It s strange times that we are living in. The ever expanding vocabulary due to COVID like flatten the curve, social distancing , the new normal and the fact that Corona virus has been declared a feminine gender in the French language, are a few of the exhausting facts of these quarantine days. At some levels we all are living and walking a part of history. Coming generations would be talking, writing, debating and discussing in detail about these times. 2020 will go down in history.
In the month of February , when we travelled to Tromso and back., I did not imagine that there was a storm brewing in the shape of a global pandemic. Little did I know it was coming our way, and that the entire human kind would be brought to a grinding halt by an invisible bug. When the lockdown began in United Kingdom, I did not feel like writing about my travel memoirs of Tromso. It felt so wrong to be thinking of travel at such a time, when there is so much of trauma, anxiety, loss and grief brought on by an invisible bug.
With the onset of lockdown, I felt lost and restless given the uncertainties’ the disease had brought along with it. I started cooking my way through lockdown, to calm my nerves and to stay positive. I started trying out the dishes and recipes I used to have as little girl, when I growing up in India. I am not a foodie nor am I passionate about cooking. Cooking is a chore, a matter of fact of life, I can say there is nothing much about it that tickles my fancy. One strong connection or bond that I have with my birthland is food. Whenever I yearn for that connection, I find food to be a very comforting and compelling support. I associate smell of Pav Bhaji ,Wada Paav and cutting chai with Mumbai, the smell of coffee being roasted and ground, Idli and chutney with Chennai, Aloo tikki chaat to the streets of New Delhi and the aroma of Rasam, Ksheera , chillies,pepper, cardamom and saffron with my mother’s kitchen . When I travel out , I always try and have one meal or one dish which is Indian, a day. It makes me feel close to India. What I like most about cooking is the senses and emotions that it evokes, while cooking. All the sautéing, frying, and mixing of spices together, awakens the memories of long forgotten days, days filled with warmth, food and wonderful family time. The long stretching summer evenings at my maternal grand parents house, where my aunt would tell us children stories under the moonlit sky and serve us food on the terrace, my mother making a special Sunday lunch of Onion Sambhar ,potato roast, tomato rasam, walking back from work, eating spicy Indo Chinese with a friend or eating piping hot Bhajias from Bhajiaya house, inside the Mahalaxmi temple compound on a monsoon afternoon, overlooking the sea while discussing intensely with a friend about some book which we read recently.
Cooking stirs a deluge of emotions in me , on somedays I find it therapeutic ,and on some a task. So at the onset of lockdown , I looked at cooking as an outlet, a means to expend my energy. A way to extend my gratitude and be thankful for my situation.
I have a roof over from my head, I have food to eat, a job to do which also allows me to work from home, I can spend time with my husband,in between work, have lunch, and breaks with him, eat healthy food, with all the technological advancements I am able to be in touch with my family and friends. It is not as bad, but I still was and am anxious. I was missing something. Cooking started become exhausting, an endless activity, I felt like I was part of the Ground Hog day movie set.
Now after two months of being in Lockdown, and upon looking back, I feel cooking is my way of trying to grasp at past nostalgia and hold on it. I was trying to bring a little bit of cheerful childhood and bygone days, a slice of familiarity to this unfamiliar ground that I was walking on, to feel a bit of normality in to these ‘ new normal’ days. Once the penny dropped, I felt less restless. And more importantly felt it is okay to feel restless and anxious. These are uncertain and changing times and change is always not easy.
I realise I am missing the freedom , the freedom to move , the freedom to be able to hug friends, meet them , walk the streets of London, visit museums, have a coffee with friend in a café, laugh out in a carefree manner and be able to sneeze or cough (covering my mouth obviously) and not give panic attacks to others nor have one myself that I might have started a pandemic. (Apologies for this one but could not help it). Is it Freedom I am missing? Not sure
A couple of years back we visited the KGB Museum, in Tallinn. At the end of the tour, the museum has a prompt, for you to think about and ponder and what the word means to you. The word was Freedom.
Freedom , with in reasons, living with out constraints. I would say Freedom is also a Freedom of choice, a choice to make, between two available choices. In current scenario, I see it as I have the freedom to choose, but I do not have the choices I am used to. The virus has taken away many of the choices and options available to us. In a metaphysical sense, perhaps the virus wants us to change our ways and make different choices.
I believe we humans are quiet adaptable and resilient, but we are not invincible. I hope we use the free will given to us correctly and make the right choices collectively for us, for the planet and the universe. Until we find the way to a better health for us and the planet, we keep calm and carry on !!!!!
Winter is one of my favourite seasons to travel. The festivities , the lights, meandering through Christmas markets aimlessly, wrapped up in warm coats and hats, with smell of melting chocolate and hot cocoa wafting around, fills my heart with warmth and longing. The perfect cure for this is to embark on a journey and if the journey involves a few train travels, it renders the journey magical. I am sharing some of my favourite markets from this years Interrailing trip.
Beautiful Bergen with its colourful wooden houses, vast emerald green coastline, mountains and fjords, made me fall in love with it instantly. It is often called the Gateway to Fjords , it is the second largest city of Norway, is also the European city of culture. It is surrounded by seven mountains and hence is sometimes referred as a city between mountains.
I have not written much on the blog for a while partly because I have been bitten by the Netflix and binge watching bug and the rest is due to me just being listless. It’s not particularly uncharacteristic of me slipping in to an ennui now and then, often it leads to a bit of reflecting and pondering. I often find such times far too comfortable and retreat in my cosy cocoon of solitude. It’s here that books, blogging and travelling often help me shake out of my slumber and remind me that it’s a beautiful world out there to be experienced. In England it is that lovely season of Autumn, when the warmth of Sun on your skin feels like a sweet dollop of honey on a warm toast, the Sun rise and set paints the morning and evening skies in spectacular colours, trees with their leaves in beautiful shade of russets, yellows and pinks, and gentle sway of falling leaves on to the ground look magical , I believe it is Mother Nature tenderly nudging me out of the boredom reminding that there is more to life than the binge watching and being glued to screen. Autumn is a season when we travel a bit more.
August this year, we travelled to the Dutch capital, Amsterdam.The city famous for its beautiful canals, liberalism, coffee shops, red light area and cheese. This was a much anticipated trip as I had been wanting to take the Eurostar to Amsterdam from London, for a very long time. Also given that it is the 25 th year of Eurostar, as a train enthusiast I was super excited to have picnic on the train to celebrate. With a packed picnic bag, I arrived at the St Pancras station a bit tired as I had been overzealous in preparation of the picnic. But all was well once we boarded the train and I was calm and joyful. As soon as the train rolled out of St Pancras Station. like a child, I kept asking my husband every five minutes “ Shall we eat now?”. I am still not sure what was I more excited about the picnic on the train or the train ride.
Manchester has become one of my favourite cities in England. I visited Manchester first time in March this year. I have been to the city three times since then. This is also attributable to cricket mania which had engulfed our home for the last one month. The city has managed to capture my attention with its industrial heritage, which was once upon a time known as Cottonopolis and played a pivotal role in the industrial revolution. I would like to explore the city more. I have so far only been able to explore the Science and industry museum and The John Rylands Library.
Manchester has earned the title of UNESCOs city of literature. It is home to four world class libraries Central, Portico, John Rylands and Chetham’s and gave the world the works of Elizabeth Gaskell. I have a predilection for books and libraries, and invariably I have a tendency to gravitate to a library or a bookstore.On all three occasions I have visited Manchester, it happened to be a Sunday, and John Rylands library is the only library open on Sundays. So my choice of library was easily made. Having visited John Rylands Library once, I wanted to revisit on the next occasion. I found John Rylands library a subliminal experience. It tells a tale ; a story of books, a city and a library
Spring is very stunning in United Kingdom. I love the burst of colours on the road side, the chorus melodies of the birds in the morning, the gentle breeze of the spring swaying the buds and flowers, bumblebees and butterflies in the garden. It is the season for picnics, garden parties and outings to the beach. Spring is also considered as a great time for star gazing.
In the month of March I had travelled to India after a gap of two years. In this post I am going to share some of the photographs and anecdotes from the trip and from my memories. I am not sure if these are very touristy, but they most certainly have a nostalgic value for me. India is a vast country, with diverse natural beauty, food, culture and architecture, with lots of history. I have often seen photos and write ups about India in magazines and travel videos, I have never been able to relate to them. I understand that, living in a place and experiencing it , is completely different to visiting a place as a tourist, the perspective is completely different. We see what we seek, perhaps I am seeking something different. This time like every time around when I am back in India, I went seeking the place that I grew up in, the one which is in my heart and mind, like the courtyard where I have played hide and seek with my cousins. the mango tree at my maternal grandparents house that I have climbed up and jumped down from, the garden that I have sat with my mother and aunts, while they sunned the pickles,stringing the jasmine and other flowers in to garlands, their hands deftly garlanding the flowers while gossiping away to glory, the temple courtyards where I would occasionally see peacocks and elephants. sleeping on the terrace gazing at the starry night and falling asleep and waking up to an orange sky with the Sun about to rise, looking at tiled orange roof tops from the terrace of my paternal grandmother s home, then to lie down flat on the hot surface of the terrace, peering down the small sun roof in to the kitchen watching my grandmother and mother stirring the pots , clanging the vessels, cutting vegetables, and garnishing,which often reminded me of symphony. Why? Because they would always move in perfect sync with each other, if my mother added tomatoes, my grandmother would add salt, one would add coriander, the other would add turmeric . Believe me I could never function that way, there would be all round chaos in the kitchen, followed by a serious meltdown. I firmly believe in too many cooks spoil the broth, but apparently it did not hold true for them. I love to walk back in the memory lane, trying to conjure up the past from my memories, with the present colliding with it and creating a mishmash of new memories.
Last month I had travelled to India, for a bit of family fun ,catching up with some good old friends and a bit of sightseeing . Travelling in India for me is full of nostalgia and fun, yet extremely overwhelming and exhausting. It is never a leisure trip. Having been born and raised in India, my formative years were spent in India. I have many memories associated with India, some good and some not so good. I often think of life as a series of experiences and memories, like a large beautiful painting made with different splashes of colours and Brush strokes. Some strokes are crisscross, some not very clear, and then there are smudges of paints, some are vibrant and some a bit dark, but together they make a beautiful painting, without these colours and strokes, the canvass would be blank. So a trip to India is always a walk back in to the memory lane for me, with many fond memories and some not so fond ones and making some new memories on the way. It is a very emotional journey for me and I usually find myself in a perpetual state of frenzy with fraught emotions. I heavily rely on a set of friends for emotional support while I am in India. And on our way back home, I usually find myself saying to my husband , in a very crestfallen voice, ‘I need a holiday !!!!’ I love the country that I was born in and raised, but the country that I go to now, is alien to me. I have this place in my memory, which used to be my home, and then there is this place that I am visiting now, very different to my memory. I have changed as a person and the place that I am visiting now has changed. I am a person who has a birth country and home Country. I belong to both cultures, but in heart now I am a Londoner. Home to me means, London, I need my Victoria Sponge Cake or a Sticky Toffee pudding to perk up my spirits, Mind the Gap on a tube station is music to my ears, to be able to bolt to a museum as soon as I feel like is a fact I love, when I am away, I start missing the grey overcast sky of London . I love the fact that I am part of a city which is a multi cultural melting pot. When I feel like having a Masala Chai I could head in to any Curry house or head to East Ham for a Idli or head to Leicester Square for a steamed dumpling, or head to Turkish Street for a Turkish Tea and Biscuits.
“I think you travel to search and you come back home to find yourself there.” ― Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The first time I heard about Garmisch-Partenkirchen, was when I was trying to find the train route to travel from Munich to Innsbruck,during our Interrailing trip last December. Munich to Innsbruck via Garmisch-Partenkirchen is considered to be one of the panoramic routes, although it not the quickest route. On that particular trip we decided to skip the scenic route and take the quickest route. We usually prefer travelling somewhere in February, and this year we thought we will visit Garmisch-Partenkirchen as part of our February travel tradition.
Hopping on and hopping off trains, traipsing through Christmas markets, Interrailing has been so much more than amusing. We checked out of the hotel, after a hearty and leisurely breakfast.We wheeled in our luggage to the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof, boarded a train, bidding adieu to Frankfurt. We settled in to our reserved seats on Deutsche Bahn train to Nuremberg, our next destination. I updated our Interrail pass with the current travel itinerary. The train started to roll out of the platform, moving swiftly out of the station and the city. The train chugged along, the coach was absolutely quiet, with no noise not the even usual white noise , except the rhythmic sound of train chugging along,which to me sounds like a mother singing a lullaby to her baby, gently rocking her to sleep. The peace and quiet of the car, with the rolling meadows and countryside outside the window of the train, put us in to a sweet slumber, and both of us dozed off, me happily resting my head on my husbands shoulders and he resting his head on top of my head. We woke up to a commotion and chatter when a few more passenger boarded in at the next station. It was a crisp bright winter afternoon, with blue skies when train pulled in to Nuremberg. We walked in to the hotel. We were greeted by a very warm and friendly staff at the reception who gave us a lot of insight on the city, a map of the city and also told us about the famous Lebkuchen of Nuremberg. It’s a bit like gingerbread but not in its entirety. Nuremberg is the second largest city of Bavaria. It’s known for bratwurst /sausages, Lebkuchen, toys and Christkind Market/ Christmas market. The city is known for its infamous Nazi rallies. After the war, trials against German officials ,were held in Nuremberg, called the Nuremberg Trials. The Christmas market of this city is amongst one of the oldest known markets, is almost 400 years old. I had heard a lot about the Nuremberg Christmas market. Two years back, returning back from a Christmas market trip while I was waiting for my luggage to arrive , at London Heathrow Airport, is when I heard about Nuremberg Christmas market. It was from a fellow traveler standing next to me, while waiting for luggage, as we started exchanging our travel stories in order to kill the time. He was returning from a Christmas market trip, but unlike us he had been on a River cruise. He thought Nuremberg Christmas market was the best market he had seen on his trip. Since then I haven been looking up information and reading about Nuremberg . The market in Nuremberg is very traditional, the stalls at the market sell the best traditional handmade Christmas decorations, there are no plastic decorations sold at this market. And now I was very excited to be at Nuernberg.
We walked towards the market, feeling extremely hungry. We discovered an Indian restaurant called Sangam on the way and we stopped over and enjoyed the delicious food. The Christkindlmarkt market did live up to its name, it is indeed one of the best markets I have visited, very traditional and beautiful. It is held at the main market square. The iconic landmark of Nuremberg Christmas market , golden angel is easy to spot and is everywhere, in the lights, the tree decorations, handmade curios. It follows a tradition of Chris kind/ Christ child , handing out gifts to children. The Christ child, at this market is a girl with golden hair and not baby Jesus. Every two year a girl with golden hair from the city is chosen to be Christkind, who would walk around the markets and handover gifts to little ones. We walked around in the market, looking out for the Christkind, but no luck of spotting her. We walked back to towards the hotel, talking about our eventful day and thinking about how wonderful it was to watch a sunrise in one city and sun set in another.
The next day we planned to visit Munich, the capital and largest city of Bavaria. We booked a late afternoon guided walking tour of Christmas Markets at Munich. We had a easy start of the day, beginning with a leisurely breakfast. There is something revitalising to start a day in an unhurried way, sitting and having a conversation, contemplating and simply being in the moment. After the breakfast, we went to the Handwerkerhof/Handycrafts market near the station. It’s a medieval shopping area, withal collection of little shops selling locally hand made items. The items are priced on the higher side, given that they are handmade and unique. I particularly liked a cook shop selling carved rolling pins. After a bit of stroll and wandering around in the market, and we walked to Nuernberg Hauptbahnhof to board a train to Munich. It was a pleasant journey of an hour in to Munich Main station. On reaching the Munich station, we had a lunch at the station which was pretzel and Minestrone soup. There are plenty of options to eat at station. We then walked over to place we were meeting our Guide for the tour. The tour begins at the station, takes you through the oldest Christmas Market at Marienplatz, Sendlinger Market, then with a 10 minutes stop at Christmas village at Munich Residence and the tour ending at Medieval market. The tour was informative, giving you the history of the markets and it also gives you a fair idea of different market, and you can explore further on your own, based on your liking. The tour was two hours and we booked it from viator. We liked the Marianplatz market, and on the way we noticed a St Michaels Church with beautiful murals on the walk, we were interested in visiting it. We were feeling peckish, so we stopped over at an Italian cafe/bistro.. We had the most delicious Pinza, which is sort of flatbread with sauce and topping, but not big as a pizza. I had not heard of a Pinza before this visit, and I really loved the taste and portion size of it. I would so love to try Pinza again. After a Pinza, I was looking at some cannoli filled with sugar, when the waiter who looked at me watching the cannoli wistfully, suggested a profiterole, as the cannoli would be too sweet. The profiteroles were simply divine and I am ever so grateful to the waiter, who had recommended both the Pinza and Profiterols. It was such a warm and welcoming cafe, and I am so upset with myself for forgetting the name of the restaurant . But I will always remember the place in Munich where I tried Pinza for the first time. We walked around the beautiful Marianplatz Christmas Market, visited the St Micheal s Church, and spent a memorable day at Munich. We headed back later in the night from a dazzling Munich to Nuremberg. We were back in Nuremberg in one hour and in to our hotel, resting our heads in warm beds and giving our our aching feet a good rest and a nights sleep.
The next day s itinerary was a day trip,to Regensburg. We started the day with the same leisurely pace as the previous day and reached the main station. We boarded the train to Regensburg, a heritage town on the banks of Danube. Our first visit was to the Thurn and Taxis Christmas market. It is considered to be the romantic Christmas market. The Christmas market is in the grounds of the castle. I think it would look more Romantic in the lights and in the evening than in the natural day light. We walked out of the market by lunch time, and headed out in to the old town. It was raining, and the aldstadt looked very pretty, with it’s beautiful cobbled alleyways glistening in the rain. It was a cold winters day and with the rain pouring down, it made it even more chilly. We wanted a bit of warmth and respite from cold and rain. We went into a coffee shop called Hemingway. It’s a nice restaurant/coffee shop with friendly staff. We ordered some soup, fries and coffee. I was curious to find out if there was any anecdotes of Hemingway having visited the place and hence the restaurant acquired its name, but I could not find any. The food and the place warmed us up enough, we walked out of the restaurant, nicely wrapped up in hats ,scarves and coats. Regensburg, a heritage town, has preserved it s medieval town centre, in spite of having been heavily bombed by the Allies during the World War II. The town wanting to preserve its Medieval site, went through a slow rebuilding process and managed to save it Medieval sites not having been torn down. It managed to earn its UNESCO heritage sites. Such stories interest me, and are very dear to me, being a history buff and also as a person originating from a country with rich and long cultural heritage. My personal favourite in Regensburg were the St Peter s Cathedral or Dom,a perfect example of German Gothic architecture and the 12th century stone bridge on the River Danube to take you to other side of town. A walk around the old town centre, and crossing the 12th century stone bridge, makes you think of all the history, the past the town has had, countless lives that have trodden on the same paths, that we walk today, lived and breathed various emotions, how their lives was different than ours, yet had a similar pattern.
“ Our greatest glory is not in falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Confuscious.
We returned back to Nuernberg, late in the evening. We made our reservation for our train next day to our next destination, which was to Innsbruck.
The next day, another day of a lovely leisurely start of the day, after a good breakfast, we went to visit the toy museum at Nuremberg. It takes you on a tour of evolution of toys over the years and how toy industry was a great part of Nuremberg. The museum also demonstrated use of toys, as a tool in defining social norms to young minds, for instance, use of toy soldiers and trains for boys and dolls and doll houses for girls. As a child I did want a doll house, and all the different doll houses reminded me of my childhood desire and my husband was reminded of wanting to become a train driver and wanting a room to build a model Railway set. We both still would like to fulfil our childhood desire, me having a doll house and my husband building a Model Railway town. I am not sure, how deeply it’s driven by the societal norms and boxing, I leave the thought percolating for now.
We had a lovely stay in Germany so far, enjoyed every moment of interrailing with Deutsche Bahn. It’s a pleasure travelling in Deutsche Bahn, the staff always very polite and friendly. We boarded the train at Nuremberg, bidding adieu to Germany, Deutsche Bahn and the train hurling us off to another city, taking us ahead on another journey.
“Travelling is more fun, hell life is more fun..if you treat it as a series of impulses.”- Bill Bryson
Often, when a year ends and a new year begins, one starts to think about the year gone by and wonder what the New Year has in store for you. I have been mulling over a quote by Socrates ‘An unexamined life is not worth living’. My mind incessantly ruminates over memories and on multitudes of cliches of life. Or should it be called the ‘Grand Philosophies of life’ as quoted on the serviettes of Eurostar. I personally would call it banalities of life, which in bigger scheme of life are considered inconsequential. But these small questions, often lead me on to a journey,making me loose myself in little joys of life and on to a road of self discovery.
Rules of Happiness:something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.- Immanuel Kant
Is Interrailing a verb? That is what I have been mulling over for over a month.
I have an affinity towards train travel since my childhood days. And since our train travel a few years back using the Interrail pass in Germany. I have been wanting to go Interrailing again. And 2018, did give me the opportunity to explore the various Christmas markets of Europe. Leaving aside grammatical nitty-gritty Interrailing is the most beautiful way to get around in Europe. I simply love watching the world go by, through the window of a train , with the idyllic European countryside and the changing landscapes, it is like walking through an art gallery looking at different paintings/art. Once we decided the dates for the holiday, we ordered our Interrail pass. We ordered a 10 days pass, to be used within one month. There are various options available , but we chose this option as this fitted with in our travel needs. We chalked out the itinerary, the number of days stay at each place, and booked Hotels not very far from the railway stations. We travelled to 10 different cities, in 4 different countries. It was fabulous and magical. I could not fit it all in to one post so I have decided to split it in to parts. This post is first part of the journey.
We chose our first stop as Brussels. Eurostar is part of interrail pass, but it requires a reservation of a seat, in order for you to use the pass.I reserved seats, on a morning train, leaving from St Pancras reaching Brussels Midi in the afternoon. We decided to reach St Pancras slightly early.It would give us time to have a leisurely breakfast at the station before boarding the train. It’s such a perfect way to start the holiday. There are plenty of options to eat at Kings Cross and St Pancras. I enjoy planning, chalking out the itinerary and details as much as I enjoy travelling. When I was a kid, I would plan days ahead, what books and comics I would carry to read on the train, my mother would diligently pack snack pots for the travel, which she would neatly pack in a little bamboo basket and I always had a special request for my snack pots. I always thought, the snacks tasted even more yummier in the train rather than at home. We reached Brussels by afternoon. We reserved a seat on a train for our next destination for the next day. Before heading out to our Hotel, we had lunch at the station, which consisted of a slice of pizza and some ice cream. The Hotel was right across the station. We checked in to our hotel, and had a lovely wintery afternoon Nap, nicely tucked in to a cosy duvet. Power nap, Beauty sleep, siesta whatever you want to call it, is claimed to be good for you, especially if one has been working a bit of crazy hours and is slightly sleep deprived. By the time we woke up, it was drizzling, the roads were glistening in the rain and all the holiday lights were on. We gulped down a hot cup of coffee at the Hotel, wrapped ourselves in scarves, woolly hats and coats and walked out with a warm happy wintery glow on our face towards the Grand Palace. During the month of December, the Grand palace has a sound and light show at frequent intervals in the evenings. It’s a spectacle not to be missed, the Square comes alive with music and lights. Although I thought the music could have been a bit more cheerful. The Square itself dazzles with a large pine tree lit up, with buildings and shops around decorated in tinsels and lights. There are many more Christmas markets around the city, but we stayed in the Grand Palace area. We walked around a bit more around Grand Palace, later on had a hearty meal at one of the restaurants, then walked back to our hotel, by this time it was freezing cold and the rain was turning in to sleet.
Tiffany Christmas tree at St Pancras Christmas tree Brussels Grand Palace Grand Palace Light show Cite Centre Grand Palace Brussels
The next day we woke up to a view of a snow covered rail tracks and buildings, a light dusting of snow, which reminded me a dusting of sugar on a cake. We packed our bags, got ready, had our breakfast and checked out of the Hotel. We boarded the ICE train to Frankfurt, for which we had reserved tickets earlier. As soon as we board the train and take our seats, one of my tasks on this trip , is to update the travel itinerary on the Interrail pass. Any valid pass without the travel itinerary updated with the current journey on it, are invalid and chargeable with fine. The train ride was so calming and restorative, watching the serene snow covered terrain, makes you feel so tranquil.
We reached the Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof/Main station, by afternoon. The station is very impressive architecturally, a neoclassical building , perhaps very similar to other stations constructed during that era. It is one of the busiest station of Germany, thronging with people from all walks of life. I was very impressed with the station, it had a buzz about it, architecturally, culturally and socially; a proper confluence of new age and by gone era. While Walking out of the the main building, at top of the building, I noticed a statue. I later found out that is the statue of Greek God Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders, supported by two figures. The two figures are metaphoric representation of Iron and steam.
We checked in to the Hotel, a walking distance from the Hauptbahnhof, after having a lunch at Sarvana Bhavan, a vegetarian chain of restaurants with presence across the globe. It’s famous for its South Indian food variety. One of the wishlist my husband is to visit all the Saravana Bhavan restaurants across the world. This helped him tick one of his list. We had a bit of rest in the room, planning the next days trip and watching dusk fall over the banks of River Main. We walked out of the room as the River Main started to sparkle and shimmer in the evening lights and brightening up the wintery evening.
We walked around the historic centre of the city, and sat in Coffee shop sipping our Cappuccino, watching the Christmas lights and market outside. Sometimes it’s a wonderful experience to observe the surrounding as an outsider, someone who is outside the perimeter, just an observer not a participant and let the boundaries dissolve gradually, you see the perimeter blurring, and you are no longer an observer but are part of a larger picture. People watching and observing especially during the holiday season has such a surreal and positive impact on me. I find laughters of little children and adults truly infectious. The surroundings and atmosphere are so vital and have such a profound impact on our psyche. I recently read on a Psychology site, if you surround yourself with positive experiences, thoughts and people, it helps in building your resilience. It helps build up physiological and psychological resources, which in turn helps in being more optimistic, steering you away from negativity and stress. One of the memorable sites, that day was watching the carousel going round and round, lit up with lights and happy faces , festive music blaring out aloud. You just start to join the merriment with a small tap of feet, ending up riding on the carousel, laughing out aloud and singing along the cheery songs. We walked back to our Hotel, giggling and laughing like little children
The next day morning we had a scrumptious breakfast at Hotel, before heading out to the main Station. We wanted to visit Mainz, a historic town known for its medieval city centre and Gutenberg Printing press. I looked up the train timings on Interrailapp, and found out we did not require reservation for this travel. It’s situated at an half an hour journey by train from Frankfurt. Mainz is a city in the Rhineland, situated on banks River Rhine, where River Main meets River Rhine. Mainz Old town /Aldstadt is very pretty, with half timbered and coloured medieval houses and is even more attractive with Christmas lights, and markets. There is plenty to eat and drink. My personal favourite during this trip was Fruchtspieße or Fruit skewers. It is fresh fruits covered in chocolate on a skewer. There a wide variety of fruits, from Cherries, strawberries, grapes to pears and apples too. There are candied version of fruits too, but my personal favourite is with fresh fruits. It’s perfect to walk around munching on the chocolate covered juicy fruit or standing near a open fire bowl to get a bit warmth and give your feet a rest from the walking. We also visited the Mainz Cathedral, which is situated in the old market, and is not far from the Christmas market. The Cathedral referred as Dom , a red coloured building stands tall and is a beautiful backdrop to the market. It is very difficult not to want to wander towards it and walk in. The Dom is thousand years old, is made of sand stone, a Romansque style, with lots of statues and paintings , it is a bit dark inside, but nevertheless very beautiful. I would have loved to know more about it, but there was no literature inside the Church. I would recommend visiting the Church, if you are in Mainz.
Frankfurt Main station Mainz Christmas Tree
We stopped over for lunch at a place called Aposto, opposite to the the statute of Gutenberg , the man who started the Gutenberg press. It was also to give a rest to our aching limbs and to get the contact lenses out of my dry eyes to switch to comfort of glasses. The food was warm and delicious, the ambience was lovely, and staff welcoming. I had a tomato soup and garlic cheese rolls and my husband ordered a pizza. The pizza I must say was large, and I was glad I ordered a warm soup. After the lunch we were wondering where to head next, we decided on another city of Rhineland, which we visited on our earlier trip, and loved it. We boarded on a train from Mainz to Cologne.
Cologne, known for its Cathedral and for its Eau de Cologne, and has the tallest Christmas tree in Rhineland. And we loved the Angel Market/Engel Market of Cologne,when we visited last time and a friend had loved the photos of Engel Market from the last trip. All these reasons lured us back to Cologne. We walked out of the station in to the Cathedral. Personally, it’s my favourite Cathedral after the Rouen Cathedral. I love the Gothic architecture of the Cathedral and how the structure looms over the city with its presence and the market next the Cathedral is absolutely lovely and full of festive cheer. We went to the the famous 4711 shop, which sells the original Eau de Cologne/ Kolnisch Wasser or simply Water of Cologne. I remember when I was a little girl, when it was too hot in afternoons, my mother would rub Eau de Cologne on my temples, as a respite from heat. We walked around the Angel Christmas market, before heading back to the Christmas market next to the Cathedral. We stood under the tallest tree of the Rhineland, taking selfies and photos. It was time to head back to Frankfurt, to our Hotel
We took the train back to Frankfurt. In an hour we were back in Frankfurt main station. We stopped over at a coffee shop for a quick bite before heading back to the Hotel. We turned in for the day, reminiscing about the last few days full of fun, Christmas markets ,trains , train rides and train stations, and looking forward to more days of Interrailing, full of fun and adventure.
Interrailing in Europe is sure an amazing way to criss cross through Europe.
“Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is the train “- Charles Barkley
Reading was a favourite pass time of mine as a child.My childhood days were filled with wondrous tales and stories from across the world. Stories from a range of books fed the curiosity of a child with vivid imagination, introducing me to these fabulous places and people. Reading made the stories in the book come to life , with beautiful words , making me travel with the pages to faraway lands, laden with mysteries and adventures. The Stories of Gods and Goddesses from Indian Mythologies, fantasies and magical tales from Arabian Nights, fairy tales from Russia, Enid Blyton’s Magic Far away series, adventure series of Famous five, comic books with stories of Phantom and Mandrake the Magician, Sci fi adventures of H G Wells and Jules Verne. I could travel any where I wanted, with a flick of a hand and a flip of a page. Those were the simple days, before the advent of phones and internet, where you had to use the power of your imagination to conjure up a place and travel with your mind as a child. One particular story I enjoyed very much as a child and as well as an adult , is ‘Around the world in 80 days’ by Jules Verne. The very first time I heard the story, was from my father, who narrated the story from his memory, and I remember being fascinated with words like circumnavigate and perplexed with the word wager and amazed by the fact you save a day travelling from East to West , Mr Fogg s Determination, and Passeportout s resourcefulness really inspired me.
“Did you know , Jules Verne lived the later part of his years in Amiens, and his house is open to public is not very far from Paris by train?” said my better half one day, while browsing through a random map on google maps on his phone. Browsing through google maps randomly, is a favourite pass time of my husband, he has a penchant for finding locations of inspiration for travel. I needed very little persuasion further on this for a petite trip to the French city, not very far from Paris.
On a Friday night we boarded the Eurostar from St Pancras London, to Paris Gare Du Nord, for a late Autumn trip to Amiens. We stayed overnight in Paris, next morning we walked out of our Hotel in Paris, with our SNCF tickets in our hand, strolled around the streets of Paris, spotted the street art Vinnie at 10th arrondissement, which made me very happy. We grabbed some breakfast before boarding the train from Gare Du Nord, to Amiens, it took an hour to reach Amiens. The present structure of the station what we see was built after the World War II having been destroyed during the War.
We dropped our luggage at the Hotel, which was right across the station. We had a quick bite to eat since it was already the lunch time, then we walked towards the Maison Du Jules-Verne. It’s a charming little museum, with English audio guides, and little leaflets in each room in English. There is an exhibition on his publisher, (Pierre Hetzel) too. The house is large, warm , and welcoming, with a tower at the very top. The house has been kept, as if the humble author has just walked out and would be back soon. When I walked around the house, I felt it exudes a warmth of a well lived house, full of love and tenderness. He lived in the house with his wife for 18 years , until his death. I particularly loved the spiral staircases in the middle of the house which takes you all the way up to the tower. The house is filled with furniture from the era of the author, additionally it showcases the objects giving insights in to his work. His degree certificate can be seen framed and hung on the wall, and of course there is a photo of the novelist himself on the wall. The other objects of interest for me were the various maps, paper clippings which illustrated the travel plan of the book. If you are an admirer of Jules-Verne, like me then his house is definitely worth a visit. The house closes down in middle of October and reopens in April.
Amiens is also referred as the Little Venice of North. A walk along the River Somme on an autumnal morning , with its meandering canals, riverside restaurants and bistros, gorgeous colourful houses by the edge of the canal and you begin to understand, why the city may have acquired the title of Little Venice of North. I have not been to Venice, so I am not the best judge whether it is like Venice or not. But sitting by the canal, sipping coffee,under a canopy, watching swans and ducks floating on the canal, with sound of bells of the Notre Dame Amiens peeling in the background, the quaint city feels ethereal, making you leave the cares of the world behind and just savour the moment you are in.
I was interested in visiting the Hortillonnage- floating market gardens. It is a floating market garden grown on the marshlands, and can only be accessed by boats. It is a preserved site around 300 hectares of marshland , capable of producing beautiful flora and fauna. The tour on the boat takes around 45 minutes, which are run at regular intervals. There are leaflets available in English, but the tour is in French. Although the guide on our boat, knew a bit of English, and pointed and explained to us some parts in English. It was extremely kind of him to do so and I really appreciated his efforts. At the beginning of the tour, it was mentioned to us at that the tour guide would speak in French. The Hortillonnages are small plots of lands, separated by canals, and accessible only by flat bottom boats. The water level is essential for the canals and to support the flora and fauna around. This water level is maintained by three locks around the canal. The gardener, called the Hortillon is in charge of maintenance of the banks of the canal, as the mud from canal has to retrieved and laid on the banks to keep the fragile banks intact. I quiet enjoyed the tour, it is so serene and secluded, far from the sounds of the city, and is tucked away between beautiful canals ,with vibrant colours and diverse birdlife.
Amiens is of course known for its Cathedral D’Amiens, with its magnificent gothic architecture, which is worth a visit. The quaint city has plenty of shops and also has a branch of Gallery Laffeyette, if you are interested in a bit of retail therapy.
I enjoyed dinner at Ristorante Del Arte. It is an Italian restaurant, situated not far from where we stayed. We did have the waitress attending to us , speak to us in English. Her English speaking skills were limited to as much as my French language skill are, which is not great. I wanted to order a vegetarian pasta, my husband very cleverly ordered a Margarita Pizza. I inquired in English, about the contents of my pasta and wanted to confirm it had no meat, and I managed to completely confuse her and she looked worried. I had to literally wrack my brains, and I managed to say in French.”Je voudrais des pâtes, pas de viande, pas de poisson” . She looked relieved and pointed at the menu a pasta dish, and said it was vegetarian contained no meat. The pasta arrived and it was very delicious. She came in to check later if everything was okay. I love such interactions with people during travel and that’s what makes travel a little bit more fun.
I often read on blogs disclosures being made on recommendations. It made me realise I often mention hotel and restaurant names and have not added any disclosures . I thought it is worth mentioning now, my blogs are usually anecdotal, they are my experiences, and I would like to think, they are almost like a story, a tale that happened to me on a travel. The hotels and restaurants I mention on my blog are part of the stories. Somewhere I have been, someplace I have stayed, eaten in and enjoyed and paid for myself. It is merely my recommendation. I would like to be the narrator, the catalyst, who makes you embark on a journey, your journey, explore what you love, find out what you like. It is the human connection that interests me. You my dear reader, are what I am interested in. If with my blog I am able to connect to you, I am able to take you along my journey with my words, make you wonder, Hmmm.. would I do that?, shall I go there?. That connection would make me happy.
Jules Verne who wrote Around the World in 80 days in late 1800, inspired a woman in 21st century , to take the train to Paris and then to Amiens, experience a wonderful walk and a lunch on the Riverside, a delicious dinner at Del Arte, admire the Street art on 10th arrondissement , Paris and many more experiences. A man in born in France in 19th century, long dead, managed to form a connection with a little girl in 20th century, in a far away land, a land where he never stepped a foot on, at different times., yet with his stories he managed to amuse her. To me that’s a marvellous journey. Would you like to embark on a journey of your own ?
There is something magical about Christmas. Call me a romantic or dreamer , I love Christmas, every little drama associated with it. I like the Christmas movies, streets festooned with decorations and light, high streets and shops decked with twinkly Christmas lights, mad rush in the shops, Christmas fair and Markets. I wait with anticipation for the Regents street and Oxford Street lights to be switched on . When I walk back home in the evenings in to our street looking up at all the homes decked and lit up , windows with warm glow of lights, lovely Christmas Wreaths, I feel a sense of elation.
Having grown up in India, where Diwali is celebrated with more pomp and show, my exposure to Christmas was very limited and probably only limited to what you see on movies. When I moved to London, it was Autumn, and just about when the…
It’s the that time of the year , after Christmas and the week leading up to New Year’s Eve, wondering about the year gone by and gearing up for another year. I must admit, I love the build up leading in to Christmas and the holiday season. There is an orderly, almost sort of regulated amusements, taking you in to gaiety and merriment. The lights on the Streets get switched on , the stores are decked up, the shopping lists being made and gifts being ordered, setting up the tree at home, taking out your Christmas jumpers and hats and leading on to the maddening frenzy and then the quiet after Christmas. Last year we waltzed in to Christmas, this year not so much. This year I have stammered and stuttered in to the festivities with our little bouts of Flu and other urgent medical emergencies, which are part and…
Prague has been on my wish list for many years now. Always the allure of seeing elsewhere ,would push the desire to visit Prague in to the corners of mind to be retrieved at a later date. This has been going on for a while, until we visited Rouen and the Gros Horloge of Rouen. Gros Horloge at Rouen piqued my interest in another astronomical clock. It is this impulse of seeing and admiring another astronomical clock, that made me plan a trip to Prague.
We landed in the Vaclav Havel Airport, Prague, bought the three days Prague Card. We decided to take the public transport to get into the city. Mostly we prefer to use public transport, wherever possible, and is also the reason we end up buying the city cards, which gives access to most monuments and museums and also gives the abiltiy to take local public transport. We boarded a bus from the airport ,then changed over to the Metro, to reach our hotel. Travelling by public transport in a new city as soon as you arrive may not be best way to begin a holiday , but I enjoy doing that as it is a chance to get a first glimpse of the city , a chance to observe and experience the city in its dynamic form, to feel the pulse of it and get excited of being somewhere new. Arguably, perhaps I believe the city looks equally exciting , from the window of a taxi. I just want to be a narrator here, a story teller , taking you along with my journey.
We stayed in a hotel located in Nevo Mesto, not far from the historic old Town, called the Grandoir Hotel. We dropped our bags at hotel and went out to explore the city. And the best way I enjoy to explore a city is on foot. We walked towards the historic old town. The Bohemian capital is filled with oodles of charm and romanticism , especially the old town, with beautiful buildings in pastel shades, striking baroque architecture ,charming streets adorned with vintage gas lamps and cobbled paths. I found it hard not to fall in love with this old part of the town.
Prague is often referred as city of Spires, yet I was more mesmerised and intrigued by the magnificent archways. The majestic archways appear to be standing tall with their open wide arms , welcoming the visitors, leading them on to beautiful alleyways , on to lively parts of town , winding pathways weaving on to another charming part of the city, nudging you on to keep discovering. We walked towards the old town hall to view the astronomical clock, to find it covered in scaffolding and all wrapped up in covers. The clock was meant to be ready and open for public after the renovation works, by this time. Unfortunately the work got extended and it was not yet ready to be open to public. I felt a wave of disappointment. I remember coming back to London and voicing my disappointment to a colleague, who very nicely pointed out to me set backs are part of travel , and most importantly the monuments need to be closed from time to time for up keep so that the generations to come may continue to enjoy its glories and stories. He also pointed out that ‘ Big Ben’ is closed for renovation now and is covered in scaffolding and disappoints so many tourists who come to London. As a Londoner, I do wait for the day when Big Ben would have the scaffolding down , I have never experienced the feeling of not being able to see a monument from a tourists point of view and the feeling was not same.
The disappointment coupled with my hunger, was making me grumpy. At this point I was not wholly sure as to should I attribute my grumpiness to travel burnout or that we were just simply famished. Suddenly a strong desire to eat Dal and fragrant Basmati rice took over me. I voiced my opinion to my husband,who was equally famished but not as grumpy as me. He knew just exactly the place to go , in Prague. We walked in to an Indian Restaurant called K the two brothers. When I looked at the menu, it had pulao rice, and I was still looking quizzically at menu, and feeling a bit more disappointed. The waiter who was taking the order, perhaps gathered my predicament or my grumpiness, said in a cheerful tone that they could make the rice the way I would prefer and any other dish that I woul like. We ordered creamy dal makhani , Jeera Rice, some bread and yoghurt dip. And at the end of the meal, I was offered a Masala chai, and it tasted just like the ones made back in India or at home , with comforting aroma of cardamom rising from the cup along with the steam was enough to lift my spirits. I walked out of the restaurant with my tummy full and heart content, feeling a bit blithesome. We walked around a bit more , and went back to our room for a bit of snooze or catnap.
Prague is well known for its fairytale architecture, spires, and for its beer. Little did I know that Prague is a musical city, in fact Lonely planet calls music being the ‘lifeline of Prague’. Jazz has a very special place in this city s heart, along with rock and roll music, and of course the classical musical concerts in the evening, in churches, in town halls are very popular.The Prague Spring in May and Prague Autumn with classical Music concerts held at Rudolfinum is sought after. There are pamphlets dotted around the old town , listing out the programme/ concert. While enjoying a cup of coffee in the cafe of the Municipal house , we saw a pamphlet of a concert in the evening, to be held in Smetana Hall of the Municipal house,-The Best of Mozart and Strauss. We bought the tickets for the same day evening show and wandered around streets of Prague, until the gates of the hall opened for the show. The interior of hall is beautiful, Grand stairs leading on to the splendid concert hall, which is very airy with a glass dome ceiling with beautiful murals on the walls, by the Czech artist ,Karel Špillar. The acoustics along with the soul stirring music brings the place alive, the murals dance in the light and the audience sway with joy to the rapturous music. The municipal house building itself , has been restored to its original glory in 1989 and there are tours available of the Municipal house during the day at regular intervals, and in the evening the concerts are held. We choose to attend the concert instead of taking the tour in the day, and it was a pleasure to listen to the music and being swept away by the music.
The next day we visited Klementium, a historic complex of buildings, known for its Astronomical tower, views of the city from the tower and its beautiful Baroque Library. I heard a lot about the library on social media and this is what inspired me to visit the Klementium. In order to view the Baroque Library, you have to take the tour of the complex, which comprises of the library, Meridian hall and astronomical tower. The library was finished in 1722 and has since remain untouched in its appearance, hence it has a very original and authentic architecture untouched by time. There are no photography allowed of the library, for conservation reason. Seeing an old library survive the test of time and standing there surrounded by books from the 1600s to the recent times , is an experience indescribable, especially for a book enthusiast, like me. All I did was stand in there and breathe in the effervescent smell of the old books, and I remembered the quote.
“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
― Jorge Luis Borges
As we moved along with the tour, we passed many telescopes and many other astronomical objects used to study the sky , stars, distance between the stars and meteorological measurements. Though originated as a look out, the tower started being used as a astronomical tower by Jesuit mathematicians and physicists. JosephStepling , Jan Klien being the ones who gradually equipped the tower and filled it with their drawing and observations . Klementium bells were used to determine the high noon based on the movement of Sun in the Meridian Hall. The Merdiain hall situated in the second floor of the tower, is where the high noon( which is different to the noon on the clock) is determined everyday, based on the sun ray coming through a small aperture in the wall. The sub beam coming through the hole would fall on a white string stretched on the floor , the exact time it fell on the white string , determined the high noon. The whole room is turned in to an Camera abscura, I found this room particularly very interesting.
The final part of the tour is view of the town from the top the tower. You get beautiful views of the spires , the River and entire city. It’s a perfect spot for a selfie, and instagrammers paradise. You have to keep dodging the selfie sticks , and avoid photobombing someone’s special selfie accidentally. I did manage to get some wonderful shots of the city from there, which made up for not having a photo of the beautiful Baroque library.
Another spot for getting wonderful photos and possibly the most beautiful views of the city, is from the top of Old Town hall, where the Astronomical clock is situated. Many of the interior rooms were closed for renovation, like the chapel on the first floor ,which gives you a view of the twelve apostles which adorn the clock, the historical and ceremonial hall. The structure of the old town hall is of gothic and is a very fetching architecture. The gothic tower was tallest in the city when it was established in 14th century and it also includes a watch tower and a living space for the watchman , who would warn the towns people in case of any danger. Currently there is a lift which takes you up to the viewing platform or you could take the stairs up, which we did. The views from the viewing platform are breathtaking, you can admire the Tyn Cathedral and St Nicholas s church. We saw a bride and bridegroom walk out from the St Nicholas church, while standing on the viewing platform. You could also see the Prague Castle in a distant and many more beautiful buildings consisting of spires, which is why city is often referred as City of spires.
We went inside the Tyn Cathedral, the most famous and perhaps most photographed building of Prague, with its beautiful tall spires. There is no photography allowed inside the church and is not open to public during masses. The interior of the church is very beautiful and displays are a combination of gothic, Renaissance and baroque style.
Another church which we visited, is the nearby St Nicholas s Church, which is a baroque style and the interiors impressed me massively . I was moved by the beautiful frescoes inside and the dome, which are an additional beauty to its Baroque architecture.
Another place I enjoyed eating, was a place called Lehka Hlava, when translated from Czech to English simply means Clear Head. It is a restaurant and can be referred as tea room too , housed in a renovated old gothic house dating from 15th century. It serves vegetarian food, has a relaxed atmosphere, with beautiful ceilings and decorations, and the food served is bursting with flavours. The place is very popular, although we reached there late in the afternoon, we had to wait 20 minutes to get a table and they could not let us know when the next table would be free as they do not rush people or have time limits. We waited in the lounge, which perhaps was the passage of the house, and ordered some drinks. When we moved to our table , I noticed the ceiling of the room was deep purple which gradually then blended in to the wall merging in a dark green. The table had a lamp shaped like Mushroom and light coming out from the mushroom. The food was flavoursome , the atmosphere very uplifting, and the whole experience is very relaxing and unique.
We were in Prague for three days, we walked on the famous Charles Bridge, did a River cruise on River Vltava, walked in the Jewish quarters , saw the beautiful Spanish Synagogue , were moved by the photo of a couple taken together smiling blissfully at wedding, who later perished in the concentration camps, tasted the famous Tredlink or chimney cake, admired the beautiful architectures and the lovely hand made curious which are manufactured and made in Prague, walked through the Golden lane where the alchemists lived and also Franz Kafka supposedly lived there for a while. We did not go to famous Prague Castle or Vitus Church or dancing building not because we did not want to , but we were getting tired and sitting down more for rest or spent a lot of time in the hotel cat napping and snoozing, making us wonder were we unwell. We were under the weather, tired and perhaps a bit what is termed as travel burnt out. We managed to beat it by eating food that reminded us of home, all the three days we had relaxing massages and reflexology treatments at the end of the day. We were lucky to have a Spa in our hotel, we could have the treatments and take a lift back in our rooms and drift in to wonderful sleep. It’s worth mentioning, I did not realise until the therapist at the Spa informed me that Prague/ Czech Republic is also well known for Czech Beer Spa and Beer cosmetic products.
This trip to Prague made me understand travel burnout and that it is real. I would have attributed my tiredness and my husbands lethargy to either age or to general tiredness. It made me alter my plans for the sight seeing, cross out some on list move it for another trip, seek out something to remind me of home, letting our body relax and unwind at its own pace. I have always understood and known that travel is never about the destination, yet this trip to Prague made me realise something else, which is better summed by this quote I read on the internet a few days ago.
“It is not the destination where you end up but the mishaps and memories you create along the way.”
Last month I had a marvellous trip to Cornwall, with a few friends. We had been wanting to do a trip together and trying to get together for years, given that we are three and respective partners, with each one of us having a different work schedule, in different countries , with our share of responsibilities, it was becoming highly challenging to organise our holidays together. Alas, we got together this year and decided the destination as Cornwall.
I have been wanting to write about this trip, but was not having much luck and hence have been a bit quiet on the blogging world. I have not yet mastered the art of quietening my mind, it still ponders and wonders. In the past I have often found writing on the blog a very effective way of collecting my thoughts. Yet now every time I would sit down to write , about my trip to Cornwall, I would not be able to collect my thoughts concisely and my mind would start wandering off. I have been distracted lately; with work , and combined with a feeling of melancholy lingering , which I attributed to my friends having left back home, hence leading to my lack of coherency in thoughts.
I read recently on a Psychology website, an article emphasising on importance of friendship, referring to friendship as a gift we give ourselves and it went on to describe the meaning of friend as someone who adds the fullness of life. And says Authenticity, honesty and trust are qualities we expect to find in a friend. I wholeheartedly agree with both the statements. It also says “There is an understanding that the binding together of people in friendship helps each of us define and realise a meaningful life”. This trip to Cornwall and my friends helped me realise a meaningful life.
Cornwall, is such an underrated and relatively less talked about travel destination of England. The beautiful countryside ,with its spectacular coastline, sandy beaches and cliff tops, it’s a mystery how it has not been explored much by the travel industry. Since the advent of BBC s Poldark series, I have heard Cornwall’s tourism industry is doing wonders. Ross Poldarks s scything the grass scene has successfully set many hearts fluttering as well as been successful in putting the Cornish coastline amongst top travel destination. I have visited Cornwall a couple of years back, and was completely mesmerised by the Cornish countryside, with its magical and mystical tales, being the birthplace of King Arthur, caves where Merlin the great Wizard resided, where Daphne Du Maurier lived and where most of her novels are based. I absolutely love magic and fables and Cornwall s landscape has a mystical air about it. I so wanted my friends to experience the magic of Cornwall.
We stayed in town called Helston in a cottage , near Mullion Cove. It’s a picturesque little town, in Lizard Peninsula, not far from Penzance and St. Ives. It is also very near the Poldark mine , which is situated in Wendron Valley. While driving to Helston, we noticed a number of radar like structures on a large open field close to Helston, which I later found out is called Goonhilly earth Satellite station, which happens to be the largest earth satellite receiving station in the world, with 60 satellites. There are guided tour offered, but unfortunately I found all this information upon our return. I definitely would love to go back there again. I gathered from the website that you can send an e mail to outer space, which has the possibility of being received by another living form someday. We dropped our luggage at the cottage and headed out to the near by cove called Keynance Cove. When we started our walk to the cove, the sky was covered in dark blueish grey clouds, by the time we reached the pier, clouds were just about parting, letting in a stream of Sun come through. It was breathtakingly beautiful sight, with the sun beams stretching out from sky, trying to reach the crystal clear blue waters of the sea. The rugged cliffs around the sea in the backdrop made the view even more phenomenal. All of us stood there mesmerised, gazing in silence at the vast sea side ,with its beautiful landscape, hearing the waves crashing on the rocky shore, the wind rustling through our hair, noticing the bobbing heads of odd divers in the sea. I have always found the colossal beauty of nature and it’s compelling vastness, to have such an calming and healing effect on the mind. We came back to cottage, had our dinner, and watched the clear night sky filled with twinkling star and silvery Moon light bathing our faces. It was such a remarkable convergence of different energies; a wonderful synergy of food, love, warmth and the feeling of togetherness. Such are the wonders of simple and pure joys of this world.
“If only there were an invention that bottled up memory, like scent. It never faded, it never got stale. And then when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again”- from Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier.
Another beautiful location of Cornwall is the much loved and very well known St Ives. We took a train from St Erth to St Ives, it’s one of the nicest way to travel to St Ives, because of its scenic route and having not to worry about finding a parking spot. It’s very difficult to find a parking spot in St Ives, given its popularity and proximity to beach. The station at St Erth railway station is a pretty little stone building with lovely feeling of an cosy old station, with little wooden benches and hanging flower baskets and a shop selling old post cards, coffee and other memorabilia. The station is also part of Great scenic Railways. The train goes via Lelant and Carbis Bay, the route is very picturesque. St Ives Railway station is above Porthminster Beach, you can walk from there taking int the view which winds down to town centre, with pretty little shops, cafes and alleyways with quaint buildings. St Ives Bay and beaches are known for its surfing activities, and is filled surfers and surfing schools. Originally a fishing town, St Ives now is an extremely tourism oriented town. I love St Ives ,it’s art galleries and its beautiful artistic connection. The town has St Ives Art school, it’s known for its Modern Arts Movement, Barbara Hepworth Museum and now the Tate Modern. Barbara Hepworth, an artist and very important figure in abstract movement of art, lived in St Ives and had a studio in St Ives. There are many present and contemporary artist s studio too. I love the streets and beaches of St Ives, both have its own charm. One can find a ideal spot on a cafe on roadside of a beach or in the town centre and order a Cornish Pasty. Munching on buttery pasty, with the pasty crumbling in your mouth, take in the colourful sight of town, it is an delectable experience.
Another location we had a marvellous time was St Michael’s Mount, Marizon. It is a small tidal island on Mounts Bay. It’s part of National trust and has castle, abbey and beautiful terraced gardens. Historically St Michael’s Mount was affiliated to Saint Micheal of Normandy region of France and a Benedictine monastery. It’s a perfect place for a family outing , exploring the island as a group or just for enjoying a day out in fresh air. Since it’s an island and it would be advisable to check out the weather conditions and tide times. The day we went , it was a misty morning with very little visibility. It was all the more amusing to explain to friends who were from a very tropical and sunny climate, that we were going to walk to the island, because the tide is low now and when we head back we will have to take a ferry. And the fog made it extremely difficult for me, to show them the full pathway to walk , let alone the actual island. The I could see quizzical and confused faces, tugging at their jackets for a bit of warmth,they plodded on with an utmost faith on me, with the sea breeze hitting their face.I could hear them ask me , now and then, what is it that IS there ? And Why are we going there ? By the time we reached the island and bought tickets , had a cup of hot tea and some croissant, the mist started to clear, my friends could get their bearings and look around with their own eyes the path they had walked from the coast, the view of the town from the island and the flower laden path going up to the castle and abbey above. Now were a refreshed, happy and content bunch ; walking up the stone path, taking in the sea air, laughing our hearts out and with my friends little lad looking for the giant s stone heart, which as per legend you can still hear it beating. The legend says there was a 18 foot giant called Cormoran, who lived here on the island and terrorised the villagers until a boy named Jack from the village stayed him and cut up him in to pieces and scattered the pieces around the island . The boy was thenceforth called the Jack the Giant slayer. The story amused my friends little lad, he was full of questions about Is Jack the giant slayer same as Jack and the bean stalk giant slayer? How someone who was dead long ago can have his heart beating still? And can all the pieces join together now and become the giant and start terrorising again ? And above all can we cut up someone like that ? And I had to come up with answers rapidly as the questions were coming rapidly. The most difficult one was how do you tell a little boy , it’s ok to cut up someone, if I say yes, I am saying it’s ok to be violent and if I say no, I am saying it’s ok to put up with bullies and not stand up . Hmmm…. not a one where I can respond rapidly. My answer was long and winding, perhaps the giant is sum of all the fears of the villagers, and it just became so looming and large and Jack killed the fear before it could consume everyone. Well my answer did not satisfy the little boy, he just looked at me with his curios eyes and laughed , “ You are very funny , or perhaps it’s all just a story”. Ah the simple and unbiased world of children, where they see the things as they are!!!!! We did find the heart and tried all our best to hear if it was beating.
My personal favourite in Cornwall is the Minack Theatre. It’s an open air theatre, on a cliff top, with views of the vast open sea , and waves on the rocks . crashing. The location of the theatre is spectacular. We went there for a story telling. It was a very hot day with sun beating down, and we all sat under the open sky in scorching heat, listening to a story about a light house keeper who wants to be a writer. It was fun screaming with kids ‘ Behind You’ or making noises like sea gull or flapping about your arms as if they were wings. Although my friends little boy was more than amused looking at us lot. One must let the child in us always be alive, and I am a firm believer of the quote.
Minack theatre is not far from Land s End, the southern most tip of Britain. Land s End is a landmark location, because of astounding views of Atlantic Ocean, for bird watchers and for being Last point of land between Britain and North America. We walked around Lands End, taking photos of the famous sign post, did a bit of shopping and had Cornish Pasties as lunch. One of the walls of the shopping complex talks about the origin of Cornish pasties , it’s links to miners and how it now has evolved as national food of Cornwall.
While driving back to London, we stopped over at Jamaica Inn in Bodmin Moor. Jamaica Inn in the past had been known for its notoriety for smuggling activities and it is said that one of the days author Daphne Du Maurier was lost in the moors while riding and could not head home back because of the fog. She stayed overnight at Jamaica Inn and her stay inspired her to write the novel Jamaica Inn. The building now a grade II listing is still an Inn with rooms available, it also claims if you want you can stay in the room where Daphne Du Maurier stayed. It is no longer connected or associated with nefarious activities. There a bar called Smugglers Bar in the Inn and has a quote at the entrance “Through these portals passed smugglers, wreckers, villains and murderers, but rest easy….t’was many years ago”.This was my second visit to the inn and I remember five years ago the Bodmin Moor looked more desolate than now , the only building that was visible in miles was Jamaica Inn, giving credibility to the work of fiction called Jamaica Inn. There are many buildings around now, and it does not feel spooky. It is a perfect spot to get a great view of the vast surrounding moors. Food served is very delicious and has plenty of vegetarian options too. There is plenty of seating both inside and outside, a very rustic yet comfy decor. Being a fan of Daphne Du Maurier, and having endlessly discussed the book Rebecca in the past many years ago, we enjoyed our visit and the lunch at Jamaica Inn, chatting and reminiscing about our crazy book hunts in book stores of Mumbai.
The trip to Cornwall was so rejuvenating and therapeutic. It brought back such wonderful memories of past, of innumerable moments of affection, warmth and camaraderie, the ability to connect , to be part of tribe and along with it also brought back the surge of grief, the grief I felt when I moved to London. The unacknowledged grief of having been separated from my tribe, having lost my inherent support system, the ones who were always there, during every rites of passages ,when I got my first bonus at work, I bought my first flat, my first promotion, when I had a terrible day at work, one who would be very comfortable sitting with me in silence without asking any question, or very happily disappear when I need some space. Grief is said to be unspent love, I have heard. Nevertheless it is still love. It is often a mistake to associate love only to joy, happy times spent together. Love is present in everything, in joys, in tears, in grief and in loss too. We very easily acknowledge happy times, and block the grief and loss. And this trip helped me realise and experience friendship in its entirety, in its fullest form, making life a more fuller experience and a marvellous journey.
I find train journeys very captivating and enthralling. Train stations to me are like a magical portal , a doorway to a land of wonders, beginning of an amazing adventure. They are very dear to me and have a nostalgic connection,having travelled extensively on trains during childhood years, while growing up in India. I am also a huge fan of book, ‘The Railway Children’. Rail and railway stations have been an integral part of my life. Such is my fascination for trains and train stations, that I had breakfast in Kings Cross station this year as a birthday treat. Any opportunity of travelling by train, I hardly ever would miss. We have been planning a trip to Rouen for a while now and this Easter break we did a journey to Rouen, by train.
Tallinn in Estonia, has been perhaps one of the underrated travel location, it is slowly changing in the recent years. I have heard of the visits to Tallinn as part of cruise trips, you get a day to explore the city. Although, I have been wanting do a cruise trip , not necessarily to Tallinn, I have yet not been able to convince my husband on the merits and joys of a trip on cruise ship. Well then it has to be a solo trip !!!!
Its become a tradition for us to travel in February, somewhere outside United Kingdom. We wanted to continue the tradition. We looked at various options towards the last year end and we decided on Tallinn, Estonia. This trip also happened to be our first travels of 2018. It turned out to an incredible trip, we had an amazing time in the beautiful Tallinn. Tallinn , with its Old town and medieval buildings and architecture, looks like a page out of a Fairy Tale book.
We flew out from Heathrow Airport, London to Tallinn. The flight time from London to Tallinn is a few hours. I enjoy the early morning flights out, which means we can go to the airport in the morning, check in and drop our luggage and have a leisurely breakfast, watching morning sky aglow with orange rising sun. It gives us a chance to slow down and unwind , from daily life and get slowly in to the wanderer mode, bask in the reflective glory . I call ourselves wanderers , my husband likes to call us explorers.
The flight landed in Tallinn by late afternoon. There was ground snow across and the lake nearby was frozen. We grabbed a light lunch in the restaurant at Tallinn Airport. We bought the Tallinn card, which gives you access to most of the museums, tram rides, and hop on hop off bus tour. We prefer buying the cards, because it gives us easy and quick access to public transport and museum. We arrived at our hotel ,in Raavala, Radisson Blu Sky. It is located at a walking distance to the Historic Old town. The view from our room on to the city and bay was very pretty. We admired the view, left our luggage in the room and walked towards the Old Town. While walking towards the Old town I noticed a huge shop called Suvashop, which sells socks. It made me wonder if I ever had seen or been to a shop which sold only socks.
With that quintessential musing, I walked in to the UNESCO heritage, Old Town Tallinn. The Old town , with its medieval architecture, cobbled roads ,covered in dusting of wintery snow, looked splendid and out of this world. It was like walking in to a set of fairy tale movie. The Old town has many coffee shops, and are called Kohviks, some are traditional and some contemporary. I was recommended by a fellow blogger to visit Maissmokk.( http://www.kohvikmaiasmokk.ee/en/). It is a traditional Coffee house, selling coffee and cakes, and also known for its Marzipans. I was very impressed with marzipans with its very intricate and artistic sugar craft. You can also watch the marzipans being decorated. Tallinn is also very famous for a drink called Vana Tallinn. I had a Vana Tallinn coffee with Irish coffee roll and my husband had a cappuccino with Biscuit cake. In the blistery winter weather , the warm decor of Kohvik, the hot coffee and the cake felt so divine. We loved maiasmokk so much, that we visited the kohvik three days out of our four days stay.
We walked around the Old town for a bit more, and as the natural light faded away, the old town was iridescent in the warm glow of street lights. The Old town is not very big , in fact the whole of Tallinn is not very big and it is wonderful strolling around on the Old Town, at a leisurely pace, taking in the sight, wrapped up in warm coats, scarves and hats, the amber rays of street lights drawing geometric patterns on the cobbled roads and buildings. It is an experience, a veritable moment, you start to wonder whether is it the brilliant sight or the coffee you had earlier , making your heart go warm.
Upon returning to our hotel, we went to the 24th floor, where they have a restaurant/lounge with wonderful views of the whole city . We ordered a tea, sat on a table by the glass window, watched the skyline of city shine and shimmer in the lights while sipping the hot green tea. This became our routine for the next three days.
The next day, after a hearty breakfast at the Hotel,(The spread of breakfast is absolutely wonderful and delicious) we walked towards the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, in the Old Town. The walk is beautiful, though slightly uphill, but not stressful at all. It was a bright and crisp winter morning, the ground snow glistening in the wintery sun. We reached the Church. It is a Russian Orthodox Church and is a functioning church. There is no photography allowed inside the church. The interiors of the church is as beautiful and ornate as the outside. I loved the ceiling of the church, which is painted blue with little golden stars. There was a service going on in the church, with smell of frankincense, cloud of smoke rising from candles, making it look hazy inside. We stayed for a while inside. We walked out of the church with cold breeze hitting our faces. We walked on from there to Toompea Hill, Kohtuotsa Viewing Platform. The viewing platform gives a sweeping panoramic views of the city and also has the wall art “ Times we had” almost synonym with Tallinn now and an absolute favourite spot for instagrammers. The phrase is open for interpretation by viewer / observer. It is indeed a wonderful spot for the views and photos.
After lunch, we visited the KGB cell museum. It is situated in the basement of the grey House. It was used as prisons during 1940-1950. The museum shows the methods used to crush the Estonian Resistance movement and prison conditions. It is very humbling experience and makes you think about the meaning of Freedom.
Another wonderful part of Tallinn which I loved and admired is Telliskivi Creative City. The Old industrial complex and parts have been converted in to a creative centre, consisting of shops, creative studios, bakeries, independent shops and restaurants. It also houses the offices of many NGO s and a flea market is held every Saturday The whole area is strewn with beautiful wall art. The unused walls of the old factory and industries have turned in to canvass for art work. I absolutely loved the idea of using the empty Old industry buildings and turning them in to something so beautiful and constructive, without having to demolish any of the old structures.
Telliskivi Creative city is near the Balti Jaam Turg Balti Jaam Turg is a huge market very similar to farmers market but on a much larger scale. You can get everything under the sun, from fresh vegetables, groceries, chocolates, fabrics ,haberdashery to handicrafts. There various shops selling produces from with in Estonia and also handicrafts from Poland, Finland, Russian,Finland. There are cafes and restaurants too inside. It reminded me of Crawford Market in Mumbai and the Spitalfields Market in London. The market is massive and is also one of the perfect spots to pick up souvenirs. I bought a woollen scarf and got chatting with the friendly lady who sold us the scarf. She was the one who told us about the origin of the products. She also mentioned she has a neighbour from India, from whom she sources some of Indian scarves, which were for sale in her stall. There are also other places for souvenirs like Guild market and Katherine s Passage markets. The Baltic ambers, Russian Dolls though not specific to Estonia are very popular souvenirs. There are products made in Estonia too, wooden products, the local wooden coasters, beads and woollen products which are equally popular. The quirky me I picked up socks from the socks shop which I had seen earlier called the Suvashop ( https://www.suvashop.com). It was by chance we passed the Balti Jaam, and I am glad we did.
The next day we visited the Kadriorg Palace. It’s a baroque palace, made by Peter I of Russia for his wife Catherine in 18th century. It was meant to be summer palace and after Peter I s death, Catherine did not show much interest in the palace. It was rebuilt and restored in 19 th century by Russian Royals and was run down later during Soviet occupation. It was restored in its present state by Estonian government with the help of Sweden after independence. It currently displays various collection of art work. The Kadriorg Park around is also considered worth a visit and is know for its greenery. When we visited the park , it was fully covered in pristine snow, and was absolutely tranquil and trees dappled in winter sun. We walked from Kadriorg Park towards the bay. We saw the Baltic Sea, icy and frozen and the shores covered in snow.
Tallinn has plenty of options and choices for vegans and vegetarians. We ate at Chakra( http://chakra.ee/eng/index.html) an Indian restaurant, definitely worth a visit if you like your curries, staff are courteous and polite, the ambiance is warm and welcoming, and food is delicious. The mint paratha and Dal makhani was authentic and delicious. Another place I immensely enjoyed is Clayshill, a Gastropub (http://www.clayhills.ee/). As the name suggests the menu is contemporary and has soups, sandwiches to pasta and Risotto. We tried the Beetroot Soup and warm roasted vegetable salad. It was absolutely delicious and a food for soul on an afternoon when it was snowing. We had a perfect spot near the window, to tuck in our warm food and watch the snow fall on the cobbled roads of old town. We also tried an Italian restaurant in Katherine s Passage called Contravento (http://www.controvento.ee/en/). The decor is rustic and usage of the heritage features of property to its best, adds a charm. We had Bruschetta, pesto linguine and Penne Arrabbiata. The food was delicious and staff very polite and attentive.
Tallinn was getting ready for its celebrations 100 years of independence. Lights were being strung up on streets , the landmark spots were getting decorated. The sign of ‘100’ were being displayed everywhere. There will be special events throughout the year. The independence of Estonia is also celebrates the Singing Revolution, which brought them Independence by singing.
The Guildhall museum which is an interactive and interesting exhibits explaining the origin of Estonia since ice age to it present day, the inhabitants, religion and the livelihoods of the region. At present Estonia is Silicon Valley of Europe and is know for IT services and is the birth place of Skype.
I thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Tallinn and exploring the city and wandering around the streets and discovering the street arts, the handicrafts and markets. Tallinn is less crowded, quiet reasonable, hence is a value for money. The city has a charm and romantic allure to it, with its medieval buildings and I can say for sure it has completely won me over.