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

These incredible waterfalls in Iceland

A trip to Iceland cannot be relaxed. It will make you up sit up, and seriously watch out for what it has to offer. And believe me, you won’t be able to take your eyes off either! It opens a window to a nature unseen, unthought of and unimaginable. I am still fishing for superlative adjectives to describe its magnificence, because for me, ‘stunning’ and ‘spectacular’ may fall a little short in doing justice to its beyond-extraordinary, mega-impressive and super-prolific beauty. Nature, beyond doubt, has all weapons its her armoury to make one go speechless.

There is just plenty to write about Iceland. It is a country of volcanoes, craters, glaciers, waterfalls, natural hot springs, ice lagoons, lava caves, and so much more that I didn’t know where to begin. Finally I decided to dedicate this post to something that besieged our way all around at every step in Iceland – its waterfalls. We did a complete round trip along the Ring Road, and oh, boy, there were waterfalls everywhere! and how beautiful at that!

There are over 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland, and we visited some of the most gorgeous ones that this little island country is so deservedly famous for. They distinctly ranged from being dreamy, magical, delightful to being ferocious, gigantic, and sinister.

Waterfalls in the South

  • Gulfoss

The intriguing and iconic double-waterfall of Gulfoss, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. It is a part of the Golden Circle Tour, in the Southwest, which covers the Þingvellir National Park, and the Geysir Geothermal Area too. These are all within easy distance from Reykjavik.

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The double-waterfall of Gulfoss

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  • Seljalandfoss

An extremely mesmerizing waterfall in the Southern region of Iceland is Seljalandfoss. It’s really one of its kinds as it has a path through the rocks which leads behind the waterfall, where you can go and take pictures. Be careful, as the path is a bit slippery, so one must have proper shoes and a waterproof jacket / raincoat to keep from getting wet.

A visit to this fall gave us some of the most lovely moments. There was a time when we found ourselves at the foot of the rainbow! Yes, it was not in the sky, it was on the ground, coming to life when the setting sun right in front offered its radiance to the waterfall. How would it feel to hold the rainbow in your arms, or walk while it colours every step of yours. Well, I know now!

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Magnificent sight of the rainbow splitting across Seljalandfoss
  • Skógafoss

Another beautiful waterfall in the Southern region of Iceland is Skógafoss, and can be easily covered along with Seljalandfoss as they are only 30 kms apart in distance. You can easily walk upto the fall, and it can be really overwhelming standing next to it considering its 60m height and the force it falls with.

Waterfalls in the North-East

  • Godafoss

One of my personal favourites on the trip was the Godafoss waterfall (or the waterfall of the Gods), which lies in the North-eastern region of Iceland. It’s picturesque and spectacular beauty is such that it has many professional photographers with their tripods hooked onto the best viewpoints for hours. A bit annoying for the rest of the visitors, but I’m happy I got a few nice images 🙂 If you can avoid the rush hours, you can dwell in its celestial beauty in peace. This fall really makes a visit up there a big worth!

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Waterfall of the Gods. When Iceland embraced Christianity, one of the religious priests threw away the idols of native gods into the waterfall, hence its name.
  • Dettifoss

The giant waterfall in the north-east Iceland has been named the most powerful one in Europe. It was the one to leave me completely overwhelmed by its magnitude and the loud roars. The sound still resonates in my ears, so sharp and clear. If you’ve watched the movie ‘Prometheus’, you’ve seen this one in the opening clip. I can personally not get over this ‘beast’ easily, as the locals call it.

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S is minion-ized against the giant Dettifoss!
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The locals rightly call it a ‘Beast’
  • Selfoss

Another of nature’s delight, or may be a scare. Well, it left me with quite a shiver. Selfoss was about a kilometer from Dettifoss, and had us walking over a blanket of rough boulders on the way, following the marked signs.

It was a long series of waterfalls, showcasing the immense power and energy within, leading to dissipation of a dense mist where the water fell with maximum force. It won’t be easy to forget the sight. Being able to get so close, for the first time, felt really insignificant witnessing the nature’s devastating power!

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A long series of waterfalls showcasing the immense power within
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Standing close to this feels like one is at the end of the world. Being able to get so close, for the first time, felt really insignificant witnessing the nature’s devastating power!

Have you been to Iceland? Which other waterfalls did you see?!

Read other travel stories:

This Old Town in Poland will sweep your ground

How about visiting Riga, in Latvia?

How about visiting Riga, in Latvia?

Just like you awesome travel lovers out there, I, too, am always looking for weekend getaways! I think they help rejuvenate and pace up life, and offer new opportunities to feel amused and surprised by different cultures, history, and landscape. Isn’t it? The thought of discovering unseen places and planning an itinerary is an absolutely delightful food for my tiny neurons 🙂 S prefers not to have an agenda, and loves to have the city unfold its wonderful secrets itself. That could be nice too, when the place is not heavily packed with activities to do or things to see. And we thought that Riga, the capital city of Latvia, is one such place!

Living in Stockholm, we are quite close to the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. These are popularly known as the Baltic countries, due to their coastal lining along the Baltic Sea. Ferries, especially the ones run by the company TallinkSilja, are a common and comfortable way of transportation between Riga and the nearby shore cities of Tallinn and Helsinki. For us, this trip was a part of our midsummer weekend holiday to this picturesque town of Tallinn, which I happily shared in my previous post 🙂 So we just took a 50 minutes AirBaltic flight from Tallinn to arrive into Riga, to make the best of our time. You could also read about the Part 1 of our Baltic trip by following the link below 🙂

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

With just a day to spend in Riga, we kept it fairly relaxed and flexible. We just strolled around with no aim to reach a destination, and let the place magically draw us into its character and charm. And surprisingly, we met with a number of delightful views! Here are a few shots around the town :

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Railway Bridge on Daugava River, Riga. The river originates in Russia, and flows through Belarus and Latvia, before falling into the Gulf of Riga.
House of Blackheads in the Riga Town Hall Square (Rātslaukums). In medieval times, Blackheads was a Brotherhood of unmarried German merchants in Riga
Musicians performing at the Town Hall Square
Monument of Red Latvian Riflemen, who fought against Germans in the World War I
The Freedom Monument, a symbol of Latvian National Sovereignty

Russian Orthodox Cathedral, with a dome-roof architecture
At Central Market in Riga

St Peters Church in Riga is a great viewing platform to catch a birds’ eye view over the old town, the river, and the rest of the central market. It’s attractive 123 meters high rustic-green soaring spire can be spotted from most directions while browsing through other Old Town attractions. They take you up to the second gallery at a height of 72 meters through an escalator, and charge €9 for it. A little expensive in my opinion, but we were ready to do it hoping for some impressive views. When we arrived, they had unfortunately shut the ticket window for some unexplained reason resulting in long queues of people waiting to buy their ticket. We didn’t have a lot of time on hand, so we just decided to skip it. But I would imagine it is totally worth it on a clear sky day. Don’t miss it if you get a chance!

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St Peter’s Church, Riga. It’s impressively tall tower makes it one of the city’s signature structures.

If we had more time, we would have possibly found more cultural and historical gems in the city. Yet, it was extremely rewarding to explore the highlights of the place and gain knowledge on the history of Latvia.

The Riga Town Hall Square was completely destroyed during the World War II, and was rebuilt later by its citizens. I always wonder how it would have been for people who once lived there, and marvel at the efforts put into resurrecting a city and pumping back life into it. Not easy, I’m sure.

Another Old Town which went through massive destruction during the World War II, but was splendidly re-built later lies in the city of Gdańsk in Poland. You might like to read about it here.

Read: This Old Town in Poland will sweep your ground

How was your experience in Riga?

Happy travels!

This Old Town in Poland will sweep your ground

After touring through the more popular European cities which leave a visitor enchanted with their architecture and museums, gardens and canals, cathedrals and castles, I was quite convinced I must now begin scouting for the second layer of travel wealth that remains hidden from the touristic commercialism. Something more pristine, more satisfying to the soul of a traveler. Long before I could nurture this thought and see it take me over, I was proved wrong, yet again by one of the old historic cities of Europe and its remarkable appeal.

I happened to make a short trip to Gdańsk, which is a port city in the Baltic Coast of Poland. And a casual evening stroll into the Old Town of Gdańsk made me stop in my shoes. I was looking at the finest form of architectural beauty, less explored but not less admirable, little heard of but, by no means any less precious. It appeared to me that this surreal colorful town has probably emerged from the abyss overnight. I was enthralled.

But the truth stirred me up even more. This beautiful town was almost completely destroyed during the World War II, and it was rebuilt later by the Polish citizens years after the war. A walk through the Dlugi Targ street with several gabled roof houses, cafés and restaurants, and other historical sites immersed me in a fairy-tale like exoticism. I can’t be sure if the pictures below are able to do justice to what the architect of this Old Town would have desired to reflect. But I tried!

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Długi Targ, Gdańsk, Poland

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A prelude to its its bewildering townscape came calling even before I set foot on the ground. Even as a flight passenger, I was an amazed onlooker.

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Aerial view of Gdańsk

Gdańsk is a part of the Tri-city of Poland, together with its cousin towns of Gdynia and Sopot.  They are all within a distance of 15 kms from each other, and have a unique character of their own. Gdynia has an attractive Sea Boulevard, while Sopot is known for its longest wooden pier that is open to public. One gets to walk a kilometer into the sea, crossing the sandy beach stretch on either side, and feeling the breeze right through.

One weekend is all you need to fall in love with this Tri-city. Would you like to travel to this captivating place? 🙂

A Bollywood Bite

I grew up in the 90s, and akin to innumerable fellow Indians (may be wiser to say, females;)) belonging to my age group, I see myself completely enchanted by the romantic Bollywood of that era. A simple wandering thought of the 90s cinema brings to me vivid stills of the gorgeous Yashraj heroines – Sridevi, Juhi, Madhuri and Kajol, clad in chiffon sarees of plain bold colors, their beautifully ‘lehraata pallu‘, and their famous dance duets, which made every young heartbeat remain glued to the small screen. And then, like so many of us, my fascination for sarees grew organically looking at my mom getting dressed every day. There was no color, no fabric and no style that was missing from her wardrobe.

I absolutely do not endorse that Bollywood by any means is synonymous with the Yashraj style romance. It’s just that I loved this style to bits back then. And earlier this year, this admiration came effusively gushing out during a visit to Switzerland, which is considered to be one of the ambassadors of glamorous natural beauty. The strikingly spectacular rolling green pastures, the breathtaking Alps, colorful brush-stroked smiling and swaying flowers, and the quaintly lined Swiss chalets made for a perfect backdrop to live the Bollywood moments. Not to forget the ones so artistically created on-screen with the use of those quintessential flowy chiffons. ‘Tere mere hothon pe’ from Chandni and ‘Tujhe dekha toh’ from DDLJ are some of the pure classics of that era, that projected Swiss beauty in a way that swept our hearts away. If you’re still thinking why I recall these memories and paint such a delightful picture of this place, that’s because I was so charmed by the exquisite landscape that I couldn’t help but create some moments for myself!

fullsizerender 165fullsizerender 109fullsizerender 46When we arrived, it was S who watered this excitement in me every day, looking for suitable spots (read: with no one around to see him clicking) to capture my over-the-top drama. If you’ve watched ‘Shaadi ke side effects‘, you sure know how many jumbo points this act can drive home for the husband, despite the fact that I was asked to maintain a 50m distance from him throughout while being clad in a saree, so we are not spotted together.

 

Of course, this time I’m not complaining ;);)

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For me this was a subtle exhibit of a deep influence, unabashed love for 90s big screen, and a road to making new memories. The whole dramatic put-up turned out to be such a rejoicing, that I will revel in it for times to come. (And S would probably want to wipe it off his memory, like it never happened 😉 lol)

Much more than photography, I award him with countless ‘patience credits’! Feel free to redeem, dear 😉

With exquisite locations like these, Switzerland also makes for one of the most popular destination photography location and is quite popular among couples for their wedding photoshoot. I was overjoyed to see an Asian couple in their wedding attire creating some fond photo memories for themselves in such picturesque locations.

If this makes it to your ”fancy list” by any chance, I’d be glad to offer tips for shooting spots :);)

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Visiting Spain? How about watching some Flamenco?!

An art form of elegant poise, sharp majestic postures, and well-orchestrated euphonious foot taps – that was my impression of the classic dance form native to Spain, known to the world as Flamenco. To complement it further, the buoyant ruffled dresses of the performers, the hand fans and and ebullient energy counted for every little visual appeal the audiences were looking for.

A spell was cast when a team of artists harmonised the rhythm of guitars, hand claps, foot taps and a castanet (a percussion instrument held in the hand and struck to generate music). Some traditional Spanish singing alongside stirred up the music loving senses of the mind, and the wholesome experience made us appreciate its class beyond doubt!

During my earlier visits to Spain, I made time to attend some live Flamenco shows in a couple of small-scale clubs in Barcelona and Valencia. You will find below some of my suggested budget-friendly, easily accessible places which give a quick 45-60 minutes peak into this enchanting tradition!  

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In Spain, it is not very difficult to find clubs with Flamenco shows, as it is also a way to promote their talented artists and showcase their tradition. A quick Google search may list a lot of options depending on the scale of the event you may be interested in.
The ones I found authentic and very easy on the pocket were:

  • Los Tarantos, La Rambla, Barcelona
  • Café del Duende, Valencia

And what better than enjoying the performances with a glass of Spanish Sangria! 😉 Most of the places offer this drink complementary with the entrance ticket. A right balance with food and drinks, and some appreciation for a different culture might just let this experience find its way in your books of memoirs. So why not go for it?!

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Probably I spent too much time watching the show. And some Flamenco bugs slipped in 😉 Trying out a dance step in the famous Valencian city of Buñol, known for hosting the popular La Tomatina festival every year! 🙂

Hope you have a fun experience watching some Flamenco moves!