in Hayward was a beauty. It looked so pristine. It was refreshing to have gone there on a Saturday morning.

Japanesegardens

Japanese garden

It was very touching to see the patriotic fervour here in Fremont, California while Indian Independence day was being celebrated! Actor Manoj Bajpayee was one of the guests.

IndependenceDay

One of the tableaus during Indian Independence celebrations in Fremont, California

The Jelly Belly factory was another sweet visit. We went on a tour of the sweet factory and gathered firsthand information on how different flavoured jelly beans are processed and packaged. It was interesting to note that the 40th president of the United States, Mr Ronald Reagan used to savour these jelly beans!

JellyBelly

Sacramento, the capital of California, is less touristy but it is a very serene and beautiful place! The American River Parkway there was a beauty and my nephew loved it a lot, a nature lover that he is.

CaliforniaStateHouse

California State Capitol

Yosemite national park was scenic no doubt. It was like experiencing nature at its best.

YosemiteNationalPark

Yosemite National Park

Grand Canyon was truly a geographic wonder!

GrandCanyon

Grand Canyon

Las Vegas was a colourful city, with a lot of theme based hotels. It was nice to see the décor and aesthetics of these hotels.

Excaliber

Excalibur hotel, Las Vegas

Berkeley University  had its own charm. Upon our return, we came across a Udupi palace (veggie) restaurant. Enjoyed some vadas and lassi.

BerkeleyUniversity

Berkeley University

A visit to the corporate head offices of Facebook and Google was fun. Loved the Google campus in Mountain View.

Well, the east coast of the US was beautiful! The weather cooperated too. I shall write more about the visit in my next post.

All along, I was reminded of my Europe travel days, where my husband and I used to enthusiastically explore places of interest. The other memorable aspect of this trip was that I caught up with some of my friends – a couple of whom I met after close to two decades! It was wonderful catching up with a couple of relatives and family friends. It also felt very nice being invited over for tea by the CEO of the first company I had worked for.

The Janmashtami, Ganesha and Navaraatri celebrations and a pooja arranged at home added more colour to the US stint. It was indeed a memorable stay at my sister’s place, who with her family, lives in the Bay Area, California. I love her home, which I fondly refer to as Radiance.

My travel taste buds are satiated fully for the season. It’s packing time now. Ahh, I am experiencing parting pangs!

Bye for now,

RV

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US time

Hello! It’s been quite some time since I wrote here. Having been smitten by the travel bug, I feel dragged to this platform, from the pacific coast of the United States of America.

I arrived here over one-and-half months ago (Phew! Time flies!) to spend time with my sister and her family. Her two-and-half year old son (my nephew) is in one of his most adorable phases – he strings words together to form sentences from the sweet vocabulary he has developed. The last time I saw him in India was during October-November 2016 when his nonverbal ways tried to overpower his verbal prowess.

Travel within this vast country has been a part of this visit of course, with my sister having planned a neat itinerary and my brother-in-law driving us around enthusiastically. I will try to pen my thoughts on each of the travel experiences when time permits. There is something new in each of the outings to appreciate about and take pleasure in. The Lonely Planet guide has befriended me yet again – bought it soon after I arrived here! It acts as an additional source of information.

I arrived here summer time. The weather is thus great – on an average, the temperature is around 23 degree centrigrade during the day and anywhere around 12 degree centigrade during the night.

Having taken a break from work, its vacation in its truest sense. The overall system in the US is different from Europe. Most importantly, it’s a huge country unlike cute little ones in Europe! It’s a subcontinent, bigger than India. I have been living in the state of California, but I did travel to the states of Nevada and Arizona so far. The landscape of these states looks pretty different from one another.

My mother’s presence is adding more beauty to the US visit. Here’s an article by her, which is about her impressions on the flora around: http://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2017/jul/26/miracles-bloom-in-this-backyard-1633521.html

Btw, it feels like mini India here in the Bay area. The Independence day celebrations at Fremont, California reinforced the fact that the inhabitants are so Indian in their hearts. Felt touched to see tableaus from certain states of India! Krishna Janmashtami and Ganesh Chathurthi were no less in their grandeur!

As I reflect upon my travel so far, I realize there is so much to write about. I need to stop here, as I am all set to visit the public library in Union City, California. The library is located by a pond – an exotic locale indeed!

I will also post pictures soon.

See you for now!

 

Travel and marvel

We love a lot to travel,
for there is something to unravel.

Each experience is like an opulence,
worth a lifetime of reverence.

Our trips are well-defined,
and they leave us refined.

Some jaunts take us to nature’s beauty;
while others, to man-made bounty.

Europe and its countries are scintillating.
Asia and its countries are mesmerizing.

Our lens aids in packaging memories,
which in itself act as boundless glories.

A good travel partner matters a great deal –
it is just like having a fulfilling meal.

Far and wide we will continue to travel,
as we tread on life’s canvas and marvel.

Norway

Norway – a country so close to my heart

Swiss Time

A big hello to you from Switzerland. Hope you are well.

The travel bug has bitten me this season too. After a trip to Portugal and Spain last week, we landed in yet another beautiful and rich country – Switzerland – two days ago. We have explored Basel and Zurich so far. It will be Luzern tomorrow. This was one of the countries in my bucketlist. P planned it around the time of my birthday. 🙂 Although a third visit for him to the landlocked country, he seems to be equally enjoying the visual treat offered by nature and the cultural facets unique to each city.

Well, the weather was just perfect until this evening. The temperatures rose to 30 degrees celsius at times. A feeling of irony set in as we experienced scorching heat in Switzerland! But as we travelled upwards to Luzern (Lucerne) this evening, closer to the Alps, there was a torrential rainfall! Phew! Mother Nature and her idiosyncrasies – I thought to myself. But that didn’t stop us from appreciating the hues of the city.

A visit to Interlaken and the surrounding, exotic areas is in the schedule next. After a tryst with nature there, we shall be going to Neuchatel, Bern and Geneva. Btw, many sites here have been taking us back in time…reminding us of our visits to Norway.

As usual, we have our LP guide with us. The brochures from the tourist info points too prove useful. All the moments are being captured using our DSLR camera. Hope to find some time to post some pictures as well.

Btw, if ever you are planning a trip to Europe, don’t hesitate to contact yours truly for some free tips/advice. 😉

PS: Apparently, author Mark Twain had visited Luzern years ago.

Vacation time

It was a very hectic April for yours truly as the labour of love (thesis related) came to a fulfilling end. May has opened up vistas for travel and fun here in Europe again.

I am presently enjoying some lovely weather at Florence in Italy…dashing off this post from the third floor of our hotel that is overlooking mountains with the blue skies almost brushing them. The view in front of me looks like a neat canvas! Well, P and I arrived in Florence on Saturday. We went to a beautiful place called Siena in the Tuscany region, on Sunday. It was Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera yesterday. The details of the visits shall be posted later. Btw, this is my third consecutive trip to Italy! We decided to choose scenic, nature friendly options this time over the usual touristy ones.

Wow, this country is rich in art, culture, (cuisine) and history. With nature’s artistic and magical touch added to it, Italy is no doubt a traveller’s paradise! It’s exploring time now. Hence keeping the post short. Ciao! 🙂

Friendly Volda

After our trip to the fjords, we travelled to Volda on the west coast of Norway. Mountains, seas and pretty villas form a dramatic backdrop to this little town. Volda University College (VUC) here is popular for higher education.

I was going there the second time. Here’s an extract from my travelogue in 2009: They say parting is a sweet sorrow, and now I get the meaning of it completely. Everyday at Volda was a wonderful experience worth remembering a lifetime. I will miss people here for their kindness, friendship and hospitality. I hope to return to this beautiful place and country sometime in the future! 

How's the landscape?

How’s the landscape?

Yay! And, my dream did come true. (Yeah, do believe in the beauty of your dreams.) It was more of a social visit this time in Volda. My first visit rewarded me with genial friends, who also made it to my wedding in India. The same friends invited us couple over to their place for a stay. Hmm…it’s hard to describe in words the fondness I have for this place and people. Anyway, let me try. Volda is like a fairyland – it’s so far away, yet so close to my heart that it can light up my spirits anytime! Its kindhearted and friendly people and scenic beauty conjure up images of a divine land.

Our friend T picked us from the bus station and drove us to his home in Volda. Well, it was a great feeling to be going there the second time and that too with P! T’s chirpy wife A greeted us with so much warmth. She had taken a couple of days off from her work. It was a lovely big home and the surroundings were awe-inspiring. We were escorted to a neatly made room, which was going to be ours the next three days. Here’s a recollection of our memorable stay there.

Our breakfast

Our breakfast

Pongal and raitha

Pongal and raitha

Day 1 –  A filling continental breakfast was waiting for us after we refreshed ourselves. We had a long chat with A & T and then we headed to VUC where we got to meet another friend J Y who had also made it to our wedding with his three children. Later that evening, we offered to cook some rice and sambar for dinner.

Yummy cheesecake

Yummy cheesecake

A, T & their son Ø enjoyed it, although it was a bit spicy for them. Any guesses as to where we had our dessert? At  their summer house (hytte in Norwegian), which was at a distance from their regular home! They had built it themselves and we were in awe of their hard work. Yummy eggless cheesecake made by A specially for us adorned the table along with some redcurrants fresh from their garden, soya milk and orange juice. We simply binged on all of it. Later, P & I got an opportunity to meet their first daughter S. Mia, their cat, did say a meow to us. It was tough catching hold of her though.

Mia

Mia

Day 2 –  After a sumptuous breakfast, we had been to a late friend E’s place where we met his wife and son. E had shown me around in Volda, Ørsta and Ålesund the last time. He’d taken me to his home too where both he and his wife let me pick up apples from their orchard. (I’d felt like a child.) Namaste was his way of greeting me.  E was extremely passionate about India. He’d lived in India for many years and it was like his second home country. He knew about the country much more than native Indians themselves do! So many artefacts from India beautified their home. As fate willed it, my dear senior friend died of an ailment a year before our visit. I’d mourned for him and I’d realized how friendship transcends age and nationality.  We then went to A’s mother’s home (a beautiful one again!) where we picnicked before heading to a historical Ålesund, about which I shall write later.

Great entertainers!

Great entertainers!

Day 3 – J & S who were the owner-couple of my abode during my last visit came visiting us at our hosts’ home. They were a family of four then, now five. It was such a joy to see the children (all of whom were under five years of age) rambling and prancing. Ah, children make great entertainers especially when they’re in high spirits! We also went walking down the town with them and we happened to visit their home (a new one) later. Btw, in the morning, P and I were invited to VUC to interact with a group of students who were going to India a couple of months later on a study trip. The students had few questions regarding travel within India as also regarding Indian culture. We went around the campus visiting the library, media labs and the international office, and pleasant memories flashed to me from the last visit. C from the international office welcomed us in her usual sprightly ways. We met a couple of faculty members over coffee and a couple of others in their offices. We also managed to say a hello to SL, Dean of the department.

P1100599

Redcurrants

Back home that night, we cooked pongal and raitha for all of us. (We’d purchased the requisite ingredients from an Asian shop the previous day.) There was some yummy dessert waiting for us: fresh strawberries and redcurrant juice. J Y too joined us. After a lively get-together over dinner, it was time for us to leave. They dropped us to the bus station. J Y’s son too arrived at the bus station to greet us. Wow, what great hospitality was shown towards us both by all our friends there and we were touched to the core. The bonding and bonhomie among us were exceptional. My trip to the fairyland came to an end with a lot of sweet memories to cherish. We’re now waiting to meet our Norwegian friends again and host them in our country.

PS: This post is dedicated to my friends in Volda and I decided to publish it today as it happens to be International Friendship Day! 🙂

Exotic fjords

Hey, have you heard of fjords? Fjords are long strips of sea seen between steep hills, and they are a specialty of Norway, one of the Scandinavian countries. For travel buffs, a visit to the fjords should be on their bucket list!

Our journey through the fjords begins...

Our journey through the fjords begins…

Heaven...

Heaven…

We had hired a SUV at Trondheim for our exciting journey to the fjords. We had friends from Poland, Russia, Iran and India who were accompanying us on this memorable journey.  In fact, our Indian friend A had arranged the entire trip. Our Polish friend M was the driver. He was chirpy all the way, driving for almost eight hours around the fjords. The roads seemed treacherous at times and there were quite a few hairpin bends too. Here is the route we traversed: http://goo.gl/9nxwB. We drove for around 800 km in less than two days, stopping every now and then to enjoy the scenery around us. We went berry-picking for a short while. In another mountainous belt, we found snow. We played in that snow-clad mountain going up and down; we made a snowman too and rejoiced. Oh, the child in each one of us was predominantly seen!

Our snowman :)

Our snowman

Atlantic Ocean Road

Atlantic Ocean Road

The Atlantic Ocean Road that we drove along offered some panoramic views – seemed like we were headed straight to Paradise. The entire atmosphere was rhapsodic! We travelled through the Atlantic Ocean Tunnel. This 5,769-metre long tunnel is an underwater road tunnel and connects Kristiansund to Averoy – two terrific locations. We travelled with a lot of excitement on the 1,257-metre long Gjemnessund suspension bridge. We stopped there for a brief time to enjoy some special views and for some photo sessions too. Well, life in Norway isn’t very simple – you need to avail of the services of ferries and/or tunnels to reach the mainland faster. And, you will have to pay for these services each time.

Geirangerfjord

Geirangerfjord

Can you locate some neat abodes?

Can you locate some neat abodes?

We halted overnight at a neat place in Hellesylt, which was overlooking the awe-inspiring Geirangerfjord. Along with Nærøyfjord, the Geirangerfjord is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. We took a guided cruise across the Geirangerfjord. There was water gushing down the steep hills in the form of different strands and this was called the Seven Sisters. The climate was really cold and it was time for some cappuccino on the cruise. We could see people kayaking on the sea. The snow-capped mountain peaks with their varied hues took us to a different world altogether. Geirangerfjord is a 15-km long fjord. We were closest to nature’s bounty and we went into raptures at the visual treat. And this was my second trip across the scenic fjord in less than three years! Could I have been luckier than this?! 🙂

Visual treat, right?

Visual treat, right?

After a climb to the peak, we entered in and rested for a short while...

A wooden enclosure to rest after a climb to the peak

Of course, this time it was a new experience travelling with my sweetheart and a new set of wonderful friends. We enjoyed one another’s company as we sang and exchanged some banter while on the road. Our two-day trip to the fjords ended with a steep climb to Snøhetta, apparently the 24th highest peak in Norway. Oh, there’s so much to write about this trip to the fjords, but I think I need to end now. Btw, for any specific information on the voyages I write about, feel free to get in touch with me via this site.

PS: The posts sometimes may be delayed due to time constraints, but rest assured that the experiences are ever fresh. 🙂

Globetrotting in a different style

It’s been a month-long sojourn for yours truly in different avatars – as an inquisitive traveller, as an alert travel guide and at times as a cooperative co-guide too. This time the travelling treat is being enjoyed mostly with dear parents who arrived in Belgium almost a month ago. It’s been a wonderful experience. Gosh! They have infectious energy and enthusiasm levels.

During the week they arrived, we did some sightseeing in a few places in Belgium: Leuven, Antwerp, Louvain-la-Neuve. We then left for a week-long trip to the UK where we visited England (London, Bristol) and Wales (Cardiff). It was time for France (Rennes, Paris) next. We were back in Belgium and then after a day’s break, we went on a week-long trip to Italy (Pisa, Florence, Rome, Venice) and Vatican city. It was Cologne in Germany and Septon in Belgium the last weekend. There wasn’t even a single dull moment while revisiting some of these places, thanks to the fact that I viewed these places from a new perspective this time. 🙂 

The weather has been okay. It feels like winter at times. We plan to go to Brussels tomorrow. Well, looking forward to enjoying a few more trips/outings in Europe with them. They seem to be liking it here too. The planning of the trips with my dearest P has been paying off and the feeling is great. Btw, I was missing blogging. Hence this short blog. 😉 I shall be back with my signature blogs soon.

Tranquil Trondheim

We travelled to Trondheim from Oslo by an express train. Well, Trondheim is in the central part and it is the third largest city in Norway. It used to be the capital city once upon a time. Thanks to its geographical position, Norway is also known as the land of midnight sun, as the sun is visible even at midnight during the summer months. The Northern Lights or the aurora borealis can be seen distinctly from this region and upwards during the long nights of the Arctic winter months, from October to March. The northern lights are an atmospheric phenomenon where colours of white and green dance in the night sky. It somewhat resembles a laser show. We were unable to see these lights as we were there during summer. Gosh! Every part of Norway is like a natural canvas and attracts a painter’s eye. It is a traveller’s and poet’s paradise as well.

View from the bridge

View from the bridge

Our friend A escorted us to his home from the station at Trondheim. It was around 7 am and the weather conditions didn’t seem to be tip-top. Ah, these weather Gods play a significant role in deciding the day’s activities especially while on vacation. Thus checking the temperature outside before we step out has become second nature to us and we equip ourselves accordingly. We rested, refreshed and gorged on some healthy home food. The trio then set out. We also had to finalize a SUV rental deal for our journey to the fjords the next day.

Nidaros Cathedral

Nidaros Cathedral

Breathing pollution-free fresh air, we kept wandering Trondheim’s medieval pathways.  We crossed a bridge and there was visual treat below on either side. Streams, hillocks, villas and bushes made up the landscape. We strolled around the popular Nidaros Cathedral and the Arch Bishop’s palace. We then walked ahead and had cappuccino at a local mall, and headed to an Asian shop where we shopped for fruits and other edible items for our upcoming journey. This city is home to a large student population. We had an opportunity to visit our host-friend A’s workplace: Norwegian University of Science and Technology. He showed us around. Later, while A & P ended up being glued to the computer for a while, yours truly merrily went around getting views of the city from the university’s terrace. We were then taken to the cafeteria where a piano was neatly sitting. And lo, our friend played some lilting tunes for us on that classy piano!

Scenic, isn't it?

Scenic, isn’t it?

On our last day at Trondheim, we went walking on a countryside trail close to A’s home. Lovely lakes and dams greeted us. We travelled by the 8.8 km long tramway line, which happens to be the northernmost tram line in the world. It kept moving uphill, offering fantastic views of the city. We boarded the tram at the city centre and alighted at the last station close to Bymarka where the city’s recreation centre is located. We stayed there for a few minutes and then took the same tram to get back on time.

The TV and rotating restaurant at the top

The TV tower and rotating restaurant at the top

We met two other friends and the five of us visited a rotating restaurant atop the TV Tower in Trondheim. We feasted on some starters, veg pizzas and soft drinks. We engaged in some banter as usual and enjoyed the natural beauty around us, which we could see at a height through the windows of that tower restaurant. For a moment, the scenery appeared to rotate around us although it was the other way round! 🙂

Oh, Oslo

We were heading to one of the costliest cities in the world. It’s the capital city of one of the Scandinavian countries. Guess which city?

Yes, it’s Oslo in Norway. Norway is also amongst the top countries with a high human development index, which is calculated based on the life expectancy, education and income. We’d set foot in this expansive and expensive country on a ten-day sojourn. For me, it was a second visit in less than three years. Yes, I loved to go back for it’s a traveller’s paradise thanks to its blaze of exquisite natural beauty.

Ski Jump

Ski Jump

We were excited as the plane made its descent into Oslo that morning. After exiting from the airport, we headed straight to the tourist information centre where we picked up a local map that came along with an official guide to Oslo. There was a separate booklet for bus routes. Surprisingly, these were for free. We then travelled to the room we’d rented out. We dropped our luggage, freshened up and set out. On our Lonely Planet guide, we’d marked a few places we wanted to visit. We used a metro to reach the Holmenkollen Ski Jump, which was opened as recently as 2010 and it could be seen from many vantage points in Oslo.  We walked uphill and we were offered a panoramic view of the city. We then saw the gigantic ski jump structure that was made up of thick steel. Skiing competitions are held on this steep slope. From a distance, the shape of the ski jump area somewhat resembled a dinosaur to me.

Ski simulator

Ski simulator

Well, skiing as a sporting culture is believed to have started in Norway and Sweden thanks to the climatic conditions where winters are snowy and severe. Norwegians are known to be born with skis on their feet! Every household would have a wide collection of skis and boots for various types of skiing. To experience at least some virtual skiing, I hopped on to a ski simulator by paying 60 NOK. (The Norwegian currency is Krone.) I felt like a skier as I descended into a snowy, steep surface at 130 km/hr in a virtual skiing avatar. I quite enjoyed it. 🙂

We then went to the city centre taking a metro. Hungry that we were, we went looking for a restaurant for some good veg grub. It so happened that we chanced upon an Indian restaurant that was recommended by Trip Advisor. We  decided to have a full-course North Indian meals, vegetarian of course. It felt quite homely there. Surprisingly, we saw cycle rickshaws (three-wheeled cycles that enable ferrying passengers) near the city centre! We also got a view of the ancient Oslo Cathedral from a distance.

A section of the Nobel Peace Center

A section of the Nobel Peace Center

The next day we visited the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. Every year, Norway recognizes people who have promoted world peace in various ways and honours them with the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.  The “Nobel Field” section was visually appealling with a display of long strands of blue fibre optics and on top of which digital portraits and biography of the prize winners starting 1901 were planted.

The sheroes

The “sheroes”

A section on women activists called “sheroes” was quite nice with sketches about their achievements. The “sheroes” were none other than the Nobel Peace Prize winners for 2011, and here goes their names: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakel Karman.

Digital display of handprints

Digital display of handprints

We “gave peace a hand” as we left our handprints on a digital screen. Within the Peace Center, an exhibition with Afghan women in focus was also quite absorbing. Yours truly ended up buying a magnetic bookmark (with Mother Teresa’s photo on it) as a souvenir.

Parliament building, Oslo

Parliament building, Oslo

Oslo City Hall

Oslo City Hall

As we stepped out and started walking, we got to see some popular buildings like the City Hall, Parliament, National Theater, etc. We had planned to meet our friends R & S in Oslo. They lived in Jøvik, 120 km away from Oslo. We had some refreshments at a cafe and then the two couples (R & S, P & me) headed to the huge Vigeland Sculpture Park where we spent time walking around and chatting up.

The sculptures all along the park (left, right and in the centre of the park) were modelled single-handedly by artist Gustav Vigeland. There was one 14-metre high sculpture in the centre that was particularly eye-catching. It was called the Monolith and built using one single stone and it was supposed to consist of 121 human figures. During my earlier visit, my host-friend T had taken me to the Viking Ship Museum where huge ships from the viking times were on display.

Vigeland Sculpture Park

Vigeland Sculpture Park

We bid goodbye to our friends, picked up our luggage from our lodging, had wholesome veg dinner at another Indian restaurant and left for Trondheim (500 km north of Oslo) by a night train. Wow, the train was super cool, fast and clean! You know what place I shall cover in my next blog. 🙂

Ah, Amsterdam

After enjoying Keukenhof gardens and spending that night in a luxurious suite, our next destination was the capital city of The Netherlands, Amsterdam. We decided to explore the city largely on foot. We used the help of public transport to reach certain key points. At the tourist office, we picked up a map from an automated machine by paying two-and-half euros. The map – wrapped in a neat box – was delivered by the machine in no time.

Museum Square

Museum Square

Well, we went to the Museumplein (Museum Square) with the hope of making it to the famed museums such as Rijksmuseum (State Museum) and Van Gogh Museum. Unfortunately, there was a serpentine queue to buy tickets to these museums. We couldn’t imagine waiting there for hours, as we had already had a long day previously. Also, we felt we could do it the next time. Somehow we end up feeling we’d go back to the places we visit – perhaps due to an enigma attached to them. We continued with our quest to get a flavour of the city. The roads in the city looked narrow and crowded, but an aura of a typical European city did prevail. Our eyes met some lovely canals and bridges;  the buildings built around them were aesthetically appealing.

How's it?

How’s it?

It was 1 pm and time for lunch. We headed to a vegetarian joint called Maoz Vegetarian where we quickly had falafel (deep-fried ball made from channa) with some salads, and they were wrapped in a pita (wheat bread). This was typical vegetarian middle-eastern food and we enjoyed it. We also had some frites (potato fries) and cappuccino later.

We passed by Concertgebouw (concert building), one of the finest concert halls known for its great acoustics. There was an attractive theatre we came across, Pathé Tuschinski, where premier Dutch films are screened. We appreciated the cycling culture of the city. Incidentally, cycling is very popular in The Netherlands thanks to the flat land structure. We saw so my cyclists merrily riding away to glory, beating the moody weather conditions.

Pathé Tuschinski

Pathé Tuschinski

Attractive indeed!

Tulips in various forms

We walked through one of the ancient cobble-stoned markets called Albert Cuyp, which was built in 1904. It did have all those sundry things to buy – from clothes to shoes to cutlery to knick-knacks and what not. (I ended up buying a bag hastily, and it’s still adorning a shelf in my cupboard!) The tulip shops were a major attraction there. The tulips and their bulbs were sold in pots and bouquets. The seeds were on sale too. What a colourful sight that was! The tulips were also being exported to many countries in Europe.

Magna Plaza

Magna Plaza

We next went to the Dam Square where we saw a Gothic style Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) and a neoclassical Royal Palace. There was a funfair too on the Dam Square. We then stepped into a magnificent 19th century building behind the palace, which housed a mall called Magna Plaza. This mall catered to designer tastes. We then headed to the American Book Centre where we bought a couple of books. It was 5 pm and quite cloudy.

Central Station - Amsterdam

Central Station – Amsterdam

We walked to the railway station.The building looked monumental and artistic. We took a train to Nijmegen (in the east of country) to meet our friends U and J and their little baby boy N. We spent that night with them and headed back to our present hometown in Belgium the next morning. All in all, our trip to The Netherlands was filled with fun and frolic. 🙂

Ro-ro Rotterdam

It was a sunny morning. Yours truly travelled from Leuven in Belgium to Rotterdam in The Netherlands by an express train. Reached Rotterdam by 9 am and then headed straight to the tourist info centre close to the station. As usual, bought a city map and I was looking forward to the expedition in the second-largest city of The Netherlands.

The City Hall in Rotterdam

The City Hall in Rotterdam

Rotterdam is an international commercial hub thanks to its strategic location by the North Sea; it is also the second largest port in the world. Rotterdam has many (maritime) stories to narrate. It was destroyed in World War II. But the city’s spirit of survival and revival has made it one of the sought-after habitable places in Europe.

The White House, Rotterdam

The White House, Rotterdam

Well, it was no surprise to see a busy city mostly abound with students, as it is home to popular portals of higher learning such as the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Classy buildings made the skyline – no wonder the city is famed for its modern architecture. I walked passed many historic buildings such as the Stadhuis (the city hall), the Witte Huis (White House), Euromast (an observatory tower), Beurs – World Trade Centre, the Erasmus Bridge, etc.

The Erasmus Bridge

The Erasmus Bridge

The Erasmus Bridge is a cable-stayed bridge that connects the northern and southern parts of the city. It looked damn cool. It apparently made it to Jackie Chan’s movie, Who am I?

Delft Gate Building

Delft Gate Building

The Gebouw Delftse Poort (Delft Gate Building), close to the central station, is one of the tallest twin tower complexes in the entire country.

Cascade

Cascade

I came across a peculiar structure in the city called Cascade and I was told it was built to represent a growing consumerist culture where natural resources are slowly depleting. I got an opportunity to visit Het Haven Museum (The Harbour Museum) where miniature historic ships from ancient times were kept and stories of such ships were made available through printed materials as well as multimedia devices neatly housed within the museum.

Helena

Helena in the Harbour Museum

There was also a unique exhibition of those original ships lined up on the dock, of course with a neat description of each of them. (Quite strangely, this particular open-air museum hasn’t made it to many of the must-visit-places’ lists of Rotterdam; also there is no entry fee!) I met a couple of senior citizens who happened to be siblings. They told me that their father used to work for the shipping industry there. They felt nostalgic as they pointed to the ship named Helena in which their father used to sail.

Close to the Harbour Museum, a Walk of Fame was seen where celebrities had left their handprints behind. It was 1:30 pm and the weather was at its unpredictable best mood. Before the onset of a second cloud-burst, I wanted to head to my next destination, which was a restaurant. But, btw, I’d chanced upon a handprint of Bryan Adams.

Bryan Adam's...

Bryan Adams…

I traversed the plush-looking shopping areas of Rotterdam: Lijnbaan and Hoogstraat. These did have all the popular brands of Europe. I could manage only a quick window-shopping due to paucity of time. I next took a metro to a local university where I had to meet a friend, P. She took me around and then we had dinner at an Indian restaurant together with her mother. It was a nice evening.

It was time to head back to my abode, which was a cuboid. Yes, a cube-shaped room took care of me that day. Well, I’m referring to the famed Cube House of Rotterdam!

Can you locate the Cube House?

Can you locate the Cube House?

Cube House - close-up shot

Cube House – a close-up shot

Interesting indeed, isn’t it? 🙂

Nature’s cookie, the Keukenhof

Hello there! After a hiatus, I’m back with my blogs – quite a few pending from last year’s sojourns. 🙂

Entry to the garden

Entry to the garden

We had planned to visit The Netherlands during spring. Well, around this time, a visit to the Keukenhof or the tulip garden is a must. So, there we were the two of us, along with our friend, P from the US. Keukenhof garden, also known as the Garden of Europe, is apparently the world’s largest, as it’s home to over seven million tulip bulbs. Situated around an erstwhile castle, the collection is the cynosure of all eyes. One of the song sequences of a Hindi movie Silsila was largely shot there.

The tulips

The tulips

Aren't they eye-catching?

Aren’t they eye-catching?

Here’s something interesting on the official website of the garden: “Have you ever seen more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths, all in bloom? Come to Keukenhof, the world’s most beautiful spring garden. In addition to over 32 hectares of flowers, the spring garden offers 30 inspiring flower shows, 7 amazing inspirational gardens and 100 wonderful works of art. Keukenhof is world-famous, truly unique, and has for over 60 years provided a wonderful decor to the most beautiful photographs.”

A fountain in the garden

A fountain in the garden

Ah, we spent a few hours in the garden enjoying the flower arrangement and the exhibitions. An air of gaiety prevailed. We just loved the nature and its brilliant hues that surrounded us. There were so many visitors, and all had one mission: to enjoy the beauty and take back memories in the form of pictures. The tulips were arranged so artistically and elegantly. We also saw ducks and swans in the ponds and lakes of the garden. The garden also showcased fountains, patches of lawns and trees of varied types.

A swan there!

A swan there!

One of our good friends, U who lives in a nearby town had packed some yummy food for us! We had a neat picnic in the garden and then we had cappuccino at an in-house restaurant. After spending about five hours in the garden, we decided to go cycling around the tulip fields. Yes, before that, we spent some time picking up souvenirs: mugs; little Holland clogs; coasters; magnetic photos; etc. As we exited the garden, the trio hired three bicycles (for a pricey deal!) and went cycling for a few kilometers. It was around 4:30 pm when we reached the fields.  We basked in the sun while the tulips and daffodils danced in a sprightly way under the spell of breeze. Wow, what a wonderful moment that was! I was reminded of William Wordsworth’s poem, The Daffodils.

The tulip field

The tulip field

This year the garden is open from March 21 to May 20; the ticket is priced at 15 euros per person. Why don’t you plan a visit? The tulips and their mystical aura shall be etched in your memory forever!

Here’s wishing you a colourful 2013…! 🙂

Melk, Dürnstein, Krems

During our stay in a vibrant Austria, along with a new group of friends, yours truly went on a day trip to a few interesting places along the Wachau valley: Melk, Dürnstein and Krems. The Wachau valley that is formed by the river Danube has a culturally scenic landscape. This landscape of Wachau is on the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites.

The Abbey Museum, room oneThe Abbey Museum, room two View from the Abbey

The Stift Melk Abbey, an Austrian Benedictine Abbey in Melk, founded in the year 1089 looked aesthetically beautiful what with river Danube overlooking it and the Wachau valley flowing close to it. Stift Melk Abbey is one of the most important monastic sites in the world. The Abbey Museum was special in that every room had a unique coloured lighting and a rich history to showcase – mostly about the Monastery and its values in the form of paintings and portraits. There were eleven rooms in varied vibrant hues.

The next visit was to the Monastery’s library – it was an ancient one and housed numerous medieval manuscripts. The library also housed books on medicine, philosophy, theology, geography, astronomy, history, Baroque lexicon, etc. Frescos by the Austrian painter, Paul Troger of the Baroque period looked marvellous.  We had lunch at the Abbey’s restaurant. Luckily, an all-vegetarian meal was available.

The Abbey LibraryThe Abbey ChurchThe Castle

We hopped on our vehicle to go to Dürnstein of the Krems district in Lower Austria – one of the nine states in Austria. Walking along the narrow cobbled lane streets was a great pleasure as always. Dürnstein is also popular for the ruins of its Kuenringer Castle. Terraced vineyards too were seen in this pretty town.

Dürnstein A lane in Dürnstein Danube river

Our final halt was at Krems. It was another hot spot by the Wachau valley of Lower Austria. Krems is both a municipality and a district.

Steiner Tor in KremsParish Church of St Vitus

We saw the Steiner Tor gate built in the Baroque style, which is considered to be a symbol of the town of Krems. The Parish Church of St Vitus was ornamental. Well, it was 5 pm and it was time to leave. We had an ice cream before waving a goodbye to the Wachau region of Austria. 🙂

Vibrant Vienna

As we reached Vienna (known as Wien in German), the capital city of Austria, we realized we were about to have a taste of some exquisite cultural extravaganza. You see musical legends such as Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms, Mahler, Schoenberg and so on have left their artistic legacies behind in this very land.

There stood king-size, palatial buildings in almost every part of the city we traversed. Those buildings housed government offices, museums, cathedrals, opera house, etc. We thought that the imperial past of the country had indeed retained its identity. Btw, the City Centre is on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

Anker ClockThe Austrian ParliamentStephansdom

We watched the Anker Clock, which was designed in 1911, connecting two buildings in Vienna’s oldest square called Hoher Markt. The clock was unique in that the time was shown using historical figures that passed by the clock face. Every hour a different historical figure passed by. At 12 o’clock in the noon, we saw some 12 historical figures walking one after another in succession, each bearing a roman number (I through XII)  on their face. It was amusing! The Parliament House of Austria stood majestically showcasing its neoclassical facade and magnificent Greek pillars.

Some Indian food in ViennaThe horses at the Spanish Riding SchoolShopping street in Stephansplatz

The Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral) in Stephansplatz was truly a Romanesque-Gothic masterpiece. The busy shopping street there was classy and the goods were expensive. We ended up paying almost double the price for the knick-knacks we bought. We chose to visit an Indian restaurant where we had some good North Indian food and a pot tea each. Pretty expensive, but the food did more than satiate our hunger. We tried coffee at different places. On one occasion, we went to a Cafe Coffee Day outlet in Vienna! As we walked ahead, we saw some Lipizzan horses (specific to this region) at the Spanish Riding School.

One of Gustav Klimt's paintingsParticle of the True CrossA medieval harpArmoured troops

We stepped into the Museum Quarters. The Kunsthistorisches Museum housed popular paintings including ones from Gustav Klimt, Austria’s most celebrated painter whose 150th birth anniversary was celebrated in July 2012. There were halls exhibiting collections from the Egyptian and near Eastern times as well as Greek and Roman times. There was an interesting picture gallery devoted to German, Dutch, Flemish and Italian painters.

We visited the Schatz Kammer Museum (a part of the Hofburg Palace) where we saw some prized “secular” and “ecclesiastical” treasury from the time of Hofburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Treasury also had a variety of gems and the largest cut emerald in the world.  We located the particle of the True Cross here in this museum. We went to the Neue Burg Museums as well where we saw a collection of ancient musical instruments; artifacts from Ephesus, a place in Turkey; arms and armours mainly from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Concert venueThe live concertMozarthaus

We had a glance at the Opera House and we were planning to treat ourselves to a concert. We could see so many men from different music bands – who were dressed like choirboys – trying to sell off their tickets to tourists. We did a quick survey of the available concerts and based on convenience of location and time, we decided to buy tickets to one of the Strauss and Mozart concerts in a hall close to Stadtpark. Well, we enjoyed every bit of the concert that had different segments to it. Btw, we were thrilled to see Mozart’s home, Mozarthaus during one of our exploratory walks.

Sigmund Freud's home-turned-museum in ViennaFreud parkUniversity of Vienna-exterior

The psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s home-turned-museum had a neat collection of his belongings and his work. There was also a guidebook that offered insights into the collection on display. Had an opportunity to sit in one of Freud’s rooms and watch a documentary about his life. There was a neat Freud park a couple of kilometers away. Further down, the University of Vienna was located. Founded in 1365, it is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe. It did look like yet another palace to me!

The NaschmarktWe visited the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s most popular market where fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, souvenirs, etc were sold. We later went to Prater, an amusement park. The public transport system in Vienna seemed impeccable. We explored the city pretty much on foot as well as with the aid of metros and trams. I happened to make friends with a couple, T & B, and we went out shopping together on one of the days. Gosh! Vienna was indeed a vibrant place and had so much to offer in terms of sightseeing. It definitely deserves a second visit. 🙂

PS: You just need to point your cursor to the pictures to read the captions and you need to click the pictures to see them in their original size.

Beauteous Bratislava

If you want to visit a less touristy country while in central Europe, just head to a quaint and quiet Slovakia.

We took a flight from Brussels to reach Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. With a city map in hand, we were geared up to explore the city. Oh yeah, before that, we had to attend to the cries of our stomach, and this led us to a restaurant; we ordered for a veg pizza and orange juice each. We were so ravenous that we gobbled our food up. We had cappuccino soon after. Well, when we were finally ready for the expedition, the rain clouds had gathered! Nevertheless, that did not dampen our spirits as we’d equipped ourselves to face the vagaries of the weather.

Presidential Palace, BratislavaGrassalkovich GardensA commercial building

Bratislava did boast monumental buildings used primarily for commercial purposes. One such building housed the company Ernst & Young. We walked through the Old Town – the buildings took us back to the Austro-Hungarian rule in Slovakia. We got to see the palace of the President of Slovakia called the Grassalkovich Palace. We also took a peek at the gardens behind the Palace. As we walked ahead, the Old Town Hall greeted us. We stopped to look at the Primatial Palace built in classical style.

Old Town Hall, BratislavaPrimatial PalaceSchone Naci

On the streets, we came across statues symbolizing historical people/events. One popular statue was of this man called Schone Naci who wanted to bring happiness to the local people. He used to be wearing a tailcoat and greeting passers-by with his top hat, especially in the Old Town. (We bought his little statue as a souvenir.) We passed by the Slovak National Theatre. The Hviezdoslav Square with its cobbled stones took us back in time. We then headed to St Michael’s Gate – this was from the medieval times where it used to serve as one of the entry/exit points of this place. Later, we spent some silent moments at the ancient Franciscan Church.

Hviezdoslav SquareSt Michael's Gate at the end of the streetFranciscan Church

As we continued with our stroll, we came across stacks of yellow circular objects. From a distance, I thought they were tyres, only to realize in a few seconds they were gigantic Holland cheese. Ah, now I “say cheese” and there, I see you smiling. 🙂 It was time for a next round of refreshments. We visited a plush-looking cafe. The frothy and creamy cappuccino we’d ordered for, the lively ambience around and the customer-friendly price left us spellbound. Btw, Slovak is the national language; but luckily, the locals also spoke English.

Bratislava CastleSay cheese!frothy & creamy cappuccino

Bratislava is a reservoir of caves and castles.  We could see the Bratislava Castle (that overlooks river Danube) only from a distance. It was dark by then. However, the Castle looked extremely appealing thanks to the artistic lighting. We only wished we had more time at our disposal so we could have gone inside the Castle and enjoyed the beauty of it all the more.

It was time to bid adieu to a beauteous Braty. We took a tram to reach the station where we had to board our train to Vienna that night. As you must have guessed, I will next take you on a trip to Vienna. Until then, cheerio!

Priceless Prague

Looking for a country with a glitzy and medieval aura while in Europe? You could head to the Czech Republic.

We took a flight from Paris. It was almost midnight when we reached Prague, aka Praha, the capital city of the Czech Republic. We had booked a taxi well in advance so as to be chauffeured to our hotel. The hotel room was like a holiday home. It had a neat kitchenette and a lovely garden overlooked it. A healthy European breakfast used to be door-delivered every morning.

Boulevard on Wenceslas  Square Prague  Astronomical Clock St Nicholas Church - interior

The next morning we walked to the Wenceslas Square, also known as the New Town City. It was a lovely boulevard with huge flowering plants taking centre stage, quite literally. The National Museum was also located in this area.  We then went on a stroll to the famed Prague Astronomical Clock on Old Town Square. Installed in the year 1410, it is apparently the world’s oldest astronomical clock in working condition. We also visited the ornamental St Nicholas Church.

View from the Prague Castle     St Vitus Cathedral

We walked uphill to the popular Prague Castle – supposed to be the biggest castle in the world; it reflected the Bohemian Baroque architecture. We went to the St Vitus Cathedral within the castle. We marvelled at its excellent Gothic architecture. As we stepped out, we could  see the security guards from the Castle marching forward to the tunes of a brass band. Later, we took a break and had cappuccino at a cafe. From a distance, we could see the Charles Bridge as also river Vltava flowing by. We then walked on this Bridge and got a glimpse of the beauty around. Large medieval buildings and cathedrals dotted the city. There were cartoonists, caricaturists, musicians, etc making brisk business on this long stretch of the Bridge. We could also see innovative beggars – some with their dogs – drawing the attention of the public.

Charles Bridge  Musician on Charles Bridge Innovation in alms-seeking

One of the days, we spent almost eight hours in the Prague Zoo. It was nice to see someClouded leopards of the Prague Zoo endangered animals and birds being offered protection and taken care of. But at the same time we were sure they missed their naturally wide and wild habitat!

We visited a souvenir shop where we bought some miniature Clock Towers, mugs, etc. Prague is famous for its crystals and gems; there are exclusive showrooms making roaring business. Yours truly was attracted to them and splurged out on a few delicate ornaments.

We walked into a local restaurant along with a group of friends for dinner one night. We placed an order for soft drinks, salads, veg pastas, etc. Soon after, we were each given a packet of salted peanuts; they came to us without our asking. The waiter chirpily implored us to enjoy the nuts. It seemed like a genuine act of generosity towards hungry customers like us. But given the fleecing nature of the city, we felt it was too good to believe. Well, our  speculation soon ended: we were charged some nutty prices for those nuts! The next day, at another restaurant, the waiter had a bill for us with a stamp “Tips extra” on it. We were told by the locals that those stamps were meant specifically for tourists. No wonder Prague thrives on tourist business. Btw, we managed to watch the finals of the UEFA Champions League sitting in one of the cafes.

While in Norway the first time in 2009, I had witnessed a cultural evening by a bunch of international students from the Czech Republic. I had found the country interesting and had dreamt of visiting it one fine day. A dream not unfounded, would you say? 🙂

Normandy, Brittany France

Looking for a place with a Brittany and Normandy touch while in France? Rennes, Saint-Malo and Mont Saint-Michel could be the answer.

        Purring, sweet cat

Rennes is in northwestern France, 350 km away from Paris and it is the capital of the region of Brittany. We had been there in 2011 and 2012. Our friends B and C had hosted us in their beautiful villa. Well, their cat was the centre of attraction for me. She used to come purring to me always. Oh, I miss her!

Rennes as a place is quite close to our hearts as P lived there for a few years. We went on a stroll to a local park called Parc de Maurepas and along the scenic surroundings of the popular technical university. We also met up with our dear friends. We had lunch at a local restaurant that had some vegetarian pasta  to offer us. The best part came when we went around the place cycling. I thoroughly enjoy cycling specially in cycling friendly countries.

Saint-Malo, a blue beauty!  Saint-Malo beach

It was a Sunday morning and our German friend S drove us down to Saint-Malo with two other friends. Saint-Malo is a walled port city on the English Channel. Wow! It was just splendid and so cool for a short holiday. We went climbing up the friendly rocks. Pretty plants adorned the rocks. It was blue-blue up above as we looked up the sky and it was blue-blue down below thanks to the sky’s reflection on the sea. Indeed picture perfect! We had packed some food from home for lunch and we enjoyed it sitting by the beach. That night we dined at a friendly Lebanese restaurant in Rennes. A couple of more friends had joined us. The owner of the restaurant was indeed chirpy. It was the birthday of one of the customers. He played a “happy birthday” song with a Middle Eastern musical background. All of us enjoyed it.

Mont Saint-Michel  View from the Abbey of St Michel

The next day, our hosts took us in their car to Mont Saint-Michel, which is a rocky tidal island. (Midway, we picnicked at a park.) The Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel is located at the peak of this island. It’s one of the UNESCO recognized heritage sites. We used audio guides as we went into the Abbey. The Abbey was huge and beautiful; it had centuries-old history behind it. We had to climb up steep stairs to get some best views of the Abbey (once used as a prison during the French Revolution). The Abbey also offered us spectacular views of the waves below. Btw, there is reference to Mont Saint-Michel even in Walt Disney’s movie Micky, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers. On another occasion, we were treated to a healthy vegetarian meal and dessert at a bio restaurant in Rennes. We were also invited over dinner at our French friends’ home one night.

Well, it was nice enjoying these three places with our friends. I have a feeling that we shall go there again! 🙂

PS: You just need to point your cursor to the pictures to read the captions.

Pretty Paris

It was time for a rendezvous with one of the fashion capitals of the world: Paris. As you know, this capital city of France has inspired and attracted many a connoisseur from different walks of life.

EntrancetotheLouvreMuseum       Mona Lisa

A visit to the Musee du Louvre or the Louvre Museum housed within the Louvre Palace was a natural choice for us. You see it also happens to be ranked number one among the highest visited art museums in the world. We’d purchased a guidebook to the museum and it definitely added value to our visit. Btw, guess which painting in the museum was a crowd-puller? It was Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa! Well, you tend to look for it with a lot of eagerness, only to be greeted by a huge motley crew surrounding a dainty, little portrait!

Notre Dame Cathedral

We admired the Notre Dame de Paris or the Notre Dame Cathedral built in the French Gothic architectural style. We could see a group of little school-going children with a teacher explaining to them the significance of the Cathedral. An effective pedagogy indeed!

We decided to visit the Pantheon as well. It was here that Marie Curie, Victor Hugo, Louis Braille, Voltaire, etc were buried. It was a serene place with commemorative plaques of many such brilliant French minds being displayed around the burial areas. (It was different from the Pantheon we had seen in Rome.)

Sacré-Coeur Basilica   BurialplaceofLouisBraille

We walked uphill and went to the Sacré-Coeur Basilica or the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. It was atop the highest point in Paris and it offered a panoramic view of the city. We also came across local artists playing some soothing music for the passers-by. Caricaturists, painters, craftsmen, et al were seen doing their jobs gleefully. We tried the funicular to go downhill after the Basilica visit. We shopped for some souvenirs here as also near the Notre Dame de Paris. We realized there was no dearth of sleek souvenir varieties in Paris. The most popular ones were of course miniature towers in varied sizes and forms.

Arc de Triomphe       Galeries Lafayette

The Arc de Triomphe  was another monument of historical importance. The martyrs of the French revolution and Napoleonic wars were honoured there. As we strolled ahead, we hit one of the main hep shopping streets of Paris. We entered Galeries Lafayette in Boulevard Haussmann. It was a shopping mall that looked extremely elegant. We bought a wristwatch to gift our dear one.

As we returned to our hotel, we saw a pamphlet about Paris Walks. I decided to try it.  Excitedly I went to the meeting point of the walk the next day by changing metros. It felt good doing it independently. This was a 12-euro, guided walk for two hours on a scenic route called The Village of Montmartre.

Eiffel Tower-by dayEiffel Tower-by nightViewfromEiffelTower-1

Ah, the high point of the trip arrived. A dream came true for me when we visited the 320-metre tall Eiffel Tower! We went up to the summit using the pre-paid lift service. It offered a breathtaking view of the entire city. Wow, it felt on top of the world, quite literally!

Later we walked by the banks of river Seine, which happens to be one of the UNESCO heritage sites in Europe. We also went to the Jardin du Luxembourg or Luxembourg Gardens to enjoy some quiet time in the midst of nature. Btw, there was a Saravanaa Bhavan and a Le Grenier de Notre-Dame in the city that quite satisfactorily catered to our vegetarian tastes.

ViewfromEiffelTower-2
Well, I was lucky to have travelled with someone who had been to Paris several times. With innumerable sightseeing options available, you would never feel bored of this vibrant city. Paris welcomed me twice in less than one year. I’m wondering when I would go there next! 🙂

Mighty Monaco

It was time to say bonjour (hello in French) to Monaco, the world’s second smallest country! Vatican City is the smallest country – I had written about it earlier.

Monaco is made up of mere 490 acres of land, but it’s inhabited by around 36,000 people, thus making it the most densely populated country in the world!

HistoricGrandPrixofMonaco

Infoboard

As we entered the country, we were met by the cacophony of screaming engines and racing sound. Well, the Historic Grand Prix of Monaco was being held in Monte Carlo. We decided to watch it live! We were at the ticket counter ready to buy tickets when a couple approached us and offered us theirs. They said they had purchased the tickets not knowing that they were entitled to watch the race for free. They looked like diplomats. We offered to pay for the tickets, they refused to accept. Yeah, lucky we were! 🙂

Displayboard&skyscrapers

We gained entry into the spectators’ area. We sat and watched the race for a couple of hours notwithstanding the blazing sunshine. A friend from Nice had joined us. The race cars belonging to different constructors zoomed off in front of us with striking sound and at lightening speed. The drivers were professionals showcasing a wide range of cars from the 1950s, 60s, 70s and 80s.

Interestingly, Monaco is the only country in the world that hosts a F1 race within the streets of a city! No wonder the racetrack is narrow, curvy and the circuit area is comparatively the shortest. It was on the same track that one of the doyens of F1, Michael Schumacher had won the Monaco Grand Prix race five times between 1994 and 2001.

Private yachts, MonacoMonaco-city Monaco-railwaystation

Later we walked uphill and reached a modern railway station, Gare de Monaco.  As we continued walking along the lanes of the city, we realized it was another hep place with attractive skyscrapers, flashy cars and stylish people. We were told many film stars maintained a holiday home there. Why not? Besides the natural beauty of the French Riviera and the frills it offers, there’s also a glitzy casino a la Las Vegas. We spent a few minutes at this famous Monte Carlo Casino observing the interiors and gamblers. (Yes, we chose to merely observe.)

Apparently, Monaco has the lowest poverty level and the most expensive real estate market in the world. A mighty little country indeed!