Top Ten Travel Backpacks For Your Next Vacation

Exhausted by the endless search for the best travel backpacks to carry this vacation? Sit back and relax, because you’re at the right place.

Planning a vacation is in itself a pretty tedious task, add into it deciding on the things you need to carry, the stuff you don’t need to carry and the right backpack to shove it all into it. 

But no need to worry, because we’ve got sorted for you. Here’s a list of what we think are the top ten best travel backpacks to carry with you this vacation:

  1. Aer Travel Pack 2

If you’re aware of or have used the Aer Travel Pack, which is the primary one in the series, we’re certain you couldn’t be more thrilled than to know that its second tier is here. 

The Aer Travel Pack is an outstanding travel bag with almost all the great facilities, but the reason the Aer Travel Pack 2 is even better is because the manufacturers have looked at all the tiny shortcomings in the original and have made incredible improvements. Thus, making it an excellent choice for a backpack.

Beginning with the layout, a very sleek looking backpack with no big logos or brand name written on it, (a big thumbs up), hence you can use it for regular use or in your travels all the same. The slim body makes it lightweight but packs the same amount of stuff nonetheless. 

The material is reasonably durable which makes for a great one bag travel. A notable fact is, version 2 didn’t originally have a false bottom for the laptop, which was then revised by the company. It has an excellent and spacious internal and external organisation which makes it easier and quicker for you to reach for your stuff.

Pros : Great laptop compartment, No hanging straps, thus a more elegant look, Versatile

Cons : Compression straps in the way of the zippers in the main compartment 

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/AmazonBasics-Carry-On-Travel-Backpack-Black/dp/B01J24H2K0/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=aer+travel+pack+2&qid=1592127915&sprefix=aer+tr&sr=8-1

2) Goruck GR2 Backpack

The Goruck GR2 is one of those strong backpacks made from stuff the military uses. Yes, it’s that strong! Moreover, it’s bombproof. Now that’s something, isn’t it? Though the durable material makes it a bit heavy to carry, it doesn’t at all appear bulky. It has plenty of pockets and a great laptop compartment. 

The great strength and durability it carries makes it a bit expensive. But we believe it’s totally worth it. Needless to say, it’s weather-resistant. 

In the beginning, though, it may feel very stiff or rigid against your body. But over time, that is in around 4 weeks, the fabric gets softer and becomes better worn in. 

So if you’re worried about the cost factor, you might as well buy a second-hand Goruck GR2 backpack that will also give you the benefit of the fabric already worn in. 

Pros : Excellent strength, Weather-resistant, Spacious

Cons : Heavy and expensive, Rigid in the beginning

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/5-11-Origin-Tactical-Backpack-Hydration/dp/B079ZBRW1T/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=goruck+gr2+backpack&qid=1592131962&sprefix=goruck+gr2&sr=8-1

3) Peak Design Travel Backpack

As the name suggests, this one wins on the design part thoroughly. It looks great and has very innovative features as well. 

Talking about the size, it’s big but big as for a camera bag. It will work amazingly as one if you’ve big size camera gears. Though if you’ve small ones, this may seem huge for it. The size brings weight. Yes, it’s heavy after you put all your stuff in, but then again, the straps won’t cut into your shoulders.

It is weatherproof but to our delight, also has a rainfly, (which acts as a rain cover for the backpack). It has compartment cubes (amazing, right?), which makes packing so much easier.

Pros : Weatherproof along with a faintly, Excellent looking, Innovative features

Cons : Heavy, Will work the best as a camera bag

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Peak-Design-Everyday-Backpack-Camera/dp/B075GP6M9N/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=peak+design+travel+backpack&qid=1592135110&sr=8-1

4) Tom Bihn Synik 30L

This one’s made on the list, not because of the looks of it, (okay let’s just accept it isn’t that good-looking), but because of the way it’s designed and organised.

It’s super easy to use and has way too many pockets which backpackers always accept with open arms. Many on the outside, that make it easier to get a hand of your stuff. It’s pretty comfortable and the build and the material are excellent. 

And trust us, it gets better with time. 

Pros : Spacious, Great organization, Easy to use

Cons : Not the best looking backpack 

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Timbuk2-Authority-Pack-Black-Static/dp/B01MRZC16B/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=tom+bihn+synik+30l+backpack&qid=1592147801&sr=8-1

5) Tortuga Outbreaker Travel backpack

Now this giant here is a backpack that may have boxy aesthetics but it’s very roomy and spacious. It can hold all your stuff inside because it packs like a suitcase. It comes under two sizes – 35L and 45L and even a 35L is more than enough for you to pack for a month. It’s very comfortable and has an incredible internal organization to give you quick access to all your stuff. 

It’s your go-to single bag travel backpack. 

Pros: Roomy, Great size for all your stuff, Comfortable

Cons: Laptop compartment takes a lot of space, Bulky

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=tortuga+outbreaker+backpack&sprefix=tortuga+o&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_2_9

6) Reebok training backpack 

Now if you’re looking for an excellent gym backpack, this one’s surely it. It’s a junction of great function and excellent style. 

It’s neither too big nor too small, but if you plan to put anything longer than 13 inches, it may come off small for you. 

But other than that, it has two large compartments that can hold all your gears. 

With great internal and external organization, it has plenty of loops to attach different accessories (Great, right?). 

Pros: Reasonable, Plenty of loops and room

Cons: No additional shoe storage space

Purchase link:  https://www.amazon.com/s?k=reebok+training+backpack&ref=is_s

7) Eagle Creek Wayfinder Backpack 40L 

As the name of this gigantic one here, it’s a reasonably huge, one-bag travel backpack. Made from recycled plastic films (bravo!), makes it water-resistant and durable. The many pockets and internal organization renders a lot of room. It’s got smart travel features and is made from high-density foam which makes it pretty comfortable. 

One of the things that stood out for this bag is, it has an outer pocket with a drain at the bottom, where you can put all your wet clothes. Now that’s smart, isn’t it? 

Pros : Huge in size, Sharp internal organization, A wet cloth pocket

Cons :Heavy

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/Wayfinder-Backpack-Womens-Design-Arctic/dp/B07T6WSR7J/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=eagle+creek+wayfinder+backpack&qid=1592142911&sr=8-1

8) Bellroy Transit Backpack 28L

Now this one again made with a polyester which in return is made from recycled water bottles wins our hearts. This gives it a solid feel. It’s a very stylish looking, smart minimal travel bag that has a great overall aesthetic. It provides the much-needed compartment space, all thanks to the amazing internal organization. It offers great quality and durability and is very comfortable. 

One of the things we love about this travel bag is that it appears slim but stores a great amount of stuff nonetheless. 

Overall, an excellent minimal travel bag. 

Pros : Outstanding quality, Solid feel, Ample space

Cons : Side pocket not really at the right place

Purchase link: https://www.amazon.com/SwissGear-1900-Scansmart-Laptop-Backpack/dp/B006HFJA12/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=bellroy+transit+backpack+28L&qid=1592144544&sr=8-1

9) Trakke Storr Carryon backpack

IT’S HANDMADE. So yayy. 

Now, this one right here is a great one bag travel backpack. It’s either small, not big, just the right size to stuff all your gears comfortably. The high-quality materials that it’s made from gives it a durability. The canvas is actually made from wax, so it’s not that heavy. And that gives it a very simple, classic look. Also makes it water-resistant. It’s got a really interesting aesthetic towards it. 

Overall, makes for a great choice. 

Pros : Classic look, Great quality, Not really heavy

Cons : Handles aren’t that comfortable to hold

Purchase link: https://www.carryology.com/product/trakke-storr-carry-on-backpack/

10) REI Ruckpack 40

This one’s a very stylish looking backpack that is more like a combination of a trail backpack and a travel backpack. 

It’s got a solid feel to it as it’s made from great quality nylon, which also makes it very strong. But along with the strength, it also provides it weight. The internal metal frame and thick straps make it a bit heavy to carry. But the good thing is, it comes in two sizes, one for men and one for women. So, you can as well choose your preference. It’s got a great compartment space and a hidden rain cover. 

Pros : Spacious, Excellent organization, Strong

Cons : Heavy

Purchase link: https://www.rei.com/product/118815/rei-co-op-ruckpack-40-pack-mens

Buyer’s Guide:

Capacity: The size of the backpack you need to buy depends upon how long your trips will run, what stuff are you gonna pack in it. 

Features: This will depend on what you’re buying the backpack for. The features and functions of the backpack will determine if the backpack serves your purpose or not.

Comfort: Comfort is undoubtedly the most important aspect of choosing a backpack. The backpack should also fit on your back. The right fit depends on your torso length. The backpack should grip itself on your hips for an easy backpacking experience. 

Durability: If you’re making an investment in buying a backpack, you should certainly opt for a more durable backpack. One that’s made from the great quality product so that it stays for a longer period of time. Also, in half of the cases, backpacks get better worn in overtime. 

Conclusion: 

There are a vast majority of backpacks available for each kind of backpack experience one might desire. And though, every backpack might not be the perfect choice for every person, there is at least one backpack that’ll serve your purpose efficiently. The ten backpacks we’ve mentioned are well tested over time and written through experience. So be smart with your choices and whichever backpack you put your finger on, we hope it’s the right one for you. 

Featured image source: https://pixabay.com/photos/photographers-scenery-nature-1150033/

5 Local Thai Customs You Should Know Before Travelling

This is a guest post by Hazel Lee. Hazel Lee is an avid traveler, with a penchant for countries with a deep history and unique cultures. She has a strict no bus tour rule whenever she travels to a new destination, as she would much rather experience everything on her own two feet.

Travelling isn’t just about having a good time. Wherever you go, you have to be a responsible tourist, and this includes respecting the local customs—especially in Asian countries where the culture is a lot more reserved compared to the West.

In Thailand, you’ll immediately notice many differences, like how locals greet each other, and how people usually dress. By being aware of these, you’ll have a much more meaningful experience when you visit.

Here are five local customs, traditions, and cultural quirks you should take note of.

To greet is to “wai”

Before you travel to any country, the first thing you need to know is how to greet the locals. In Thailand, you say “sa-waa-dii-krap” if you’re male, or “sa-waa-dii-ka” if you’re female. This greeting is also accompanied by a “wai”, or a prayer-like pose and a small bow. Thais wai not only in greeting but when praying or thanking as well.

Touching is disrespectful

Speaking of wai, another reason why the locals do this is because touching or hugging can be considered improper. So before you lean in for a harmless embrace, consider that it’s more polite to wai. However, there are a few exceptions. If the person is a child, your significant other, or someone you know very well, then you’re free to hug them as long as you have their consent, of course.

Modesty is the norm


More than ninety percent of Thais are Buddhists, and one of the things their religion values is modesty. We know that the weather in Thailand tends to be hot and humid, but before you throw on see-through tops and denim shorts, try to look for clothes that are more “tasteful” for their culture. Simple tees and long skirts that cover the knees are always good options, and these rules are even more important when entering temples and other sacred places.

Betting is their way of life


In Thailand, betting and gambling has long been a celebrated activity among locals. Muay Thai is one of the more popular examples, with numerous venues around the country where people can come to watch and place their bets. But as a whole, the Thai gaming industry shows a lot of promise as it ventures outside traditional betting. Online, there’s a growing community of players on Dafabet famous brand in Thailand who get to bet on modern sporting events. These include the likes of international football leagues, UFC, and even the NBA. So don’t be too surprised about their enthusiasm for gambling, or try to attach negative connotations to it. It’s simply part of their culture.

The Royal Family is the law

The Kingdom of Thailand is under the rule of the Royal Family, where the King exercises sovereignty over all branches of the government. His family is highly respected and loved in Thailand, and speaking ill of them can lead to legal penalties. To avoid any mishaps or raised eyebrows, it may be better not to make unsure comments entirely.

Despite its bustling streets and wild night life, Thailand can be a strict country with rules and is extra sensitive when it comes to their customs. But don’t let that stop you from visiting—it’s still an exciting country that’s easy to enjoy as long as you’re a respectful traveller.

6 Tips for Planning a European Honeymoon Cruise

More discerning couples are opting for a European cruise for their honeymoon. This gives them a simple, relaxing, stress-free way to see various destinations in Europe without having to plan an itinerary. A European honeymoon cruise is a fantastic way to unwind and start your new life together.

Still, there is some planning involved. Here are six tips for planning your dream European cruise with your dearly beloved.

Choose Your Itinerary Wisely

While you don’t have to figure out the logistics of getting to various destinations within Europe, you still need to consider what you want to see. There are different routes to take, as well as different stopping frequencies. 

Look at the various options and talk about your goals with your spouse. Do you want an action-packed adventure where you see as much as possible or plenty of time to unwind and relax after months of planning? Don’t pay the extra expense for tours of all the hot spots along the coast if you plan on relaxing by the pool.

Register for a Honeymoon Fund 

There are a lot of expenses that go along with a wedding. You have to buy a wedding dress, rent a venue, feed your guests, etc. It’s no wonder that so many couples prefer to receive cash as a gift but feel awkward asking for it.

If you plan on taking a cruise for your honeymoon, consider creating a honeymoon registry fund that people can donate to instead of cash or appliances. Some cruise lines will organize a registry for you, giving contributors the option to purchase certain upgrades for you.

Go for the Upgrades

If this is your dream vacation, it’s worth the extra expense to get the upgrades. Look into getting a honeymoon suite rather than a basic cabin. Many cruise lines have honeymoon packages that include a couple’s massage, private dinner, and other perks.

Don’t hesitate to flaunt your newlywed status on the ship. If you’re polite and kind, it may even get you a few perks for free.

Prepare for Seasickness

Nothing will put a damper on your trip like a bout of seasickness. If you’ve never been on a boat before, it’s imperative that you take proper precautions. It’s better to be overprepared than to be caught unaware. 

Larger cruise ships tend to result in less seasickness, as you don’t get the same motion as with smaller ships. This is an important consideration if you’re considering a Scandanavian river cruise on a smaller vessel. Stock up on medicine in advance that will help you overcome your illness and focus on hydration and nourishment while aboard.

Plan for Extra Expenses

Budgeting is vital when planning a European cruise. Not only is the voyage itself costly, but you’ll want to experience everything the ports have to offer. From incredible cuisine and wine to shopping, being able to spend while exploring requires planning.

Be sure to check the exchange rate well in advance of your trip. Europe is often more expensive than North America and has a stronger currency. Failure to plan could mean missing out on some incredible cultural experiences.

Plan for a Longer Trip

Don’t try to fit your cruise into a limited timeframe. If you’ve already taken a lot of time off from work for your wedding, it’s better to delay your honeymoon than cut it short. With a European cruise, in particular, rushing will be your biggest regret.

Try to go for a minimum of two weeks. Not only will this give you time to see and experience the land, but it will also help with adjusting to the time change. 

With strategic budgeting and smart planning, you can have a dreamlike European cruise honeymoon. You may find that you’re more excited about this trip than the wedding!

The NYC: Downtown Manhattan, Ancient Architectures and the Seamless Streets


This is a guest post by Amit Chauhan. Amit Chauhan is an Entrepreneur and a vivid Traveler who knows everything about the travelling hiccups and aims to eliminate all those with his workable efforts. Keeping the passion for travelling, the doyen launched a highly designed product Faremart, which intends to serve the commuters in the best possible way and help them ease their Air Travel. With his former successful accomplishments, Mr Chuhan continues to excel in his business endeavours providing better travelling experiences to the people. (Bio provided by Amit Chauhan)

One of the greatest cities in the world has a lot more to do other than things mentioned in the title. New York is a whirlwind of activities where a person can run out of time and money to explore it in-depth, but the city will never dwindle in astonishing you with its small and large bits of roam-around places.

The grand city of the U.S. helps you to enjoy the Broadway shows, shop and dine at the renowned brands, admire sites like the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, One World Observatory, Ellis Island, St Patrick’s Cathedral, High Lane, Grand Central, NY Public Library, and the list is countless. 

I may seem scarcity of words, but the voyage to New York City won’t end!

The place is heavenly, and that’s why it is on the wishlist of travellers and non-travellers both. Indeed, one can witness unique perspectives of life in this single city at any time of day and night; it’s not going to disappoint you.

Travel by United Airlines first class by booking your next flight from Faremart, which is a travel booking platform, providing satisfactory air travel services with 24/7 customer service support on your travel to any destination. 

So, let’s dig deep and tour the city virtually via this paper version, hoping that you visit it in real the next time after analyzing the beauty of this destination.

No.1 The Freedom Symbol: ‘Statue of Liberty’

This freedom symbol gives you incredible views, making it an iconic landmark and one of the world’s most recognizable monuments. The statue was presented to the U.S. by France way back in 1880, and it stands proudly since then.

To gaze its beauty, take up a ferry or boat trip to Liberty Island and admire it from close. There are inscriptions and plaques which display its history, and also the changes made to it often. Make an advance booking if you want to climb 354 steps right up to the crown or would have to take a walk around the statue itself.

Don’t miss the lifetime opportunity and collect some awesome memories from the sky-high crown!

No.2 First Street Garden

A free sightseeing location which is also known as the thought-inspiring community garden in the lower East of NYC. The garden got built in the 1980s and presently, portrays some eccentric and amazing murals and artworks. 

The art pieces honour America’s influential women who actually made a difference in its development and trust me; it is one of its kind. Rosa Parks, Dorothy Day, Shirley Chisolm are a few personalities to be seen at the admirable place.

One can surely enjoy the serene ambience and respite from the chaotic city streets!

No.3 Metropolitan Museum of Art

Met (as commonly known) stands popular since 1870 and earns it naturally by displaying a collection of two million-plus artefacts, spanning a period of 5000 years. It contains spectacular pieces from around the world showcasing some finest achievements and crafts like Renaissance art, Egyptian tomb, unique weapons, Islamic artistry, to name a few.

Believe it or not, art lovers won’t take their eyes off the illustrations and the artistic work and would not resist visiting the place every year. You will be wowed to see the Roman Sculptures, re-assembled Temple of Dendur, Robert Lehman Collection and a lot more which can be experienced when present there.

Visit the wonderful place, taking out ample time to fully appreciate the marvels of the Metropolitan Museum of Art!

No.4 The Grand Central Terminal

Its the Grand Central Station which is that famous building which requires a halt to pop into its beauty that is worth praising. From the exterior walls only, one can start snapping some shots of the Beaux Art and start snipping into the inside to explore the glimmering marble floors, gold, and nickel-plated chandeliers, sky-high ceilings and much more.

In 1913, it was opened as a terminal to serve the subway and train stations; however, presently its counted on the list of top tourist attractions. While roaming around, you can eat at some good restaurants and even shop till you drop.

Eat, Shop and Click!

No.5 Central Park

As a park, we can expect some lovely flowers and gardens from the place, but it goes way beyond and showcases some beautifully maintained and highlighted monuments, lakes, and ponds, adding and magnifying the essence of the flora.

One can spend some leisure time relaxing, away from the city hustle and bustle, and enjoy the meadows and the scenic beauty of nature. There are no restrictions on visiting the location in the context of seasons and climate; one can find lots of things to explore being outdoors in Central Park.

No.6 St. Patrick’s Cathedral

To witness the biggest Gothic Roman Catholic in the USA, land up at the St. Patrick’s Cathedral that is a build of the 1800s, named after an Ireland Saint. The glorious historical building has a lot of striking features to display, both inside and outside.

The Cathedral can be occupied by 2400 people at a time where they can enjoy gazing at the stained glasses, shines, tombs, arches, and huge organs. The church is an active place of worship and has an audio tour (self-guided tour) to grab all the major information about the place.

You will be blown away by the beauty and architecture of the Cathedral as it consists of some of the eye-catchy art and a tranquil environment where one would love to spend plenty of time.

Adore and Worship!

No.7 Empire State Building

After the 1 World Trade Centre Tower, this was the building that took the place of the second-highest buildings of the world (443 meters tall containing 102 floors). The tower has made its presence in many of the T.V. shows and famous movies, it might seem familiar as it offers some astounding views from such high levels. 

The visit to the 86th-floor observatory(1050 feet) is what people expect to witness as it possesses the city’s highest open-air observation deck, which makes it a bit busy sightseeing places in New York.

The best time to elevate high up to the building is at night as you cannot afford to miss the gloriously illuminated city, giving a galaxy look!

No.8 The High Line

Its a newly built tourist attraction of New York, turning a rail line into an urban walking trail above the city streets. Its a cool public park opened in 2009 which sits on a section track in Manhattan, covering a distance of 2.3 km(approx. 1.4mile).

The High line is 2-3 stories above street level, built with modern architecture, and serves the motives to relax and enjoy, thereby, giving a new lease of life to the area. The place is enticing as it gives the views of the Hudson River, Furstenburg Sundeck, and many other public art installations. 

Get going along the track, praising the eye-catchy steel and wood sculptures coming your way!

No.9 One World Observatory

One World Observatory deck is on the top of the One World Trade Centre building, offering some never-seen-before scenery form its 100, 101, and 102 floors, accounting for the rise of 1176 feet high above the NYC.

You can see a beautiful glass-built sky-high tower at the Manhattan skyline, where the cuts of the glass in angles makes it appearance stand-out. 

One World Observatory gives a pyramidal look when seen straight high, standing near the base!

No.10 Ellis Island

It has a history behind it which makes it another historical landmark. The port served as the first entry point for New York immigrants. At one time 12million people made an entry from this point, keeping an average of 5000 people arriving per day.

The island is also known to capture many prisoners during wartime; some places are restricted to tour while others are allowed to visit and are open for public. Today, Ellis Island is renowned for its immigration museum where one can take the self-guided audio tour to know the clear history and events that happened at this landmark.

Old images and captures would bring past to life!

New York is one of the energetic destinations of the globe where its many times referred to as the ‘Capital of the World’. You think of anything exciting, and NYC serves you with all that imagined.

Hope I was able to urge you to make your next trip to New York as its a place not to miss, instead, to live. 

Top Holiday Destinations Around The World In 2019

This is a guest post by Rinki. She is a well known copyrighter who loves to write on travel, shopping, real estate, education and product reviews. She eagerly awaits for right travel opportunity and captures her experience in words and publish it with partner blogger friends.


Our world is a mighty place, my friends. Here you can find the best holiday destinations appropriate for your hunger to travel, explore and relax. Let’s read ahead to check how much you can visualise and implement while discovering some of the best places on the planet Earth.

  1. India, South Asia

Spending your summer vacation in India is topping the charts in 2019. You can indulge in natural sceneries in Ladakh where you will find snow leopards in Hemis National Park. Also, try a bike road trip to Khardung-La Pass for the best road trip experience of your life.

Visit Amarnath Caves, Jammu filled with craggy caves and snow-clad mountains. As in summers, this holy shrine in India opens up for the pilgrimage, pilgrims trek and hike endlessly from the different parts of the country. The whole atmosphere of watching the devotees’ relentless visits is a sight to behold.

Next, you can visit God’s own country—Kerala. Enjoy the laid-back life down in Keralite cities near the beaches and regale your travelogue this summer with tea plantations, boating, fishing, and by visiting the Periyar National Park. There’s greenery everywhere in this state, which you would remember for the times to come, compelling you to make a tour to Kerala once again every year, making it an ideal summer vacation 2019 state in India. 

2. Thailand, Southeast Asia

In summers, especially around July, you will witness the two most favourite festivals in Thailand apart from the other places to visit in Thailand mentioned ahead. One of the festivals is Asahna Bucha, which is celebrated and venerated widely by Thai Buddhists paying their respect to Lord Buddha’s first sermon in India, almost 2,500 years ago. Thousands of eco-friendly candles are distributed to the local temples known as Wat by the locals to contribute their devotion in the celebration to remember the first sermon of Lord Buddha. While Wan Khao Phansa is another festival falling right after the day of Asahna Bucha to mark the commencement of the three-month rainfall season.

To make your stay memorable in one of the top destinations in the world, visit Trang, in the Southern part of Thailand. You will definitely bookmark this city as best summer holiday destination once you explore the exquisite Thai food, Limestone Mountains, sandy beaches, and arguably the best shoreline in Thailand alongside the Andaman sea. 

Hire a tuk-tuk motorbike when you reach Trang, for your natural escapade to Thung Kai Botanical Garden, then undeniably visit the Khao Kap Cave for its magnificent cave grotto view. Make sure you lie down in the boat while you are getting out the cave—to avoid getting injured from any of the perennial stalagmites and stalactites found everywhere inside.

Interesting Fact: Did you know Trang has sailed its way amongst the upcoming couples for underwater wedding ceremonies off lately? This largestand auspicious underwater ceremony has a record in Guinness World Record book.

Koh Tao, an archipelago of 3 little islands is a must-visit place because it is less traveled, secluded, and fun with snorkeling and white sandy beaches. Try hiking to the crater of the limestone mountains surrounded by the islands to get the panoramic view that finds places in many of Thailand stamps as well. Also, carry your party animal outside around 3 major party hubs, all located at the Sairee Beach on Koh Tao Island. Live music and travelers playing Beer Pong are something’s you would want to try too.

3. Islands of Andaman& Nicobar, Indian Archipelago 

Beat the Indian summer heat by visiting the islands of Andaman and Nicobar. Coined as the top destinations in the world by a myriad of backpackers and wayfarers, you will find Andaman with a lot of families touring around the scenic beaches and indulging in water sports by the bay of affordable resorts and private accommodations.

Hire a local guide to direct your trek through the thick forest of and around Elephant Beach mostly from June-August to find less crowd. Remember to carry enough water to stay hydrated during your trek. You can also add snorkeling, if the time is right for the water sports at Elephant Beach.

One of the best places to visit in the Andaman is Port Blair without any room for doubt. As a matter of fact, here you meet tourists who may be solo travellers, couples, or even newly married. Most of them will be keen in exploring the best museums that Port Blair inhabits like Cellular Jail, Fisher Museum, Kalapani Museum, Catham Saw Mill, Forest Museum, etc. 

To enjoy the natural beauty of Andaman visit Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park and Baratang Island for an unforgettable summer vacation of 2019.

4. Mexico, North America

Mexico is a large country where you can go through a multiple choice of weather around the year. In summer, though, it’s best to remain at the coastal places or at higher altitudes like Toluca in Estado de Mexico and Mexico City. Pack raincoats and sunscreen for sure whenever you are making your next visit to one of the best holiday destinations in the world— Mexico, North America. 

Take a cultural shock visit to Mexico by participating in the national festivals in summers like Guelaguetza and Zacatecas. Attend the largest film festival in Guanajuato after which, you can make your dreams of crushing grapes with your feet come true during the Fiestas de la Vendimia festival in the central state, Queretaro; a perfect glass of grape wine that you crushed yourself would be a story worth taking back home, wouldn’t it?

Since summer is the shoulder season in Mexico, you will get amazing deals irrespective of who are you are traveling with, saving your pockets for other travel escapades as well. 

Interesting Fact: Did you know there are many resorts in Mexico, which allow kids to stay and eat for free on a family vacation? Few of them are Oasis Palm & Iberostar Resorts in Cancun, Q.R. Mexico.

Join the community services in the summertime in Mexico like saving the turtles when they are at the bay to hatch the eggs. You will feel proud of yourself to be responsible to have done a rescue task in a foreign country. That’s actually the most effective way to take part in eco-adventure in Mexico. You can even take a mesmerizing swim in crystal clear water in Cancun or Isla Holbox with whale sharks or attend Shark Festival in Isla Mujeres in July.

5. Hvar, Croatia (Between Central & Southeast Europe, overlooks the Adriatic Sea)

Hvar has the Greek influence dating back to the 4th century BC. This island in Croatia has the oldest town in both Europe and the Adriatic region named Stari Grad. In fact, it’s the hub for Croatian Literature Renaissance. The history of this island is worth remembering because this island was a part of so many historic colonies: Roman Empire, Venetian Empire, Yugoslavia, Byzantine and much more—marking it as the best summer holiday destination for the history buffs. 

With 2400 years of tradition still alive and breathing along with the 150 years of organized tourism curated by the Croatians for the betterment of the tourists each year, in addition to the most attractive nightlife amongst the young travelers—mostly originating from neighboring European countries like Austria, Bosnia, and Montenegro—it’s a picture-perfect location for yoursummer vacation of 2019.

The list of the top destinations in the world will continue to soar because each year a new place gets discovered by backpackers, but we hope you visit these locations first before exploring new ones.

8 thrifty tips for Brissie family flyers

8 thrifty tips for Brissie family flyers

Brisbane Airport’s a brilliant base for family trips to domestic destinations, as well as a springboard for special holidays to see relies in locations like London, Bali, Shanghai or New Zealand.

But when you’re travelling on a budget with kids, it’s all too easy to overspend and end up short of spare cash during your trip.

With that in mind, here are eight thrifty tips for Brissie family flyers.

  1. Cheap flights

Finding the right deal on plane tickets is paramount, especially when travelling in a large family group. You can bag bargain flights from Brisbane at Kayak.com.au and book early to save more.

2. Vouchers

Vouchers are your best friend when you want to save cash on attractions, shops and services in and near Brisbane’s air hub — browse groupon.com.au to see what’s on offer.

3. Beaches

If you’re a family of beach bums, building in time to get some sand between your toes on the way to the airport won’t break the bank. Nearby beaches include Cribb Island, Nudgee Beach and Streets Beach Lagoon — take your pick.

4. Parks

When you like free family recreation on slightly more solid ground, there are plenty of Brisbane parks that are perfect pre-flight pitstops. For instance, Melrose Park has barbecue pits, swings and slides, while Tuckeroo Park has plenty of green spaces and is close to a beach, so offers the best of both worlds.

5. Airport parking

Getting to the airport in your own ride rather than relying on public transport can sometimes be less stressful. But you don’t want to splash cash on expensive onsite parking when you get there, so find Brisbane Airport parking from Looking4.com and book ahead for a safe, secure bargain.

6. Designer bargains

Packing your family’s bags for a long break can be a bit of a logistical nightmare, so you can be forgiven if you arrive at the airport to find that your favourite pair of shades or swimsuit is missing. But fear not — DFO at Skygate is a stone’s throw from the airport and the perfect place to pick up cut-price deals on high-quality children’s fashion, sports goods, international designer brands and more. 

7. Brilliant burgers

If beef patties nestled in a soft bun, surrounded by crisp salad and sumptuous sauce sounds splendid, you really need to stop off at Just Poppy’ burger joint at Riverhills Plaza prior to your flight. It’s been named Brisbane’s best burger by Brisbane Times readers and the menu is value for money too.

8. Kid’s Play Zone

When flights get delayed, kids become antsy, so you’ll be relieved to know that there’s a dedicated Kid’s Play Zone at Brisbane Airport where your rug rats can burn off excess energy playing lively games on interactive big screens. You’ll find it on The Village Green in the International Terminal and its gratis.

That’s our list! Share your own Brissie Airport thrifty travel tips in the comments section. 

Why Backpacking is the best way to travel…

This is a guest post by Sydney

About Author: I love dancing, history, beer and exploring the hidden places. Travelling is my life as it always gives me a new experience and makes me stronger. Till date, I have traveled more than 25 countries and my favorite city is Paris.

BACKPACKING IS THE WAY OF TRULY LIVING IN THE WORLD AROUND YOU

Shall I ask you one simple question? What strategy do you follow when you travel to a new place or go on a hike? Well, I can’t really tell about yours but I believe that backpacking is not only the most luxurious way to travel the world. But it is, however, the only true way to do it, which ultimately allows you to make the most of your trip. Still not getting the point? Understand the importance of backpacking in this way: being minimalistic, you can go anywhere that surely lets you discover every detail for yourself. For my favorite Backpackers trip, you can check my blog.

For those who believe that backpacking is just about walking around with a backpack on trips. Sorry but you need to change this misconception because it has many other essential factors involved. A backpacker has to learn how to keep the minimum and required things possible. He knows how to travel on foot for long distances. He also learns how to savor the taste of small things in life. So, here I am with some of the really good reasons why backpacking is good for you.

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EXPLORATION OF THE WORLD

It’s no wonder you learn so much about others and yourself. I learned that I am capable, fearless, and determined in real life. I carried my fully loaded pack over 4,000 miles without losing my money or my passport.  I got lost a few times, but always managed to find my way.  I thought I’d get homesick, but the only thing I missed was food. I struck up in conversations with strangers, tried new foods, and spent hours exploring the places. Remember, when backpacking, you learn what is important to you and what is not. It’s absolutely wonderful how a person finds clarity while traveling.

IT BOOSTS YOUR CONFIDENCE

Backpacking lets you experience the culture and your surroundings in a more intense way. Firstly you might have a problem with the language in the country or maybe you won’t feel comfortable with the smell, food, and culture. But since you are on the ‘road’ you get to know new people, new impressions and differences from what you experienced before. This “on the road” experience will give you strength and confidence.

YOU LEARN TO BE FREE AND FLEXIBLE

It’s simple. You just have to forget about all the stuff you left at home: your car, apartment, and bills will still be there when you return. Feeling hungry? Wander around in a market and get some bread, cheese, or wine for yourself. That bulky hair dryer you can’t live without–leave it, and let the sun dry your hair. Want to spend more time at any place? Well, you have your essentials with you, so yeah, it is possible. Trust me, you won’t get the feeling of missing out and due to the flexible time frame, it’s easier to enjoy. When we let the freedom of backpacking sink in, we appreciate each moment. Always keep in mind that our lives become complicated only we ourselves make it the same way but backpacking allows you to learn about what are the things that really matter to us. 

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LIFE LONG FRIENDS

If you travel on your own, making friends out can be easier. If you’re an outspoken type of a person who likes to strike up with conversations with random people on your way, this is definitely going to suit you. If you are more of a shy kind of person, this can be an opportunity to stand out and potentially make new and lifelong friends. No matter what kind of personality you have, these are some of the experiences you’re going to cherish for a lifetime because being a backpacker you will be leaving a lot of stuff behind, in order to enjoy a new you.

SAVE MONEY WHILE YOU TRAVEL

Some budget backpackers travel the world by home sitting, where they look after somebody’s home or hostels. Flying is very expensive, so after the first flight to whatever country you’re going to, make sure, after that you travel by bus, foot, or train. Backpacking makes that essential. You should take small or essential things with you while traveling so that you shouldn’t purchase it at the time you need it. This is my packing list, which I always take on a trip. Also, I find this type of traveling easier when you wish to stay in hostels or other low-cost options. And I must say that this is definitely the ideal way to explore the world and too that within your budgets.

MOST ADVENTUROUS STATE YOU’RE AT

Make this as your priority in your 20s to have fun and explore the world. If you have this urge to try new things and really want to make a mark on the world, let the adventurous side of yours come out.  That way, you might push yourself to try something impulsive like zip line through the forest, night surfing or late night cruise. Do not think twice about that, just go for it. I can guarantee you traveling the world by backpacks is the best decision you make. Remember, there’s nothing better than gaining more and more experiences in your life.

So, this was all about why backpacking and once you try it, you can’t stop being a backpacker in the future. And why not, this method of traveling is totally addictive that allows you to let your mind and soul stay free and helps you know yourself in a better way.

Spring Trekking in the South Caucasus

Today, one has so many opportunities to explore the world and make days brighter. All you need to do is to find like-minded people and go to conquer the world. There are six of us in a group of crazy adventure lovers. We are not afraid of challenges and bad weather. By supporting each other, we follow the goal and achieve it. Our next goal was the South Caucasus and its snow-capped mountains. After studying the characteristics of nature and the landscape, we chose the best month for trekking in the South Caucasus and identified specific routes. So, our destinations on May were Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. We hope that our story and experience will be helpful in your trip planning.

Trekking in Armenia

The first stop of our spring trekking was Armenia. We heard a lot of controversial reviews about the country, but for us, it was an absolute surprise. Most of the country managed to get rid of the “stigma” of the post-Soviet country.

Climbing the volcano Azhdahak

The first serious trip was scheduled to the volcano Azhdahak. This is the highest point of the Geghama Range (3597 meters above sea level). The ascent was of medium difficulty; time and again we stopped at the ancient petroglyphs or just to enjoy the beauty of the nature of the Alpine meadows.

gobustan-petroglyphs

We made a stop at the mountain lake Akna. We had a trekking route, but we will definitely get back here for camping. And finally, the last stop of the route is Azhdahak volcano, overlooking Lake Sevan, Mount Aragats and Ararat. We returned to Yerevan through the village of Sevaberd and discussed the trip the whole night.

azhdahak

Trekking from Sevan to Dilijan

We were lucky with the weather. The next two days we were so full of impressions. We reached Lake Sevan by car, and then continued hiking about the sights of the region.

Sevan was so big and impressive and no wonder the locals call it Geghama Sea. You may stand on the shore and listen to the sound of the waves. Looking at the horizon you will only see the peaks of the Geghama Range in the distance. The lake is quite large and we decided to explore only the most interesting parts.

sevan

The temperature of the water was still too low for swimming and we had to simply explore the sights nearby. We visited Sevanavank Monastery on the peninsula and Ayrivank Monastery. Sevan is really a must-visit natural gem included in almost all guided tours in Armenia like the credible Arara tours.

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The first part of the day ended with an early dinner by the lake. Main dishes were trout and whitefish BBQ. Guys, you should definitely try them, the taste is unforgettable.

We left Sevan and move on to Dilijan. The next stop is the resort town of Dilijan. The road to the town passed through very steep passes, and on the halfway, we started feeling the warm and slightly damp smell of the coniferous forest.

Dilijan is the most popular resort town in the reserve. From Dilijan, there are several trekking routes in different directions. We chose the most Interesting one that passed through Lake Parz, Gosh village and Goshavank monastery. The lake is located about 7 km from Dilijan and it was a truly nice walk. The lake turned out to be a spectacular place. The green trees and the bright sun reflected in the clear waters of the lake. It was a perfect place for a picnic. From the lake, there is a ready trekking route with marks to the village of Gosh. A small cozy village is hidden in a dense forest. The main attraction of the village is the medieval monastic complex Goshavank. The last stop in the village is Lake Gosh, smaller than Lake Parz, but no less colorful.

goshavank

Trekking in Georgia

We said goodbye to Armenia and continued our journey to Georgia. When planning trekking in Georgia, we had so many options to choose and so many routes that it is rather difficult to find the best destinations. I think we will return to Georgia not once.

Trekking in Svaneti

Svanetia was selected as our first destination. Georgians used to say that if you have never been to Svaneti, you have not seen the beauty of Georgia. From Tbilisi, we got to Mestia, the capital of Svaneti. The city and the whole Svaneti are famous for their Svan towers. On our way, we saw the most interesting of them. The whole area is absolutely fascinating for its picturesque landscapes, and we spent the whole day just walking around the neighborhood.

svaneti

The next morning we had an ascent to the mountains at 2,200 meters. Ushguli village is considered the highest mountainous village in Europe. The locals are truly blessed to see one of the most breathtaking panoramas of Mount Shkhara (5068 meters) every morning. The architectural monuments of the village are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List. In the village, we saw more than 30 towers.

ushguli

At that altitude even in May, it was windy and cool, the nights were rather cold. On the last day of our stay, we decided to take a ride on the cable car from Mestia to the ski resort Hatsvali. From the top, there is a beautiful view of the city.

Trekking in Kakheti

Tourists come to Kakheti for a wine tour, we decided to combine a pleasant experience with the more pleasant one. The first stop is the city of Sighnaghi. We chose Sighnaghi because it seemed more picturesque than Telavi. Tile houses, narrow alleys, fortress walls, and small towers resemble a provincial town somewhere in Italy, and the wine completes the whole landscape.

For this trekking, we chose one of the national parks of Kakheti, Lagodekhi, which borders Azerbaijan (our last stop will be in Azerbaijan). The nature of Georgia has been revealed to us from the best side. Of course, we didn’t manage to explore the whole park, but we visited the most beautiful places with rivers, lakes, waterfalls, alpine, and subalpine meadows. We walked to the Lagodekhi gorge, which extended to the Alazani Valley.

lagodekhi

Trekking in Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan was chosen as the last destination in the South Caucasus to bring an oriental flavor to the journey.

From the very beginning, we decided to spend the whole day in Baku and take a walk around the city. We have never seen such a contrast. On one side there is a super modern metropolis with skyscrapers, on the other hand, it is an eastern city with narrow streets, brick houses, and a bazaar.

To make our stay in a new country safe and sound we tried to follow the popular trekking routes rather than exploring new ones.

On the second day of our stay in Azerbaijan, we visited the Gobustan reserve. The park was not far (50 km from Baku), we could easily get there and spend more time exploring the territory in detail. The first thing we saw was mud volcanoes. By the way, most of the mud volcanoes of the whole world are located in Azerbaijan. Mud volcanoes and the cracked land look like a shot from the Martian Chronicles. In Gobustan, volcanoes are of medium size and quite safe. After a hundred interesting shots of volcanoes of all angles, we move ahead to other attractions.

 

The next attraction in the park is rock paintings. Traces of ancient civilizations are still preserved on the mountains like images of a human, his life, hunting scenes, and wild animals.

Khinalug Village

The last stop of our trekking tour is the mountain village of Khinalug, or “Island among the Mountains”. The ancient settlement, which appeared more than 5 thousand years ago, is located at an altitude of 2350 meters. For us, a trip to Khinalig became a wonderful opportunity to take a closer look at the life of the ancient inhabitants. The houses are built on steep slopes, from the side they are adjacent and look as if one house is built on the other. Climbing the slopes is not easy as it may seem to you.

Khynalyg

We say goodbye to the South Caucasus looking through the photos in the plane.

-By Arpi Kazaryan

Tips for being a responsible traveler in Asia

Responsible travel benefits both you and the communities you choose to visit around Asia. With a little thought put into the everyday decisions you make during your holiday, it is possible to make a positive impact long after your trip is over.

1. Think local

One of the biggest things you can do as a responsible traveller in Asia is to always ‘think local.’ This means supporting local businesses, eating local food and using local transport wherever possible. Beware of Western tour agencies who reap in huge profits but pay the local guides a comparative pittance. In addition, you might consider visiting tourist attractions that donate a portion of their entrance fee back into the community.

2. Respect local cultures

Part of being a responsible traveller is carefully respecting local cultures and etiquettes. This means that you should dress appropriately and be mindful of anything that could be deemed offensive to the local culture. For example, visitors to a Buddhist temple should always wear conservative clothing and take off their shoes before entering. Remember to be mindful of other things too, like getting permission before taking photographs and respecting worship by locals.

3. Think carefully before giving to beggars

Anyone who has visited certain parts of Asia will be all too familiar with the droves of beggar children who persistently approach tourists selling souvenir items. While this can be upsetting to see, the sad reality is that buying goods from them is only keeping them on the streets, and it is almost certainly keeping them out of school. For as long as tourists continue to give them money, they will continue to be in the same situation. Those wanting to really help the children should instead consider donating to a local organization.

4. Shop Responsibly

Wandering through one of Asia’s bustling street markets is something every traveller should experience, but it’s also important to be mindful of where the goods on sale have actually come from. Avoid souvenirs made from things like ivory, turtle shells, bird feathers, crocodile skins, and other animal products, and remember to never buy anything unless you’re completely sure about what materials are used and where it was made. As mentioned previously, always buy locally, and preferably from the original producer where possible.

5. Beware of elephant tourism

Riding on an elephant might seem like a fun activity, but the sad reality is that these poor animals are often severely overworked and mistreated. Responsible tourists should instead consider visiting ethical sanctuaries that provide elephants with a peaceful and restful life. You can get more information from organizations like the Save Elephant Foundation.

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6. Research travel companies

Being a responsible traveller begins from the moment you first start planning your trip. Whether you are buying an all-inclusive package or booking each part of your holiday independently, it is a good idea to do some research on the eco-friendliness and sustainability of any company you are booking with. Schemes and initiatives from organizations like the Global Sustainable Tourism Council aim to promote travel companies that meet high standards of social and environmental responsibility, so look out for providers that carry relevant accreditations and memberships. For example, you might want to consider hotel properties that are part of schemes like Green Globe.

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As well as looking after the planet, you should also be sure to look after yourself. This means taking out adequate travel insurance, which is something that is also compulsory for certain destinations including Thailand. You’ll find many different policies that will provide protection for your trip, so be sure to spend some time researching the right one for you.

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7. Avoid Wastage

While this is a dictum in any part of the world, it’s more so in Asia thanks to many a congested metropolis and lax wastage management rules. Zero waste policy is something that you can do as a small step towards a better planet.

8. Use Eco-Friendly products:

The use of eco-friendly and native products not only is beneficial in encouraging local economy, but it also helps one leave behind a smaller carbon(and plastic) footprint. Always try and use recyclable or even better natural and bio-degradable products when possible.

Bangkok: Floating Markets, Temples & Massages

What makes Bangkok so special and one of the hottest tourist destinations, any time of the year. Its pretty simple; it has a lot to offer. You could spend a few weeks just in the city and still not run out of things to do or sights to see.

It is a fairly new city. In 1782, after the passing away of King Taksin of Thon Buri (now part of Bangkok) Chao Phraya Maha Kasatsuek ascended the throne and was known as King Buddha Yodfa or Rama I. The King moved the capital to the opposite side of the river known as Bangkok and established the Chakri Dynasty. The canals were dug around the city including Banglamphu and Ong Ang canals to the east. They have then linked the Chao Phraya River at both ends so the city was surrounded by water and the whole canal was named “Khlong Rop Krung” meaning the canal around the city. These canals together with other smaller ones were the source of Bangkok’s nickname “Venice of the East”il_570xN.501518526_lvkz

In 1932, following a revolution constitutional monarchy came into existence. Bangkok on the east bank known as Krung Thep or Phra Nakhon became a province and Thon Buri on the west bank became another province. In 1971, the two provinces were merged under the name of Nakhon Luang Krung Thon Buri or Bangkok-Thon Buri Metropolis. One year later, the form of local government in the metropolis was reorganized and the province obtained a new name as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or popularly called Krung Thep for short. The name is still used among the Thais today as always, while the foreigners know Krung Thep as Bangkok (village called bang in Thai was full of wild olives called makok in Thai which was shortened to kok).

Bangkok’s history is interesting. In the 19th century, the British conquered Burma whereas the French took Siam’s formal vassal states, Laos and Cambodia. Due to the diplomacy of King Rama IV and V, who conceded territorial claims in exchange for independence, the two western powers accepted Siam as a buffer state between them. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power.

Any visit to Bangkok can get overwhelming due to the sheer number of options. We stayed there for a few days and it was packed. At the end of the trip, we felt we had barely scratched the surface. The city surely left me and my wife with an odd longing to go back and explore more. Its one of the few places that I don’t mind going again and again. Here’s a list of things that you can do and see to scratch deeper!

Must See Places in Bangkok:

1. The Grand Palace: Its right in the epicenter of Bangkok. It was a former residence for King Rama I to King Rama V of the Rattanakosin Kingdom. Today, the place is used for hosting royal ceremonies and welcoming the king’s guests, State guests, and other foreign dignitaries. It is also a place where remains of kings and high-ranked members of the royal family were situated before cremation.

The Grand Palace is divided into two main zones, which are the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the royal residence. The latter is divided into three major areas: the Outer Court, the Middle Court, and the Inner Court. (Website) This is the first in any of the must-do lists of Bangkok!

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Within the palace complex is the majestic 1Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains the greatly revered and mysterious Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century. The statue is 30″ tall, and made of green jasper. The king himself changes its garments three times a year, at the beginning of each of the three seasons. Visitors are allowed inside Grand Palace Hall (Chakri Maha Prasat) and the impressive Dusit Hall.

Here you cannot enter with short pants or shirts without sleeves. As in any temple in Thailand, please take off your shoes. Near the entrance of the Palace complex is a booth where proper clothes are provided if needed.

 

2. Wat Arun: This temple is unmissable in its style and location. It is also called the temple of Dawn and dedicated to Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn. Sitting sublime on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, the legendary Wat Arun is one of the most striking riverside landmarks of Thailand. Despite the name, the most spectacular view of the glittering monument can be seen from the east side of the river at sunset, when the spires of Wat Arun make an impressive silhouette against the skyline. (Pic:travelspro.com)

Prang of Wat Arun, Bangkok ,Thailand

This temple is an architectural representation of Mount Meru,mount-meru-02 the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In the mythology of Tibetan Buddhism, Mount Meru is a place that simultaneously represents the center of the universe and the single-pointedness of mind sought by adepts. Thousands of miles in height, Meru is located somewhere beyond the physical plane of reality, in a realm of perfection and transcendence. The four-corner prang of Wat Arun, which house images of the guardian gods of the four directions, reinforces this mystical symbolism. Read more at www.hinduwebsite.com It makes for a very interesting read with a different perspective!

3. Chao Phraya River & Cruises: Though these cruises are very touristy, they do lend an entirely different view of this bustling city. It is also a relaxing way to spend a few hours and especially stunning at sunset!

You can also just choose the public commuteScreen Shot 2018-08-23 at 11.44.09 AM boats and let them whisk to various stops on the river. But hold on to those poles. They do accelerate pretty fast. The packages do come with lavish meals and entertainment of sorts. We went with these guys.

 

4. Floating Markets: This is surely one of the top draws for visitors. you will see boats are stacked with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens located right on the boat.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Bangkok Half Day Tour

To enjoy the atmosphere without haggling over prices, 1 (4)try relaxing on a guided boat tour of Damnoen Saduak market. Floating markets are Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Damnoen Saduak. Damnoen Saduak is the most lively and also the most crowded. However its well worth because of the great pictures that you can take! There are specific stops for Orchids and flowers too. Don’t be surprised if you see someone carry snakes too! It’s about a 100kms for city center and should take two hours to get there.

 

5. Wat Pho: This is another of the amazing and intricately designed temples in Bangkok. Its the abode of reclining Buddha. It’s a small walk from the Grand Palace and tends to be far more relaxing than the bustling Grand palace.

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Another specialty of the temple is the number 108Wat-Pho-1It refers to the 108 positive actions that helped lead Buddha attain moksha. Also, there are 108 bronze bowls which line the length of the walls for you to drop coins in. In the campus also find 394 images and golden statues of Buddha. there is an in-house massage center for an authentic experience.

 

6. Chatuchak Weekend Market: You want to see one of the busiest markets you will ever see. Head to Chatuchak on weekends. Its 27 sections are a maze of shops of all kinds. Its one of the best places to buy souvenirs. Here you really can find anything you’re looking for, along with many things you never knew you wanted! It attracts around 200,000 visitors each day of the weekend, and, according to the official website, about 30% of those visitors are foreign tourists.

Getting there: 1. Chatuchak Market is adjacent to the Kamphaengpecth Station

chattuchakmap.jpg(MRT) about 5 minute walk from Mochit Skytrain (BTS) Station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) Station (MRT)
2. SkyTrain BTS
 get off at Sapan Khwai Station or Mochit Station MRT get off at Kamphaenpetch Station
3. Bus No. 3,826,27,28,29,34,38,39,44,52,59,63,77,90,96,104,408,112,122, 134,136,138,153,159
AC Bus No. 2,3,9,18,19,28,34,39,44,134,145,153,510,512,513

7. Jim Thompson House: Jim Thompson, an American was an architect who moved to Thailand and decided to start a textile business once there. His interest was piqued by Thai architecture and built a house in the traditional style of Thai houses.

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Its a decent visit with some insights into the Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.31.25 AMtraditional silk and architecture. A couple hours should suffice. The Jim Thompson Art Center in the adjacent building is worth a look as well. They also organize some interesting exhibitions by various artists.

8. Go to a Muay Thai class or a match: As violent as it looks at the first glance, it is considered to be one of the perfect martial arts. You can use any part of the body and hit any part of the opponent.. well almost. Not many martial arts can match the speed and the sheer variety of attacking and combos that Muay Thai has.

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Better than watching the show (which is a spectacle BTW) Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.29.12 AMgo to a Muay Thai school for an intro class. They will teach you the basic combos, positions and some ground rules. After the two hours there, you will fall in love with this sport. We went to the Chacrit School. They are awesome!

 

9. Siam Niramit Show: I just feel this show doesn’t get the publicity it deserves. Everyone in Bangkok talks about Cabaret shows and all other kinds of shows, but Siam Niramit is truly world class. We bagged a ticket at the last moment and rushed in. And wow, was the show awesome.

Its a unique way of Thai storytelling with so many props and even elephants Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 11.36.45 AMand even a water stream on stage. Imagine Cirque du Soleil with a more linear storytelling. I can’t think of a better compliment than that! Photography is not allowed and the photos here are from their Website. This would be the best 45USD (1500 THB= 3000INR) that you spend on a Bangkok evening! (wink, wink)

 

10. Take a Thai food tour: No post on Bangkok is complete without a note on the food scene. the first thing that strikes you as you enter the city is the faint smell of lemongrass. Its omnipresent in every street and in every dish. You will take a few seconds to get used to it though. But then on its an unending stream of amazing hotels, hawkers, and food that one could die for. Though not as mystic or nuanced as compared to the Vietnamese or Indian food, Thai food is famous the world over for a reason. 1 (1)

Try hotel or hawker hopping and check out the local delicacies.mango-and-sticky-rice-5 Or even better take a guided food tour for more insights! Try fish soup Khao Tom Pla Kimpo, Tom Yum Pork Noodles, Mango Sticky Rice, Pad Thai or just try anything on instinct at any of the food courts! You can hardly go wrong!

 

11. Get a Thai massage: Thai massage sometimes gets a bad rep due to prostitution that is attached to many seedy places in Bangkok. But finding a clean one not difficult at all. Just ask the hotel guy or google it!

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The Thai style of massage as opposed to the Indian style NelaqL0gRgGnWLOCiuZe_so thai spa bangkok 500 333 08uses more pressure and stretches the joints with a lot more pressure. You probably won’t fall asleep while getting it done, unlike the Indian version. But you do feel every loose indeed after its done! try one and be a fan forever! we went to the So Thai spa and the Dahra Spa. Both were good and reasonable!

As I had mentioned earlier, this amazing metropolis has too much for anyone to completely list the things that can be done here. If you have more time to spare, do consider a relaxing day at the Lumpini Park, spend an evening watching the sunset from one of the many sky bars, take one of the many day trip options or visit the interesting Bangkok art and cultural center. Bangkok won’t let you down whatever you decide!

Useful Bangkok Practical Tips:

  1. You will encounter scammers unmissably. If something sounds too good or too cheap to be true, then it isn’t.
  2. If there’s no price tag, it can be bargained down. You can shave 25-50% off the seller’s asking price if you use a smile and a patient disposition.
  3. If approached and engaged in unsolicited conversation by any person, be they Thai or from your home country, WAKE UP, chances are there’s a scam coming
  4. It can get pretty humid here and congested. keep your self well hydrated and keep your wits about the traffic too. Don’t drink tap water.
  5. The buses and metro are organized and convenient. Use the metro in peak times. Road traffic can get messy!
  6. Carrying a photocopy of your passport is a must in Thailand. Though it may never be needed, the police guy may suddenly ask for it. Be prepared.
  7. Most hotel visiting cards come with directions in Thai. Use it for guiding your cabbies and even while walking. You may need the help. Use Google translate and maps if the need arises
  8. Local sim cards are pretty cheap. The data is super fast too.
  9. Changing currency is easy. Change only what you immediately need at the airport. You will get better rates in the city. However, have an eye on scammers especially while counting
  10. Taxis and Tuk Tuks don’t always go by meter. Use their taxi-hailing service ‘Grab‘. Its merged with Uber and is user-friendly.
  11. From the airport: Taxis can get confusing. Tell them to take the highway with tolls and pay for them and also ask them to turn on the meter.
  12. Visa for Indians: Thailand allows Visa on Arrival to Indians and many other countries for tourism purposes. There is a 2000 Baht fee and you need to fill up a form at the counter. (Embassy Link)
  13. What I Read: This one is amazing. A great style of writing and narrative. 41a+t1EL31L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_The story is about Justin or Little Frog, a 12-year-old Thai boy, as he lives with his extended family in a compound in Bangkok while his parents have been ‘away’ for the last three years. It’s a cross between magic realism and a bildungsroman/coming of age story, in which a boy teeming at the cusp of adolescence discovers many things about himself, his family’s culture and the tumult of the world outside his family compound and outside Thailand. Amazon link.
  14. What I Saw: There are so many movies that are set in Bangkok and that give you a peek into its wild and unexplored side. Bangkok Dangerous is one the few watchable Nicholas Cage movies. He plays an assassin who falls in love with a deaf and mute Thai lady and his life spins out of control. The Hangover Part II is an equally hilarious sequel to the superhit. It’s fully set in Bangkok and takes you well into its dark underbelly. I watched Pee Mak with subtitles and it was simply sublime. It follows Mak who served in the war during Rattanakosin Dynasty. At war, he became friends with Ter, Puak, Shin, and Aey, whose lives he saved. Once the war was over, Mak invites his four friends into his home in Phra Khanong town and introduces them to his beautiful wife Nak and his newborn baby boy Dang. In a weird twist after some rumours and darkness, the four friends fell that Nak and Dang are actually dead and lingered as haunting ghosts. It’s up to Mak to choose love or reality.

 

 

 

 

Great Ocean Drive: Bushwalks, Ocean & 12 Apostles

When I was planning my itinerary for down under, I browsed many blogs and travel websites and one thing came up constantly. And that was ‘Do the great ocean drive’. I kinda wondered if they were making a big deal out of a road along the beach. I mean, I had been on such roads before and they were pretty good, but why was this great? I wondered. It was especially stranger given the penchant of the Australians to prefix everything ‘GREAT’. don’t get me wrong some of them are great, like the great barrier reef, but not all are,,, great!

But anyway I planned to include it in my trip and drive down to see what was so great about it! We were two families of with two four-year-olds. So travel sickness was an issue. So we hired a Kluger and set out to verify the apparent greatness of this ocean road.

Officially, the Great Ocean Road starts at Torquay and finishes at Allansford. Torquay is  100 kilometers from Melbourne via Geelong along the M1 then join the B100 to Torquay. The Great Ocean Road follows the B100 for 243 kilometers through to Allansford which is just 10 minutes from Warrnambool. The B100, replaces the old State road 100, which was the original Great Ocean road designation. You can then return the 256 kilometers to Melbourne via the A1 and M1. So we officially entered the great ocean road after an hour and 15 mins from Melbourne when we reached Torquay.

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Map from tourstogo.com.au

Must See and Dos on the Great Ocean Road:

1. Torquay: This is the home of Bells Beach and birthplace of iconic surf brands Rip Curl and Quicksilver. It is the surfing and beach worship capital. Visit over Easter and see the world’s best surfers compete in the mighty Rip Curl Pro. Its a great location for families to splash about on one of the beaches. If you prefer the action of the surging surf, nearby Jan Juc is a little wilder, and experienced surfers can tackle the big swells of Bells Beach. This world-famous beach is the venue for the Rip Curl Pro, one of the most sought-after titles on the World Championship Tour. There is also Capture the Surf World Surfing Museum with pictures and hands-on displays. Stroll along sandy beaches beneath towering cliffs or take fine views of the coast from vantage points along the Surf Coast Walk. It would make an ideal first pit stop!

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2. Apollo Bay: Stop into the beautiful village of Apollo Bay located at the foothills of the Otways. The surrounding areas are covered by rainforests full of waterfalls, ferns, and crystal clear streams. Ans as along the coast, here too you can swim, dive, surf and paddle out in the pristine coastal waters. Take a dip at the beach, climb aboard a surfboard or kayak, and get up close to local seal colonies.

Fishing is an important local industry so seafood is always on the menu at the local cafes and restaurants. Take a drive into the Otways to find mainland Australia’s oldest lighthouse. Walk through the nearby rainforest and wander past plunging waterfalls and lush ferns.

 

 

 

3. Port Campbell: It is a popular tourist destination primarily because it is so closely surrounded by some of the Great Ocean Road’s most famous and scenic coastal attractions. A few minutes drive away is the rocky (but broken) platform of London Bridge, the Loch Ard Gorge, Gibsons Steps, and the most celebrated of all Great Ocean Road attractions, the Twelve Apostles. The coastline around the Port Campbell area consists of steep, rocky cliffs with pristine sandy white beaches in bays at the base of many of these cliffs.

The Port Campbell commercial centre is based around the tree-lined strip of Lord Street and features cafes, restaurants and specialty shops, catering well for visitors. Located right in the town centre is Port Campbell Bay which is an inlet of water surrounded by the Port Campbell National Park and it includes an attractive foreshore area, a calm sandy beach swimming area, and a jetty. For spectacular views across the bay, along the coast and over the town itself, take the Discovery Walk. Either climb up the steps from the beach at Port Campbell Bay and enjoy the view from the walking track along the cliff top, or alternatively access to the Discovery Walk and the Town Lookout can be reached via a car park on the Great Ocean Road to the west of town.

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4. 12 Apostles: Drive the short distance to the towering 12 Apostles, the dramatic limestone stacks that have made the region famous. This is the Mona Lisa of the great ocean road, its the Tendulkar of rocky beaches, its the Trump of bad decisions and er… let me stop with the puns:)

Most people who set out on this road treat the 12  Apostles as the destination and the drive back. Its that fittingly climactic end to the journey. I will leave my puns here and let you take a look at the photo below and see why those bad puns now make more sense and why it’s so Instagrammable!

Twelve Apostles at sunset.  Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia.

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Start at the visitor’s center for a bit of history and then follow the boardwalk to the 12 Apostles as they slowly reveal themselves. Created by constant erosion of the limestone cliffs of the mainland beginning 10–20 million years ago, the stormy Southern Ocean and blasting winds gradually eroded the softer limestone, forming caves in the cliffs.

The caves eventually became arches and when they collapsed rock stacks up to 45 meters high were left isolated from the shore. View the 12 Apostles at sunrise and sunset as they change color from dark and foreboding in shadow to brilliant sandy yellow under a full sun.

Loch Ard Gorge, site of a 19th-century shipwreck ‘Loch Ard’, as well as the Island Archway and London Bridge are other highlights in the area. The Island Archway collapsed in 2009, highlighting the fragile and ever-changing nature of Victoria’s coastline.

5. Camperdown: When you go back to Melbourne via the picturesque inland route, you will discover this cute little town located on the world’s third largest volcanic plain. The region’s lush pastures are home to dairy farms producing mouth-watering cheeses. For an indulgent afternoon, settle in for a refreshing ale and gourmet lunch at Camperdown’s many restaurants. If time permits to try and climb to the top of Mt Leura and Mt Sugarloaf and take in 360-degree views of the coastal ranges and rolling western plains. Volcanic activity has shaped much of the surrounding landscape, leaving a legacy of cones, lakes, and craters to explore. (Pic from exploreaustralia.net.au)

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6. Colac: Set on the doorstep of the Great Otway National Park, Colac is a lively regional center close to some of Victoria’s most-loved natural attractions. The Great Otway National Park is filled with its towering trees and dense fern glades. Camp out under the stars, bushwalk to cascading waterfalls and stunning beaches, or head to the calm waters and eerie landscapes of Lake Elizabeth in search of the elusive platypus.

Enjoy a little retail therapy while wandering the streets of Colac. Browse country gift shops and specialty stores, stock up at community markets and cool off in the beautiful botanic gardens. Hit the road and sample the region’s best fresh produce, wines, beers and gourmet treats along the Otway Harvest Trail.

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7. The Drive itself: Driving on the great ocean road is truly an experience in itself. Lined by lush hills on one side and the turquoise ocean on the other with gently meandering roads and the cool breeze; it could hardly get better. Take a look at the video and see for yourself. It surely is one of those places where the drive itself is the destination!

 

 

 

Practical Tips and info:

  1. You need an English language license to hire a car here. My Indian license worked just fine
  2. Many people try to drive all along the road in one day, especially day-trippers coming from Melbourne. Of course, it’s possible, but this way you’ll miss most of the fabulous highlights
  3. Plan to spend three or four days doing the drive – this will cut out a lot of extended time behind the wheel and give you the hours to linger wherever you feel the urge
  4. The Great Ocean Road is not only made for driving. You should definitely take some walks during your trip. Of course, walking on the main road isn’t the smartest idea, but luckily there’s a variety of paths in the surroundings.
  5. All along the road, you’ll find plenty of hotels, but most of them are located in Torquay, Lorne, and Apollo Bay. For more of an authentic experience, stop in some small villages. Keep in mind it’s a famous route and it’s better to book a place in advance, especially if you’re going to travel during the high season.
  6. Since almost everything is by the water, it does get very windy so bring a jacket definitely!
  7. Australia Visa for Indians: Indians need a visa to get into Australia. I applied through VFS Global. It was pretty straightforward.
  8. What I Saw: Mad Max, the 1979 version was shot on the great ocean roads. MV5BMTM4Mjg5ODEzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDc3NDk0NA@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_ You do get glimpses of the vast expanses of the countryside all through the movie (YouTube link).
  9. What I Read: Seeking stories of Australia’s Great Ocean Road, a young writer stumbles across a manual from a minor player in the road’s history, FB Herschell. It is a volume unremarkable in every way, save for the surprising portrait of its author that can be read between its lines: a vision of a man who writes with uncanny poetry about sand. And as he continues to mine the archive of FB Herschell – engineer, historian, philosopher – it is not the subject, but the man who begins to fascinate. A man whose private revolution among the streets of Paris in May 1968 begins to change the way he views life, love, and the coastal landscape into which he was born…9781760552145

 

 

 

 

Luxor: Valleys, Hot air Balloons & the Nile

Every traveler has the Pyramids on his bucket list. But I actually found the visit to Luxor more fulfilling than the Giza Pyramids. Don’t get me wrong, the Pyramids are awesome for its sheer scale of human achievement, but that also shows what Luxor has to offer that can beat the Pyramids at its own game.

Luxor is and should be an unmissable part of anyone’s visit to Egypt and is definitely one of the great landmarks in Egypt. From the cursed tomb of Tutankhamun, in the dramatic Valley of the Kings at Thebes, which is a must for all intrepid travellers. Luxor is also home to the biggest temple in Egypt, the vast Karnak Temple complex that holds the Great Temple within its walls all adjacent to a bustling city souk.

The highlight of our trip was over the ruins of Thebes in a hot-air balloon. Another one was a trip down the Nile in a hired felucca for a river-view of Luxor and the ancient ruins. And if you want a taste of “real” Egyptian life sneak off into one of Luxor’s souks – try to get away from the touristy areas and lose yourself in the bustle, odors, and colors of Egyptian street life.

The must-see list that you see as you scroll down is populated by such masterpieces that even having one in your city would feel like a dream. And that would surely spike up your city’s tourist census:) But we can only dream of such monuments. The Egyptians are blessed with an abundance of such wonders.

Must See and Dos in Luxor:

1. Queens Temple of Hatshepsut: Hatshepsut was the daughter of Thutmose I (1520-1492 BCE) by his Great Wife Ahmose. Thutmose I also fathered Thutmose II (1492-1479 BCE) by his secondary wife Mutnofret. In keeping with Egyptian royal tradition, Thutmose II was married to Hatshepsut at some point before she was 20 years old. During this same time, Hatshepsut was elevated to the position of God’s Wife of Amun, the highest honor a woman could attain in Egypt after the position of queen and one which would become increasingly political and important. She commissioned her mortuary temple at some point soon after coming to power in 1479 BCE and had it designed to tell the story of her life and reign and surpass any other in elegance and grandeur. The temple was designed by Hatshepsut’s steward and confidante Senenmut, who was also tutor to Neferu-Ra and, possibly, Hatshepsut’s lover. Senenmut modeled it carefully on that of Mentuhotep II but took every aspect of the earlier building and made it larger, longer, and more elaborate. Mentuhotep II’s temple featured a large stone ramp from the first courtyard to the second level; Hatshepsut’s second level was reached by a much longer and even more elaborate ramp one reached by passing through lush gardens and an elaborate entrance pylon flanked by towering obelisks. All said and read, this should be the first on your long list in Luxor!

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2. Valley of the Kings: The west bank of Luxor had been the site of royal burials since around 2100 BC, but it was the pharaohs of the New Kingdom period (1550–1069 BC) who chose this isolated valley dominated by the pyramid-shaped mountain peak of Al Qurn (The Horn). Once called the Great Necropolis of Millions of Years of Pharaoh, or the Place of Truth, the Valley of the Kings has 63 magnificent royal tombs.

The tombs have suffered greatly from treasure hunters, floods and, in recent years, mass tourism: carbon dioxide, friction and the humidity produced by the average 2.8g of sweat left by each visitor have affected the reliefs and the stability of paintings that were made on plaster laid over limestone. The Department of Antiquities has installed dehumidifiers and glass screens in the worst-affected tombs. They have also introduced a rotation system: a limited number of tombs are open to the public at any one time. The entry ticket gains access to three tombs, with extra tickets to see the tombs of Ay, Tutankhamun, Seti I and Ramses VI.

The underground tombs were also well stocked with all the material goods a ruler might need in the next world. Treasures—like the golden masks found with King Tut—are dazzling, but the tombs also contained the more mundane. Photography inside the tombs is strictly forbidden!

3. Karnak Temple: The Karnak Temple is a massive temple complex to which dozens of pharaohs added their own constructions. The area was in constant development and use between the Middle Kingdom (2080–1640 B.C.) and the early Christian period. The immense size of the complex, as well as its various architectural, artistic, and linguistic details,  make it an invaluable historical site and resource for understanding the evolution of ancient Egypt, and thus its conservation is critical. Because of its long history of construction and functionality, the gods worshipped at Karnak range from some of the earliest Egyptian deities to some of the latest, thus offering an impressive presentation of ancient Egyptian religious practices and beliefs. Go at the sunset with the orange hue. It’s truly dazzling. Read more here.. karnak-Temple-1024x685

4. Luxor Temple: The temple of Luxor is situated on the east bank of the River Nile in the town of Luxor (Thebes). The temple is dedicated to Amun, Mut, and Khonsu and was the focus of one of the most important religious festivals in ancient Egypt – the annual Opet Festival. During this festival the cult statues of Amun, Mut and Khonsu would travel from Karnak to Luxor. As a result, the temple is not aligned to the river (as is more usual) but to the temple complex at Karnak. It is also proposed by some that the temple was in fact dedicated to the royal ka, which was symbolically joined to the living king during the Opet festival. Thus the Luxor Temple was a shrine of the king’s cult and not just to the Theban god Amun and his family. The original part of the Temple of Luxor consisted of a large peristyle court and a complex of halls and chambers beyond. In one hall is a granite shrine of Alexander the Great.

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5. Luxor Museum: This wonderful museum has a well-chosen and brilliantly displayed and explained collection of antiquities dating from the end of the Old Kingdom right through to the Mamluk period, mostly gathered from the Theban temples and necropolis. The ticket price puts off many, but don’t let that stop you: this is one of the most rewarding sights in Luxor and one of the best museums in Egypt.

Among the items on display are grave goods from the tomb of the 18th dynasty pharaoh Tutankhamun and a collection of 26 New Kingdom statues that were found buried in the Luxor statue cache in the nearby Luxor Temple in 1989. The royal mummies of two pharaohs – Ahmose I and Ramesses I – were also put on display in the Luxor Museum in March 2004, as part of the new extension to the museum, which includes a small visitor centre. A major exhibit is a reconstruction of one of the walls of Akhenaten’s temple at Karnak. One of the featured items in the collection is a calcite double statue of the crocodile god Sobek and the 18th Dynasty pharaoh Amenhotep III.

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6. Valley of the Queens: The tombs in the Valley of the Queens mostly belong to the 19th and 20th dynasties. A total of almost 80 tombs are now known, most of them excavated by an Italian expedition led by E. Schiaparelli between 1903 and 1905. Many of the tombs are unfinished and without decoration, resembling mere caves in the rocks. There are few incised inscriptions or reliefs, with much of the decoration consisting of paintings on stucco. Unfortunately, most of the tombs are closed to the public at the moment. The Valley of the Queens is most famous for the Tomb of Queen Nefertari, which has been closed for several years because of preservation issues. The best open tombs in the area are the Tomb of Prince Amen-her-khopshef, a son of Ramses III, which contains well-preserved colors on its wall paintings, and the Tomb of Titi.

7. Hot air Balloon ride over the open air museum and the Nile: Every morning the sky over the Nile and the valleys gets full of hot-air balloons (it’s a long-established tradition for visitors to drift over the Nile in a balloon). Known as one of the most popular places in the world for balloon rides, attracting enthusiasts and travelers year round for the experience, Luxor features spectacular surrealistic landscapes and breath-taking views, making it a dream destination for photographers. Where else can you get panoramic views of the valleys with the huge entrances and pillars on one side and the meandering Nile o the other with teh sun reflecting off of it!

Though it’s listed a number 7, this was our most favorite experience in Luxor!

8. Tombs of the Nobles: If you haven’t had your fill of tombs in the Valley of the Kings then make a beeline for the Tombs of the Nobles, which may be less famed, but actually include much better-preserved examples of tomb paintings. The site contains around 400 tombs of various dignitaries that date roughly from the 6th dynasty right up to the Ptolemaic era. The tomb paintings here aren’t so concerned with guiding the dead into the afterlife; instead, they showcase scenes from Egyptian daily life. In particular, the Tomb of Khonsu, Tomb of Benia, Tomb of Menna, and Tomb of Nakht are home to some of Egypt’s most vivid and lively tomb paintings.

Of all the tombs here, the Tomb of Nakht (an official and priest of Amun in the 18th dynasty) is the one to choose if you’re short of time. Only the first chamber has paintings but all are excellently preserved. Abydos has a special place in the sacred landscape of ancient Egypt, as it was believed to be the place where Osiris was buried. Thus, Abydos was an important cult centre for Osiris. A number of temples dedicated to Osiris, all of which were located in one area, were built prior to the reign of Seti. The Temple of Seti, however, was built on new ground to the south of the said temples. Seti’s temple was built mainly of limestone, though parts of it were built in sandstone. Although work began under Seti, the temple was only completed during the reign of his son, Ramesses II. This is visible in some of the temple’s reliefs depicting Ramesses slaying Asiatics and worshipping Osiris

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9. Mortuary Temple of Seti: Abydos has a special place in the sacred landscape of ancient Egypt, as it was believed to be the place where Osiris was buried. Thus, Abydos was an important cult centre for Osiris. A number of temples dedicated to Osiris, all of which were located in one area, were built prior to the reign of Seti. The Temple of Seti, however, was built on new ground to the south of the said temples. Seti’s temple was built mainly of limestone, though parts of it were built in sandstone. Although work began under Seti, the temple was only completed during the reign of his son, Ramesses II. This is visible in some of the temple’s reliefs depicting Ramesses slaying Asiatics and worshipping Osiris. Its a perfect day trip from Luxor.

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Practical Tips and info:

  1. Pack light cottons for the day. A woolly or fleece for the evening if you are in Luxor between November and March
  2. It can get hot all year round. Dehydration is a health risk. Always carry plenty of water.
  3. Start getting out of the hotels early to avoid the crowds and the sun
  4. Baksheesh(tips) and self-declared guides are an ever-present irritant all over Luxor, just like Giza.
  5. Bargaining is a way of life here.
  6. Do try ‘Karkade’ juice that’s made from dried hibiscus flowers. images (1)Its very cooling and available in many places. Do take the dried flowers home. They make a good souvenir, one that you can drink and also make cocktails with!
  7. Beware of over-tipping! Touts in Luxor have an extremely effective communication network. If you become known as a generous tipper, you will receive even more attention
  8. You can purchase a “Luxor Pass” valid for 5 days from an office near Luxor Museum or from Luxor Public Library. Its well worth it if you intend to visit more than three sites.
  9. Students with ISIC cards get huge discounts on entry tickets.
  10. Enquire around before booking hot air balloon rides. We had in our group who paid for the same ride anywhere from 30 to 100USD. All of us were in the same basket no less!
  11. There are many good resorts and hotels here. We stayed at Maritim Jolie Ville Kings Island. It’s actually an island in the Nile. How cool is that? Every evening you can catch a boat ride from their jetty after a hard day of walking. It surely was one of the best ones I had been to, ever!

  12. Visa: Most nationals need a pre-approved visa to get to Egypt (Embassy website)
  13. Egypt Visa for Indians: Indias need a pre-approved visa and their embassy in India is not very helpful nor are their websites. I did mine through a travel agent and it cost me INR 4500 and 10 days time.
  14. What I Read: This gem of a book takes you deeper into the myths and customs of the ancient Egypt. 417w1ZlVDKLAll the while giving a different perspectives into the detail and scale of things in Luxor. Well worth a read. (Amazon link)
  15. What I Saw: The Spy Who Loved Me was shot a bit in the Karnak temple. Do also watch ‘Valley of the Kings’ that was extensively shot here.

Luxembourg: Casemates, Museums and Corniche walks

I thought it would be a dull city filled with banks. But leave your doubts aside as you enter this uber-chic city to discover not so well hidden gems! (Featured pic: christophevanbiesen)

Luxembourg City’s strategic location, on cliffs overlooking the Alzette river, encouraged each occupier to add more jewels along the banks and fortify it further. Today you can tour the ramparts around the pedestrianized old town, which offer stunning views over the lower town, or Grund. Once the poor part of the city, this is now a popular restaurant quarter with its narrow medieval streets. Walking the embankments you will pass the cathedral and the history museum cleverly converted from four old town houses and given a glass front.

Quite famously, Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in the world and spans an area of just 1,650 square kilometers. With a population of 500,000 residents it is a twentieth of the city I live in; Bangalore. But its size actually makes it a great place to visit as many of the main attractions are concentrated in one place and all can be reached on foot. The center of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right and many of the top sights in Luxembourg can be found here.

Its one of those places where the modern and historic merge seamlessly together. Do try to spend more than a couple of days here and let it unravel slowly all that it has to offer. You will not regret your extended stay!

Must See and Must dos in Luxembourg

  1. Wander around the Old Town of Luxembourg: 231

The first things we did in the snow is walking around the ramparts overlooking the old city and the Alzette river. The amalgamation of all the beige, dark gray and white of the snow is purely mesmerizing. And as it turned dark and the lights came it looked like a Disneyland with those tall sharp coned towers! That’s one walk that will also give you a taste of the cute little city.

2. Casemates du Bock: In 963, Count Siegfried built a fortified castle on the Bock promontory. Every ruler eventually turned the city into one of the most powerful emplacements in the world, the “Gibraltar of the North”. Its defenses were bolstered by three fortified rings with 24 forts, 16 other strong defensive works and a unique 23 km long network of casemates: these could not only shelter thousands of soldiers and their horses, but also housed workshops, kitchens, bakeries, slaughter-houses etc. In 1875, the superstructure of the Bock, a tremendous construction, was razed. However, it proved to be impossible to blow up the casemates, without also demolishing part of the city, so the entrances and the key connecting galleries were sealed. In spite of this, 17 kilometres of tunnels remain, often on different levels and tremendous stairways penetrate up to 40 metres inside the rock face. In 1994 UNESCO listed them as World Heritage.  4220-resize-1000x1000x8024272-resize-1000x1000x80

3. MUDAM-Museum of Modern Art Grand-Duc Jean: It is located on the Kirchberg-Plateau, between the Place de l’Europe and the Old Town of Luxembourg, invites the public to an exploration of contemporary art. The public and exhibition spaces are laid out on three levels over 6.000 m2. The museum gives artists and designers “carte blanche” to invade the museum and offer interpretations of its spaces: the traditional exhibition spaces, but also the intermediary ones (the reception area, the café, the shop, the auditorium, …), by proposing original creations. The collection counts more than 200 works by more than 100 artists. 2113-resize-1000x600x90

4. Notre Dame Cathedral: The church is a noteworthy example of late gothic architecture; however, it also has many Renaissance elements and adornments. At the end of the 18th century, the church received the miraculous image of the Maria Consolatrix Afflictorum, the patron saint of both the city and the nation. The cathedral “Notre-Dame” of Luxembourg was built between 1613 and 1621 by the Jesuits to serve as a church to their college (now the National Library).

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5. National Museum of History and Art:  The museum has a large archaeological collection, particularly of objects discovered during the various excavations: sarcophaguses, tools, coins, jewels, grave markers, etc. the most outstanding objects being found in the excavations at Dalheim (Ricciacus) and Titelberg. The visual arts section of this museum in the capital offers the possibility of admiring a wide range of Luxembourgish painting from the 18th to the 20th century, including the post-impressionist watercolours of Sosthène Weis, paintings by Joseph Kutter, Dominique Lang, Eugène Mousset, Jean-Pierre Beckius, Nico Klopp and Auguste Trémont as well as sculptures by Auguste Trémont and Lucien Wercollier. Oddly enough, my four-year-old son enjoyed it a lot. Wonder why! 12

6. Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin: The Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin was originally a Jesuit church, the foundation stone of which was laid in 1613. It is a remarkable instance of late Gothic style, revealing various components and ornaments inspired by Renaissance style. At the end of the 18th century it adopted the picture of the Lady Comforter of the Afflicted, who had the power to work miracles, and who is the patron saint of the city and the country. 50 years later it was consecrated Saint Mary’s church and in 1870 Pope Pius IX dedicated the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin. It also acts as the starting point for many walking tours. 1 (1)

7. Grand Ducal Palace: Just a short walk from the cathedral is this beautiful palace. As the original residence of the Grand Duke and the royal family, Palais Grand-Ducal in Luxembourg City is a spectacular piece of architecture, built in the 16th Century during the Flemish Renaissance. The palace’s interior design appears to be an exquisite combination of a variety of styles; a delicate interplay between romantic and medieval-gothic styles and industrial light designs by the German industrial designer, Ingo Maurer. I just found it odd, coming from India that there were all of two security guards! Makes me think…galerie-palais-03

There are more things to see and do. Like the Kirchberg district for modernity and contemporary art, many castles strewn all over the country, the Passerelle Viaduct with its panoramic views, the contemporary Philharmonic and the Chateaus.

Practical Tips and info:

  1. Luxembourg is part of the Schengen agreement for Visa purposes.
  2. Get comfy shoes along. You will see most of the places by foot.
  3. The three official languages are French, German and Luxembourgish. But you will get by in English.
  4. The Luxembourg Card: It allows you to visit 60 tourist attractions in the four corners of the country free of charge, and that, of course, includes Luxembourg City. From the ‘Bock Casemates’ to Vianden castle, via photographer Edward Steichen’s ‘The Bitter Years’ exhibition in Dudelange, the fairy park in Bettembourg and the public pool in Redange-sur-Attert, the choices are irresistible.Moreover, the card allows you to get reduced entry fees to dozens of exceptional visits, such as the castle tour, a trip on the Moselle river with the M.S. Marie-Astrid or entry to the Adventure Park Indian Forest in Vianden. Check their website for more.
  5. Luxembourg’s Monarchs are not Queens and Kings; instead, they are Dukes and Duchesses – hence why Luxembourg is referred to a Grand Duchy (its the only remaining one in the world).
  6. The city has free wifi everywhere so you won’t have to worry about being stranded without internet when you visit the city.
  7. A significant part of the city’s parks and suburban areas are privately owned so you can walk through them only in case you have permission from the owner. Before making a walk or a ride to the city’s suburbs, you should check with your guide or hotel employee whether this place belongs to someone.
  8. The locals may seem to be a little reserved, but they are pretty friendly to travelers and are will generally help with a smile.
  9. Visa for Indians: As a part of the Schengen countries; you will need a pre-approved visa to get in. I used VFS global. Takes about a week.
  10. What I Read: Rachel is a small village girl and her quest for adventure leads her to a tiny village on the banks of the Mosel River in Luxembourg. Her paradise was once a meeting place for the Resistance during WWII. This is a thoroughly gripping tale lending the reader insights into the life of the local during the torrid times. Amazon link…

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10. What I Saw: One of the reasons why Luxembourg climbed up my list was this show. This show about an American spy is set in Luxembourg and literally takes you to most places in the city. All set in a dark tone, its gripping.

patriot-amazon-renewed-season-2-e1492532142907

 

 

Amsterdam: Cycles, Canals & Cannabis

Amsterdam is truly a prime example of resourcefulness and lateral thinking. Space has always been at a premium in Amsterdam, where much of the land has been reclaimed from the sea.
But the city turned this to her advantage:
Now, Amsterdam’s canals soothe rather than imprison or mess up the city. They provide its order, its calm and its character. (Featured pic courtesy: baltana.com)
That calm is regularly disturbed by the trill of bicycle bells, but as long as you give the cyclists a wide berth, it’s the perfect city for pedestrians.
You haven’t been to Amsterdam if you haven’t had at least one near collision with a cycle.
Where else can you see coffee shops that serve cannabis, legalized prostitution that’s kinda in your face, canals that serve as highways, a train station that’s as much a museum, functional, yet characteristic windmills, and beer?  Ya, they do have a knack for good beer. Just go to one of the many breweries and you will know. No wonder this was the birthplace of Heineken that beat the Eiffel tower in a competition as the most innovative.
This is a city that has so many things to do that every ‘to-do’ list seems woefully incomplete. But these are what I found completely unmissable.

Must see and Must dos in Amsterdam

1. Visit the surreal Rijksmuseum: The Rijksmuseum first opened its doors in 1800 under the name ‘Nationale Kunstgalerij’. At the time, it was housed in Huis ten Bosch in The Hague. The collection mainly comprised paintings and historical objects. In 1808, the museum moved to the new capital city of Amsterdam, where it was based in the Royal Palace on Dam Square. After King Willem, I’s accession to the throne, the paintings, and national print collection was moved to the Trippenhuis on Kloveniersburgwal, while the other objects were returned to The Hague. The current building was put into use in 1885. The Netherlands Museum for History and Art based in The Hague moved into the same premises, forming what would later become the departments of Dutch History and Sculpture & Applied Art.

The building was thoroughly modernized, while at the same time restoring more of Cuypers original interior designs: the Rijksmuseum has dubbed the venture ‘Verder met Cuypers.  The Rijksmuseum is now a dazzling new museum able to satisfy the needs of its 21st-century visitors! The collection includes jaw-dropping paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and countless more Dutch greats. Its an absolute must anyway you look at this city!

Read more here…

2. Take a Walking or Cycling tour: Very few places in the world can claim to have such amazing sights cramped in such close quarters that a walking tour or a cycling tour does more than just justification. Ths would surely be one of the highlights if your tour with the great insights that come along. We took a tour with these guys…26994108_1569399436430530_3784105813668583498_nThese guys were pretty good. They took us around the Dam square (which is also the starting point) and covered Anne Frank house, the Begijnhof Convent, Multatuli’s giant head, the Jewish Quarter with snippets about the history, coffee shops and prostitution in Amsterdam. All in all, it was pretty interesting the cold notwithstanding (we were here in January)!3. Giethoorn: I haven’t been to Venice, but they say Giethoorn is more peaceful and picturesque than Venice. Which is a pretty big statement to live up to. Giethoorn is at the center of Overijssel’s canal system. The little village is so dependent on its waterways, many of the houses cannot be reached by road. When the postman delivers the mail he travels by boat. Giethoorn always makes it into most Europe bucket lists due to its pure individuality.

Giethoorn’s name originates from the first inhabitants’ discovery of hundreds of goat horns (gietehorens) in the marshland, remnants of a 10th-century flood. Its just a few hours drive from Amsterdam and could well be the highlight of your trip. This place is another one for fairy tales. The best way to explore Giethoorn and the myriad of canals is obviously by joining a canal cruise. Local skippers will be able to guide you through the place and show you the most important places in this quiet village. We took a guided tour and it was as awesome as pleasant.

4. Windmills: For centuries, windmills have helped the Dutch fight water shortages so it is little wonder that they were among the first to develop windmill technology. In the glory days, the Netherlands boasted more than 10,000 windmills and today around 1,000 still stand. Many of the remaining mills are open to the public and a couple has even been transformed into homes, but these are not museums. Many are functional and a sight to behold.1 (2)There are many of them that you can see. We visited the ones at Zaanse Schans at dusk and it was pure delight especially for the little one. You will see a few in the city too. Try and check out the wonderful brewery in a windmill. The Brouwerij ‘t is not just for beer connoisseurs but its a visit just by itself. You cant claim to have had a beer under a windmill anywhere else. Naamloos5De-Gooyer-Windmill

5. Keukenhof Gardens: The Keukenhof in Lisse is Europe’s largest flower garden! It is the most beautiful spring garden in the world. The Keukenhof park is almost 32 hectares filled with 7 million tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils. We couldn’t see it for ourselves as it was closed during our visit. here are a few pictures from when my brother traveled there. No more words needed. Just scroll down!

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6. Coffee shops: Don’t let the broad term ‘coffee shop’ take you by surprise. From psychedelic to hipster-ish but also from very local ones to more touristic places, each of Amsterdam coffeeshops has its own atmosphere. You will surely find one that suits you perfectly. They are not only to smoke weed. They are real social places where you can easily meet people and spend some good times with friends. Watching TV, playing chess or card games and much more can be done here. And always in a very relaxing way.

Due to the allowance of cannabis consumption, the Netherlands is very well reputed to be a very liberal country. This is true but you should be aware of the Dutch law and the rules inside a coffee shop. The menu too gets really confusing. Just ask the bartender if unsure.

easy-times-coffeeshop-amsterdam-2017-december

7. Other museums: Though Rijks is the trump card; there are a lot more museum all located conveniently within cycling distance. Do check out Museumplein for a dedicated Van Gogh museum, Stedelijk museum of modern art, FOAM photography museum and of course the Anne Frank house. I felt the Anne Frank house to be kinda over-rated unless you are a huge fan of the book. But its worth a look if you have time to spare.

8. Vondelpark: It’s not just a park. Its a huge island of completely serene greenery with ponds, play areas, swans and more. Ideal for an afternoon brunch. Take that wine along. Websitepond-tulips-vondelpark-amsterdam-347267199. Heineken Experience: The jury is out if it should be on this list. But Heineken experience, a boat tour, and the ADAM tower is a decent package. It’s well worth the money. We got three free beers each with the tour and they do work into making the tour a full experience. However, it is quite superficial if you are looking for something more in depth. The boat tour was relaxing but not a lot of information was given about the city during the trip. The tower was worth checking out and there is a free ferry to get back across. The trip is one way from the Heineken experience to the tower or vice versa. Website

I’m pretty sure I missed a few. But you will need to spare a week just in the city to see more. Guess its worth it too!

Practical Tips:

  1. Amsterdam accommodation has always been in short supply. Some of the best hotels in Amsterdam cluster around particular districts: the Museum Quarter and the Canals district have plenty, whereas the Pijp and Jordaan, alas, contain only a few hotels. A general rule of thumb has been to avoid those Amsterdam hotels near Central Station, but this may soon become a thing of the past: see the arrival of the swanky new art’otel just across the tracks. The interiors are unmissably whacky in most places.
  2. The economy hotel sector has been just as creative. After all, it’s had to face some fierce competition from the likes of Airbnb and Couchsurfing which both proved popular in this town where its residents are both relaxed and hospitable
  3. We stayed at Eden Hotel Hampshire. It was pretty good and centrally locatedUnlike elsewhere in the Netherlands, it is not necessary to present a certificate of residence in order to be able to enter a coffee shop. The locals have a relaxed attitude to soft drugs, but smoking isn’t accepted everywhere, so use discretion. Outside of Amsterdam, public consumption of cannabis is largely unacceptable.
  4. Foreigners found with harder drugs should expect to face prosecution from the authorities.
  5. Indian Consulate: Address: Buitenrustweg 2, 2517 KD The HagueTelephone Numbers: 070-3469771 (General), 070-3469771 Extn : 208/211/213 (Consular Section) Telefax Numbers: 070-3617072
  6. Service charges are included in hotel, taxi, bar, café and restaurant bills. However, it’s polite to round up to the closest euro for small bills or the nearest five for larger sums, although tipping 10 percent is becoming more common (leave the extra in change rather than filling in the credit card slip). In taxis, most people tip 10 percent.
  7. Visa for Indians: As a part of the Schengen countries; you will need a pre-approved visa to get in. I used VFS global. Takes about a week.
  8. Whether you’re visiting for the great shops and markets, stunning music and nightlife or the city’s best restaurants, finding your way around Amsterdam is very easy: there are efficient, cheap and integrated trams, metros and buses, and in the centre, most places can be reached on foot. Locals tend to get around by bike, and there are also boats and water taxis. Public transport provision for those with disabilities, however, is dire.
  9. An OV-chipkaart (‘chip card’) system operates across trams, buses and metros. An OV-chipkaart has a one-time cost of €7.50 and can be purchased at ticket vending machines at stations, various tobacco specialty shops, at many supermarkets and at GVB Tickets & Info. The card is valid for four to five years. You can load the card in the ticket vending machine, paying with cash or a cash card, and use it immediately. You can also load the card in a yellow add value machine you’ll find at tobacco specialty shops and various other shops. An unlimited 24-hour chip cards for one day cost €7.50. You can also buy unlimited 48-, 72-, 96-, 120-, 144- and 168-hour cards (ranging from €12 to €32). With any type of OV-chipkaart, you have to check in or check out when boarding or disembarking a tram, bus or metro, using the card readers in the trams and buses, at the entryway to metro stations or on the metro platform. Hold your card in front of the reader and wait for a beep and green light to flash. Follow the same procedure on the way out.
  10. An alternative to the OV-chipkaart is the I Amsterdam City Card, which includes unlimited use of the public transport system and free entrance to 38 museums and attractions. It can be purchased it at several shops and newsagents across Amsterdam, or at one of the Amsterdam Tourist Offices. Cost: €42 (24 hours), €52 (48 hours) or €62 72 hours). Don’t even think about travelling without a ticket: inspectors make regular checks, and passengers without tickets are hit with €35 on-the-spot fines. The Amsterdam city pass is absolutely worth it
  11. Most taxis are operated by the central office TCA. They’re hard to hail on the street, but ranks are found around the city; most central are the ones at Centraal Station, by the bus station at the junction of Kinkerstraat and Marnixstraat, on Rembrandtplein and Leidseplein. Cabs can be ordered on 777 7777.Getting a taxi in Amsterdam is relatively straightforward, but check that the meter starts at the minimum charge (€2.80). Even short journeys are expensive: it costs €2.03 per kilometer) and ask the rough cost of the journey before setting out. You can also ask for a flat rate. If you feel as though you have been ripped off (cases are relatively rare), ask for a receipt and contact the TCA (650 6506, 24 hours) or the police.
  12. Uber works well here too!
  13. To drive a car in the Netherlands, you need a valid international driving license and many car hire firms to favour photocard licenses. Car hiring and driving are great in the whole country. There are well posted English signs everywhere.
  14. Parking is a nightmare: the center is metered from 9am until at least 7pm (midnight in many places), setting you back up to €5 an hour; ticketing is very common. Parking passes for daytime (9am-7pm, €30; 24 hours, €45) and weekly passes (9am-7pm, €180; 24 hours, €270) can be bought at Cition service points or online via www.cition.nl or at parking ticket machines (day passes only). Bear in mind that after controlled hours, parking at meters across the city is completely free, and prices can vary between neighborhoods.
  15. Always, always walk on the sidewalk and avoid the bike lines. They get preference everywhere.
  16. While biking, be on the right side of the street. Stay on the right as possible to ensure that others can pass you.
  17. Don’t take photos in the red light areas.
  18. Tap water is perfectly drinkable
  19. Download an offline google map for better navigation
  20. Everyone speaks English fluently. So you are good there
  21. Try and allow at least ten days for Netherlands 
  22. Check this for an inspirational three day Amsterdam itinerary.
  23. In spite of all these Amsterdam can actually be a pretty kid friendly destination.
  24. For teenagers, there much more to do here.
  25. What I Read: The Diary of a young girl is a simple yet seminal work by Anne Frank that’s an absolute must. 41CxgI8GeqL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_
  26. What I Saw: The movie Soldier of Orange is a story is based on the autobiographical book Soldaat van Oranje by Erik Hazelhoff Roelfzema. Its takes you into surreal Europe that it was during the World War II. 220px-SoldierOfOrange.jpg

Abu Dhabi: Ferraris, Desert Dinners & Pearls

This is another guest post by Neha Singh.

Abu Dhabi has never been content to sit back and be the capital of the United Arab Emirates. No – rather, it’s an ambitious city brimming with youthful energy to expand and diversify and be known as the capital of entertainment, and based on what we know now, the capital of Romance too! So what does Abu Dhabi have that’ll get your hearts racing? How about romantic desert safaris just the two of you, sleeping blissfully under the stars on a dark dune? How about hot air balloon rides over the desert and city, holding hands? There are any number of romantic things to do in Abu Dhabi and we’re only just getting started.

1. Desert Dinner And Romantic Night
How about an ultra-swanky dinner for two in the middle of the Empty Quarter desert? A dinner attended by your private butler, set amidst majestic rolling dunes under a starry sky is just the ticket to bring you both closer together. Indulge in decadent Arabic food just for the two of you, and spend the night under the starsQasr Al Sarab

2. Enjoy Tea With A Fabulous View
How about high tea at the Jumeirah at Etihad Towers followed by the chance to enjoy uninterrupted views of the Abu Dhabi skyline and the surrounding waters at Observation Deck at 300? Dip into elegant sandwiches and decadent chocolate cakes and get ready for the wonderful 360-degree views of Abu Dhabi from 300 feet into the sky, the city’s highest vantage point. This is one of the most romantic things to do in Abu Dhabi so don’t miss it! high tea at Etihad Towers

3. Go Diving For Pearls!
Only a few remnants of Abu Dhabi’s erstwhile pearl-diving industry survives now, but you can dive for your own pearls on a mangrove tour focussed on finding pearls. Experience this bit of dying Emirati heritage from a traditional Arabic pearling dhow. You will be accompanied by a dive guide, who’ll take you to the best places to find great pearls. Your guide will also demonstrate how to open oysters! Btw, any pearls you find are yours to keep.

4. Picnic On The Corniche
Abu Dhabi isn’t exactly cheap when it comes to vacationing. However, we don’t want you to feel that celebrating love in the UAE can be expensive. So here’s a golden one – how about a totally free, wonderful walk along and picnic on Abu Dhabi’s famous picturesque seafront boardwalk, the Corniche? A lovely sunset stroll on the Corniche, gazing alternatively at the city’s fabulous landmarks and out over the sea and the many guarded beaches is so much fun. There are picnicking areas and plenty of private park areas where you can glean some alone time. Enjoy the manicured beaches and separate pedestrian and cycle paths on this eight kilometre stretch. Abu Dhabi Corniche

5. Enjoy Ferrari World Together!
If high-octane adrenalin rushes are what you’re after, don’t give Abu Dhabi’s Ferrari World a miss! The world’s fastest rollercoaster, Formula Rossa awaits you with its loops and screaming speeds. Also the world’s loopiest rollercoaster is here to thrill you to bits. Enjoy several rides designed to thrill, and satisfy all your wild intense G-force cravings. Enjoy a friendly go-karting game with your honey, and see who wins! Take a turn at the wheel of a real Ferrari on the race track with an instructor in tow. You’ll never want the day to end at Ferrari WorldFerrari World

6. Spend A Night At The Cinema
Going to the movies in Abu Dhabi isn’t like anywhere else. It’s all high-end at Novo Cinema, which is a 7-Star movie theatre that offers simply massive reclining chairs, blankets, pillows and a fantastic dining menu on top of it! This theatre literally reinvents the concept of the ‘dinner and a movie’ date. Alternatively, grab seats at Vox Cinemas, Theatre by Rhodes which features food by Chef Gary Rhodes who is Michelin-starred. What’s more, your tickets allow you access to a personal waiter, an exclusive lounge and several other luxuries. novo cinema abu dhabi

7. Fly High!
If you’re into flying, here’s another one for you. How about flying over the Sir Bani Yas Island, a conservation reserve that has a vast array of wildlife including hyenas, cheetahs, flamingos and giraffes. For 50 full minutes, you will enjoy flying over the protected island, enjoy views of the wonderful Arabian Gulf on one side and the wildlife on the other. It doesn’t end there – after you land, you can enjoy a four-wheel drive wildlife tour followed by a three-course lunch. Sir Bani Yas Island

8. Sunset Sail
There’s something about sunsets and boats that just spell romance. So why not try a sunset sail down Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangroves? Hold hands and watch as the sun dips down over the waves and feel the cool breezes as they blow over your boat. Check out a traditional Emirati village as your sail boat passes the UAE Heritage Club, and enjoy fabulous views of the sea on all sides. If you want to make it more romantic, how about chartering the boat for a moonlight dhow cruise along Al Raha Beach? Eastern Mangroves

9. Enjoy a Hot Air Balloon Ride Over The Desert
Do you fancy floating over the majestic sand dunes of the Arabian Desert on a hot air balloon with your honey? We certainly do! So how about signing up for an early morning, sunrise hot air balloon ride over the desert, spotting gazelles and Oryx through a pair of binoculars? There’s something about being on top of everything that makes you feel a bit like a God, so enjoy every minute of it. Hot Air Balloon Dubai

10. Horseback Riding For Two
Abu Dhabi’s coastal scenery is a romantic saga of winding, paths lined with mangroves. You can explore the mangroves via kayak but here’s something even more romantic. Horseback riding for two! Share the same horse or ride two horses, but take in the blissful scenery from on top of a horse. Trot a bit, canter a bit and stop to share a delectable kiss. If you want, you can even enjoy a riding experience through the protected wildlife reserve at Abu Dhabi. horse riding abu dhabi

Conclusion
There’s no dearth of romantic things that a couple can do and enjoy in Abu Dhabi. The city is not as busy or hurried as Dubai is, and there’s plenty of opportunity to enjoy a laid-back, romantic time with each other, against the backdrop of the wonderfully-blue Arabian Gulf, the mystical red sand dunes of the desert and the pristine blue skies that barely ever see a raincloud. If all of these appeal to you, then head out to Abu Dhabi for the romantic rendezvous of your lifetime.

Singapore: Gardens, Mini Indo-China & Raffles

This is a guest post by Neha Singh. She is a full-time blogger and has contributed to a lot of blogs! Check this one out on Backpacking in Singapore!

Even though Singapore is the second-most-densely populated country, you’ll find it clean, and orderly. There’s no never-ending hustle and bustle on the streets as you’d find in Bangkok or in other busy towns. The city of Singapore has class and has definitely more than a little European charm mixed in with the Asian aspects. Everything great so far except that Singapore is definitely expensive – definitely not a backpacker-friendly country. Still, we’d like to show you how you can enjoy this expensive city on a backpacker’s budget.

  1. Check out Chinatown

Chinatown Singapore

In the long list of the ubiquitous Chinatowns in the world, Singapore’s Chinatown is the oldest and the largest. There are numerous temples to admire here, apart from traditional road-side Chinese stalls selling herbs, Chinese tea, medicines and silk. During Chinese New Year in January or February, the whole of Chinatown turns into a magical world. Chinatown has several reasonable budget accommodations and plenty of hawker food stalls selling Chinese food cheap.

2. Browse Through Little India’s Shops

Little India Singapore

You’ll find most of the city’s cheap accommodation at Little India. You can stay here and explore the temples, the shops and the eateries offering fish head curry to your heart’s content. Time stands still in Little India – olden-day stores sit right next to newer businesses. There are flower-garland vendors, stalls selling silk sarees and gold jewellery and modern hotels and shopping complexes, all in Little India. The best shopping is to be had at the 24-hour shopping mall Mustafa Centre and the open-air Tekka Centre.

3. Explore Arab Street

Arab Street Singapore

Explore the value for money eateries and the wonderful stalls that sell Arab clothing, carpets and shisha pipes. This street is a backpacker’s dream, with many decent backpacker hostels with clean, comfortable dorms. You might even get free Wi-Fi at some! Arab Street’s pubs are lively and fun at night and the street is bustling with activity during the day.

4. Bike through Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

The Bukit Timah Nature Reserve is a welcome escape from the city’s heat. It’s one of the only two primary rainforests in the world that’s located this close to a city. Trek or bicycle the more than 6 kilometres of trekking routes and spot some of the fabulous wildlife for which the forest is famed. The forest has waterfalls, lovely landscapes and over 3,000 Macaque -Japanese monkeys who’ll keep pace with you as you trek. Exploring this reserve is one of the best things to do in Singapore for the budget.

5. Check out the World’s Largest Fountain!

Worlds Largest Fountain

The World’s largest fountain is located at Suntec City, made of cast bronze. It cost the city an astounding US $6 million to build but it is a major tourist attraction in Singapore now. Suntec city is a ‘city within a city’ with 888,000 feet of shops and only shops. Go window shopping to your heart’s content and be sure to take a selfie against that fountain!

6. Trek the Southern Ridges

Southern Ridges Singapore

The Southern Ridges are actually about 9 kms of trails that connect all the parks of Southern Singapore. These trails feature a number of architecturally fabulous bridges that are Instagram worthy. There are also tree top routes that you can take across the ridges. Enjoy the best panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes from various points.

7. Visit The Chinese And Japanese Gardens

Chinese and Japanese Gardens Singapore

Situated on two artificial islands on Jurong Lake, the Chinese Gardens and the Japanese Gardens are connected by a bridge. These two tranquil gardens offer a number of lovely sights and plenty of peaceful silence. In the Chinese Garden you’ll find arched bridges, pagodas, and decorative stones attributed to the architectural style of the Imperial Sung dynasty – 969 AD to 1126 AD. The Japanese Garden is a rhapsody in lanterns, rocks, sand and water so delicately executed you’ll be hard pressed to step on any of them.

8. Check out the Singapore Zoo

Singapore Zoo

Both the Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari in a nearby rainforest are simply the best ways to squeeze some wildlife appreciation into your backpacking tour. Get up close to nocturnal creatures and enjoy the open zoo concept to the full. The Singapore Zoo houses animals from every corner of the world while the Night Safari has installed nocturnal creatures like elephants and leopards into seven geographical zones that range from the African Savannah to the Himalayas. You’ll be set back by SD33 Singapore Dollars, but you can enjoy a day and a night to the full at this attraction so it’s worth it.

9. Maxwell Road Food Hawker at Tanjong Pagar

Maxwell Road Food Hawker

Singapore is a nation of many gastronomic delights; street foods occupy a sort of cult status in Singapore. If you want to experience authentic Singaporean cuisine at really reasonable prices, try the city’s famous hawker centre, the Maxwell Road Hawker Center, which has more than 100 food stalls. Choose any stall you want and try the cuisine you choose – Malay, Indian, Chinese, and that delightful mix of cuisines that’s distinctly Singaporean. Click this link for more eating options in Singapore.

10. Admire The Supertrees At Gardens By The Bay

Gardens By The Bay

Most parts of the Gardens by the Bay Singapore are free to browse, except the conservatories and the treetop walkway. Otherwise, you can enjoy this magnificent half natural and half manmade gardens for absolutely nothing.  Wander through the Outdoor Gardens in Bay South, admiring the orchid garden and the incredible range of flowering plants. The Supertrees are simply enormous and are made of iron and branches of natural trees. They are draped with lights during the evening; don’t miss the incredible light and sound shows at 7.45pm or 8.45pm daily.

11. Explore the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve

The Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve is an ecological delight, laden with freshwater flora and fauna. If you are into wildlife, spend some quality time exploring this reserve. You might catch a sight of the rare smooth otters and the numerous rainforest birds that come there to dip their beaks. There are any number of marquees, in the reserve and they’ll keep you company while you keep your eyes peeled for rare birds.

12. Take A Free Art Tour

Public Art Space in Pan Pacific Singapore

If you’re an art lover, head to the many hotels in Singapore which have opened up their art collections to non-guests. Check out the Pan Pacific hotel’s Public Art Space for rotating exhibitions; Marina Bay Sands has several artworks in its lobby area, such as Sol LeWitt’s Arcs, Circle and Irregular Bands. Take the 30 minute tour at the Ritz-Carlton Millennia to check out the Frank Stella installations, Dale Chihuly glass blowings and the Andy Warhols near the ballroom.

13. Visit the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery

Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery

As with any Buddhist temple, entry is totally free here. Visit this Buddhist monastery in the Bishan district for its huge size (it’s the largest Buddhist temple in Singapore). There are many Halls here – the Hall of Great Strength, the Hall of Universal Brightness and so on, all impeccably designed with patterned mosaics and clean and totally serene. It’s just the refreshing environment you need after a hard day in the city.

14. Visit The Singapore Botanic Gardens

Singapore Botanic Gardens

Singapore’s Botanic Gardens occupies a huge green space at the very edge of the Orchard Road district. The stunning grounds are free to wander. If you’re keen on botany, take one of the free walking tours advertised at the Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens used to be a part of the Fort Canning Park which overlooks Singapore Central Business District. It’s a lovely place for a stroll, especially amidst the sweet smelling spice gardens.

15. Visit Singapore’s Offshore Islands

Singapores Offshore Islands

Singapore has more than 60 small offshore islands that are well worth exploring. Check out Pulau Ubin for its beauty, and Lazarus Island for its beaches.  Kusu Island is for tortoise lovers, and Sisters’ Island is actually two separate islands separated by a narrow channel. Pay a boatman a few dollars to take you over to the island of your choice (check for need of permits first) and enjoy a day of bliss, for free.

For a detailed two day itinerary, click this!

Conclusion

Even though it’s not a backpacker friendly country, Singapore has so many free attractions and activities (much more than we’re able to post here) that you’ll be really surprised. Look for more of them and make a list of activities you want to attempt while in Singapore.

Dubai: The Burj, Glitz & Desert

The UAE in general and Dubai, in particular, is full of superlatives and opposites. It is also a vibrant and exciting city, a stark contrast between Asian, Western and Middle-eastern cultures, yet all cultures also combine to make the city the dynamic place it is. The city can be described as a place where “East meets West”, reflecting the local culture’s mix of Asian roots with influences from various nationalities.

On one hand, you have soaring, neck-creaking skyscrapers and the amazing flatness of the desert lands on the other. You below poverty line Asian drivers and the uber rich Shaikhs rubbing shoulders, albeit one in front of the car and the other in the backseat. They do have a slightly odd definition for rich! You will realize when you get there!

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A trip to the heart of the Emirates is one to remember, no matter how many times you get there. As a visitor, you could not have asked for more sights to be crammed into a city, all within a fast zip by cab or subway.

Dubai is a fairly well-connected city and most of the sights can be seen in around 4 days.

Must see sights in Dubai:

  1. Burj Khalifa: This Hymenocallis flower inspired skyscraper is composed of three elements arranged around a central core. It stretches skywards for 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and with than 160 stories. Its is the tallest building in the world, tallest free-standing structure in the world, has the highest number of stories in the world, has the highest occupied floor in the world, has the highest outdoor observation deck in the world, has an elevator with the longest travel distance in the world and of course the tallest service elevator in the world. Dubai and superlatives you see! The stunning interiors were designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP and was led by award-winning designer Nada Andric.
    There are various ticketing options to choose from. Book online to skip the queues.(Website) The super fast elevator rockets up the visitors up to the observation decks in a jiffy. Make sure to swallow or your ears will get blocked. Ya, Boeing take-off style! The decks above are worth a visit just for the sprawling views. It’s especially beautiful on a sunny clear day.IMG_4557
  2. The Dubai Mall: Adjacent to the Burj is the humongous Dubai mall. Think; a mixture of all your neighborhood mall, only glitzier. Also thrown in are a Dinosaur skeleton, joy rides, and even an aquarium. Definitely a shoppers’ paradise. And as you walk around to make sure to catch a musical fountain show at the adjacent artificial lake. We saw MJ’s ‘Bad’. Just that bit made my day. Also, you can crane your necks and catch the light show on the screen that is the Burj. Stunning! Click here for more shopping tips in Dubai… And ya I know. Dinosaur in a mall!IMG_4571.JPG
  3. The Desert: What is the desert doing on the must-see list in a city filled with amazing attractions to the hilt? Well, let me explain. Firstly, it’s pretty simple to experience the desert. Just take a desert trip. These usually include hotel pick up and drop, Buffet Kebab dinner, Sand boarding, Dune bashing, falconry, Tannoura dance and Belly dancing. It feels as rustic as Dubai can get. Moreover, you get some awesome vistas on your cam. There’s no downside here!

4. Burj Al Arab: The sail-shaped silhouette of this uber luxury hotel is what made it what it is. Its ultra everything! Definitely worth a dinner’s price!burj-al-arab-588903_960_720.jpg5. Jumeirah Mosque: It is one of the rare mosques in UAE that welcomes non-Muslim. Women, however, are asked to wear a scarf when visiting. It is large enough to hold up to 1,200 worshippers, was built entirely from white stone in the medieval Fatimid tradition, with towering twin minarets framing a large central dome. When it’s lit up at dusk, the intricate artistry and true beauty are highlighted. jumeirah-mosque-dubai

6. Abu Dhabi: Always an interesting detour from Dubai, the capital of UAE has a lot going for it. Take for instance the big Sheikh Zayed Mosque with a lot of superlatives attached to it including a humongous carpet! Also check out the Ferrari world and the Qasr-al Hosn fort. Its a decent trip for a day or two. There is a good 3 day itinerary as suggested by Neil & Chandrika. Have a look!

You can alos do a day trip to Oman as this blogger suggested!imageFerrari-World-Abu-Dhabi023_3865_01_b

Tips when visiting UAE:

  1. Indian travellers do get an easy visa if coming in via the Emirates. Or else apply for a pre-approved visa beforehand. (Website)
  2. There are no strict currency regulations and foreign currency is easily exchanged in the UAE. The dirham is the official currency of the UAE. The prefix is written as AED or Dh. Check exchange rates here (Link)
  3. The Metro can zip you to the airport without sitting in traffic, paying for parking, or hiring a taxi—exit the car, down the escalator, and you’re practically at the check-in counter. very convenient!

  4. 517MQOEQjeL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_4. What I read: In ‘The Sand Fish’ the story centres around 17-year-old Noora, a Bedouin living in the mountains. Her mother has recently died and her father gone mad. Her younger brother marries her off to a wealthy pearl merchant she has never met. Living a long sea voyage away from her ancestral home, Noura finds herself the third wife of a man much older than her father. When she learns that none of the other wives have given him children, it becomes clear what Noura’s purpose is.
    Its a great detour from most books that focus on its urban achievements. (Amazon link)

5. What I Saw: A privileged young male Arab at odds with his cultural identity and his less fortunate street smart friend; a disillusioned Indian taxi driver MV5BMTU0NTQzNTUyOV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQ2NzcwMw@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL__QL50and a former Romanian ballet dancer now working as a flight attendant and searching for love and companionship … these individuals all live in Dubai and their lives are about to collide for better or for worse in a city where ambition. Nice gripping tale! (IMDB)

6. The UAE is extremely safe for women travelers, nevertheless, women traveling alone are a novelty and you may find yourself at the focus of unwanted attention.

7. Normal shopping hours are from 9.00 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 4.00 – 9.00 p.m. however many shops, particularly in Dubai and Abu Dhabi stay open all day.

8. Since Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of phases of the moon, the dates outlined below for Islamic religious holidays are approximate. The precise dates are not announced until a day or so before they occur. If a public holiday falls on a weekend, the holiday is usually taken at the beginning of the next working week.

A three-day mourning period is usually announced when a member of the ruling families or a government minister or the head of a neighboring state dies. Government offices and some private companies will close for the period.

1 Jan New Year’s Day.

2 Dec National Day.

Al-Hijra (Islamic New Year).

Mouloud (Birth of the Prophet).

Leilat al-Meiraj (Ascension of the Prophet).

Eid al-Fitr (End of Ramadan).

Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice)

9. Gold is a big business here and is slightly cheaper and of better purity here. So do go into the gold souq for a stroll at least. While at it also check out the spice market.

10. Dubai desert safari is another must do in this part of the world!

11. Check out this post for more things to do in Dubai

Toledo: Alcazar, El Greco & a lot of Beige

“I paint because the spirits whisper madly inside my head.”

-El Greco

El Greco was born in 1541 in Crete. El Greco’s father, Georgios Theotokopoulos, was a merchant and tax collector. El Greco received his initial training as a painter of the Cretan school, the leading centre of post-Byzantine art. Crete came into possession of the Republic of Venice since 1211 and our young El Greco pursued his career in Venice. In 1570 El Greco moved to Rome, where he executed a series of works strongly marked by his Venetian apprenticeship. In 1577, El Greco emigrated first to Madrid, then to Toledo, where he produced his mature works. At the time, Toledo was the religious capital of Spain and a populous city with “an illustrious past, a prosperous present and an uncertain future”. Toledo is where his name resonates the most! And its no mean achievement in a city of glorious past with various artistic and architectural embellishments!

Toledo’s checkered history also is characterised by intermingling culture which can be evidenced by the buildings of various styles that can be found in the walled city.

The Visigoths (a Germanic tribe) moved their capital here from Sevilla during the 5th century AD. These tribes united under Christianity and had a more or less centralized government. Nevertheless, when the Arabs crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 711 AD, they quickly arrived in Toledo just one year later and easily conquered the city.

The Muslims shepherded in Toledo’s amazing medieval period, a time of unparalleled prosperity and cultural advancement. Jews, Christians and Muslims lived in harmony from this time until the Inquisition, thus Toledo’s nickname “La ciudad de las tres culturas” (“the city of 3 cultures”). Remember this when you walk across the city. Its fun identifying which religion a building style belongs to!

Toledo is just over an hour’s drive from Madrid and most tours go back by evening. Though it is one of the best day trips from Madrid; do stay overnight to truly experience the whole place for yourself.

Must see in Toledo:

  1. The Alcazar: The name though resembles Alcatraz, it really has nothing to do with it. It was a crown Prison, military barracks of its own armies and strangers, or silk workshops, before hosting the infantry academy and finally is now an army Museum. During the reigns of Alfonso VI and Alfonso X ‘the Wise’ it was rebuilt and became the first example of a square fortress with towers on the corners. It was once again rebuilt under Emperor Charles V, on this occasion by the architect Alonso de Covarrubias. The façades are Renaissance in style, and it has towers that give it a great silhouette. You will need a couple hours at least to check it out and peek at the adjacent museum.1 (1)

2. Toledo Cathedral: This highly under-rated Baroque-style cathedral is a definite must see. Not least for the two paintings by El Greco. Lookout for ‘The Disrobing of Christ’ on the High Altar. There is also a museum grade collection of works that hang on either wall. Art lovers will have a memorable experience. Make sure you spare enough time for this place too!

3. Monastery of San Juan de Los Reyes:  It was built as a “dynastic mausoleum” of queen Isabel the Catholic, dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, of whom the queen was a devout admirer. Also, note the hanging chains on the exterior walls of the church. They refer to the prisoners freed during the Granada campaign. This beautiful Church with immaculate architecture and sculptures is worth seeing and remembering! 1 (2)

4. Mosque of Cristo de la Luz: Earlier known as Mezquita de Bab al-Mardum, it is the only one of the ten mosques that existed in Toledo. It was converted into a Chapel once it was occupied by the Christians. This building is an amalgamation of traditional Arabic architecture and Christain decor. Its weirdly attractive. Cristo-de-la-luz_1-1024x684

5. El Greco museum: If you have an iota of fascination to El Greco and his work, do check out this museum that features some of his works. The Marquis of Vega-Inclán joined a building and an adjoining palace and furnished it to dedicate to El Greco’s works. This place was renovated and now houses his paintings along with a titular view of his history and his views. (Website1

6. Synagogue of El Transito: Also called Synagogue of Samuel ha-Leví, this is a beautiful coming together of Jewish and Christain artistry. Look out for Mudejar elements and beautiful geometric and floral motifs, and inscriptions in Arabic and Hebrew. Its a living proof of this city’s amazing cosmopolitan history. 1 (1)

I felt listing the must-see places even in a small town like Toledo would be a fruitless act. And that says a lot!

I’m only through six and there could easily be so many more on this list. So I will go ahead and just list them in no particular order. All are exemplary in their own right. So try and check out Santa María la Blanca, Museum of Santa Cruz, Castillo de San Servando, Victorio Macho museum, Cathedral Primada, Iglesia del Salvador Toledo and so many more.

Practical Tips: 

  1. First things first. There are so many day tours from Madrid. Please don’t do one. Stay overnight and absorb all Toledo has to offer. Two days is just about OK.
  2. If you really intend to explore Toledo thoroughly buy a Toledo card and save. Check the website.
  3. When travelling in the city bus, do keep your camera ready. There will be amazing views of the city at every other corner!
  4. There is a cute little sightseeing train that runs from Central Plaza de Zocodover. Its stops at most spots including the stop for panoramic views over Tagus river. Check their website for details. Good option if you are short on time.
  5. Toledo is very popular for swords and do check out some shops that also give you a glimpse into sword-making. My little one though didn’t see too interested!IMG_0836
  6. If you are coming by train, get onto one at Atocha Station in Madrid.
  7. The nightlife starts early and be sure to eat those Tapas and you soak in the changing hues at night.
  8. Visa for Indians: As a part of the Schengen countries; you will need a pre-approved visa to get in. I used VFS global. Takes about a week.
  9. Do plan a visit to the beautiful Almeira in southern Spain. It has a similarly wonderful vibe like Toledo!
  10. Bottom line is if you go to Madrid, save up a day or two to visit this place for a trip back in time!

Meteora: Suspended Monasteries, Valleys & Friendly Nuns

On an unusually chilly day in the skies; Hestia, the Greek god of architecture was having a morning cuppa with Zeus. Hestia seemed to stare at the skies blankly and fidgeted. Zeus realised there was something Hestia wanted off her chest.

Zeus enquired, “Hey, fair lady, what seems to bothering you?” in a newly learnt English accent! He had just spoken to Jesus and was impressed by his English skills and wanted to give it a go himself.

Hestia replied almost instantly,” Hey, Zuey, you do know that I take great pride in my work and have never really made any mistakes in architecture and planning our pretty little blue planet. But there seems to be an accounting issue and I’m unable to account for a few pretty hills that were supposed to go to the Elysium. I have been looking all over the skies and have even asked Hermes, Apollo and Cronus for help.”

She paused taking a deep breath, ” But I haven’t found them yet! I had made them with great care and they were supposed to be the Disneyland of heaven. But not so sure now. Can’t really figure out how they disappeared overnight”.

Zeus burst out laughing and pointed her towards the small blue dot under his feet and they zoomed in. As soon as the cosmic lens focussed, Helthia’s wrinkles smoothened and her pulse rate normalized. She realised that was a masterstroke from Zeus, the king of everything!

So that’s how Meteora was born.

At least that’s the story I made up for my three-year-old son. The only thing resembling a fact in that story is that Meteora belongs in heaven and definitely not on this blue planet. You will admit this when you first glimpse of the out-worldly rock formations that not surprisingly house monasteries atop. No thanks, to Zeus!

Meteora should probably be the number one destination in the whole of Greece and for that matter the whole of eastern Europe. But, you see there are those pesky little gorgeous Greek islands that hypnotize you and hide the wonder that is Meteora from most Greek itineraries. The worst bit of that is that Meteora is just a few hours drive from Athens and even then most give it a miss. I know weird!

Meteora is basically a bunch of monasteries sitting pretty atop conglomerated Calcerous and sandstone rock. These hills were theoretically formed by crushing tectonic plates and the monasteries by Japanese grade industrious monks and nuns.

In the 14th century, a monk Athanasios Koinovitis and his followers came to Meteora, in search of a group of ascetic hermits that had developed a religious stronghold in the region. He was blown away by the hermits’ free-climbing skills that had allowed them to live in the caves and fissures high above the ground and saw an opportunity to create a convent where his flock could meditate and worship in peace. Employing the hermits as climbing mentors, the new visitors conquered the surrounding mountains and set about creating their own holy haven. It was then, from 1356 to 1372, that the first Great Meteoron Monastery was born. (Ref) Meteora literally means “suspended in the air,” and the way the religious house clung dangerously to the formidable peak quickly gave its name to the entire district. Years later when the Turks advanced on northern Greece, more monks escaped persecution by climbing the mountains to safety. Over time 24 monasteries were built, with the steep pillars providing protection from the warriors below. A network of ropes, pulleys, baskets and ladders were used to lift worshipers and supplies into the monasteries, and these were raised in times of danger to deny access to anyone who posed a threat.The method worked, and the Orthodox monks easily survived centuries of war and battles. Today, six of these monasteries remain, segregated between male monks and female nuns, and visitors are welcomed with typical wide-armed Greek hospitality.

Now the six monasteries offer sweeping views of the valley and a peaceful abode for the 60 odd monks and nuns!

Once you decide you want to see them, Kalambaka is your destination from Athens. Book a hotel there and stare at the outcrops as you climb up either on wheels of even better on feet!

Must see in Meteora

I must admit, this must-see section here kinda makes no sense as the whole place is a must see. Anyway here goes nothing!

1. Great Meteoron or Megalo Meteoro or Megachurch or Metamorphsis Monastery: This is the biggest and raddest of them all and also built upon the highest rock. It offers amazing views of the valley below and the snow-capped peak in the horizon. It also contains some of the most beautiful wall paintings and post Byzantine Mural art that can be found in Greece as well as a museum collection in the refectory. It would in most cases be your first and longest stop.

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The sprawling monastery atop a huge rock

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Museum provides an insight into its construction

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Amazing and elaborate ceiling paintings

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Views of Kalambaka from atop

2. Varlaam Monastery: My favourite of all. In 1350 a daring ascetic named Varlaam ascended to the rock. The monastery was named after him. He built three churches, a small cell and a water tank. After his death the rock remained abandoned for about 200 years. In 1517/1518 the two founders of the church, the priest-monks Theophanes and Nektarios Apsarades reached the rock. They were two rich brothers from Ioanina. They found the rock of Varlaam abandoned, so they started to construct the first buildings from the beginning. The transportation of the materials lasted 22 years and the result is amazing to say the least.

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3. Roussanou Monastery: This super friendly monastery is run by nuns. It was partially destroyed by the Germans in the world war and has been reconstructed painstakingly. It is quite small and the paintings are wearing off. But they do have a rustic look about them.

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4. Holy Trinity Monastery:  This monastery offers great photo ops of the valley below. It was where the James Bond movie ‘For Your Eyes Only’ was filmed.

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5. St Stephen Monastery: Another monastery that suffered during the world war. It is famous for the skull of St. Charalambos, which is believed to have miraculous healing powers. Lovely place with equally great views from atop.

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6. St. Nicholas Anapausas Monastery: Don’t be fooled by its modest size. This place is overlooked by most tourists and it allows you to feel more attached to this place somehow.

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Tips for visiting Meteora

  1. Getting there: Meteora/Kalambaka is about 350kms and 4-5hr drive from Athens. A car is one of the best options. Try hiring one in Athens. There are four daily trains from Larissa station in Athen to Kalambaka or a change of train at Paleofarsalos. Check train schedules here. Its a five-hour pleasant ride. Buses leave from Liossion Bus Station to Kalambaka. So change buses at Trikala.
  2. Watch out for the odd timings of each monastery before you plan:Summer hours (April-October): St. Stephen’s – 9am-1:30pm, 2:30-5:30pm – closed Mondays. Great Meteoron – 9am-3pm – closed Tuesdays. Roussanou – 9am-3pm – closed Wednesdays. Holy Trinity – 9am-3pm – closed Thursdays. Varlaam – 9am-2pm – closed Fridays. St. Nikolaos Anapafsas – 9am-2:30pm – closed FridaysWinter hours (November-March): St. Stephen’s – 9am-1:00pm, 3-5pm – closed Mondays. Great Meteoron – 9am-3pm – closed Tuesdays & Wednesdays. Roussanou – 9am-2pm – closed Wednesdays. Holy Trinity – 10am-4pm – closed Thursdays. Varlaam – 9am-3pm – closed Thursdays & Fridays, St. Nikolaos Anapafsas – 9am-2pm – closed Fridays
  3. Almost everyone stays at Kalambaka. Many hotels have nice views of the hills. Ask for one facing them!
  4. To see all six you will need a minimum of two days. Don’t rush!
  5. On the way from Athens to Meteora be sure to stop by Delphi. Most tours take this route too. Check out what more interesting facts about Greece here .
  6. Visa for Indians: As a part of the Schengen countries; you will need a pre-approved visa to get in. I used VFS global. Takes about a week.
  7. What I Saw: Meteora is a movie worth watching just for the grand views of all the monasteries and the valleys that you see all through the movie. Its the story of Greek monk and a Russian nun have devoted their lives to the strict rituals and practices of their community, but a growing love for one another puts their monastic life under question. MV5BMTQ5OTY5OTI4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODAwNzg2MDE@._V1_UY268_CR7,0,182,268_AL__QL50

Kyoto: Geishas, Bamboo forest & 10,000 Shrines

Simply put; if you had only one city to visit during your Japan stay, make it Kyoto.

No, not Tokyo in spite of all its awesomeness, not Osaka in spite of its nightlife and definitely not Nara or Kanazawa or Hokkaido for that matter!

If you are short on time just scroll down through the pictures and you will know why. You don’t even have to go through the text. it’s that obvious!

It is so culturally important that when it was shortlisted for the cities to be atomic bombed during the world war; it was spared as the loss was deemed to be insurmountable (Read this for more). Not that Hiroshima and Nagasaki didn’t matter; but you get the swing. Kyoto has always been important and as a traveler thankfully it will always be on any must-see list!

It is home to innumerable shrines, a bamboo forest, and the famous Gion Geisha district. It was the imperial capital too. So you see Kyoto has a lot going for it.

We spent three short days in Kyoto and they were the most wide-eyed three days ever adn turned our to be the best in our Japan itinarary! There are so many things to do and see in Kyoto. Every shrine is a work of art in itself. The Shinto and Buddhist admixture of beliefs are nowhere more evident. Let me give you a brief about the main spots.

Must see places in Kyoto

  1. Arashiyama Bamboo Grove: As you walk through this bamboo grove you are shaded by the shoots that cast a shadow all through your path. The light filters ever so slightly through the gaps enough to illuminate your path and broaden your smile. This kind of feels out worldly and eerily serene. But then, there come the crowds and it’s not so magical anymore. But nevertheless, its still sits on top of my list which has so many amazing places. And that’s saying something, isn’t it? Just have a look at the pic and tell me if it isn’t wonderful. Spend at least a few hours and take in the cool breeze and check out the antique train that occasionally runs through it! 1

2. Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine: This awe-inspiring Shinto shrine has around 10,000 Torii gateways. They symbolize the passing of prayers from people to the deity. The gates are painted Vermilion red which is considered a talisman against evil, The color is made from mercury and red earth. This mixture has been used to preserve wood since ancient times and it surely presents a great photo op. No wonder it was recently voted the most popular spot in the whole of Japan. You will see statues of Foxes everywhere. They symbolize messengers of the deity. This relatively easy trek through the gates is a definite must do in Kyoto. (Website)

 

 

3.  Kiyomizu-Dera temple: Otowa-san Kiyomizu-dera Temple was founded in 778. As per our guide, an old man appeared in a dream to Kenshin, a monk who had led an ascetic life in Nara, and said: “Go north and find a crystal spring.” Inspired by this vision, Kenshin walked north and discovered a waterfall in Mt. Otowa. Though destroyed over ten times, this shrine has been resurrected every single time and its grounds are pretty elaborate now. Kiyomizu-dera Temple is temple of the Kita- Hosso sect. After it was opened, it adopted the doctrine of the Hosso sect, one of the six sects of Nara Buddhism. It now also provides a vantage point to view the city from atop. The cherry blossom trees and the main shrib=ne jutting out of the hill adorns many brochures nowadays. That’s no mean achievement in Kyoto where all the sights compete for eyeballs! Check out their awesome website.

 

 

4. Kinkaku-Ji Temple: You cannot miss this golden pavilion. Apart from its similarities to the golden temple in Amritsar in India where too the reflection in the surrounding moat makes for amazing photos; the whole temple area is as soothing as a crowded temple can get. Dont let the crowds get to you. Loved the backdrop too. Amazingly serene! (Website).

Originally the principal seat of the Kamakura period, this villa of Saigonji Temple Mikage was handed over to one Yoshimitsu. After the death of Yoshimitsu, it became a temple by a will and was remodelled to its present state.

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5. Shoren-in Temple: This under-rated temple has a classic Zen garden and peaceful surroundings. Thankfully its never crowded to enjoy the tea that is served here. You will remember this cuppa more than any other. The elements of a Zen garden here are an example for anyone wanting to try it at their homes! Pure bliss!

 

 

6. Nijo Castle: This was the seat of power of the Shoguns and has a beautiful moat all around it. You will surely be enthralled by the intricate wood carvings and watch out for the Nightingale’s floor in Ninomaru Palace. 1 (11)

7. Gion: Though Gion is placed at number seven, don’t for a second try to miss this place. You’d get a better feel of this place and the nuances of Geishas if you have a guide or if you are on one of the walking tours. It is filled with the classic Japanese teahouses and each house is a great photo op in itself. Add the orange lighting at night and it turns magical. You can easily spend a few hours strolling here and may even spot a Geiko (Geishas of Kyoto) Maiko (Apprentice Geisha). While you are at it watch out for the characteristic symbols of each district of Gion including the lantern designs. You can catch a Maiko show or tea ceremony if free.

 

 

8. Sanjusangendo: This temple used to be the place of archery competitions. Now its famous for the 1001 statues of Kannon- the god of mercy. There also 28 statues of deities most of which are derived from Hindu mythology. Indians will surely relate to names like Indra, Garuda, Shiva and Vishnu among others. That was a pleasant surprise, to say the least. Seeing them being depicted in an entirely new style that I had never come across in Indian temples was enlightening and also kind of liberating. Hard to explain it! Photography is not allowed inside. The photos you see are courtesy https://sanjayrao1010.files.wordpress.com. I have laid out the Indian versions of the same gods on the right for the interesting comparison between the two styles of architecture.

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Japanese Raijin and Indian Varuna

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Basu Senin and Vasudev

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Daibon-ten and Brahma

9. Other than the ones listed above do check out the imperial palace, Helan shrine, Kurama Dera and Ginkaku-ji to name a few.

10. A day trip to Osaka can also be equally rewarding especially the Himeji castle. read about it on my collaborator’s post here.

Practical Tips:

  1.  A bus pass helps. A chauffeured car is better if you are short on time. It will be worth it as there are just too many to see.
  2. Be prepared to walk a lot as most of the temples are over huge areas.
  3. Best time to visit is Spring (March-May) and Fall (October-November)
  4. Watch out for those speeding cycles!
  5. Stay at a Ryokan, There are many of these traditional Japanese inns. It surely makes the whole experience that much more memorable.
  6. We stayed at the Ryokan style Ryokufuso. It was a different experience. They also have a public bath upstairs. It was an experience for sure! 

    Check out the Nishiki market. Its a feast for both the belly and the eyes.

  7. If you do see a Geisha, don’t try to approach them for photos. It is considered rude and they won’t stop for you anyway.
  8. Japan Visa for Indians: One of the most professional and traveler friendly embassies that I have come across. They respond to every call and email diligently. Do check their website for the visa process. Should take 5 days to process. (Embassy Site)
  9. What I Read: Its impossible to not fall in love with Gion and Kyoto once you read this seminal piece by Arthur Golden. There can’t be a more elaborate depiction of Geisha’s life than ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’. An absolute must read. Amazon link 41hjJ6bF2FL._SX306_BO1,204,203,200_

9. What I Saw: You can’t escape the Geishas hee too. Watch the movie version of the book. Won’t disappoint you. IMDBMemoirs_of_a_Geisha_Poster

10. On the way from Tokyo to Kyoto via the Shinkansen (Japanese bullet trains), keep an eye out for the Mount Fuji. Best seen from the seats on the right. read more on my collaborator’s blog post here.

11. Read more about what the Kansai region has to offer!

12. You do get a lot of cheap flights to and from the nearby Osaka airport. Why not add a few day trips from Osaka while you are at it!

Seoul: Gas masks, Bibimbab & Hanoks

Let me start out by getting something out of the way. Seoul is pure awesome. Anyway, you look at it. Be it the awesome metro network, the cheerful English speaking bilingual residents, the ever helpful guy sitting next to you on a metro or just the street vendor. They are all awesome and there are no two ways about it. Let me explain!

South Korea has a persistent threat or as most say, a Migraine grade headache called North Korea. But they do get by their work in the most cheerful way possible. Seoul is right across the DMZ and if ever the North Korean lunatic decides to attack South; Seoul would be a sitting duck! A look at the gas mask cabinet in metro stations is a stark reminder of the impending threat, lest you forget.

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The development in the southern part of Korean peninsula has been a stark contrast to the dodgy North. Everything here is shiny new and impeccable. Metro runs perfectly a la Tokyo, but glitzier. Roads and buildings more so. Not a speck of dust or a paper flies around. I have been to a few European countries, but Seoul is by far the smoothest of the big cities I have been to.

A holiday in South Korea begins for most in Seoul as it is the nerve center of this wonderful country. There are lots of things to see and do and many great places to stay in. A week will go past you in a jiffy.

Must see places and must do things in Seoul

  1. Gyeongbokgung Palace: This is the first place usually on any Seoul itinerary. Gyeongbokgung Palace was the first royal palace built by the Joseon Dynasty. Built in 1395, it was located in the heart of Seoul. It is the largest of the Five Grand Palaces (the others being Gyeonghuigung Palace, Deoksugung Palace, Changgyeonggung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace), Gyeongbokgung served as the main palace of the Joseon Dynasty. After it was destroyed during the Japanese occupation it was rebuilt meticulously.

    There are free English guided tours that give a rare insight into the life of the Korean royalty. Check the website for visiting details. If you love this; make sure to check out Changdeokgung palace too.

2. Bukchon Hanok Village: Its not really a village anymore. It is surrounded by skyscrapers all around. It is in the middle of a triangle formed by Gyeongbokgung Palace, Changdeokgung Palace, and Jongmyo Shrine. But it does leave a nostalgic feel when you wander around its streets. You will notice the artistry in wood that drapes the private houses (Hanoks). Many houses are now hotels, Souvenir shops, and tea houses. But they do retain the old world charm. A stroll here just might be the most memorable part of your stay in Seoul. Many ladies wander around streets renting the traditional Hanbok costume. It’s fun. Don’t let the crowd get to you. Find a narrow street and it just may be for yourself.

3. Shopping in Seoul: Now, I would have picked one area over another, but that would be doing injustice. There are many markets and shopping areas that sell everything and more. They do come to life late evenings and at night and are a real fun way to spend some time. Areas like Iteawon, Namdaemun and Myeongdong are great for a sensory oveload! Try the Korean rice and cheese pastry. Loved it!

4. Korean food: Though it’s at number four, it is my personal favorite. Korean food is famous worldwide for a reason and a very yummy reason at that. The list is endless, but dont ever try getting out of Seoul without at least trying Bulgogi, Bibimbab, Kongguksu, Jjajangmyeon and the ever-present Kimchi. And of course, dont forget the Korean beverage USP Soju. Drink it neat. But stop after few. It does end up with a bad hangover! 

5. Cheonggyecheon Stream: Now imagine this. there is a beautiful stream passing through the middle of your city. A war breaks out and people move into the city and settle along the stream. The result: pollution and a gradual lessening of the waters, unplanned makeshift houses and eventual decline of the stream;s charm. Whats worse? Well with time a highway runs all over the stream and nearly annihilates it.

But hey, its Seoul and they don’t give up that easy. A mayor with a lot of foresight and enough funds backing him decided that the stream needs a new lease of life. So now after three years of a relentless demolition of the highway, meticulous planning of the ecology and water stream, an expenditure of nearly 300million USD and planned beautification and traffic diversion, you have this oasis in the middle of this bustling city.

A stroll through this stream is not less relaxing in any way to a stroll on a beach! Well, got a bit carried away there. But you get the gist. Its surely is a must visit after you are tired seeing the sights of the city. So settle down with an ice cream or your partner or preferably both and stroll along this beautifully manicured stream.

Cheonggyecheon Stream

6. The DMZ: The demilitarized zone forms the border between the North and South Korea. Many bus tours whisk away tourists to the grim zone. But it surely is over-rated. It’s just a group of grim buildings with a few grimmer soldiers. But if you just want to get as close to the North as realistically possible, then its probably worth a go. However many do like this eerie place for memories sakes if nothing else!

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7. COEX Aquarium: This neat little aquarium is located in a mall and has a plethora of fish, sharks, Rays, Jelly fish and others that will keep your younger ones hooked for half a day. My son loved it. Website

8. Korean Folk Village: This artificial village has actual huts and such that have been shifted in toto here from a real village. This place does give the feel of a traditional Korean village. Check this out if you cant make it to real ones like Andong or Damyang. It has nice hands-on things to do for the kids and adults alike including pottery, dyeing, horse riding and traditional performances. A good day’s detour from the city. Website

9. Lotte World: If you have kids with you, then this is a must. Its the biggest amusement park in the country and it’s pretty decent. It as an indoor amusement area, skating rink and rides for adults too. We especially loved the pseudo hot air balloon. Website

Practical Tips:

  1. Use metro. It’s amazingly cheap, fast and superbly well connected.
  2. South Korea visa for Indians: You have to go through VFS for their visa officially. (Website link). Has a turn around time of about a week.
  3. South Korean currency is Won: Check the exchange rates here. Cards are widely accepted though. You do get good exchange rates from banks. Most staff speak English too. Check the bank timings; usually 09:00 – 16:00 from Monday to Friday). Look for banks like KEB Hana Bank, Shinhan Bank, and Woori Bank, which are particularly designed to cater to visitors. Then, of course, you have money changers and you can find competitive ones at Myeong-dong, Dongdaemun, and Itaewon among others. Looks for authorized providers only.
  4. Tipping is not part of the culture in South Korea. Some even consider it offensive.
  5. Wi-Fi is easy to find, in fact, the city is one giant hot spot. Almost any establishment will have free and fast Wi-fi.
  6. Though the city is a touch on the expensive side, there are many things that you can do for free
  7. Everyone has at one time or another heard of the famous Turkish or Russian baths. But Korean baths? They are locally called Jimjilbang and are definitely worth a visit for a relaxing time.
  8. What I Read: ‘The Vegetarian‘ is set in Seoul and tells the story of Yeong-hye, a homemaker. She decides to stop eating meat after a bloody, nightmarish dream about human cruelty and leads to devastating consequences in her personal and familial life. Its an oddball kinda story. 51UfFXHe9IL

7. What I Saw: In ‘Oldboy‘, a man is kidnapped and imprisoned in a cell for 15 years without explanation. He then is released and as he strives to explain his imprisonment and get his revenge, Oh Dae-Su soon finds out that his kidnapper has a greater plan for him and is set onto a path of pain and suffering in an attempt to uncover the motive of his mysterious tormentor. MV5BMTI3NTQyMzU5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTM2MjgyMQ@@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_

8. Korean businesses and restaurants don’t really open early. They’re do however stay open late into the night.

9. Most hotels provide a card with address and driving instructions written in Korean. Keep it handy especially for those Soju infused late nights.

10. Black taxis are more expensive than the regular ones.

11. Self-drive is not the best idea given that many boards are in Korean.

12. Korea is a very safe country for solo travellers. It’s safety record is impeccable.

Travel Cartoons

This post is the aggregation of my travel cartoons.

Disclaimer: These do include generalizations and a lot of stereotyping! So don’t get offended, or what the hell DO!!! Whats the comments section meant for!

Click on the images for the respective pages and full perspectives!

1. Egypt: The perils of Bakshish!Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 12.47.13 PM

2. Australia: The very (un)Australian welcome!Screen Shot 2017-08-18 at 10.46.00 AM

3.Mauritius: The Indians and French in Mauritius!Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 10.46.10 AM

4.The definition of RICH in Emirates and Dubai!Screen Shot 2017-09-08 at 9.56.25 AM

5. Vietnam: No Love Lost: Vietnamese Vs Americans!

6. Spain: Barcelona- Spanish or Catalan? Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 6.38.24 PM

7. Portugal: Ronaldo or nothing! Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 11.44.52 AM

8. South Korea: The headache! Screen Shot 2017-10-01 at 3.49.16 PM

 

Phi Phi Islands: Paradise, Crowds & the Maya

The Phi Phi islands are a victim of over-tourism, circumstances, and mindless capitalization. There is an underlying sense that the incomparable beauty of these islands, too, held a major share of responsibility for their own downfall. There are however glimpses of their colossal beauty and unwavering determination of the islands to awe every traveler. These colossal beauties are entirely undeserving of such punishment. It’s a true story of fallen from grace!

But wait, there’s more to it than crass-commercialization and spoilt reefs. The Phoenix is rising and some conservationists are giving these islands a new lease of life. So here we go.. there’s still hope left for these beauties!

You cannot but help and admire in awe at the rocky outcrops that tower over you from the sea. The vegetations on the rocks make it even more gorgeous. The crystal waters and corals are just the cherry topping it needs.

Technically, Phi Phi comprises of two large islands: Ko Phi Phi Don, where Long Beach, or Hat Yao in Thai, is located, and Ko Phi Phi Leh, which is smaller and only accessible by tour or chartered fishing boat. Others are Koh Bida Nok, Koh Bida Nai, Koh Phai (Bamboo Island), and Koh Young (Mosquito Island). You reach Phi Phi via a 50min boat ride from Phuket.

Though Phi Phi is on most Thailand itineraries, a couple days’ stay here will feel very very inadequate. Trust me on that!

Must see spots on Phi Phi Islands

1. Phi Phi Don: The starting point of all tours and visits, this place can get crowded and sometimes dirty on the beaches. But who would complain when you get views like these over your lunch? There are cozy restaurants that serve great fish (obviously). You could laze around here all day.

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2. Phi Phi Leh & the Maya: This is the second largest island in the archipelago. This is where Leonardo Di Caprio found paradise in ‘The Beach’. the fame sky-rocketed the popularity of this island and Maya bay. It is blessed with crystal waters and white powdery sand. Walk over to the northeastern side of Koh Phi Phi Leh to the Viking Cave; featuring ‘ancient’ paintings. These figures depict Viking ships called Drakkars. Nowadays tourists go here to catch bird’s nests.

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3. Phi-Phi Viewpoint: Now time to capture the perfect beach photograph. Head up to the Phi Phi Viewpoint to soak in the sight of the stretches of jungles and endless ocean spreading out below you. Make sure you get the panoramic views on your cam. You will treasure them. 1 (2)

4. Snorkelling and Diving: This one’s a no brainer. Of course, the corals and marine life are great for diving and snorkeling. Just stay away from the touristy spots. All you will see here are eroded gray corals few butterfly fish and Sergents. Hire a boat and go further in.

 

5. Sailing: Boats of all types & sizes ferry travelers from Phuket every day. A leisurely trip aboard a yacht is not the worst way to spend a day. Especially at the sunset. 1 (3)

 

Tips for Phi Phi Islands

  1. Koh Phi Phi doesn’t have roads. So be prepared to walk a bit.
  2. Due to over-tourism, it is a bit more expensive than the rest of Thailand
  3. There is the famous Monkey beach. true to its name the monkeys will greet you by snatching any visible food. make sure to take some goodies for them.
  4. It’s never safe to leave your bags anywhere in the open. Be careful!
  5. The parties in Phi Phi Don can addictive. But get off the beaten path to the rarer stretches.
  6. The directions to various beaches are not sih=gnposted. Carry a proper map. Or else you will end up paying for a guide who will spend a whole 15minutes for the expensive Baht. Not worth it.
  7. On your way through the trees or vegetation, do not touch worms that look like millipedes. They are supposed to be dangerous.
  8. Ferries depart from Phuket and Krabi and it’s roughly a pretty doable two-hour trip. The frequency of ferries and times depends on the season and weather. Check the timings at the port office. Sometimes the waters can get choppy. Keep nausea meds with you.
  9. When you get there, you need to pay a 20 baht tax fee for island maintenance.
  10. Whatever your ‘Guide’ tells you, the Viking caves are not open for visitors. So dont even try.
  11. You can read more about other wonderful islands in Thailand here.
  12. For more off the beaten track places to visit, click here.
  13. What I Read: 51CFuqE30KL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_This seminal book is one of the reasons why Phi Phi skyrocketed to travelers’ fame. It’s a good read. Better than the movie. (Amazon)

 

 

 

 

12. What I Saw: MV5BNTljZTUzYWUtOTI4YS00NmZlLWE5MmQtZjFlZDZhNjg4MjQxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc1NTQxODI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL__QL50The movie has some nice shots of the island. Definitely, a must see before your trip. (IMDB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sigiriya: Monolith, Exquisite Paintings & Awesome Trek

Sigiriya Rock is considered by many in the island nation to be the 8th wonder of the world. And for a good reason too! It is a must do on any traveller’s list in SriLanka.

It is situated near Dambulla. It is about 375kms (3-4hr drive) from Colombo. It is also the centrepiece of the triangle formed by the Sinhalese civilisations of Kandy, Poloonaruwa and Anuradhapura. Most travellers will advice to include Sigiriya on your Lanka trip.

The earliest evidence of usage of Sigiriya caves by Buddhist monks from around 3rd Century BC exists. After King Mahanama who ruled Anuradhapura from 410- 432 AD, a prince named Dhatusena became the King of Anuradhapura in 459 AD, defeating the Indian invader ‘Pandu’.

King Dhatusena was the ruler who constructed Kala Wewa or the Kala Wewa Tank, by building a dam across Kala Oya, which is a small river type. The man-made 54 miles long Yoda Ela, which takes water from Kala Wewa to Tissa Wewa is considered as an Irrigation engineering wonder even at the present day. It has a gradient of 6 inches per mile along the first 17 miles, which means the level difference is just over 8 feet even after the first 17 miles along the canal. That’s an amazing feat of engineering in itself.

Prince Kashyapa, with the help of the general of the army of King Dhatusena, named Migara, got his father killed and became the King. Prince Mugalan, fearing for his life, escaped to India. The Buddhist Bhikkus and the people were against his conduct and favored Price Mugalan for the rulership. Fearing that Mugalan will come with an army from India to avenge him at a later day, King Kashyapa decided to make Sigiriya as his kingdom. During his rule of eighteen years from 477 AD to 495 AD Sigiriya Kingdom was created. It is believed that he sought the refuge of Sigiriya rock for his safety fearing for his life.

After 18 years, Prince Mugalan came with an army from India to fight with King Kashyapa. During the battle Kashyapa killed himself and Mugalan became the King. He went back to Anuradhapura and ruled the country from there and handed over Sigiriya back to the Buddhist priests. Sigiriya as a Kingdom was abandoned in around 1150 AD and was almost forgotten for the next seven centuries Though King Kashyapa is not regarded in high esteem in Sri Lankan history due to his dubious conduct, he is credited as the ruler with unsurpassed imagination put into reality to create a Sri Lankan style marvel of high calibre art and engineering skills that could even challenge the other world structures at that time, which definitely is amazing even in the 21st century with whatever is remaining as ruins of Sigiriya Kingdom.(Ref)

 

So basically it’s an hour’s leisure trek across the manicured gardens and up the steep steps. The views make it all the more relaxing. The Sigiriya Rock is actually a hardened magma plug from an extinct volcano. The entrance boasts a Lion staircase leading to the palace garden. The Lion could be visualized as a huge figure towering against the granite cliff. The opened mouth of the Lion leads to the staircase built of bricks and timber. However, the only remains of this majestic structure are the two paws and the masonry walls surrounding it. Still, pretty impressive!

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After you hike up half-way you enter two caves with Fresco paintings of various women (Apsaras=Angels). The theories and views on the subject of the paintings are controversial. Some believe them to be queens, princesses, and maids of the court of Kashyapa. Others seem to believe that they depict celestial beings – either Nymphs (Apsaras) or goddesses.

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Frescos on the cave walls

Once you get up top, you get sweeping views of the surrounding forests and hills. Makes for amazing viewing any time of the day, especially at sunset. On top there is also a ‘mirror wall’ which was so polished that the king could see his reflection on it.  There is also a futuristic system of consisting of canals, lakes, dams, bridges, fountains and underground water pumps that still provides water to the site’s gardens today.

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A small lake half way up?

Tips for visiting Sigiriya

  1. Avoid the afternoon times. It can get pretty hot. Best time is the sunset. You can watch the various shades of green turn brown on the horizon. It’s pretty awesome!
  2. The entrance fee is a hefty 30USD (4500LKR). It’s cash only and LKR only. Free for children under 5.
  3. There is a small adjacent Sigiriya museum with some artifacts as well. Worth a look!
  4. Avoid the guides. Really not worth it. A lonely planet or something should do.
  5. Don’t rush through to the top. Take your time. It’s beautiful all around you.
  6. For people who can’t walk/climb, Tuk-Tuks will take you around the rock. It’s well worth a ride. Kids will love it.
  7. Take a water bottle along. It’s not available inside.
  8. By Train, you can get from Colombo to Sigiriya via Habarana. There is a daily early morning rail service from Colombo. And then a half hour Tuk-tuk ride to the base/hotel.
  9. We visited the charming Cinnamon. The food spread was great. 08lotusrestaurant2
  10. All in all its a must see when in Sri Lanka. No wonder it’s on the UNESCO world heritage list and it should be part of any seven day Sri Lanka itinerary.
  11. Sri Lanka Visa for Indians: As a part of the SAARC region, Indians can get an E-visa for a discounted price of 20 USD. Check the link here…

Mauritius: Biharis, Creole Cuisine & Tropical Paradise

During my travels, I have met a fair share of people from various ethnic backgrounds. Now if you look for polar opposites among human beings; you can’t get better than a combo of French and Biharis (people from the state of Bihar in northern India). So, when I went to Mauritius I couldn’t believe my eyes. There they were; Biharis and

So, when I went to Mauritius I couldn’t believe my eyes. There they were; Biharis and French talking to each other in casual French and giggling at each other’s jokes. I must have stared at such scenes at least thrice a day, pinching myself harder everyday. Needless to say, I had a sore left wrist and right thumb! Need to work on my pinching habits I guess!

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Biharis and French in France, India & Mauritius

The French built its first harbour at Port Louis, named after the ruling king Louis XV and it became the capital of Mauritius. Trade on the island thrived; Mauritius could supply enough sugar and rum to the surrounding islands and visiting vessels. From this strategic position in the Indian Ocean, the French attacked English vessels on their way to and from India. Slowly they got in British came with Indians in tow to work in the sugarcane fields.

Anyway, let’s talk about the paradise bit. Yes, the beaches are as amazing as they seem on the photos. The Creole cuisine is pretty good for most palates. Only tiny downside is the unpredictable weather. Summer (November to May) is the best time, but it’s still a ‘go any-time of the year’ destination for the most part. It’s also one of the safest in Africa.

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The waters are consistently Turquoise almost everywhere. The more east you travel, the shallower reefs get, the better the corals are and better the diving is. But anywhere works fine, if you just want to chill on a beach with a beer or a Pinacolada.

  1. Ile aux Cerfs Island: It’s actually a private island and now thrives on touristic paraphernalia. But the waters are crystal and have various activities for everyone.harris-wilson-gabriel-island (4)
  2. The “Black River Gorges” National park: Its is located in the hilly south-western part of Mauritius. The park extends over an area of 6,754 hectares. With the help of the guides, you will discover Mauritius’ natural heritage in this unique area which is also the location of one of the rarest forests in the world. It harbors about 311 species of native and endemic flowering plants and 9 species of birds, which are found only in Mauritius.black-river-gorges-national
  3. Flic-en-Flac: This once sleepy town is now caught up in the tourist boom. But it’s still pretty rustic and worth a day’s visit surely. You wanna buy a souvenir? this is the place.Picture7
  4. Chamarel Seven Coloured Earth: The seven coloured earth is a natural phenomenon and a tourist attraction. The colours evolved through conversion of basaltic lava to clay minerals. It is a relatively small area of sand dunes comprising sand of seven distinct colours (red, brown, violet, green, blue, purple and yellow). You can see a few giant tortoises at the adjacent conservatory as well.DSC00143DSC00148
  5. Ganga Talao: It is a crater amidst mountains in an isolated region.  It is linked to the mighty Ganges river in India. According to Hindu mythology, the God Shiva and his wife Parvati were flying around the earth. God Shiva was balancing the sacred river on his head to prevent the earth from floodings. Shiva saw a beautiful island, Mauritius and decided to land, but accidentally spilled a few drops into the crater, creating a small lake. And this is how the sacred lake, Ganga Talao, emerged and became home to the biggest annual pilgrimage of Hindus outside of India.DSC00091

Now the heading to that section doesn’t really make sense as grading one beach over another is quite meaningless. All the beaches are fantastic.

There is no shortage of great resorts here. We stayed at the Outrigger resort (It was Movenpick then). It was awesome.

What I Read: content

‘The Prospector’ and English translation of French novel tells the story of young Alexis L’Etang. He enjoys an idyllic existence with his parents and beloved sister: sampling the pleasures of privilege, exploring the constellations and tropical flora, and dreaming of treasure buried long ago by the legendary Unknown Corsair. But with his father’s death, Alexis must leave his childhood paradise and enter the harsh world of privation and shame. Years later, Alexis has become obsessed with the idea of finding a treasure and, through it, the lost magic and opulence of his youth. (Amazon)

What I Saw: MV5BYmJiODhmYzItYmQzMi00NjJmLTg1MzktMGI4YTNlOGMwMzY5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjg3ODE1MjE@._V1_UY268_CR31,0,182,268_AL__QL50Lonbraz Kann’ A semi-French-English-Creole movie about workers in sugarcane fields in Mauritius. It portrays their lives and how they change when a mill shuts down. (IMDB)

The biggest thing that stood out for me in this tropical paradise is that Mauritius has such a diverse population. There is no “official religion” in Mauritius. Hindus, Tamils, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and others from all over the globe live in harmony. Pretty rare these days!

Another typical facet of Mauritian life is the ‘Sundowner’. It is the name given to a drink, often a local cocktail, taken at sunset? This is an exquisite opportunity to prolong your day on the beach and finish up a day spent lazing on the white sands of Mauritius’ immaculate beaches. Very fitting for such a paradise!

Oh and their music.  Mauritian Séga is a style of music and also a dance form that originates from African people brought to Mauritius. Various emotions impregnate the Creole songs. Wearing long, colorful dresses, women dance barefoot swinging their hips and the rest of their bodies to the rhythm of the music. Take a look here for a sample.

Creole Cuisine: A mixed of African, Indian and European cuisines influenced and embellished the Creole cuisine is a wonderful and succulent delicacy. Do try the Rougail. It is essentially a tomato-based dish, with incredibly rich flavors thanks to the combination of spices used. Since this recipe is passed down from generation to generation, there are quite a few variations of spice combinations: onions, garlic, ginger, thyme, chilies, cilantro/coriander, spring onions, curry leaves, etc. The point is, feel free to adapt your rougaille recipe and really make it your own. Every restaurant serves it differently. Only constant is the yumminess!

Cape Town: Table Mountain, Mandela & Awesome Safaris

The Cape Town Travel Guide

This is a guest post by Noel Jansen for backpackfootprint.com.

A bit about the Author

Noel is an engineer who after working for numerous years in Europe decided to quit his day job and start a holiday tour business in South Africa. When he isn’t working he enjoys surfing, mountain biking, as well as the favourite South African past time ever, braaing (South African for BBQing).

BudgetSouthAfricaHolidayCapeTown

So why a holiday to Cape Town?

Cape Town, affectionately known as the “Mother City” in South Africa, is ranked one of the top cities to visit on the globe year after year in one of the safest countries in Africa.

Amazing foods, plenty of wine and craft beer, breath-taking landscapes, beautiful wild-life and of course friendly South Africans are just a few of the things you will experience in the Mother City.

Oh and did I mention Table Mountain? Consuming fair amounts of vintage wines? Playing with penguins on sandy beaches?

So I think you get it. Cape Town needs to be on your travel bucket list. CheapSouthAfricaHolidayPackage

Flying in to Cape Town

Nowadays there are plenty of flights to South Africa, with a lot of direct flights to Cape Town International Airport too!

“It’s too expensive to fly to South Africa” is no longer an excuse.

Plenty of airlines have very reasonable prices to South Africa if you are willing to fly with a stopover in the Middle East or North Africa. Some examples are Emirates, Qatar, Ethiopian Airlines, and Egypt Air.

Getting around Cape Town

Cape Town is a really large city.

If you don’t believe me, look on Google Maps and notice that there is a mountain in the middle of it!

The best way to get around is going to be to hire a car. If you are travelling in a group this will probably be the most cost effective too! Travelling by car gives you the flexibility you need to explore Cape Town and its surrounding areas.

CheapSouthAfricaHolidayCapeTown

If you are travelling solo or on a tight budget, don’t fear.

There is a red tour bus (site seeing bus), which offers a hop on, hop off service with stops at the major tourist attractions.

South Africa is not as backward as some people think. We even have Uber. This app comes in really handy when you want to get around in the evening and want to enjoy a couple “adult” beverages.

The best places to stay in the Cape

Like I said, Cape Town is rather large.

The top area to stay in is going to be the “City Bowl”. This is the central part of Cape Town which is surrounded by Signal Hill, the Waterfront, and of course Table Mountain. This area is very central and offers great views of the mountains and sea!

The best areas are Tamboerskloof and Gardens. These are within walking distance to the best streets in the area: Long, Kloof and Bree streets.SouthAfricaHolidayPackage

Bree Street has the finest restaurants in town, while Long Street is where the party is at! Long Street is filled with bars, clubs, as well as restaurants.

There are many boutique hotels, fine guest houses, and friendly hostels in the City Bowl.

Thing you need to do in Cape Town

Cape Town has so much to offer travels! It doesn’t matter what your interests are, there will definitely be something for you to do.

Adrenal junkies, foodies, fitness fanatics, museum and art fans, or even those simply looking to chill out, this is the holiday location for you. CheapSouthAfricaSafari

There are however a couple of things I feel you HAVE to do when you are in Cape Town. And so the list begins:

  • Table Mountain – Probably Cape Town’s most iconic feature. If you are feeling up to the challenge why not hike up the Platteklip Gorge trail? Otherwise simply go up and down with the cable car.
  • Lions head – Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to do this “climb” if you’ve already been up Table Mountain. It’s only a 45 minute hike up, but the panoramic views of the Mother City are well worth it!
  • Chapmans Peak – You have to travel down this legendary stretch of coastal road at least once.
  • Cape of Good Hope – Also known as Cape Point. Located on the southernmost tip of Cape Town, this nature reserve has the most rugged and beautiful coastlines imaginable.
  • Boulders Beach – Wanna see cute Jackass penguins on sandy beaches? This is where you do it! I recommend stopping for lunch at the Simons Town Harbor afterwards to try some freshly caught fish.
  • Robben Island Tour – If you are traveling to South Africa you should know who Nelson Mandela is (not to be confused with Morgan Freeman). If history is your thing, you should definitely take a boat ride to this island where he was held prisoner for numerous years.
  • V & A Waterfront – If you like shopping, and who doesn’t, you need to visit this waterfront. But its more than just a world class mall, it has some pretty incredible restaurants and bars too!
  • Truth Coffee – This coffee shop was voted as one of the world’s best by the Daily Telegraph. Were they right? Why not find out for yourself.
  • Mzansi restaurant – There are loads of great restaurants in South Africa. But it won’t take long to notice that hardly any of these serve authentic African cuisine. That’s where Mzansi comes in. It is a restaurant in the Lange Township of Cape Town which serves an authentic African buffet meal. For me Mzansi is more than just a restaurant, it’s a cultural experience. As it is in a township I only recommend you take a cab there.

Last but not least, just have fun. Sometimes I see travelers trying to fit in too much during their holiday instead of enjoying it. Embrace the local atmosphere and don’t forget to have a good time!

Extend your South Africa Holiday

If you are like the rest of mankind who has visited Cape Town, you will want to explore more of South Africa.

Within an hour’s drive from Cape Town are the Cape Winelands. The two best towns to visit are Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. My favourite is Franschhoek which has an awesome Wine Tram which takes you to various vineyards in the region.

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Also in close proximity to Cape Town is Gansbaai. Have you ever seen those videos of people in a cage under water getting up close and personal with a great white shark?

Well, it’s mostly like Gansbaai. This is loved by most travelers who aren’t afraid of a little cold water.

If you want to see more of South Africa in one trip why not look at a South Africa Holiday Tour. The South African Rand (local currency) is weak compared to most major currencies. This makes it a perfect adventure holiday destination.

Low on cash, but still want to visit South Africa? Take a look at this cheap South Africa holiday guide. It’ll show you how to have fun but still keep your bank balance afloat.

Budget South Africa Safari

It would be a sin to travel all the way to South Africa and not go on at least one safari! CheapSouthAfricaSafariHoliday

Safaris can be super expensive. Prices of $1000 per person per night are not uncommon in the Big 5 private safari lodge arena.  They can pretty much cost and arm and a leg!

But they don’t have too.

If you want to do a safari and not have to sell a kidney to do so, take a look at this budget safari holiday guide. This will give you some tips on how to enjoy a safari and still be able to afford a plane ticket home.

Also, the city has a lot to offer for children including many child-friendly hotels.

Three days is a bare minimum in this wonderful city!

Pyramids of Giza: Mystic, Cosmic & Bakshish

Egypt is a country of superlatives and the Pyramids of Giza more so.

Let me explain by going all statistical on you.

  1. Each of the pyramids has a base on around 13 acres. That’s almost as big as three Eden gardens cricket stadiums.
  2. It’s around 450 feet high. That’s almost half as high as the Eiffel Tower.
  3. Each has close to 3 million stone blocks, each weighing up to 60 tons. That could have been used to build 30 empire state buildings in today’s scenario.
  4. It was built in 20 years flat. In Bangalore, India a 18kms stretch of metro took 11 years to construct.
  5. But it’s not just about blocks. Just look at the cross-section that shows the elaborate chambers and paths inside them. Now that’s some planning!internal features
  6. The pyramids are aligned to the north-south axis as well as in relation to each other. Perfect to a minute in a degree.
  7. Another unusual feature of the Great Pyramid is a concavity of the core that makes the monument an eight-sided figure, rather than four-sided like every other Egyptian pyramid. That is to say, that its four sides are hollowed in or indented along their central lines, from base to peak. The hollowing-in can be noticed only from the air, and only on the equinoxes. (Youtube Link)

So with that geeky background, you can safely assume that whatever you expect when you come to Giza, prepare to be blown away by the sheer size and accuracy of this architectural wonder.

Giza is a suburb of Cairo and is the focal point of the whole region and not just the country. Why? Just see this picture. That’s why. The pyramids are here.

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Though this wonderful country has many pyramids, it’s the three Pyramids of Giza, the pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure that capture our imagination. The Khufu pyramids is the largest. So everyone that lands from somewhere at the dubious Cairo airport have one thing in mind. The Pyramids.

The Egyptians are well aware of that fact and many run their livelihood on tourism and many others by haggling the shit out of unwary travelers. I’m from India and I thought I’d be used to haggling at a tourist place by now. But nothing prepared me for the haggling and pestering that happens here. You can’t walk 50 meters without someone approaching you with something to sell or offering to be your tour guide or coaxing you into showing you a secret place somewhere or plainly asking for Bakshish for no reason at all etc etc etc. See the three etcs?

It kinda gets on your nerve but hey there are pyramids right? So all is well.

You need to keep aside a full day to do the place any kind of justice. You will most likely hire a camel ride after someone pesters you for 71st time! Be sure to get in early so you can beat the noon heat as much as you can. Entry tickets: Regular: 60 EGP Student: 30 EGP Cheops(Khufu) Pyramid: Regular: 100 EGP Student: 50 EGP Khafre’s Pyramid: Regular: 30 EGP Student: 15 EGP Menkaure’s Pyramid: Regular: 25 EGP Student: 15 EGP

Entry tickets: Regular: 60 EGP Student: 30 EGP Cheops(Khufu) Pyramid: Regular: 100 EGP Student: 50 EGP Khafre’s Pyramid: Regular: 30 EGP Student: 15 EGP Menkaure’s Pyramid: Regular: 25 EGP Student: 15 EGP

1 Egyptian pound (or Lira Egyptienne)= Around 3.6INR= 0.05USD

Once you are done filling up your memory card with landscape photos of the pyramids once you reach the plateau. You go closer and be amazed at how accurately the blocks are aligned. You could almost run your hand across adjacent intact blocks and hardly feel the groove. Today, the pyramids bear light brown tones of their surrounding Desert. But back in their heyday, they sparkled. Originally, the pyramids were encased in slabs of highly polished white limestone. When the sun struck them, they lit up and shimmered. Some believe that the pyramids’ capstones were plated in gold as well. Those dazzling façades have been stripped long ago and used to build mosques. But you can still see remnants of a once-snowy cap atop the middle pyramid.

Around the base of the great pyramid are three of the four smaller pyramids. On the east side of the pyramid stood a now missing Funerary temple. Running down the hill into the valley was a stone causeway, which linked the Funerary temple with a temple in the valley. Around the pyramid were six boat shaped pits that may have contained the hulls of vessels that belonged to the pharaoh. Parts of one of these have been found and reconstructed into a 147-foot long boat that today is enclosed next to the pyramid in its own museum. These were used to transport the stone blocks used for constructing the pyramids.

You can enter the pyramids and see the chambers. You, however, have to go through claustrophobic paths imagining the weight of the stone blocks that sit perfectly aligned overhead.

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And then there’s the Sphinx. It was an important mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human. It’s partially damaged, but it’s pretty iconic. I, however, coud’nt help feel that it is a bit over-rated.That’s because you have just seen some of the biggest strctures on earth and then end up seeing a 60 feet high statue with the nose and beard missing! A bit of a let down really!

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Tips for visiting the Pyramids of Giza

  1. Hiring a qualified driver is very important. Trust me you don’t want any uncertainty with the cabbies here. If you have a referral, that’s fine or else check with the hotel or a reputed company.
  2. When you enter the pyramids, the space gets really narrow. Both your shoulders will be rubbing against the walls. Wear comfortable proper fitting clothes and soft heeled shoes.
  3. Cover up. it’s an Islamic country, moreover, the sun can get pretty harsh. Use a lot of sunscreen and keep your water bottles handy.
  4. If you are a student make sure you take your ID. It gets you a substantial discount in many places in Egypt including the pyramids. International student ID preferred. Just apply online here.
  5. Scams everywhere. It’s very unlikely you will get out of Egypt without at least a minor scam. But that’s ok. Don’t let a small score bother you. Take it in your stride. Don’t fight with the locals.
  6. Bakshish. This would be the word you hear most often on your trip. Everyone expects a tip. I mean everyone. Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 12.47.13 PM
  7. You may be tired walking around the pyramids. Use a camel or Horse- cart rides only if the animals looks healthy and well taken care of. Here’s a typical ride!

 

8. Always go to the southern point for the best spots for photos with all three pyramids. It’s a fair hike.

9. Make sure to go to the Pizza hut at the exit.They have panoramic views of the Pyramids from upstairs. Worth the Pizza definitely! IMG_4764

10.Visa: Most nationals need a pre approved visa to get to Egypt (Embassy website)

11. Egypt Visa for Indians: Indias need a pre-approved visa and their embassy in India is not very helpful nor are their websites. I did mine through a travel agent and it cost me INR 4500 and 10 days time.

12. If you can splurge, stay at the Mena palace( Now Marriott Mena House) right next to the Pyramids. Simply put, it is as good as it can get in Giza

13. What I Read: 61Iqh+hcNSL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_This book by the famous Egyptologist gives a detailed and entertaining account on the kingdoms and Pyramids that made Egypt. A good read. (Link)

 

 

 

 

14. What I Saw: MV5BMTEyMzgzMTE1MjheQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU3MDIxMjI2NTM@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL__QL50I was recommended ‘The Yacoubian Building’ and boy is it awesome. It kinda got me hooked to Egyptian sub-titled movies and I ended up watching about ten more. (IMDB)

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona, Spain: The Hippest crowds, Flamenco & the Sagrada

For most foreigners visiting Barcelona; Spain is typically cast as a supporting actor, rather than the star of your trip. I know it’s weird how a city can overshadow an entire country teeming with awesome places. But that’s how it is. Barcelona is the first name on any Spain itinerary.

Ask anyone what their favorite cities to visit in the world are, and surely Barcelona features on the list. Ask anyone what their favorite countries to visit are and Spain may not necessarily feature on the list!

It is the not only the gateway to Catalan culture, it has more exotic destinations: the Catalonia coast, the mountains of the Monsterrat, picture-perfect Sagrada and balmy La Ramblas. Some overseas visitors plan on staying a week here and still feel unfulfilled when they leave Barcelona. It’s that magical. Apart from the beleaguered Catalan movement, everything else is picture perfect here! Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 6.38.24 PM

Sagrada Familia, the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family to be exact started when in 1866 when Josep Maria Bocabella Verdaguer founded the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph, which in 1874 began campaigning for the construction of an expiatory temple dedicated to the Holy Family. In 1881, enabled by various donations, the Association purchased a 12,800m² plot of land, located between the streets of Marina, Provença, Sardenya, and Mallorca, to build the temple on.

The first stone was laid on St Joseph’s day, 19 March 1882, in a ceremony presided over by the Bishop of Barcelona, Josep Urquinaona. It signaled the start of construction, first in the crypt located under the apse, following the Neo-gothic design drawn up by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano, the Sagrada Familia’s first architect. After a short while, due to disagreements with the promoters, he resigned from the post of chief architect and the job fell to Antoni Gaudí.

The construction has taken painstakingly long and little wonder the Sagrada Família has not always been quite as popular with the people of Barcelona as it has been with tourists. In July 1936, revolutionaries set light to the crypt and broke their way into the workshop, destroying Gaudí’s original plans, drawings, and plaster models, leaving the next generation of architects with an enormous puzzle of how best to proceed. So now the snail’s pace continues.

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Neo-Gothic architecture at its best

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Dramatic stained glasses with hues of every colour possible

WaxBone-like columns twist their way to the ceiling, branching out from ellipsoid knots, reaching upwards, creating the impression of being in an enormous forest. Vast geometric stars decorate the ceiling, punctured by open hyperboloids, sucking in the light and all suggesting the canopy of heaven. The greens, blues, yellows and reds of the light coming through stained-glass windows create a speckled effect with constantly shifting patterns illuminating the stone.  This truly is a work of art at the grandest scale. (Sagrada Familia website)

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One of best sights an eye can see. Just look up!

The other incredible thing about Barcelonians is how well-dressed and fashionable everyone consistently is. No Hombre, Mujer, Chico or Nina would ever go to grave shabby. That’s for sure! Anyway, I’m getting off track. Some other hot spots to check out in this cultural capital is the Palau de La Musica Catalana. This artsy theatre is a sight to behold in itself. It hosts various music fests among others. We went to ‘Opera y Flamenco’ a fusion of the two art forms performed in syncs and in sequence. It’s truly magical and the setting makes it more so. Also Tapas and wine at the lobby, perfecto! Don’t waste money on a tour. Watch a show. (Palau de La Musica Catalana website

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The Elaborate Stained glass roof at Palau de La Musica Catalana

Antoni Gaudí I Cornet is synonymous with Catalan architecture. He is  recognized as one of the most prodigious experts in his discipline, as well as one of the top exponents of modernism. Most of his buildings are now a study in modernism and are pure art. Do check out the Casa Battlo. See the pics below. No words needed. (Casa Battlo Website)

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Then there’s the uber quirky Casa Mila. (Casa Mila Website)

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Not done with Gaudi yet? Check out the maze that is Parc Guell. The colors and contrasts are a pro photographer’s dream and an amateur photographer’s nightmare. You really don’t know what to focus on. There are too many colors and too many distractions, but that’s all part of the Gaudi magic. (Parc Guell Website) Here you will find one of the most photographed places in Barcelona, and that’s no mean achievement in a city teeming with awesome places.

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The vibrant Parc Guell

People often come to Barcelona for a week or so but end up staying a lot longer. Let me show you some reasons why. There is the famous Montserrat about an hour’s drive from the city. It’s the Adobe of the religiously important Black Madonna. You get up to the serrated mountains via a scenic cable car ride and take in views like this. When you come down you can sample free wine and buy from a wide range of locally produced and oddly flavored wines.

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Monsterrat mountains

Back in the city, you can walk around the famous La Ramblas. This open street is lined with trees and all kinds of souvenir shops. It’s a tourist’s delight. You can check out the nearby neighborhoods of Barrio Gothic and El Raval while you are here. Street performances like these are a regularity.

 

 

 

Then visit the Montjuic castle, Spanish village and the gardens via a cable car. You could easily spend half a day here.

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Montjuic Castle

Then there is the Picasso museum for art lovers, Tibidabo amusement park for kids of all ages, the hippy Barceloneta beach and La Boqueria with its variety of shops. All this and you would still have scratched only the surface of what Barcelona has to offer.

Then there are more things to do and places to check out around Barcelona. Do visit Calella de Palafrugell, a beautiful village on Costa Brava. It is hemmed in between cliffs and a pretty fishing village, Calella’s beach has one of Catalonia’s most attractive seaside settings. See the pics below and decide for yourself.