Saturday, April 30, 2016

A time with family and friends

Day 13 - Day 17 - (April 27 - April 30)
The next few days we spent visiting friends and having dinner & lunch parties with them. It was such a heartwarming experience to be in their company, having a drink together and finally top it up with some mouthwatering dishes. We will surely miss them.



We were scheduled to return on May 1 to Bangalore. My brother and I wanted to have one last family time before we left. We did a grand BBQ party for lunch and a superb full fledge dinner at home on April 30th. There were so many dishes and each of them were one better than the other. Cheese cake to top it all. Yumm…..



Day 18 - May 1, 2016

The day had finally come to return back to Bangalore. The last 3 weeks were filled with fun and memories that would stay with us forever. I’ve tried to bring our experience as much as I could in this travelogue.

I am a person who believes that when the time is right all good things falls into place. The time was right for us and this chapter in our lives became a reality.
If ever we get another chance we will go again to another destination and of course a blog will follow :-)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Gotland, Sweden

Day 10 - April 24, 2016

Gotland, an island off Sweden, in the Baltic Sea is a popular holiday spot. If you love nature, sea and long beaches, this is the place to be. It is a perfect spot for nature photography.


There are 2 ways to reach Gotland, one is by flight from Stockholm or by ferry from Nynashamn. We decided to go by the ferry. We hired a 7 seater, Ford Galaxy to drive to Nynashamn. It was a good option as we could travel around the island quite easily. It is a 45 mins drive from Stockholm. Our ship was at noon and by 10:30am we were on the road. The ferry was on time and we drove into the ferry, parked our car and moved on to the ship deck.

It was lunch time and the restaurant was buzzing with customers. We got our tables and bought lunch. Meat balls and mashed potatoes is a delicacy in Sweden, a right time to savour the dish.
The journey took about 3 hours and 15 mins. We spent the time chatting at the restaurant and taking photopraphs at the sun deck. By 15:15 pm we docked at medieval town of Visby.

We had booked our accommodation at Visby Strandby Norderstrand not too far from the Visby port. A cozy cabin with a fantastic view facing the Baltic sea.  Our cabin was on a slope with our own terrace just outside the cabin to relax and enjoy a stunning sunset. It was equipped with two bunk beds and a loft with two extra beds, suitable for children, hot and cold water, fridge, hot plate, microwave, dining furniture and kitchen utensils. We couldn’t ask for more. A perfect getaway to blend with nature.

We didn’t waste much time and head straight to Hogklint. High cliff, one of Gotland highest with sweeping views of the ocean and north of Visby. The cliff is 48 meters high. A mind blowing experience standing on the edge of the cliff to create this shot. The weather was perfect for taking pictures.

We then head straight to the medieval Hansa town of Visby. It is part of the World Heritage site since 1995. Visby is an example of a north European century old medieval town. A town with defensive wall, a well-preserved network of streets, buildings, church ruins, stone and wooden houses. We strolled down the cobbled streets and took some pictures. The Visby Cathedral is a fantastic piece of architecture. It was like a time warp to the medieval era. The sun was setting and got a good view from the city wall.
It was evening time and we got some stuffs from the supermarket to cook for the night. It was great fun, cooking in the cabin, the four of us helping each other over some drinks, chatting and cracking jokes.

Kids having their share of fun too. Life is sometimes made of such moments and yes this was the moment. That night the temperatures went down to -3c but our cabin was well heated and comfortable.

Day 11 - April 25, 2016

The morning was a little cloudy and we feared the rains would ruin our day. Our destination was Sudersand at Faro islands. There are ferry connections from Visby and enroute to the port it was raining heavily. The ferry ride took about 10 mins and by the time we reached Faro islands the weather became sunny with some cloud patches. Thanks to mother nature.

Sudersand on the island Fårö is one of Gotland’s most beautiful and longest beaches. It is an ideal beach with its soft powdery white sand and shallow water. The disappointing thing was it was too early this time of the year and the tourist season has not yet started.

Due to the rains, the temperature was low and the wind made it even colder. After spending some time there, we head to Langhammars.

Langhammars is famous of its naturally formed large vertical rock formations that have been shaped by the sea through the ages, leaving the core of limestone. They are almost 30 feet tall and surrounded by pebble beach and a barren landscape. A picturesque spot or rather, should I call it a postcard view of nature.

We drove around Faro island for a while stopping at locations we thought was beautiful and took pictures along the way. Later we got back to Visby and all of us were hungry as hell. Max Hamburger is Sweden’s favourite hamburger restaurant chain, and it is also one of the first. The burgers are very tasty and definitely much better than what you get in McDonald’s or Burger King. Max has the most satisfied customers beating them by large margins. If you would like to taste purely Swedish, Max is one location you should not miss.

The rain was pouring down very strong by the time we reached our cabin. We relaxed for a while and then decided to take a walk along the beach if the weather got better, like a miracle it got better. It was much colder but with all the warm clothes we ventured out. The sun just about touching the horizon, the yellow streak of light falling across the calm sea surface reminded me of a view that I’ve only seen in national geography channel. A swan was floating by, oblivious of our presence. I took my camera and began shooting and fortunately the final result came out to my satisfaction. I took many more as we walked through the sea shore.

I walked up the pier, the breeze gently caressing my face, the calmness of the sea and watching the sun set in front of me brought happiness and a smile on my face. It is no wonder they say…..a smile always makes a difference.



Day 12 - April 26, 2016

The next day our ferry to Nynashamn was at 16:30. We did a late breakfast and went to the city wall once again to take some more pictures, we just couldn’t get enough of the building and nature around it.



Finally it was time to return and head to Visby to catch our ferry back to Stockholm. All of us had a swell time and I can only feel proud I could share these special moments with my family.

For more pictures please visit - Gotland, Sweden

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Budapest, Hungary

Day 8 - April 20, 2016

Budapest is cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.


The flight was from Stockholm Skavsta Airport which is about an hour drive from Stockholm. I drove down E4 highway to Skavsta. A nice sunny weather and was a pleasure driving through Sweden.

The flight time was nearly 2 hours to Budapest. We landed at 5:30pm local time and took a cab straight to our apartment. It was at the city center next to the main train station Nyugati, a conscious decision to help us with the commute. The first thing we did was to purchase a 2 day travel pass that allowed us to access any mode of transport across Budapest city. The plan for the evening was to visit as many famous pubs and night clubs as we could. We set the itinerary and got along our way.
Budapest for one is known for its nightlife. The city offers plenty of bars, clubs and dance halls. It is always better to get some knowledge about the places you plan to visit before you venture out because there are many out there that may not appeal to you.

Ruin bars are a rage in Budapest and we went to the best and the very first that made this trend possible – Szimpla Kert


This is supposed to be the mother of all ruin pubs. The bar looked normal from the outside but as we walked in we were in the middle of a buzzing crowd talking, dancing and simply having fun. What caught my eyes was the awe-inspiring interiors. The bar is built in the ruins of an abandoned building, filled with cheap furniture, graffiti on the walls and ceilings, and all of it designed differently. I could see a bicycle hanging from the ceiling, the walls looked like it hasn't been painted for ages. But that is the way it’s supposed to be.

The pub offered a variety of drinks ranging from local brands to international ones and also some bar menu bites. When in Rome, be like Romans, as the saying goes, we chose to have the local beer and it was the right choice. We spent a couple of hours there and had some snacks to keep us awake for the rest of the night.

Our next stop –Ötkert, which is one of the most popular clubs in Budapest. 


The music in Ötkert is trendy and the drinks in my opinion are fair priced. We went there on a week day and in spite of that the club was packed. The floor was very lively with people dancing to the music, some in groups, some couples and yet some solo.

We got our drinks and in a short while, we were also part of the crowd, dancing away. This went on until 4 in the morning and what a night it was. We were high on drinks but never over board, just strong enough to make it safely back to our apartment. Truly clubbing, truly dancing and truly amazing.

Day 9 - April 21, 2016

The following morning was laid back with all the head banging the previous day. We got up by 11 and got ready to explore the city. But before that we needed to have some serious food as we were dead hungry. We found out a nice Indian restaurant called Haveli at the famous Andrassy Avenue street. Trust me, it was THE right choice. I’ve not had such authentic Punjabi dishes in a foreign land. All the dishes we ordered were excellent, right from the mutton shorba, fish tikka, lamb chops and the main course Naan and chicken tikka masala. It was finger licking good and value for money too. We thanked the chef for making our lunch so special. It was time to explore the city.

Heroes Square
Budapest is the capital and the largest city of Hungary. It became a single city in 1873 with the unification of Buda on the west bank of the river Danube and with Pest on the east bank. Budapest is known for its extensive world heritage sites that includes the Buda Castle, Heroes' Square and the millennium underground railway which is the second-oldest metro line in the world.

We wanted to see all that was possible in a day. Hop on-hop off was the best option to do that. There are quite a few hop on-hop off companies plying through the streets of Budapest. We got our tickets from the official hop on- hop off bus. All the seats have a provision to plug in the ear phones to listen to details of every city attractions. I will list a few that I found to be a must see in Budapest. One must be interested in ancient buildings, monuments, history and museums to enjoy the true nature of how Budapest has come to be, as it is today. If not, then this could well turn out to be a disappointment.

Heroes Square-
Is located at the end of Andrassy Avenue. Heroes’ Square is an iconic statue complex featuring the seven chieftains of the Hungarian tribes and other national leaders, from its history in bronze, held by the crescent-shaped monument from left to the right. The square is one of the most spectacular venues in Budapest.


Buda castle-
The first Gothic style palace was completed in 1265. It is built on the southern tip of Castle Hill. The castle is a part of the World Heritage Site, which was declared in 1987. It was one of the largest Gothic palace of the late Middle Ages. At the end of World War II, the palace was badly damaged. It was rebuilt once again, in Neo-Baroque style, using many original parts.

Buda castle
Today, Buda Castle is home to the Hungarian National Gallery, the Budapest History Museum and the National Library. Other attractions include the Lion Courtyard, the Matthias Well and the statue of the Turul Bird, the mythological bird of the Magyars.

Turul Bird
We only saw the palace from the outside and took pictures due to shortage of time. The view of the Danube river embankments and the Buda Castle District is one of the most beautiful and romantic parts of the city of Budapest.





Fishermen’s Bastion-
St. Stephen
This is another top Budapest attractions without a doubt. The Fishermen’s Bastion serves as a viewing terrace for visitors that gives a beautiful panoramic view of the river Danube and Pest side in the east. The Bastion was built to commemorate the fishermen who protected this part of the city during medieval times. It was built 1902.

View of Danube & Parliament
There is a bronze statue of St Stephen, the Hungarian king mounted on a horse between the Bastion and the Matthias Church. The pictures gives you the beauty of this magnificent structure.

Chain bridge –
This is a suspension bridge over the river Danube connecting Buda on the west and Pest on the east. This was officially opened in 1849. The bridge was destroyed during world war and was rebuilt in 1949. It was regarded as an engineering wonder.



The bridge is a symbol of advancement, national awakening, and the linkage between East and West. The view of the bridge is beautiful especially in the evening, when it is all lit up.

Parliament building –
The parliament built in Neo-Gothic style is located in the bank of the river Danube. It is a noted landmark of Hungary and currently the largest building and the tallest in Budapest. The Parliament of Hungary is the world's third largest Parliament building.


We didn’t go inside, but took pictures around it. Some of the best views of the Parliament is from across the river. The distant view illustrates the complete beauty of the building.

Gellért Hill-
The hill is named after bishop Gellért (Gerard), who was thrown to death from the hill by pagans in the fight against Christianity in 1046. His statue holds a cross, can be seen from many parts of Pest.
Gellert Hill

We were quite tired by the end of the tour at the same time elated by the beauty of the cosmopolitan city of Budapest. The city that has got some structure or statue almost all of the places we went. A beautiful city and sometimes felt it was even better than Paris. Budapest offers a mix of attractions and entertainment, right from buildings and monuments each with an interesting history to nightclubs, bars and dance halls. I found Budapest to be affordable in comparison with Paris and London.

I’ve decided to come back again because 2 days was too short to cover the enchanting city of Budapest. There is much more to see & experience the once called ‘Queen of the Danube’. I’m happy we were able to visit as many places as possible considering the time we had. Two days spent wisely.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Copenhagen, Denmark

Day 6 - April 18, 2016


We had to catch the early morning train to Copenhagen the very next day we reached from Estonia. But hey….we are here to visit places….aren’t we. :-). It did take a toll on us, packing unpacking and all over again unpacking packing. But that’s the fun part of travelling.

The train was at 5:21 am and had to take the bus to the station. We had to walk to the bus stand braving the morning temperature which was at 5c…brrrrrr. The train was on time and we were off to Copenhagen. 6 hours of travel time went in a jiffy, thanks to the scenic places through the journey and not to mention snacks and drinks.

The Oresund Bridge connects the Swedish mainland to Denmark, is a combined railway and motorway bridge. It runs about 8kms and the last few kilometers runs below the sea. My brother and I said cheers to that.

Oresund Bridge
The weather in Copenhagen is much higher than Stockholm, but the wind factor plays spoiled sport. It was very chilly when we reached Copenhagen. The first thing we did was to get ourselves a 2 day travel pass that works on all mode of transport within the city be it metro, bus or tram. My cousin helped us to carry our luggage to his home so that we could proceed to Copenhagen city tour.

Copenhagen is the capital of Denmark and is the most populated city. It was a Viking fishing village back in the 10th century. Copenhagen's landmarks such as Tivoli Gardens, the Little Mermaid Statue, the Amalienborg and Christiansborg palaces, Frederik's Church, and many museums, restaurants and nightclubs are significant tourist attractions. There are different ways to experience the city, walk, drive, sail, or bicycle your way through Copenhagen. We opted the boat tour.

Nyhavn


Copenhagen is an old harbour and maritime city and one of the most beautiful and enjoyable ways to see it is from a boat sailing down its charming canals. There is a choice to go on a romantic gondola but we settled for the traditional canal tour boat.

During the tour we saw: The Copenhagen Opera House, Amalienborg Palace, Christiansborg Palace, the impressive Black Diamond Library, and, of course, the Little Mermaid.
The Little Mermaid

Opera House
The Little Mermaid is the most famous tourist attractions in Copenhagen, located at Langelinje Pier. The sculpture of the little mermaid is made of bronze and granite. It is over 100 years old. The mermaid was a gift from the Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen (Carlsberg) to the City of Copenhagen. I personally did not find it to be a great attraction. There are far better places in Copenhagen that I felt to be much more worthy of a visit....of course this is my personal opinion.

The Copenhagen Opera House is among the most modern opera houses in the world and also the most expensive ever built. The roof is one of the largest canopy structures which equates to the size of three football fields.

Copenhagen is known for its brightly coloured 17th century townhouses and bars, cafes and restaurants built with wood, bricks, and plaster. This is iconic to Denmark.


The tour took us till late in the afternoon. We were all very hungry and head to the restaurant. Some wanted KFC and some wanted to taste Lebanese food. For all KFC lovers, the outlet here serves hot wings, and they are finger licking good, juicy and tasty.

If you have a taste for Lebanese cuisine I would recommend Shawarma Grill House in Frederiksberggade Street.


It is the very first Lebanese restaurant in Copenhagen. The Shawarma and falafel sandwich was superb. After the heavy meal we went straight to my cousin’s home and spend the rest of the evening with them.

Christiania also known as Freetown Christiania is a green and
carefree neighbourhood in Copenhagen. It was established in 1971 by a group of hippies who occupied the site and developed their own set of society rules, completely independent of the Danish government.



The area is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood covering nearly 84 acres. Hash and weed are openly sold here and is legal, hard drugs are banned. Christiania is considered to be the fourth largest tourist attractions in Copenhagen.



After our dinner my cousin, brother and I ventured into Christiania. It was just a walk away from his home. The place was dark and very eerie. We could see some tents with very dim lights selling weeds. I’m told they are sold completely freely in Christiania, even more so than in Amsterdam. We were not going back empty handed, so bought a joint and 3 of us decided to share it. My first ever experience of smoking a weed and it did give a slight kick, probably because we shared, otherwise we might have got stoned. Another tick in my list….hahaha.

Before
After
For your own safety, visitors are advised not to film nor photograph in Christiania, mainly due to the hash dealing, which is illegal in Denmark.

Day 7 - April 19, 2016

The Carlsberg tour

Denmark is the birth place of the famous Danish brewing company Carlsberg (founded in 1847), headquartered at Copenhagen. My brother and I are beer lovers and have tasted this brand many times in our lives. We were certainly not going to miss this opportunity to pay a visit to the brewery.

We took the self-guided tour that takes us through the fascinating story of Carlsberg, and how it has transformed from a local brewery to a global brand. We then moved on to witness the biggest collection of bottles. Carlsberg has the largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world that contains more than 20,000 bottles of various brands in different shapes and sizes. Finally we enter the brewery where you will see gigantic polished kettles that brews the truly global brand – Carlsberg.

.
That’s not all, with every tour ticket there are two complimentary beers included. In the comforts of the historical brew house surroundings we enjoyed the traditional beer right out of the brewery. Bliss……


An authentic brewery experience that will stay with me forever.



The Danish fairy tale –

Amalienborg Palace is one of the many Royal attractions in Denmark which is considered as one of the greatest works of Danish Rococco architecture and built in the 1700’s. The palace is made up of four identical buildings and in the middle of the square is the statue of King Frederik V. Amalienborg is also known for its Royal Guard. The change of the guards happens every day and we watched it too. The guards march through the streets of Copenhagen and end up at Amalienborg, where the changing of the guard takes place at noon.
Amalienborg Palace
Frederik's Church

There are many more places to visit in Copenhagen but we didn’t have the time. We had to catch the flight to Stockholm that evening. But we were happy we could make the best use of our time to visit



Change of guard routine








Copenhagen in 2 days, the moments that we will cherish.