Toledo – Spain

On our trip to Spain, we went into history while visiting a very old city near Madrid.

Toledo is an ancient city set on a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. The capital of the region, it’s known for the medieval Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments in its walled old city.

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It's not a big town, but to know the details of the place, it's rich history and story behind each building, you will need a full day to explore. Our driver took us to some places for taking beautiful pictures and the guide suggesting having some local bakery items in city square which were worth eating.  The food in a restaurant near old horse stable was also good and over all it was a good experience.

Visit during spring or winter and wear some comfortable shoes because there is lot of walking involved.

 

 

Bull Fight – Madrid

In our recent trip to Spain in June 2017, we couldn’t miss the Bull Fight of Madrid. It is definitely a must try experience.

You can find everything in Madrid – and that includes bullfighting. Despite most people’s impression of bullfighting as being unique to the whitewashed villages of Andalusia and Costa Blanca, Madrid is a great place to see a bullfight. There are different phases of the Spanish Style Bull fighting.

There are two bullrings in Madrid – Vista Alegre and Las Ventas. Las Ventas, with a capacity of 20,000 is the more important of the two and is where the fights take place today. Vista Alegre is used now as a concert and sports venue.

Below are some of the pictures of our visit.

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Nanital – Uttarakhand Travel Diaries

Another of the Western Himalayan Region Trips – Nanital

I spent some of my early childhood years in Nanital. Still remember the Sundays we used to spend on the Flat, the chocobar we ate while going back home, an old man selling pastries in a tin box at his back, an earthquake when we were in the movie hall near Naina Devi temple ( where Sati’s Left Eyes (Naina) fell – Nanital ). The beautiful gardens and parks, the peaks, the snow, the paper aeroplanes we tried to throw in the lake from our home, everything!! Is so different now, only hotels wherever you see, traffic, tourists, all the old town charm gone! But still, its a beautiful place.

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Sweet corn near the lake
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Old men waiting for some customers, we loved to play with this in our childhood
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Stalls in the market near Flat
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Time for some Hats

 

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The city from a side road
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On the way…
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Chai Shai

 

Almora – Uttarakhand Travel Diaries

Another post in one of my series of Western Himalayan Region.

I spent my early childhood in Almora and started schooling from this cozy little city, so my bonding and memories flooded back. Visit to this place took me back to my childhood, the running around in those markets, climbing and enjoying around. The smell of government hospital, sweets and lemon drink. City looked very congested and packed with tourists now. Huge traffic issues have made roads look very small and overflowing with people. Earlier there were hardly any faces and most of them familiar. Now it looked like a pool of strangers and imagine a Five floor parking on the hills. Police was controlling anyone to stop on the market road, preventing any traffic jam. Somewhere the beauty of the small town was lost.

Almora is located on a ridge at the southern edge of the Kumaon Hills of the Himalaya range, at a distance of 365 km from the national capital New Delhi and 415 km from the state capital Dehradun.

Almora was founded in 1568 by King Kalyan Chand, however there are accounts of human settlements in the hills and surrounding region in the Hindu epic Mahabharata (8th and 9th century BCE). Almora was the seat of chand kings that ruled over the Kumaon Kingdom. It is considered the cultural heart of the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.

 

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A view on the way to Almora

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Pine trees
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Soaking the sun

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Police controlling traffic
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Refreshing drink of Lemon

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A lazy market
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On the way to Almora
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Some houses
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Market in Amlora
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A famous khoya sweet of Almora
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River which gives you company from Nanital to Almora
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We went down to that river
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On the way – Tandori Roti (baked bread)
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Roti prepared in this tandoor

Uttarakhand Travel Diaries 

 

Uttarakhand Travel Diaries

I have been thinking of writing about my trip to Western Himalayan region –  Almora, Devasthal, Nanital and Mukteshwar from a long time but was never able to, so here is a small start on that series by posting some of the pictures of that trip.

This is a famous temple of that region on the way from Nanital to Devasthal. We went there to visit the astronomical site for Asia’s biggest telescope. On the way, just in front of this temple is a small shop which servers a juice of lemon along with some other herbs. It’s a must try thing for food lovers.

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AN organic Tea Garden

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The HIMDARSHAN POINT at Mukteshwar Inspection Bunglow is the best place to see Himalayan mountains. They have a map and direction telling Trishul peak, Nanda Devi and all.

 

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There are the Himalayan Peaks in this picture but  not very clear at the back end.

 

Vienna, Austria

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Welcome Vienna – From Helsinki we went to Vienna and then Bratislava, Slovakia. So this write up is in continuation with my last one (Helsinki). Here I will try to cover main points of  our Vienna stay (4-5 days). Below pics, kids are ready to explore Vienna, Bye bye Helsinki, till we visit again.

Reached Vienna airport, from here in that bus to the hotel. Below are the pics of our roof top in  Le Méridien. It gave a beautiful view of the city.

Our tour operator always takes care of good stay in terms of vicinity, food and comfort – Le Méridien Vienna – This hotel with an old-world exterior is a 2-minute walk from the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera), an 11-minute walk from the Hofburg Imperial Palace and 1.7 km from Wien Mitte-Landstraße Bahnhof train station. Although we had to wait almost 2 hours for our room due to a big group and they were giving rooms one by one.

Austria’s capital, Vienna is well-known for its cultural events, magnificent sights, coffee houses, wine pubs, and the Viennese charm.

History – Vienna’s history dates back to the first post-Christian century when the Romans established the military camp Vindobona. Today’s cityscape is characterized by the abundance of baroque buildings created mostly under the rule of Empress Maria Theresia and Emperor Franz Joseph, who was largely responsible for the monumental architecture round the Ringstraße .

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Places to See – Schönbrunn Palace – the former summer residence of the imperial family, is one of Europe’s most impressive Baroque palace complexes. The land had been in the possession of the Habsburgs since 1569, when the wife of Emperor Ferdinand II had a summer residence built there in 1642, which she called “Schönbrunn”. The palace and garden complex built here from 1696, after the Turkish occupation, was redesigned from the ground up by Maria Theresia after 1743. For most of the year, the Habsburgs resided in the countless chambers that a large imperial family needed in addition to the formal state rooms.Today, the palace is part of UNESCO’s cultural heritage due to its historic importance, its unique grounds and its splendid furnishings. (www.schoenbrunn.at)

A wedding photo shoot was going on at that time. Below are some of the pics.

Other palaces – Hofburg Palace, Church, museums etc. We did visit a church which had something related to Trinity but I am not able to recall it’s name at present.

The above pics are of our walk near the hotel, we tried to explore the area, Hofburg Palace and surroundings.

From this place we were on our own and almost got lost from the group, we decided to meet at McDonalds over the phone. Unfortunately after walking for more than 5-6 kms also we were not able to locate McDonalds, no one was able to help on the streets (If it would have been India, people would have dropped you to the place by then). Then finally we asked a Tourist Center and they told in the market there are three McDonalds, so which one. Finally we settled for the nearest one and had our much required burgers and coke. The other group had it in their McD! Half day went like this. Later on we realized it was quite near to our hotel. Then in the evening we went to an Indian Restaurant because most of the people in group were used to having Indian food, so I was deprived of trying out Austrian cuisine. Every evening we tried different Indian restaurants.

Above – The Hundertwasser House in Vienna bears the unmistakable hand of the artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Hundertwasserhaus can only be viewed from outside.
Right opposite the Hundertwasserhaus, however, is the Hundertwasser Village, which is open to visitors. It was created out of a tire workshop in 1990-1991. The artist created his own shopping center here with a “village square”, a bar and numerous stores in the typical Hundertwasser style. Below, a lady walking by caught my attention.

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The next day was Guided City tour followed by Private cruise. Later, the other day we went for Art Home, museum of natural history and shopping. The Guide was Chinese and Bus driver Austrian. Driver was very particular about time and from the hotel itself we was angry because people did not turn up on time. Finally, by evening he was literally shouting at us and we had to tell him to leave. So he dropped us in the middle and went, the poor guide tried to cool down things but we were happy without him, so she said she will walk to the hotel which was near the market and we all went for window shopping.

Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum were built in the Neo-Renaissance style. They not only hold remarkable art and natural possessions, but are also architectural masterpieces.

The Museum of Natural History is among the largest of its kind and one of the most important museums in Europe! They have permanent and special exhibitions, monthly programs, research, planetarium and a place to shop too.
Tuesday: closed

You will need 2-3 days to cover all the exhibits and programs. We had to rush from one room to another to cover each section. I loved the old coin and rocks area and kids liked the Huge animal and space exhibits.

Fine Art Museum – The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Fine Arts) is one of the most important European museum buildings created in the 19th century. The monumental structure, built as part of the Emperor Franz Joseph I expansion of the city in 1858, was intended to both unite and suitably denote the artistic treasures that had been collected by the Habsburgs over the centuries.
Monday : closed ( and unfortunately it was Monday, so we could not visit)

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Our Private Cruise Dinner –  Normally, the cruise along the Danube River is 3-4 hours and they serve Austrian dishes, but as our group was totally Indian (80 people), we were served Indian buffet-style along with live Music and Belly Dance (not Indian 🙂 . They did try some Shah Rukh Khan songs too but the choice of songs was really pathetic. Hop aboard the boat and off we went for illuminated Vienna night tour. Below are the pics of inside of the boat, kids enjoying the view and in the third pic here, my son trying to search for the dancer he fell in love with.

I guess I was comparing it to Venice or Zurich tours so did not find this a very overwhelming experience but you will experience the city of Vienna from a different perspective.

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Seegrotte Hinterbrühl –The mine stays at the constant temperature of 9C in any weather. For those who forgot to bring their woolens, there are blankets available for renting at a nominal 50 cents. Going under the ground is always fascinating experience. Here you have a chance to visit an old gypsum mine that was flooded.

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They partly filmed ‘The Three Musketeers’ here & the ship was left as a souvenir. During the war it served as a plane parts factory.

An old model is put on display in one of the caves. I did enjoy the tour although it was slightly overpriced at €9. Overall it was an ok, but I feel it’s not worth a second visit. The snacks shop outside is overcrowded cause of long wait to go in the cave, our kids enjoyed ice-cream and chips there.

Before the caves we had gone to the below place, if someone can help me with its name.

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This is the trinity, I was talking about earlier.

 

Our day ended in yet another Indian restaurant, this time punjabi food. Next day early morning we started for Slovakia.

This is somewhere in the middle of Vienna to Bratislava. You are not allowed to eat inside the bus, so when the driver stopped to get fuel and we came out to get fresh air, we all settled down on the side road itself to get our hands dirty in Veg Biryani and Samosas!

My younger one got upset here because he did not get his double share of a chocolate. Finally he was busy with the flowers. Then we started for Bratislava.

P.S.

Hitler –  Seeking a career in the visual arts, Hitler fought bitterly with his father, who wanted him to enter the Habsburg civil service. After his father’s death, Hitler eventually persuaded his mother, Klara Hitler to permit him to pursue his dream to become an artist. As she lay dying of breast cancer in the autumn of 1907, Hitler took the entrance exam to the Vienna Academy of the Arts and failed to gain acceptance. In early 1908, some weeks after Klara’s death in December 1907, Hitler moved to Vienna, ostensibly in the hope of renewing efforts to win acceptance in the Academy of Arts. He lived in Vienna from 1908 to 1913, after which he moved to Munich. Being fascinated by Hitler and in general history, this was also a major attraction for me to visit Vienna.

No farewell yet to Vienna because we came back in the night. But closing this blog here only, will continue about the next place in later write ups. Good day guys!

 

 

 

Helsinki

Helsinki (capital of Finland) has been awarded city of design by UNESCO, is considered most honest and livable city in the world. When I heard we were going to Vienna and Helsinki in summer vacation, I was overjoyed and thrilled. I always prefer less commercial and close to nature places and Helsinki is one of the best cities of Europe (small country of just 5.3 million people). We went by Jet airways from Ahmedabad to Delhi and then to Helsinki.

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Delhi International Airport above to below is the Helsinki Airport

 

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View around Helsinki from the window of our bus taking us from airport to hotel. All sign boards etc have three languages – Finnish, Swedish and English.

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Education
Finnish education is considered one of the best in the world. Our guide gave a lots of details about the languages you need to learn, the way it works their and how they are the best in education in the whole world. Summing it up, it’s definitely worth trying school/college in Finland. There is a near absence of poverty. For residents, school lunch is free, preschool and college are free. Most students are healthy and know three languages (Finnish, Swedish and English). The best and the brightest want to become teachers in Finland. The teachers are given high respect and trust because they make the best human beings out of small kids. They don’t follow quick fixes but believe in strategic and permanent growth.

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Reached our Hotel Kamp –  is a 5-minute walk from shopping in the Market Square, a 6-minute walk from the Ateneum art museum and 2 km from Temppeliaukio Church. Breakfast was complimentary and they have an Asian kitchen also. Food was very good.

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Below – World heritage site – Suomenlinna is a UNESCO World Heritage site and popular with tourists and locals. Originally named Sveaborg (Fortress of Svea), or Viapori as called by Finnish-speaking Finns, it was renamed in Finnish to Suomenlinna (Castle of Finland) in 1918 for patriotic and nationalistic reasons, though it is still known by its original name in Sweden and by Swedish-speaking Finns.

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One of the Submarine of World War II time, below is the sleeping beds.  dscf7740

The island is beautiful and you can see people relaxing under the sun. It’s a poets and painters place.

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Helsinki is a food heaven, mostly people prefer local and fresh food. If Japan has sushi, Finland has reindeer meat, which is processed and canned to last for months or even years. Take home a can of this specialty.

Our guide informed that people will not smile or be courteous, be in buses or shop, anywhere, but it’s not considered rude here. There is a level of trust.

Getting Around in Helsinki
The city is walkable and compact. Public transport is good, bus, trams and metro. It’s very economical to travel and goes on trust, so you don’t have to show ticket but if caught will have to pay fine.

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A walk in the market square, buying some souvenirs (Cups in the pic-  the double hole in the handle is for married and one is for  single people )

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Street artist on the corner left. Cycles are very common mode of transport in Finland.

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Wishing locks I guess! Near market square.

We took a private cruise in the evening on Hudson River (from Market Square)

Winter World, Helsinki – Snow attractions and activities are available in any weather. Igloos, ice sculptures, toboggan hill, kick-sledding and tandem skiing. You have to take tickets and some group trips are also arranged. Below are some pics, we had a great time here and it’s a must visit.

We had a great time in winter world and I would love to visit it every year.

Some of the streets, park near our hotel, in the below picture they are preparing the street for some flower decor.