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Winterrailing

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.

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Experiencing Bergen!!!

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.

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Interrailing in Europe -1.

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.

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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

Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof/Main Station

Christmas tree at Romerburg Frankfurt

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

Under the Tallest Christmas tree of Rhineland

Cologne Hauptbahnhof/Mainstation

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

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Pretty Praha !!!!!!

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.

Colourful buildings and pretty streets of Prague

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.

Beautiful streets of Prague

Creamy dal, rice, Mint paratha and yoghurt dip (Raita)☺️

The starter we were recommended, a bread filled with cheese

Interiors of K The two brothers

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.

View of the Charles Bridge from Klementium

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.

View on to Tyn Cathedral from Old Town Hall

View on to Mala Strana from above from Old town hall

Bride and Bridegroom now taking a photo

Glass lift to go to the viewing platform

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.

A post card of the interiors of the Cathedral

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.

Loved this shop called Manufactura

Tredlink Chimney Cake

Charles Bridge

A couple s photo at Spanish Synagogue, who perished at Auschwitz

Spanish Synagogue

Jewish Quarters

Tribute to Franz Kafka in Jewish Quarters

Rudolfinum Music Hall

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.”
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Tallinn – A fairy Tale

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.

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