Throwback Italy

The vision of being on a plane and discovering a new land during the Easter break quickly transformed into the reality of being a couch-hugger due to the coronavirus pandemic. There’s nothing to complain, but fortunately there’s lots to reminisce. Especially journeys to the lands where the seething mass combats the ill-fate brought about by the coronavirus. It is disheartening to see that Italy, which was bustling with people, energy and laughter just a couple of months ago, now presents itself as a quiet, abandoned land, encapsulated in gloom.

But hey, you know what, the pandemic will go away soon, hopefully. But it will not and cannot take away the supreme artistic glory of Italy, which delights and dazzles every visitor and citizen alike!

This article is a throwback to one of my most favourite Easter getaways to a nation that is brimming with countless splendid historic sites, monuments, museums, churches and works of art.

Where every square is a poetry,
And every street, a museum.

 

The Cathedral of Florence, Italy

The Florence cathedral, also known as the CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE, is a church of magnificent architecture right in the center of the historic city of Florence. Its exterior is decorated with a precious mix of pink, white and green marble, making it for the most exquisite facade.

The red-tiled cupola on this towering Duomo is the city’s most iconic landmark and breathtaking even from a distance.

Duomo di Milano, or the Milan Cathedral

Milan’s immensely fantastic Cathedral, the Duomo di Milano, is a masterpiece of its artistic and cultural heritage. That elaborate façade is decidedly the most impressive structure in Milan.

Fontana di Trevi, or The Trevi Fountain, Rome

Fontana di Trevi, or the Trevi Fountain is known as one of the most gorgeous fountains in the world. It’s built at the junction of three streets (tre vie), which give the Trevi Fountain its name, the Three Street Fountain.

A coin thrown into the fountain will ensure a return to Rome. Throw in a second coin if you’re seeking love – even a third for wedding bells!

When the fountain is open roughly €3,000 is thrown into it every day as people follow the tradition of throwing coins over their shoulders. The legend holds that a coin thrown into the fountain will ensure a return to Rome. Throw in a second coin if you’re seeking love – even a third for wedding bells!

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum is the capital’s most remarkable monuments, and the symbol of Rome. It is one of the seven wonders of the modern world thereby making it the MUST VISIT attraction while on a trip to Rome. As per statistics, it receives around 7 million visitors in a year. Expect long queues to get in!

The Colosseum was a giant amphitheater, also known as the Flavian amphitheater,  believed to have a seating capacity of around 50,000-80,000 spectators. It was the scene of thousands of hand-to-hand combats between gladiators, of contests between men and animals, and of many larger combats. The exhibition of exotic animals, execution of prisoners, recreation of battles and gladiator fights kept the Roman people entertained for years.

Every Good Friday the Pope leads of Way of Cross procession in the Colosseum to remember the early Christians that died in the arena.

The Vatican City

A trip to Rome is not complete without a visit to the Vatican City. It’s the Seat of the Pope of Catholic Church, and is a proud home to St Peter’s Basilica Church which is considered to be one of the pilgrim places in the city.

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Inside St Peter’s Basilica Church

Measuring just around half of a square kilometer, the Vatican is the smallest country in the world. St. Peter’s Basilica is located on the famous St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.

St. Peter’s Square
Apostles lining the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica appear like angels blessing from heaven

The Vatican museum displays countless masterpieces of paintings and sculptures. The Sistine Chapel, without a doubt, is the most famous attraction inside the Vatican Museums. The Chapel is completely covered in artwork, including incredible frescoes by Michelangelo. Photography is not allowed inside the Sistine Chapel, but nevertheless, it’s a treat to the eyes!

Vatican Museum

 

While the artistic gems and cultural treasure all remains untouched and safeguarded. the country can definitely be seen put through the test of a lifetime with the impact the pandemic has caused on its economy and tourism. We deeply pray for the normalcy to return soon giving back the residents their peace of mind. Much love! ❤

 

 

Winter vacation 2018: Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore

Last year I planned to take all my annual leave at one go and travel home to India. I first thought it might be crazy, as I have never taken more than a week’s holiday at a stretch. So how could I possibly stay away from work for a month? But thanks to the support of my oh-so-wonderful colleagues! They made it much easier for me to be gone. I did enough on my holiday to pack myself up with energy and doses of sunshine, so I can now brave the dark and long tunnel of Swedish winter.

What I liked the most is that I had time to do all I wanted to do – be at home with family, meet closest friends and relatives, visit my parents-in-law, go shopping, take my dad for an excursion to Singapore, and also spend Christmas and New year exploring the vibrant Asian countries of Vietnam and Cambodia! I would have likely had to do 3 different trips to make it all happen, if I had split my journeys during the year. Not so efficient, right?

Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore – Being the tropical countries that they are, certain parts remain warm during December, and that made it a perfect winter getaway for me.  There were showers of rain on a couple of days, but not as much as to spoil the day’s plans. Keeping a pocket poncho at all times, especially in Singapore, is a wise thing to do!

More descriptive blogs on the travel will appear in your Reader soon! But I couldn’t wait to give you, my friends, a sneak peak into the rich landscape and a dreamy world these places own. So here goes a glimpse!

  • Hanoi & Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

What vibrant and lively cities these are. Be it the nature’s bountiful countryside, the world heritage preserved sites, the historic structures glittering in the glory of ancient architecture, or the the walking streets buzzing with party, nightlife and food, it surely has something for every visitor.

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Boat ride in the Ninh Binh province in North Vietnam, known for its scenic landscape

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  • Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Untouched by the paints of modernization, protecting it’s mythology and exuding ancient wisdom from every corner, this temple city of Angkor Wat in the Siem Reap region of Cambodia was nothing less than a gem discovered. Angkor Wat is a large temple complex, sort of an archaeological park, home to several glorious temples from the 12th century. Particularly fascinating in the area was the popular night market, pub street and the spa culture. We’re definitely going back again!

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Angkor Wat at sunrise

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  • Singapore

Who would have imagined a tiny country will become the biggest hub of commercial banking and trade, will rank one of the highest in the ease of setting up businesses, and yet be known as Garden City, thank to it’s lush greenery all around in the middle of the city. This little, yet highly developed nation, surely gives progressive goals to the rest of the world. It was not my first visit to Singapore, but it was the very first country that I visited outside India, along with my closest friends almost 10 years back. It will always remain special! 🙂

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Sentosa Island with a view of the iconic Merlion statue

Are you excited to read more about the holiday? Stay tuned 🙂

More travel stories:
How about visiting Riga, in Latvia?
For once, Blues are Beautiful! In Santorini, Greece

 

 

 

Leaves begin to fall

Woah, that was a long break. I haven’t seen my lovely readers in a little over 2 months. Caught up in such whirlwind, pointing all fingers back at myself for this disappearing act, and having gobbled up high doses of guilt tablets (honestly!) , I’m now ecstatic about getting back to the thing I love doing the most – write about my experiences and sharing them with you! And what better time to find my resurrection than while I witness this gorgeous transformation of the nature turning from emerald to gold. Earth is peeling away a layer of its brilliance and green beauty, and emanating the glow of its fire within. Every leaf is a flower, cozying up to its own warmth, and in turn presenting a sight to behold.

Autumn in Sweden is such that I always fall short of names to aptly describe the colors that so delicately and beautifully unfold. Ochre, mustard, buff, amber, sienna, crimson and scarlet are a few that I feasted my eyes on this weekend, along with the familiar tones of yellow, gold, orange, red and brown. Every step in the woods, and on the little streets drawn out as a carpet studded with jewels, gifted our hearts with precious moments of joy and pleasure.

How much I’d like you partake in this happiness!

Read also : The breeze of autumn

Happy autumn! 🙂

The active geyser of Iceland

The flow of water enhances the beauty of any landscape multifold. We have all seen this precious life source adding to the glory of nature in the form of swift and rapid rivers, cascading waterfalls, pristine lakes and vast oceans.

One truly wondrous and unforgettable sight for me was when I witnessed it spouting wildly from the deeper layers of the earth, like a vigorous fountain, roaring in its fury as it began to reach for the sky. Having attained its peak, it collapsed the next moment with a loud thud, only to stir up its core and rise again, and then again, every few minutes. What a spellbinding sight it was!

I was at the great Geysir, Strokkur, the famous active hot spring in Iceland that erupts about every 6-10 minutes, due to high geothermal activity in the area. It usually goes up to 30 meters of height, and before it begins to fall, it has already cast a lasting, bewildering impression on its bystanders! You can imagine people standing around it, and waiting patiently to get a perfect picture, like I attempted to get this one! 🙂

A trip to the Geysir can easily be done from Reykjavik (capital of Iceland) as part of the popular Golden Circle sightseeing route, which covers three major attractions in the range of 100-150 kms – the Þingvellir National Park where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, the spectacular double-layered waterfall of Gullfoss, and the active Geysir in the Haukadalur Valley.

Read my post about the most stunning waterfalls of Iceland

Read : These incredible waterfalls of Iceland

Sunrise in Cyprus

What an opportune time to be getting this photo challenge theme of sun rise/set! I am in this beautiful island country of Cyprus for the long Easter weekend, where watching sunrises and sunsets are nothing short of bestsellers on tourist attractions packages! While I’ve seen many a sundowns, my times to partake in the beauty of breaking dawns have been quite numbered. I had almost forgotten what immense peace this nature’s art can bring to the soul!

Here are a couple of clicks from those ephemeral golden glow moments during sunrise.

The decorative view the vast Mediterranean, the delightful sound of splashing waves, and the divine-like sight of this rising hope above the horizon made my experience truly wholesome.

Via Photo Challenge Rise/Set

Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 2 : Ice Hotel and Swedish Lapland

It’s still winter in Scandinavia. And it’s still freezing in Stockholm, where I live. Or rather, where I hibernate. While the natives would merrily make way to the Mediterranean, or to the beaches of Gran Canaria, to pump in some necessary dose of Vitamin D, we had apprehensively jumped on to a plane flying further up North to some more brazen winter and icy winds. Read about how I mustered courage for this adventure, in my first post on Crossing the Arctic series, and revisit some pictures of the snow-white land of Kiruna.

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As a matter of a stunning fact, the whole city is being moved to another location currently, in order for the largest mining company in Kiruna (LKAB) to continue with their mining operations, since it is the financial backbone of the place. So a lot of buildings in the city centre have been or are being brought down.

In my previous post, I promised my readers to share some tips for a short visit to the Swedish Lapland. Needless to say, one weekend is not sufficient to even scathe the surface of the Arctic landscape, let alone getting into the skin of it. But like I confessed my fears in my first post, I didn’t think my body was designed to battle the snow and ice for a period longer than that, especially on my first trip 🙂 More might come, perhaps after a cool-off period!

So, are you ready for some highlights? Here we go!

  1. Guided activity tours
    The best and only way to explore Kiruna in winter is to join a couple of the activity tours, like snowmobiling, dog-sledding or mountain hiking – organized by the various tour companies. They take you deep into the forests laden with dense snow, where it’s unthinkable to get on your own. They also offer all sorts of warm overall clothing to beat that chill head to toe. So there you go! No hunting for a life-saviour winter jacket if you don’t already own one. Snowmobile and Dog-sledding tours are the most popular. We took a snowmobile tour from the company kirunaguidetur, and I can’t begin to say how exciting the experience was, driving the snowmobile in the middle of snowy wilderness. Choose between day or night tours depending on the time of your visit.

    From October to March, there are good chances of catching the Northern Lights when the sky gets dark after 6pm. I’d love to share that we caught a glimpse of the Lights from the plane just before landing 🙂 but unfortunately, nothing during the stay, due to dense clouds and rain 😦
  2. Ice Hotel
    Trust me, even if you don’t get to see the Northern Lights, a visit to the Ice Hotel will make your trip to the Lapland complete! Situated in a small Swedish village of Jukkasjärvi, 18 kms from Kiruna, 200 kms north of the Arctic Circle, this hotel made of fresh ice and snow, is rebuilt every year in December and lasts until April when it begins to melt away. Every winter, large blocks of ice are cut from the frozen Torne river close to Jukkasjärvi, and sculpted into the ICEHOTEL – everything from the hotel facade, hotel rooms and galleries, hotel art and decorations, and an Icebar!  ISN’T IT AMUSING? New art, new sculpting, new hotel every year! Every room is designed based on a different theme, and showcase some intricately beautiful patterns made of ice. And what more, if you’re the courageous and adventurous kinds, you can rent the rooms and stay over on beds made of ice.
    What a thrilling, and chilling experience! 😉

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    Ice Hotel entrance

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    Decorations inside the IceHotel

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    Themed rooms
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    Inside one of the Icehotel rooms. Fancy sleeping on that bed, eh? 🙂
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    Ice Hotel entrance view from a distance

    Don’t forget to gulp down some cocktails in their ICEBAR, served in glasses made entirely out of ice! Warm up the blood before starting your stroll around the icy ice hotel 😉

  3. City highlights

    We went around to see a few highlights of the town, one of them being the Kiruna Kyrka (Kiruna Church), one of Sweden’s largest wooden buildings.
    There are a couple of other buildings like the Kiruna City Hall with some interesting art and paintings, but like I mentioned in the beginning of the post, the whole town is on the move, and the building is getting demolished to facilitate the move.
    If you have an additional day, you could consider visiting the LKAB underground iron-ore mine, which is the world’s largest and it’s operations provide financial sustenance to the entire city of Kiruna.  Guided tours lasting about 3 hours are organized to take visitors 540 meters down into the mountain, and walk them around. Tours run only on certain dates, so it’s good to check online in advance.

  4. Abisko Sky Station for Northern Lights watching
    Roughly 100 kms from Kiruna, is a Swedish village, primarily known for being one of the places with the highest likelihood of Aurora or Northern Lights watching, due to its relatively clearer skies on most days. They even have a chair-lift ride up to their Aurora Sky Station, situated 900 meters above sea level, which takes visitors high above on a mountain with no disturbing sources of light. We didn’t get a chance to visit the Sky Station due to time constraints, but if you can, then do try! Who knows, you might get super lucky! 🙂

Read also : Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 1

 

Crossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 1

”I will see you again on Monday if I survive”, were my words to my colleagues on a cold Friday afternoon in February, as I made my way to the airport to catch a flight to Kiruna, a city perched in the far north of Sweden, famous for its thick snowy landscape, brazen winter, some freezing bones, plenty of ice chills and well, if one manages to live through it, then other exciting things like dog-sledding, snowmobiling, skiing and catching the Northern Lights.

Trust me, it wasn’t a fanciful, over-imaginative and unrealistic construal of my mind. I was gradually and craftily brought to this state. This Swedish salesman from the ‘Five Seasons’ store once told me, ”I’ve been out in the cold quite a lot, right from childhood, but well, Kiruna is a different story.” I was at his store to look for the warmest jacket ever manufactured. His words, as you can tell, weren’t of much help.

I believe the only motivation for me to travel was the thought that this place is exotic, as it goes beyond the Arctic circle. And living so far up in the north, one would only be a victim of circumstances, or a slave of the couch, or perhaps a native of cold climate places, to not want to travel further up there. How many of us really get a chance to go nearer to the poles, and experience its life and landscape? There was no reason for me to miss it.

If that sounded any brave, it was my courageous side talking – to my freakishly petrified side, who I know would happily agree to being labelled as a couch slave. I think I would have spent more time packing the zillion layers of warm clothing, than figuring out the quintessential things-to-see/do. I’m not trying to dissuade, but I count myself as one of those who defy the scientific theory of mammals being warm-blooded.

I was so pre-occupied arranging for things to keep me warm, that I did not travel with a lot on the agenda, or with much expectations. Now when I look back, I see how unique this experience was, as it pleasantly surprised me at every step, and how it has become one of my favorite trips to talk about!

I will, for sure, say all about what we did, and share some tips on itinerary planning in my upcoming post. So stay tuned!

Meanwhile, how about a glimpse of the dense snow all around which greeted us with all the chill that it had? 🙂

And here I give away my pretending-to-be-cool pose, trying to brave the -30 degrees celsius! 😉

Yaay! #justcrossedthearctic

Read alsoCrossing the Arctic 66°N – Part 2 : Ice Hotel and Swedish Lapland

Visit the ‘Garden of Europe’ in April

Hi, lovely readers! Did you know April is the best time to visit one of the most beautiful and largest tulips garden in the world?  Come spring, and Keukenhof (or the ‘kitchen garden) located in Lisse, Holland offers a sight extremely pleasing to the soul, with its vivid and vibrant rows of fully bloomed tulips – in their brilliant pinks, reds, yellows and oranges. According to several official websites, approximately 7 million flower bulbs are planted each year. No wonder, Keukenhof is called the Garden of Europe!

The popularity and fascination of Keukenhof is such that it attracts visitors from all over the world. So if you haven’t been there, and would like to visit, start making your travel plans now!

Hope some of my pictures below make you jump off that couch, and hit the flight and hotel booking sites, right away! 🙂

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Best time to visit!

The garden opens in the last week of March, and shuts down mid-May. Having lived in Holland for a few years, I can vouch that the bloom and vibrance of the garden is absolutely unparalleled during the last two weeks of April. Possibly the first week of May too. That’s when the garden and the long fields of tulip bulbs are at their stunning best, and the popular ‘Flower parade’ is also scheduled on a Saturday. Of course, it gets the busiest during that time, so it’s advisable to plan ahead.

How to get here?

Depending on where you are coming from, the official website of Keukenhof provides a complete information on the various transport and ticket options. Check out which one suits you the best!

Since we were arriving at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, we had bought a Combi Ticket” online in advance, which included a return trip to Keukenhof from the airport, as well as entrance to the garden. It was a long queue to get on these special Keukenhof Express buses, but nevertheless, it worked rather well for us. We didn’t have to wait much to enter into the garden.

How much time do you need?

From the airport, it is only about 30 – 40 min ride to Keukenhof, and the bus drops directly outside the garden main entrance. First time visitors would really like to spend 2 – 3 hours in the garden soaking in the admirable and breathtaking beauty of these spring flowers. Due to our flight timings, we arrived at the garden at 13.30 and caught the return bus at around 17.00. You could also start start early to avoid the crowds and leave the garden by afternoon.

Get a bike to explore the surrounding area!

When in Holland, a bike is the best way to get around! A bike can be a fun and easy way to explore the beautiful, colorful flower fields area surrounding Keukenhof. The most popular and closest bike renting store is Rent-a-bike Van Dam, which offers bikes for €10 per day. We couldn’t do it due to other plans, but I’m sure it will be super exciting if you grab your gang and get biking!

And in case you find yourself in Amsterdam, don’t forget to check out the ‘I Amsterdam’ letters – a cool, funky city sign.

READ ALSO : Got yourself clicked at the iconic ‘I Amsterdam’?

So, are you visiting the beautiful Keukenhof this spring?

Happy Travels!

Got yourself clicked at the iconic ‘I Amsterdam’?

Amsterdam has a really cool city sign in the form of bold red and white ‘I Amsterdam letters, which makes it both iconic and fun! The ones coming into Amsterdam by flight, can surely not miss it, since there is one right outside the Schiphol International Airport, offering a grand welcome! But the first set to be erected was in front of the Rijksmuseum (or the National Museum) at Museumplein, which is always swarmed with tourists!

‘I Amsterdam’ letters outside Rijksmuseum, Museumplein

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Undoubtedly, it makes for a great photo opportunity!

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Umm, not just in front of it, but also on top of it! 😉

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Aren’t these Dutch entertainers super cute?!! :*

There are some other interesting ‘I Amsterdam’ signs and photo spots around the garden in Museumplein. I haven’t seen them much in the Google images, so be sure to check them out for yourself when you visit!!

How to get here?

There is no metro station very close to this area. The easiest public transport option to get to Museumplein (Museum Sqaure) is by tram (stop name : Museumplein).

Share your pictures!!

Do share your pictures with the ‘I Amsterdam’ letters!! Waiting to see them!!!

Read other travel stories :

Six must-see waterfalls in Iceland

For once, Blues are Beautiful! In Santorini, Greece

You wouldn’t want to miss this Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia