Some of my stills from Portugal, a small quaint country with a magnanimous character. Every street, every bend, every corner of this cobbled country tells a story… you’ve just got to Listen. One of my favorite countries to photograph, here are some of my favorite shots of Portugal..once upon a dream.
Once you’re bitten by the Travel bug, there really is no going back. Familiar with that feeling when you’re sitting at work typing frantically into the computer and all you can think of is lying on a beach somewhere soaking up the sun, or hiking up hidden mountain trails in search of the ultimate paradise?
Travel opens up our worlds in more ways than we know, and as someone who has seen a decent share of this planet with much much more to see and do, I strongly recommend Spain as a potential candidate for the “ultimate Travel destination”.
Sitting at work and evaluating Marketing strategies today, it suddenly hit me that I need to remember. I feel the need to recollect my memories and put them down so that for some reason it seems real again that once upon a time, I was in Spain..and Once upon a time, I was deeply in love with it.
Top tips for anyone travelling through Spain:-
– Travel light.
– If possible stay in hostels, use public transport within Spain and eat ALOT of local food. You’d be surprised to see that most local food and beverage vendors are Indians and Pakistanis. I had amazing experiences talking with many of them while sipping mohitos on the beach.
– Make travel bookings over Internal websites. My recommendation would be RyanAir. I travelled through three flights and 3 countries (London-Spain-Portugal-London) for 85 Pounds, which if you ask me- is truly a delight for any traveler out on a budget.
– Check out hotel/ hostel bookings over www.agoda.com, always helps to elevate your mood if you know you’re getting a brilliant discount on acccomodation abroad. 🙂
So, If you are travelling through Spain, there is one thing you must know. Spain is not a small country. It can take a while to travel through Spain, especially since it has alot to offer in terms of varying cultures, different fool palates, astonishing traditions and stark differences in general as you head from the north to the South of Spain.
My top picks for Spain are Barcelona, Seville, Valencia and Granada- and these are what my travel story will be about.
My Barcelona! <3
One of my favorite experiences in Barcelona was the “Free Barcelona tour” during which We had the pleasure of having an amazing guide take us around town sharing its stories and therefore making us feel like part of something so much bigger than we imagined. Barcelona is a beautiful city with interesting architecture and a beautiful blend of culture and what is commonly called “metropolitia”. Colorful buildings with uncanny designs and a whole lot of character.
Barcelona is not just the capital of the Catalonia, but also the seat of modern innovative architecture, Art and design. Just walking by the city makes one feel inspired to create something, feel something, DO something.
The city is inspiring, colorful and the epitome of variety! I was stunned by the beauty of the Sagrada Famila Basilica, an astounding monument which stand even today Unfinished and yet the finest work of Antoni Goudi!
Sagrada Familia is GRAND. It is huge, beautiful, royal and situated right in the middle of Old Barcelona city! It is the sheer size of the monument that amazes you almost as soon as you step inside the church.A MUST DO if you’re in Barcelona!
Antoni Goudi is probably one of the most well known figures in Spain and the city speak volumes of his work and his passion for art. Goudi’s works include the beautiful and elegant Casa Battlo, an innovative structure with inspiring turns and shafts and an incredible support system. The design is considered “Modernist” and this structure is a UN declared World Heritage site. I remember just walking along the twisted stairs,sloping ceilings and curved walls. An absolute delight!
The streets of Spain are lined with works of Goudi like the Casa Mila and Palau Guell with its shocking color scheme which adds even more vibrancy to the city of Barcelona and my favorite- Casa Battlo! Must visit for sure!
Piece of advice: I know when in Barcelona you will probably just want to lie on the beaches and sip on sangria, but take a day off to simply walk around and explore the cultural sights. Use the Barca metro to avoid Expensive cab rides and traffic and make sure you spend quality time with the well preserved and breathtaking cultural sites of the city that the country is so proud of!
The National Museum of Art of Barcelona deserves a special mention! It took us a long time to get to this location and although my friends were more inclined towards walking across the ground to the grand casino I insisted we walk all the way up to this Museum, and it was worth it!
This site is also famous for Spain’s famous Magic Fountains! The Magic fountain show is beautiful and worth the 20 minutes of your life you will spend watching it from start to end. An incredible display of music and “dancing water fountains”, this place is so magical it will blow your mind.
The museum is all the way on top of the hill and is spectacularly built but whats best about it is Bird’s eye view of Barcelona which one gets from right at the top!
The Barceloneta Beach! Ranked by National Geographic as one of the top ten beaches of the world, this beach is incredible! Waters bluer than any blue ever seen!
St. Sebastia beach with its emerald waters, white clean beaches and beautiful cafes lining the beach serving everything from “cervesa” to tapas is my happy place. Thinking of sitting on the beach and just taking in all that I could in that moment brings me immense peace.
Walking along the beaches towards the statue of Christopher Columbus on the far end will bring you to my favorite road which leads directly to the Plaza Reaal! The street is lined with local shopping vendors selling authentic Spanish handicrafts, souvenirs, artifacts, fruits, vegetables and every kind of meat you can possible dream of in the central Meat Market! Walking along the street you will come across several street performers and artists which will entertain you or shock you depending on their mood really!
The Plaza Reaal is where I went one evening in Barcelona to watch the Flamenco dance! Our hostel organized a night out for all of us and a group of us people from several different countries made our way to a show of brilliance, craft and grit. My First experience of the flamenco dance was hard hitting and powerful. The dance represents a play of power, fiery and passionate and all that is beautiful. I loved it so much I actually went for a show in Seville again, and I will definitely talk about that later. The Plaza Reaal has a calming feel about it, pretty, happening, bursting with activity and reminding one of years gone by- all at once.
The Nightlife of Barcelona is great.. and the party circuit very active. We went clubbing to Opium on the beach one night and I remember the party ended with organizers distributing sandwiches to everyone the next morning at 7AM!
Barcelona has a lot to offer even if you don’t look at it from the point of view of a tourist. I always believe one does not really know a city till one gets lost in it. Walking around Barcelona took me to quaint hide outs, pretty streets with little boys playing football, adult stores and the loveliest bars I had ever seen!
Another great experience was my trip to the Camp Nou stadium, that too a day after the El Clasico. The stadium was buzzing with crowd chants and one could see heaps of fliers and football accessories all over.
The tour of the stadium gives an insight into the team dailies of FC Barcelona and the sheer size of it is astounding. If at Camp Nou don’t forget to take a look from the VIP box, you wont be disappointed. 🙂
It is the experience that will always stay with you and make you happier in trying times. I remember sitting on Barcelona port steps and eating chocolate crepes, listening to live bands perform for the sheer joy of performing. The roman walls that speak stories of goth and beheadings, torture and budding art and love and romance! The Santa Maria del mar church which just like all the other churches of Spain is unique and tells its own story which you absolutely need to know.
Percussionists sitting and playing music by the stairs of museum Barbier or the story-tellers eager to tell you the story of Piblo Picasso over a drink outside the Picasso museum.
Since I was headed to Seville next, I did not have enough time to see a few places I had my heart set on- like Park Guell up the hill or the taking the Monjuic cable car up the mountain to the castle on the other end of the city.. but you never know, with a place like Barcelona, i simple wait for the next time. 🙂
Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, stated by International travel guides as one of the “greatest small cities” of the world. According to me, what sets Amsterdam apart from the rest of the cities is the presence of extensive canals which superimpose a unique air to this city.
These canals are an essential and obvious part of everyday life in Amsterdam.. and contribute in much bigger ways than just adding to its aesthetic value!
When I set foot on Amsterdam, I was alone and all I had was an address to a friend’s house, Phone-less and absolutely clueless about how I was supposed to get there. I slowly made my way from the Schipnol airport into the main city via train, tram, taxi and what not!
The city projects a strong carefree vibe, enough to establish an affinity with its canals, sun soaked wide lanes and eccentric alley ways filled with a characteristic aroma and corresponding enthusiasm of Amsterdam.
My first adventure in Amsterdam began when I lost myself in the vivacious city. I remember walking past gorgeous parks and beautiful restaurants, my enthusiasm growing by the second. This was a city which at first look excited you!
In my opinion, Amsterdam is one of the cities which must be on the bucket list of every traveler! This city has so many new things to offer, some of the most refreshing and unique experiences! People from all over the globe flock to Netherlands and Amsterdam is a unanimous favorite with families as well as those traveling alone or with friends. I have listed a few reasons why you must make a trip to this gorgeous capital at least once in your lifetime!
1. Amsterdam- the city of Romance!
Move over Paris- Time for some Amsterdam loving! Amsterdam according to me is the city of romance! its gorgeous setting by the canals and sun soaked parks make for excellent landscapes. One can spend countless hours walking along the gorgeous canals, evergreen parks, characteristic benches.. The city is so rich culturally that beauty has become an innate part of every nook and corner here. The people are laid back, good natured and very tolerant. More than anything, the beautiful background of whatever you do here makes any experience a romantic one. Whether you are romancing your better half or simply life, this is a great place to do it 🙂
2. 24 hour party circuits
Most important places are located around Dam square, a local and tourist hotspot perpetually alive with stage performances and all night parties! Such a dynamic place the Dam square leads in all different directions to “coffee shops” and multi cuisine delis!
3. Coffee, Cannabis and more
Coffee shops in Amsterdam are allowed to sell small amounts of cannabis to anyone above the age of 18, and many of these sell them mixed with cakes, otherwise called space brownies. The first coffee shop I visited was Abraxas coffee shop, a quaint bright eatery in one of the alleys on the way to Madam Tussaud’s museum.
However, some of my favourite memories lie with “The Bulldog” cafe and hotels present across Amsterdam, my personal favourite being the one at Voorburgwal, Amsterdam 🙂
4. The Bulldog cafe
Located just a few minutes from the Van Gogh museum, This cafe is eccentric, beautiful and a serves some excellent coffee. A must visit for all caffeine addicts.
5. A hub of Art and culture
Amsterdam has over 50 museums, most of which are art houses holding famous paintings of artists like Van Gogh, modern art pieces as well as art relevant to the medieval ages.
The walk to the Van Gogh museum is short but one tends to get easily distracted with the smell of fresh waffles and roast chicken! Extremely picturesque , the road winds through the canal bridges, the Holland casino, Westerkerk and other old churches which add to the splendor of the city.
The Van Gogh museum is a well conceptualised collection of the paintings of Van Gogh. I remember it for the vast number of self portraits Mr. Gogh has attempted to make of himself and his famous “dab” style which is evident in almost all of his creations. Surely a must visit for all art lovers and anyone else who may be looking for a little inspiration in life.
6. The most authentic memoir of World war II- Anne Frank’s house
A visit to the Anne Frank house located along the canals was an overwhelming experience for me. The house is located in the attic of an ordinary housing building in Amsterdam, and the climb up the innumerable flight of stairs is enough to get you thinking about how hard it must have been for these families to live in hiding, their entire existence dependent on one book shelf which covered the doorway to the hiding place of the Frank family.
The Anne Frank house sums up “the diary of a young girl”, only this time you are actually there to let her walk you through the little things she did everyday, the things she could not do, the dreams she dreamed and the fears she and her family felt everyday of their lives. Truly a marvelous experience.
7. World’s Most unusual museums
Amsterdam as a city is rich in culture, nightlife and contemporary pleasures. It is an incredibly beautiful city with some of the most interesting people and places I have ever come across. For those who harvest the adventure spirit, do check out the hemp and marijuana museum to know the history of Cannabis in general and its connection to Amsterdam in particular.
Another place of interest is the Erotic museum, one of the only ones of its kind present here in Amsterdam. The Torture museum overlooking the Singel canal is located very close to the flower market and is listed amongst the most unusual museums of the world housing the instruments used to torture prisoners, witches and the like during medieval times.
I particularly enjoyed the tour of this museum. A very morbid theme, but a great place if you’re looking to do something different.
8. Largest flower market in the world!
The flower market is an epitome of a happy place! so many colours and choices, it is shocking to see the variety of plants, herbs and flowers which are available in this market.
The national flower of the country, tulips are sold here of every possible colour and family strain. buyers can buy flower seeds here and carry these back to grow their own backyard tulips as well. Another interesting commodity available here is “magic” mushrooms which are supposed to evoke hallucinations in those who consume them.
9. Oldest Red light district in the world
Having stayed in one of the oldest housing buildings of Amsterdam, thanks to incredibly hospitable friends, I can say with confidence that it is an absolute delight waking up to the sound and sight of the beautiful canal flowing by. I cannot begin to assert on how beautiful this looks by day and by night, which brings me to an important part of my tour- the red light area.
A group of about 8 girls, we spent hours in Amsterdam walking by the red light area which is mainly a beautiful arena comprising streets along both sides of a central canal.
The streets are lined with innumerable clubs, pubs and bars that host several above 18 shows, many of which are innovative and well planned. Famously called Rosse Buurt, the red light district of Amsterdam is a world wide tourist attraction, De Wallen being one of the oldest areas offering these services in Amsterdam.
9. Over 50 churches and cultural centers
Amsterdam is made up of old housing buildings as well as modern architecture projects by several famous architects.
There are several ancient churches and monuments like the Munterrot and the stock exchange building which is the oldest stock exchange in the world. There are over 50 churches and museums to pick and choose from for anyone visiting Amsterdam.
10. Amsterdam Eye
The museumplain is one the other squares of Amsterdam, and one of the most famous squares of the world. It is surrounded by three of the most important museums of Amsterdam, the Stedelijk museum of modern art, the Rijkskmuseum of dutch history and the Van Gogh museum.
At the centre of the three museums is the famous Amsterdam I, which offers amazing photo opportunities. One of my favourite spots of Amsterdam, It is a great place to spend a leisure afternoon sunbathing or simply reading time away 🙂
11. The canal civilisation of Amsterdam
What may strike you is the surprising number of cyclists and corresponding cycles in the city. Almost every second person here owns a cycle, and owing to a well knit system of trams and canals, road traffic is to a bare minimum.
It is an absolute delight to walk along the bilanes of Amsterdam, as every street leads to exotic monuments, world famous churches, heritage sights or extra-ordinary eateries.
12. Foodie delights
I highly recommend the Mennekin Pis fries to anyone travelling to Amsterdam. World famous “Belgiam” fries are available here with a variety of sauces to go with the huge portions! This place is always full and one has to stand in long queues to avail these super delicious fries! Another “must try delicacy” would be the dutch pancakes- My personal favorite 🙂
13. The Heineken experience
A must see attraction of Amsterdam, the Heineken factory is a museum of sorts of the world favorite beverage Heineken beer. The factory stands tall in the city center and is impossible to miss!
Whenever I think of Amsterdam today, I am immediately transported back to those evenings at Leidseplein square, surrounded by people of different ethnicities, music blasting from speakers, crowds chanting for an encore of the band that has just finished playing, overwhelming aromas and a laid-back, careless tune in the air..
What I wouldn’t give to be back in Holland again..
Cardiff, the commercial capital and largest city of Wales was established as the county town of Glamorgan after the union of Wales and England, and to no doubt of my own has been ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world by National Geographic.
The town is extremely scenic and very colorful. Home to several cultural and sports institutions, Cardiff stands tall and proud with a delicious blend of age old castles and new age franchises.
The city is bustling with sports enthusiasts and we happened to meet some of them at Walkabout-the Australasian bar right after a football game at the Millennium stadium of Cardiff. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip! 🙂
The Cardiff city center is gorgeous and one can walk from here to the Cardiff bay area (one of the most beautiful walk-a-thons) in about 30 minutes. The walk is so beautiful it almost projects a holiday vibe as you leisurely stroll along.
The roads are well structured and the most delightful part is- almost all facets of the city overlook the bay!
It is a pleasure walking past magic fountains, elegant aparetments and graffiti covered walls down to the bay where peopleare almost always out walking their dogs, cycling or simply enjoying the incredible views that Cardiff has to offer.
The city hall and the crown buildings are the main government offices but the most beautiful building is probably the county hall at the Cardiff bay center.
The Cardiff bay area is a stunning location, and is home to the world famous Senedd, a popular tourist spot with extremely urban architecture.
Another building which I liked particularly is the Wales Millennium center, a cultural hub right at the center of Cardiff bay. The bay area is a fabulous sunset spot and it feels incredible to walk through the innumerable bars, clubs and sea facing restaurants present in this area. Each place is extremely unique, and if you’re in Cardiff I recommend Signor Valentino for mouth watering delicacies. The restaurant is strategically located and extremely beautiful 🙂
One is overwhelmed with the choice of restaurants ranging from Bella Italia to Cafe Rouge, the very classy Mimosa restaurant and others with interesting names like “La Iquanas”! The Irish coffee which comes as a surprising delicacy blended with whiskey is my absolute favorite sitting in Cafe Rouge and gorging on some sandwiches with this coffee is my happiest memory of Cardiff..
The city is even more fabulous by night, and lights up like its Christmas every day.. In fact, an evening spent at Mermaid Quay is almost like a dream sequence, with pretty lights, a view of the boat houses and the smell of Welsh beer!
Moving on to the most guarded cultural heritage of this incredible country, the Cardiff castle is one of the most popular delights of Wales, located in the city of Cardiff. The castle is grand and stands resembling a majestic fortress.
It houses the War memorial and once you’ve climbed on top of the castle rock it provides excellent views of the city of Cardiff and the bay beyond.
One can even see the clock tower and the Millennium stadium from here.
The castle interiors are intricate and extremely well preserved, considering the structure was bombed several times over the years.
The most exhilarating part of the castle tour is visiting the underground passage way which used to serve as a shelter for hiding soldiers, many of whom lived in the cold, dark tunnels through years and eventually died there as well.
Cardiff reminds me of sunshine and happiness, dogs and pretty lights and really, really good sea food! I really hope you get a chance to visit this city as there is no way one can not fall in love with Cardiff!
It’s my happy place. Gulls flying, swans in the lake, lots of children and dogs playing around, colorful streets and huge shopping arcades- anytime I feel low I simply close my eyes and imagine I’m in Cardiff! I wish the same kind of happiness to you.
I chose Vienna-The capital of Austria and Europe’s darling, as the destination for my 22nd birthday celebration. For a traveler there is no such thing as mediocrity and keeping this in mind, my friends and I decided to do something different on this trip.. Let me introduce you to our “milestone plan”- an ambitious goal to travel across three different countries in one day, with the objective of having breakfast in Hungary, lunch in Austria and dinner in Slovakia. This may seem like an impossible feat to many, but I’am proud to say that despite several hiccups along the way, we ended up as Supernovas. Here goes how..
For starters, we landed in Bratislava, Slovakia amidst a snow storm. Unable to see much around we immediately took the express bus to Vienna. You can imagine our relief when Vienna came to us with sunshine and colors!
Vienna at first glance is an incredibly beautiful city. Austria as a country is immensely scenic. For the purpose of recreation, imagine “the sound of music” shot across Salzberg, another city in Austria. Vienna looks like a city that is culturally rooted and yet competitively urban.
The largest city in Austria, Vienna is buzzing with activity throughout the year. Picture well planned streets, colorful markets, eccentric jazz clubs, gorgeous public buildings- especially the public library and historic monuments spread generously across the city.
The city offers several photo opportunities through day and night, and has especially quaint and well designed traditional cafes and age old pubs.
The roads of Wein are always brimming with tourists, students, artists and performers. It is one of the few cities where you can clearly demarcate between large groups of people who are typical office goers and another group which makes its living through art! Walking around the city is easy, although there may be a language barrier for those not fluent with German. An impressive monument expressing the culture of this country is the Hoffgurg imperial palace.
The architecture of the palace is intricate and traditional, and today the palace is home to the National library, war museum as well as the Spanish horse riding school.
What intrigued me the most about the Hoffberg was the museum of Ethnography, which accounted the day to day lives of kings and queens that have resided in the palace over time.
The ring boulevard is another beautiful spot in Vienna which offers great pictures. The Austrian parliament, an imposing building can also be seen from here. The boulevard is scenic, historically rich and home to the Natural museum and the museum of Fine Arts, majorly inspired by the Italian renaissance.
In the heart of the city is the gorgeous St. Stephen cathedral, a magnificent church with an extremely large roof and high tower. The church square is the main part of the city center and is extremely tourist friendly.
We made lots of local friends here, and even struck upon a lucrative deal with a local vendor selling Opera passes. We were later upgraded to the VIP section of the show leading to a night dipped in the glory of ancient Wein and sparkling champagne.
We walked past Kalskirche, the building opposite the cathedral and then down the Blutgassen district road to the ever colorful Naschmarket! The Blutgassen district has intricate, winding roads and many hidden alley ways if you know where to look.
A foodie’s delight, the Naschmarket is like an Indian bazaar- dynamic and full of variety. We bought home a variety of spices and chocolates although a large part of the market caters to fresh meat and pork sausage stalls.
The anchor clock hangs proud at the city center, representing the Austrian spirit and culture. For those who love to shop, the street behind St.Stephen cathedral is a shopper’s absolute delight. Mainly a high street you will find everything ranging from Tiffany’s, Mcqueen, Prada to Ferragamo and Ferretti!
However, moving on to the traditional treasures of Vienna, the Belvedere palace and the peripherally located Schonbrunn palace are tourist delights. The Schonbrunn palace is immensely beautiful and is spread across giant acres of land. The palace provides front and back views of landscapes spread out till as far as the eye can see. We spent hours running across and exploring the snow spread grounds of the palace. The immensity of the property is awe inspiring and I recommend an entire day for this tourist spot if you really want to see every nook and corner of the schonbrunn.
Visiting the Schonbrunn gave us the opportunity to check out the train service in Austria as well, which was a delight owing to the scenic views of the country one gets through the journey.
Coming back to my personal ambition, I spent my birthday night at a high profile club of Vienna, Le Babenberger Passage- thanks to my absolutely amazing friends. This club is located under the ground and definitely not easy to find unless you know where to look.
The Passage hosts great crowds, international music circuits and interesting drink profiles, Absinthe cocktails being one of their specialties. Having spent a large part of our power trip in Vienna, we spent the rest of the trip traveling across Hungary and Slovakia! and this brings me to the goal story:
One day- Three countries
On the last day of our trip, we set out from Budapest in Hungary. We started the day early and left Hungary after a heavy breakfast from the International bus station of Budapest. Yellow buses available from here ride to Prague, Austria and other neighboring countries at hourly intervals.
Next, we landed in Vienna, Austria at around 2:30 pm and absolutely famished, made our way to our favourite street along the city center to Akakiko, an amazing restaurant serving fresh Maki rolls and heavenly sushi! You can find the link to the restaurant in case you’re curious- http://www.akakiko.at/ 🙂
Post an afternoon lavishly in Vienna, we once again made our way by road- to Bratislava! I must take a minute here to talk about Slovakia. I had a great experience in Slovakia, especially with the incredibly hospitable hotel staff. The city center of Bratislava is gorgeous! Lit up with fairy lights and theme restaurants, this square is absolutely delightful. Aiming to end the night well with a cuisine we had not tried before, we decided to check out this fabulous Spanish restaurant called Rio.. A must try in case you’re there.
Bratislava is often preferred for Bachelor and Bachelor-ette parties and is commonly called the party hub of Central Europe with a wide range of clubs and services to pick from.
Alternatively, Central Europe is a must visit for anyone who might be intrigued by the idea of contemporary influence of art on vanishing cultures. It is especially a delight for people who may love art, music and philosophy.
This trip made me richer by experience and ensured the birthday of a lifetime. Funny moments are always an integral part of any travel journey, and we had loads of these as well, with “Mom” fits in hotel rooms, best friend-ing locals at dingy clubs and especially this one incident where my friend Hrishi thought he was going to “die” because a taxi driver tried to zoom off before Hrishi was safely seated “inside” the taxi. Of course, this might have been because Hrishi was infact too slow to get in and the clueless taxi driver miscalculated his entry into the taxi. Irrespective, threw a raging tantrum only to be instantly pacified with a chocolate from the extremely apologetic taxi driver. This indeed is the story…of how hrishi and “that taxi driver Dave” became best friends.
So, if you want to visit three countries in a day, or set a similar milestone for yourself- try road tripping through Europe. Having done it myself, I must admit that it will definitely be one hell of an adventure. 🙂
Budapest for me is a reminder of the changing dimensions of time. While the city monuments stand proud boasting of heritage and pedigree there are parts of this city which still appear broken and in shambles from a war that at one time almost killed the spirit of this country. My journey through the depths of the city’s ghettos and caves led me to discover the melting hot pot of ethnicities that Budapest actually is. It is a testimony of time that shows how beautifully it has accepted its scars and rebuilt itself to the paradise that it was always meant to be.
We choose to travel to a certain destination for several reasons. It may be because we watch a movie which was filmed there, or because a friend promises us we wont’t be disappointed visiting a country as incredible as the one they went to. Usually, most countries do not need a familiarity tag. People tend to know something or the other about most places around the world, considering how small the world has become in today’s day and age. In such a scenario, what helps me decide what country I want to see next is how little I know about it.
I can tell you now. I want to go to Paris because pretty much everyone has been there. I want to see Rome because it is, after all the city of love. I want to see Switzerland because I have grown up watching Bollywood films shot in its exotic landscapes. However, my friends and I decided to bag pack to Budapest we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into- quite literally. I traveled through Central Europe with three of my closest friends, and this is probably one of the main reasons why this trip turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life!
Having watched the movie “Hostel” several times, I was honestly very apprehensive about travelling to Slovakia. However, having booked extremely economical return tickets from Bratislava we did not seem to have much of an option. For those flying around Europe on budget, I highly recommend RyanAir… It is a low budget airline, which I used extensively for my travels around the continent and once we obtained the Schengen visa common for 28 countries across Europe, we were set to go!
We reached Budapest late evening and were booked into a quaint little guesthouse called the Abel Pension in the town of Buda. Having reached Budapest late at night after a tiring bus journey from Bratislava, we were exhausted but this seemed irrelevant on seeing Budapest in its full glory so late in the night. The river Danube is a dominant force in the capital of Hungary and the city is divided into Buda and Pest with more than 80% of the city’s infrastructure and architecture designed along the banks of the river. As we watched the city unravel from the damp and frost cab windows, I was amazed to see the absolute beauty of this city full of lights, magnificent bridges and a vibrant night life despite the sub-zero temperatures it was used to.
We reached the Able Pension guest house around 11 pm and in all honestly, it looked like a dark abandoned homestay from the outside and just as we were discussing if changing to a standard hotel would be a good idea the doors to the guesthouse opened and out came the couple that owned the former family home. With its woody, cozy interiors and hospitable atmosphere, we instantly felt at home. We were the only guests staying over that weekend and the blessed couple made sure we were comfortable and well looked after through-out. One of the main reasons it was imperative to stay at a family home stay was that I was keen to experience the culture that backed this city and this country I knew nothing about, except its long tryst with war and pain.
I woke up to the smell of musty ancient wood and sun streaming through sloping ceilings of my room in the Abel Pension. Budapest- I was in love! Central Europe gets extremely cold in winters and although I visited Budapest in late February when the snow was melting and the city was decorated with delicate icicles. As we walked along the wet streets of Budapest, it became increasingly impossible to ignore the magnificence of the details in architecture, as each building looked more impressive than the other. Public tram transport in Budapest is convenient, while roads are lined with vendors selling hot mulled wine and pretzels. Heaven.
One of the primary attractions in Budapest, Gellert Hill In Buda is one of the highest points of the city which is an excruciating yet rewarding climb to the top mounted monuments crowning the city hill. Personally, walking up the snow covered hill was a hilarious experience, as we slowly (but not quite steadily) made our way up battling the slippery terrain and back breaking climb.
We walked for about an hour and along the climb came across astonishing views of the city divided by the Danube, glorious from afar- the attention to detail hard to miss. As I looked down from the top of the world there I remember making a mental note of the points of interest I would be visiting soon after I climbed down. The bird’s eye view changes ones perspective of the city as for anyone who might have forgotten how beautiful Budapest is, this vision is the ultimate reminder. On top of the hill is the gorgeous Citadella, and this spot offers breath taking views of Buda and Pest on both sides of the river Danube.
The amazing thing about Budapest is that it genuinely has a lot to offer in terms of places to see and experience. The Gellert hill Cave is one such example, deep seated under the geller hill, this cave church holds way too many secrets and stories than can be touched on the surface. The hidden church tells the tales over time of peace and prayars in a time of war, historical milestones of Budapest and and the dark history of Gellert Hill itself, which was named thus after Saint Gellert who was thrown down from the top of the hill hundreds of years ago. Shaken but not broken, we walked further to the the Budapest castle- a monumental wonder! One has the option of traveling up to the castle via cable cars, which also provide incredible views of the city.
If you visit, make sure you visit the palace at the right time so you can witness the age old “guard change” routine which is a tremendous display of discipline and grit that has been a tradition in this country for centuries. The palace itself being located at a great height offers beautiful views of the city and the Bastion’s palace atop another hill a few miles away. The location is grand, and one gets immediately transported to a time away from now when impressions were massive and ways of life were magnificent.
Budapest for me is a reminder of the changing dimensions of time. While the city monuments stand proud and arrogant boasting of heritage and pedigree, there are parts of this city which still appear broken and in shambles from a war that at one time almost killed the spirit of this country. On crossing the bridge towards Pest, one can easily walk by the majestic Hungarian Parliament building, churches brimming with people and traditions, a lone standing Opera house in the midst of several general buildings and my personal favorite, the St. Stephen basilica. The basilica is centuries old, and to this day stands impressive, grand and stunning. The interiors are peaceful, yet one cannot cease to fathom the scale of the architecture. It is truly grand! Religion has no name, and on one visit one seems taken by the high levels of positive energy in a basilica as ancient as this one.
However, one of my personal favorites is definitely the Fisherman’s bastion. Located at a height, this building is spectacular and extremely beautiful.
A person can view a new place of interest while travelling either through its people, or through the stories that the city itself tells through its buildings, culture and impressions. Hungary was once devastated by war, and one can see how much this pains this country even today. An ode to the innocents who cannot tell their story anymore, a tribute to the fallen who could never raise their voice is raised at the Terror Haza museum. A Holocaust museum, a sanctuary of souls, the walls of this prison saw more pain and brutality than can be fathomed. The events displayed through this building are so horrifying one cannot help but feel the chills and the sting of nerves when inside. Once upon a time a Nazi prison, the museum carefully preserves whatever body parts of Hungary’s children it could find, whatever stories of torture and gore it could express. This is where its demons hide and coming face to face with the darkness that once had its grip over this country is a terrifying and overwhelming experience.
The Heroes square, located down the road from the Terror Haza museum offers great photo opportunities and is a common hangout spot amongst those visiting Budapest.
As compared to Buda, Pest is livelier and more dynamic, but the real treasure is what lies in the middle of the two cities. The river cruise is a must do and one of the best things that Budapest has to offer. The river cruise gave us an opportunity to enjoy the city views by night, and the most spectacular highlight was the chain bridge, one of the 6 bridges built over the Danube but most definitely the most beautiful of them all.
While cruising along the river one gets to see several night spots, the most brilliant of all being Dream island- “- a junction of 6 to 7 dynamic clubs. There are several types of clubs catering to different types of people and from different age groups, but the best club in the area was Studio which is also the largest club in Europe. While at glamourous spots like these one gest to witness a generation which has successfully moved on from the horrors of war, along yet other party streets of Budapest one comes across several multi-cultural joints, pubs and ghettos which show the melting hot pot of cultures that Hungary actually is!
As compared to Buda, Pest is livelier and more dynamic, but the real treasure is what lies in the middle of the two cities. The river cruise is a must do and one of the best things that Budapest has to offer. The river cruise gave us an opportunity to enjoy the city views by night, and the most spectacular highlight was the chain bridge, one of the 6 bridges built over the Danube but most definitely the most beautiful of them all.
Dream Island is the ultimate destination when in Budapest and I remember it for the madness that followed the night that we were there- Dream Island shenanigans 101. They say if you really want to get to know someone better, you must travel with them. Traveling with friends is one of the greater joys of life..and you know you have done it right if your friends are as crazy and as spontaneous as you!
With this mad, mad group I ended up exploring Budapest like never before- We found Sheisha enclaves located in dingy exotic ghettos, Mexican cafes selling the best tacos you can possibly get in Europe, eccentric local stalls in the snow selling delicious pretzels with hot mulled wine and cider and refugee tram rides through-out the city. Budapest stands as a testament of time, having survived wars, atrocities and extensive damage over time. Hungary is one of the countries that was completely destroyed and built back from ruins after world war II. The country talks in numerous ways and its beauty is only surpassed by the gorgeous combination of the two cities lining river Danube.
Definitely one of my favorites. 🙂
Scotland is known to many as the land of Bagpipes, stoic castles and impressive landscapes. It was through my trip to this incredible country that I learnt of the lesser known attributes of Scotland- Its gritty, grimy, bloody history which the city of Edinburgh evokes through the darkest corners, hidden dungeons and mysterious closes!
My trip to Scotland has been incredible.. real, yet surreal..being in Edinburgh made me feel like I was part of something larger, like being a part of a story which just refuses to succumb to silence. Edinburgh at first glance appears as a gorgeous town- grey and majestic.
Cobbled, well lined streets, eccentric colored walls lining the otherwise grey architecture, traditional bagpipers and the little local kilt shops- this is how I remember Edinburgh.
Walking along Edinburgh is like wandering in a maze.. the city interwines into itself at several junctions. History claims that the city was rebuilt several times, mostly structured one platform on top of another. As a result of this, several buildings we see are actually built over once existing settlements, which at that time had colonies of people living inside them! Travel guides often descrive Edinburgh as the “city buried alive”and this arrangement over time has given birth toan even more unique concept- of the closes!
Not to miss is the little Elephant house cafe, where J.K Rowling is said to have conceptualized the Harry Potter series. Edinburgh is an amazing concoction of an urban city lined with underground dungeons and graveyards hundreds of years old.
National geographic has listed Mary King’s close in Edinburgh is one of the most haunted places in the world. Walking down the flights of stairs into cooped up dark rooms where hundreds of families once lived in hiding was an extremely numbing experience. The tour was so fantastic that one would believe we were back in the war ages, as we walked through torture chambers, rooms of plague victims, medical wards, human body disposal gutters..all under ground!
The most interesting experience was walking into the room of the little plague stricken girl who was left behind by parents who never came back for her, and it is said she is still seen there from time to time.
After the Close tour, we walked down to the Princess Gardens. These gardens stand beautifully fertilized today. However, a lesser known fact is that this garden once used to be a lake, or a loch as the Scottish call it, which eventually filled up with organic matter from dead bodies disposed off in it over time!
The history of this town is dark, and it is what makes Edinburgh absolutely irresistible! The walk to Edinburgh castle is beautiful and very informative. The castle stands tall and strong atop the famous Castle Rock hill and hosts the most breathtaking views of the city.
Edinburgh castle can be seen from all parts of Edinburgh and is one of the most celebrated tourist spots in Scotland. It is a stoic stone structure resembling a mighty fortress and home to war museums relaying age old Scottish tales of bravery and victory.
The iconic Grass market, Greyfreir Bobby’s grave, the city council chambers, war museum, occasional Scottish ale breweries, Whiskey distilleries are a few tourist spots that I highly recommend. The traditional pubs and “beer cafes” of Edinburgh are divine as well.
Edinburgh is a classy town offering a wide range of activities. When in Scotland you must try the Scottish delicacy Haggis- primarily containing sheep meat. The people of Scotland are extremely nice and genuine, and love tourists. The best way to see Edinburgh is by walking around the city, through the shifting levels of the streets and dark tunnels leading to underground closes. Walking around the city is a marvelous experience and I highly recommend it.
It is commonly believed that the night life of a country is probably the best way to understand its culture. The most interesting spot was pub Frankenstein, which boasted of a dark yet extremely exciting atmosphere! Edinburgh is primarily a student town and one has many options to hang out, giving rise a popular culture amongst travelers called “club hopping”. Clubs, lounges, pubs and streets scaled with party hoppers-Edinburgh is an absolute delight!
I look forward to visiting the highlands at some point, and maybe I’ll go look for Nessie- The Loch Ness monster next time I’m there. Until then, if you’re visiting Edinburgh don’t forget to walk around as much as possible, as the real beauty of Scotland lies in imbibing not what it shows, but the stories it has to tell.
Until my next post, Guid cheerio the nou! 🙂