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. 🙂

E-treat and retreat

It was a bright sunny morning. I received an e-mail from my sister inviting me to her housewarming ceremony in California, US, that day itself. Well, I live in Belgium and how could have travelled that far in a few hours?! Welcome to the world of technology! She’d arranged for an e-housewarming. She’d e-invited her close family members to this auspicious event. She’d opted for services of an e-vendor who streamed the event for the select invitees. The buying and setting up of the dream home happened at a hectic pace thanks to the fact that she and her hubby are a working couple. Their way of saying “we care for our families and their wishes” was through live streaming of the event.

It was 2 pm local time. Plop! At the click of a mouse, I expected to witness the entire event, but that was not to be. The Internet cooperated for a couple of minutes only and then the connection disappeared into thin air. Jinxed that I was, I did all that I could to restore the connection, but in vain. Finally I set out on a mission to somehow get a glimpse of the e-event. It was a telephone company right opposite our home that I first went to. They didn’t have any browsing plans to meet my urgent requirement. I then went to a university where I had engaged a few lectures in the recent past. I met a kind-hearted soul who connected me to the Internet using his login credentials. I thanked him, breathed a sigh of relief and began witnessing the live proceedings. It was a neat ceremony over there with a priest performing the rituals. Sister and her hubby (draped in traditional Indian attires) were seen in their pious moods.

All the while I was excited to partake of a family event, physical distance notwithstanding. It also left me on a path of retreat as I began to think how dependent we are on technology -based communication with our dear ones, especially when we live in different parts of the globe. Its very presence has shrunk the world into a global village. Technology enables or disables connections, forms or breaks relationships. Boy, such is its overwhelming power! Still photographs could have summed up the event, but the live streaming (albeit with a few glitches) was like a perfect visual treat. Well, in this era, it’s all about how one taps into the potential of technology and makes best use of it.

 

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. 🙂

Adding Light to Twilight Years

Last afternoon, I’d been to an old-age home as a photographer for a volunteering organization called Serve the City in Leuven, Belgium. Glad to share some scenes I witnessed there.

Scene 1: A few high school students had volunteered to make pancakes for the old people of the Home <old people referred to as zestful people in my account below> and also to serve them at the dining table. It was nice to see a bunch of zestful people having their meal – some of whom had to be fed. Most of them wore an expression of hope. One of the zestful ladies was really keen on communicating with us youngsters. Unfortunately, she spoke only Dutch. I exchanged a smile with her, took a picture and showed it to her. She seemed happy.

Scene 2: I went around the Home. The common areas like the living room and dining room looked plush. I got an opportunity to take a peek into one of the bedrooms, as the door was wide open. Wow, it looked like a room of a five-star hotel! That room had framed photographs and flowers around, with a cot in the centre.

The Home - exterior look

The Home – exterior look

Scene 3: I met an official from the Home in the living room. I greeted him and asked him a few questions to whet my curiosity. He happened to be R, an occupational therapist, working with the Home since eight years. In all, there were about 75 zestful people living there with their average age being 80 years. There were three divisions (housing 25 each) in the Home, two of which were closed to the outside world and one open. In the “open” division, the zestful people were free to walk in and out of the Home as they pleased. The criterion for admission into the Home? They should have nobody to care for them on a full-time basis. Well, were they all happy in the Home? Can’t say so for all. Some of them missed their loved ones while some of them suffered from physical/mental ailments. Who treated them? An in-house doctor of course. They had visiting physicians, psychologists, physiotherapists, etc. Beauticians too visited them on need basis!!! Well, I did see a zestful woman (perhaps in her mid-80’s) on a wheel-chair neatly decked up with mascara, lipstick and matching accessories. I could see that “never-say-die” attitude in her. (A salute to her!)  How much did one have to pay to live in the Home? Well, it was a mighty sum of money. You needed to add the expenses of the doctors and beauticians to this! Phew!

One portion of the Home's garden

One portion of the Home’s garden

Scene 4: My Polish friend thanked me for the “interview” I conducted with R.  I appreciated the cleanliness of the Home and the friendliness of the staff. I only hoped all those zestful people lived there happily in their twilight years. All they needed was love and care with a personal touch. I then went to the garden to take a glimpse of it before bidding adieu to the Home.

A meaningful afternoon that was! Hope to go there again. I was reminded of my visit to one such Home in my country long ago.

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!

Marvellous Marseille

After our enjoyable trip to Cannes, it was Marseille next.

Marseille is the oldest city in France; it’s the second biggest city after Paris in terms of population. It is the capital of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

ViewfromNotreDame-1    ViewfromNotreDame-2

Marseille is a very popular trading port destination. It enjoys bright sunshine during most part of the year. It’s been designated as the European Capital of Culture for 2013. Importantly, we observed many people speaking English as well!

Upon reaching the city centre, we went to the tourist information centre. We got a map for ourselves and started to venture into the city. Along with the guidebook we already had, the map proved to be handy. The map deserved some appreciation for its neatly presented information.

The Vieux Port (old port) near the city centre was pretty vibrant. Fresh catches from the sea were sold in the mornings. We went on a boat ride. You could rent a yacht for pleasure. Btw, you could also arrange to have your birthday or wedding celebrated on a cruise. Restaurants were in plenty in this area; we treated ourselves to some veggie food. Of course, not to forget the souvenir shops. Handmade soaps (savon de Marseille), miniature yachts, perfumes, embroidered/lace hand towels, etc seemed quite popular. As usual, yours truly did buy some souvenirs.

A commercial building near La JolietteTo get a glimpse of the commerce and industry side of the city, I went to La Joliette Docks. These docks were a symbol of the thriving maritime trade of the 19th century. The area now houses commercial buildings and complexes, besides a few restaurants and a local market. I was thrilled to see a local market where I ended up buying a few household articles.

We passed by Stade Velodrome, a popular football stadium in Marseille, which had hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1998 and Rugby World Cup in 2007. There was some renovation work going on. Hence, unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the stadium.

Basilica (interior)

Marseille offered some of the best seaside views. A stroll by the vast and clean beaches towards evening was a scintillating experience. The glory of nightfall could be described best in this marvellous Marseille setting!

It was time to visit the Notre-Dame de la Garde. It was an ornamental basilica situated atop the city’s highest hill, La Garde.  Built in the Romano-Byzantine style between 1853 and 1864, the Basilica (made up of the lower church or crypt and upper church) was a wonder in itself. Wow, it also offered us a breathtaking, inviting, panoramic view of the beautiful city! 🙂

Filmy, Charming Cannes

It's Cannes!The likes of Brad Pitt, Ben Kingsley, Tom Cruise, Aishwarya Rai, Sophia Loren, Sylvester Stallone, Angelina Jolie, (late) Akira Kurosawa, Mel Gibson, Cameron Diaz, Meryl Streep and so on have walked the red carpet there. An International Film Festival takes place there every year. Mind you, the Festival is prestigious, large-scale and attracts a lot of global media attention. It happens in France.

Yeah, this time I’m talking about Cannes! Situated in the French Riviera, Cannes does set you thinking for a moment as to what’s so uncanny about it! Well, hang around for a while in La Croisette and you will find answers! The place seemed to be adorned with shops selling the most compelling brands in the world. The attractive bungalows around did deserve a second glance.

HandprintBenKingsleyHandprintSylvesterStalloneHandprintMerylStreepHandprintSophiaLoren

It was interesting to see (bronze) hand prints of most of the celebrities on a coveted pathway, Allee des Stars. It was somewhat like the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the US. We also saw Palais des Festivals where movies are screened for the film stars.

Yachts galoreNotice the cone-shaped tents

Cannes obviously was quite cannily built to attract the wealthy film stars and film makers. With huge yachts being docked right across the French Riviera, Cannes was nothing short of being an exquisite extravagant beauty spot for a fashion-conscious holidayer.

Preparations for the film festival were on with gusto around the time we visited Cannes. We walked along the main road and seaside promenade to get a feel of this little city. Glitzy cars whizzed past us. A few souvenir shops were seen, of course selling classy souvenirs. We chose to buy a cup. Cone-shaped tents (white in colour) around the riviera stood out charmingly.

Cannes, pathwayWe treated ourselves to some pakoras, naans, dal tadka and masala chai earlier as we reached Cannes. Yeah, we felt excited about having such food in Cannes! The chai especially was refreshing!  A Sri Lankan couple was running the eatery. Both the husband and wife were pleased to share their experiences of living in a hot spot like Cannes. They exclaimed that if only we had visited a week later (during the Festival), we would have surely bumped into at least a couple of the film dons. Perhaps they were right! 🙂

Nice la Belle

It seemed to be hip, hep and happening there. The place was buzzing with excitement and was mostly filled with lads and lasses – students and tourists alike!

Mediterranean sea

Possessing one of the best promenades in the world, this place was simply Nice. Well, the place itself is called Nice, aka Nice la Belle in French! It is the second biggest and the wealthiest city in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France. It enjoys good Mediterranean weather – no extreme temperatures as such to bother you!

There is always an exodus to Nice, apparently next only to Paris! So, you know what to expect from this French riviera!

Flower market, NiceWe spent a couple of days in Nice on our way to Marseilles. We went around exploring the city mostly on foot and some areas by tram. Nice did have some pretty lanes that hosted a number of touristy shops and eateries in the old town (Vieux Nice). The market selling flowers, fruits, vegetables, spices, soaps, etc in the cours Saleya area was in itself a major attraction thanks to the neat stalls. We had cappuccino and croissant in this area by paying absurd prices!

Herbs of the ProvenceHandmade soaps!

Handmade soaps and herbs – in a variety of flavours – are quite popular in this region. They could serve as souvenirs.

Socca is a popular local dish made out of chickpea (besan) flour and olive oil. We so much wanted to taste it, but we realized we had to be in long queues for this! We were short of time and hungry too, we quickly had a burger each and French fries. They just about managed to satiate our hunger! On another occasion, we tried onion rings and they didn’t disappoint us!

We noticed that Nice was indeed pedestrian friendly. After having experienced severe winter in our present home turf, walking under the mild rays of the sun was an absolute delight. The scenery around was bewitching to boot!

Promenade

The promenade (known as Promenade des Anglais or Promenade of the English) along the Baie des Anges (Bay of the Angels), a bay of the Mediterranean sea, was surely a beauty. Cyclists, pedestrians, joggers and skaters alike adorned the area. Wow – a couple of them skated rhythmically! What an elegant way to keep fit, I thought to myself!

Ah, of course, the sea was a cynosure of all eyes what with its resplendent blue colour in all its shades that could numb you for a while!

We stayed at a nice hotel in Nice. We were invited by one of our friends over dinner at his home. He cooked some delicious vegetarian food for us! Could we have gotten luckier than this?! 🙂

Enigmatic Venice!

How about dwelling in an island nestled between canals, away from the rest of the world? How about travelling on a ferry from one place to another? Or rather, owning/renting a boat and rowing it yourself away to glory for the sheer joy of it? Sounds like a fantasy?

Well, I’m talking about Venice in Italy!

Gondolas, bridge, buildings

Canal, gondolas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Situated on the Adriatic sea in the northeast of Italy, Venice is an archipelago that has 118 little islands and it is the capital of the Veneto region. It is a traveller’s paradise what with its unique artistic splendour!

A lane in San Marco island

We ended our Italy trip in style, here in this naturally wondrous place. As we arrived, we refreshed ourselves and visited a cafe close to the train station. Unbelievably, the cappuccino, croissant and the veg pizzas we had were an absolute gastronomic delight! Gosh! The pizzas were wafer-thin, freshly made, and they were being sold like hot cakes! In fact, there was not a single moment we missed home food while in Italy!

Piazza San Marco       Vaporetto

 

 

 

 

We took a ride on the vaporetto (water bus) and reached San Marco island. As we entered, we got a preview of the island and it only whetted our appetite to explore in detail. St Mark’s Basilica and the Clock Tower in the Piazza San Marco attracted a lot of tourists. It  seemed like a good shopping area too!

We decided to take the walking trail that was given in our guidebook, basically to get an essence of the local culture. We walked atop several bridges, beneath which were little canals and boats called gondolas. We stopped by each one of the canals to enjoy the beauty around.

We realized the island was a proper town as there were several medieval looking lanes and streets with homes, restaurants and neat shops that were selling some exquisite jewellery and handmade products. Well, as it was to be expected, we ended up buying a pair of silver earrings for yours truly – convinced that the design was exclusively made in Italy! 🙂 Interestingly, one of the shops had this board: Made in Italy and not in China!

Hmm…if there is an opportunity, I would love to visit an enigmatic Venice again!!!

The Vatican Elegance

After visiting a couple of “wonders” of the world, we were off to the smallest country in the world – Vatican City!

It’s the area (110 acres only) and the population (just about 800 people) that make it the smallest country in the world. But remember size doesn’t matter! It’s the seat of the papacy and boasts one of the world’s most magnificent churches and museums: St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums.

Courtyard of the Vatican Museums

This time too we’d purchased the tickets to the Museums online (19 euros each including a four-euro online processing fee) to ensure we don’t lose time waiting in the long queue. We had chosen a Wednesday to visit the Museums – we’d read that many visitors throng the St Peter’s Square instead to listen to the Pope’s address on Wednesday mornings.

The Museums indeed wowed us with sculptures and paintings from different periods in history – from ancient near eastern antiquities of the prehistoric times to the contemporary art of the 20th century. “The Vatican Museums are spoken of in the plural because they represent all forms of art, all aspects of human civilisation, at every epoch and every latitude…” thus read the Vatican Museums guidebook we had purchased in the reception area of the museum. The book was colourful with pictures and relevant information. It was so interesting to go around looking at the collections, especially those whose mention was made in the book!

The ever popular School of Athens fresco by Raphael

A portion of the Vatican gardens

The collections were all housed in the Apostolic palace that overlooked the popular Vatican gardens. Our six-hour expedition within the Museums culminated with a visit to the famed Sistine Chapel.

The frescos (paintings on wet plaster, on a wall or ceiling) in the Sistine Chapel were indeed breathtaking! The Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo’s paintings of the “Last Judgement” as also “Creation of Adam” were a beauty. We felt humbled by  those numerous immaculate paintings on the ceiling what with their profound three-dimensional effect!

The next day we visited St Peter’s Basilica, which is a very popular church with spectacular interiors – emerging again from the times of Renaissance. The dome of the Basilica is seen from many vantage points in Rome!

St Peter's Basilica (interior)St Peter's Basilica (exterior)

Spanish steps below, dome of the Basilica on the right upper sideWell, if you’re an art connoisseur, be sure not to miss the Vatican City while in Italy! Just a  word of caution – the eateries there could fleece you! 🙂

Peace! Pisa…!

Leaning Tower of PisaWe excitedly started our journey to Pisa in the Tuscany region of Italy to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa! It’s one of the top tourist destinations in the world.

Well, I’d imagined the Tower be really gigantic, comparable to the Eiffel Tower we’d seen last year. But, no, this one was cuter and looked tameable! 🙂

The Tower stands tall and attractive at 56 metres. A classic example of Pisa-Romanesque architecture, it leans at 3.97 degrees from the verticle. The construction work began somewhere in 1173 and went on for 200 years!!!  Even now, some renovation work happens on and off – perhaps to ensure the Tower doesn’t lean way too much!

Cathedral-Pisa

Baptistery-Pisa

We decided to go to the top of the tower. We booked our slots for this (about two hours in advance) by paying 15 euros each. Meanwhile, we visited the nearby Cathedral and Baptistery that were built even before the Tower. We could see a zillion people at the Pisa’s Cathedral Square, some of whom were seen giving typical poses for the camera – a striking pose was one of stopping the Tower from falling using one’s palms/hands! (Optical illusion aside, that was quite a sight for us!) The souvenir shops, as always, attracted me. We ended up buying a few miniature Towers. 🙂

View from Pisa Tower

It was time to pat and say ciao (hello in Italian) to the Tower. We waited in queue (a short one luckily!) to explore the monument from inside. A steep flight of stairs stared at us as we went in. We knew we had to climb some 297 steps to reach to the top. Ah, our excitement only increased! We enjoyed every view of the little city from varying heights of the Tower. The Tower seemed to lean and drag us sideways as we were ascending and later descending! Well, the climb to the topmost level (seventh floor) did demand all the attention, as the staircase was getting narrower and slippery. But the effort was well worth it as we enjoyed some of the best picturesque views the Tower could offer us!