A trip to the Tiger Temple, Thailand

Thailand as a country is considered one of the best natural wildlife reserves in the world. It was on my trip to the western province of Kanchanaburi when I encountered my first ever one to one wildlife experiences. Kanchanburi is located where the river Khwai Noi and Khwai Yai converge into the Mae Klong river of Thailand. It is mainly a Buddhist town housing primary tourist attractions like world war II cemeteries, the JEATH war museum , Vipassana center, elephant camps and my personal favorite- the Tiger temple!

Our day started early and we were picked up from our hotel at 6:30 AM by the Thai tourism group. A group of friendly, sweet guides -they explained the history of the place we would soon be visiting with so much passion we were instantly motivated to cross some milestones in our lives! Kanchanaburi is a small historical town scattered with silk houses, handicrafts shops, war museums and the famous bridge over river Khwai Noi.

En-route Kanchanburi
En-route Kanchanburi

A good 3 hours away from Bangkok, Kanchanaburi appeared to us as a small, quaint town with a lot of history attached to it. Our itenary included a trip to the war cemetery which till date pays homage to 7000 prisoners of war that died while constructing the “death railway” over river Khwai. The JEATH war museum is another tourist attraction which helps understand the role of Thailand in world war II, a lesser known angle.

The war museum listing 7000 prisoners of war that died while constructing the railway during world war II
The war museum listing 7000 prisoners of war that died while constructing the railway during world war II

The JEATH war museum is one of a kind, It is the “once upon a time” home of the prisoners of war and one cannot ignore blatant reminders of the plight of the victims who once suffered under the same roof. We took the speed boat from the JEATH museum to the famous bridge over Khwai river.

On the speed boar to the bridge on top of river Khwai Noi
On the speed boar to the bridge on top of river Khwai Noi

The bridge was was destroyed by the Japanese during world war II killing hundreds of British soldiers who were building a railway across the bridge that would finally connect Thailand to India via Burma!

At the bridge over Khwai Noi river, Thailand
At the bridge over Khwai Noi river, Thailand

Located very close to the border of Burma it is often referred to as the death railway!

The death railway along the bridge on top of Khwai Noi river
The death railway along the bridge on top of Khwai Noi river

Next, we moved on to the elephant base camp and this is where I met my darling friend Malador!

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My naughty girl Malador

The elephant camp is located in the midst of the Thai jungles and is an absolute delight for anyone who loves nature. The elephants are well looked after, and seem to understand Thai very fluently! 😉 Riding elephants sounded like a dream when I came across the intenary months before I was in Thailand.. and I remember standing in awe as we watched the elephants gracefully walking around in camp.

My first encounter with Malador!
My first encounter with Malador!

My first encounter with Malador was when she nudged me on my stomach with her trunk! Naughty Maladar was the one I then chose to ride with.. the elephant ride is a walk along the jungle trails leading all the way down to the river! While this sounds fun, I must say we were scared out of our wits as we wobbled on top of the huge animal trying to trek her way down a steep slope.The most gratifying part of the experience is reaching down to the river bank where the elephant calmly washes itself playing in the water.

The river bank along the elephant ride trail
The river bank along the elephant ride trail

Our Mahaut was a shy little man who I casually asked if I could ride Malador myself. As he did not understand English, I was in for a surprise when he crisply jumped off the elephant and gestured at me to take his place on Malador’s neck! Riding Malador that day was an incredible experience, and I felt a deep connection between us as she took me around camp, letting me pet her along the way.

Riding Malador at elephant base camp, Thailand
Riding Malador at elephant base camp, Thailand

The elephant base camp also offers the opportunity to go bamboo rafting, which gives you another chance to be one with nature and take in the stunning landscapes.

The bamboo bridhe leading to the bamboo rafts
The bamboo bridhe leading to the bamboo rafts

The experience costs way less than it is worth as this is one place in Thailand which has to the potential to leave you with lasting memories.

Gorgeous Serene Thailand
Gorgeous Serene Thailand

Finally, we arrived at the place I was waiting to be at for months! The tiger temple is mainly run on donations and tourism funds, and as we made the long walk to the tiger canyon we saw several varieties of deer, buffalos, swine and monkeys! Imagine our surprise when we learnt that the Tiger temple runs on one philosophy and that is of peace.. this implies that no animal is hurt and all animals are conditioned to live together in peace- even tigers and deer!

At the tiger temple, Thailand
At the tiger temple, Thailand

The Tiger canyon is probably one of the most visited tourist attractions of the world, and yet..not many people happen to know anything about it. Let me therefore, take the liberty to take you through the tiger canyon the way I Saw it.

Gorgeous tigers are well looked after and loved like no other place here at the sanctuary
Gorgeous tigers are well looked after and loved like no other place here at the sanctuary

The tiger canyon is the main hub where the tigers rest through the day, usually in the presence of one monk. Tourists are allowed to visit and take pictures with these tigers in the presence of a local staff. As is expected, the tigers look magnificent, and like nothing else you will ever see. To see a tiger up close and personal, to touch it and pose with it is the bravest thing I have done in Thailand.

The tiger temple, Thailand 2014
The tiger temple, Thailand 2014

This royal beast is elegance personified. Surely, the experience of sitting in front of this gorgeous animal is better than the best HD cinematic experience in the world. Take my word for it.

Tiger temple, Thailand 2014
Tiger temple, Thailand 2014

We walked around and posed with several beautiful tigers- some willing, some not so much. One even swatted me with its tail as it sat growling. This, I was told was because feeding time was approaching and the animals were starting to get hungry. Natural instincts are probably the most powerful forces in the world, and yet to see how calm and patient these tigers seemed gave me a sense of joyous inspiration I hadn’t felt in a long time.

With the tiger cubs
With the tiger cubs

The most fun I had was with the adorable young tiger cubs. My favorites, these cubs were playful, patient, curious and kicked and rolled around like little bundles of joy.

The beauty of friendship
The beauty of friendship

If you’re lucky and there at the right time, you can walk along with the tiger and the monk as they make their way to the curb for feeding. If at the tiger temple, do not miss this. Watching a full grown tiger lovingly feed on milk through a bottle is an incredible sight. It is utterly stunning to see this bond of faith and is one of those things which are reminders of how much beauty there is in the mornings and moments that pass us by into oblivion.

A monk feeds a full grown tiger milk through the bottle
A monk feeds a full grown tiger milk through the bottle

I planned my trip to Thailand keeping the ancient tiger temple in mind. The first cub was found and rescued by the temple in 1999, and since then the temple has persisted as a natural sanctuary for Indochinese, Indian and presumably Malayan tigers.

I support the
I support the “Save Tigers” campaign. Do you? www.savetigersnow.org

I urge everyone to make an effort to save these beautiful animals from extinction.Save the tiger campaigns are worth your time and effort and I say this with all sincerity. You can log onto www.savetigersnow.org and be a part of this movement.

We spent the rest of the day and the rest of the trip indulging in Thai delights, but nothing after this compared to the tiger temple experience. I remember my day in Kanchanaburi as a day filled with love, spirit and adventure.. and isn’t that what travel is all about?

7 most exotic experiences Bangkok has to offer!

One of the cities with Visa on Arrival, my first step out of Suvarna-bhumi airport at 2 AM in the night, and I thought I was back in my beloved Mumbai.  That was my first impression of Thailand. It looked very urban, with flyovers and well lined streets, it took us about 25 minutes to exit the widely spread airport district. The roads looked familiar, even the street signs listed district names which sounded very “Indian”. “How is this place any different?” I thought, and BOOM- our first “Thailand experience” came our way.

On the way to our hotel, past 2 AM at night, all cars including ours were suddenly redirected to the fringe of the highway. While we thought it must be a drill common in Bangkok when government officials are passing by, this turned out to be a much bigger affair.

Several cars were asked to line up along the borders emptying the highway. We were asked by government officials to switch off our headlights while they strangely turned their backs to the highway facing us! While this sounds very strange right now, when I explain why this happened you will probably understand the drift of how things work in Thailand. Within 10 minutes, a rally of about a dozen cars and motorbikes sped by us, with members of the Royal family.. the guards wouldn’t face the highway as a mark of respect, similar reasons why cars were not allowed to shine headlights in the presence of the royal troop.

I am not from Thailand, I had never been to Bangkok before.. but the thrill I felt at the mere passage of the royal troop in the middle of the night gave me goosebumps and for some reason, I felt one with the locals in that moment of time.

Bangkok, the city of the Royal seat
Bangkok, the city of the Royal seat

Bangkok, or simply Krueng Thep is fondly referred to as the seat of the king, the city of palaces, the city of angels or the great city of Immortals. For me, Bangkok is simply the city of exotic experiences, my favorite cuisine and unbelievable dimensions.

7 reasons why Bangkok is one of the most “exotic” destinations in my opinion

1. Exotic Tuktuks!

Some of the most fun experiences you will have in Bangkok is probably traveling by the very adorable, and massivke infamous tuktuks! These are like Indian rikshaws, only with horizontal leg spaces and with much more color and character.

TukTuk-ing around town, Bangkok
TukTuk-ing around town, Bangkok

The tuktuk drivers are carefree, very tourist friendly and charge as per their will. They can charge anything between 100-400 baht for a short one way journey and I recommend you travel about with a local incase you’re in the mood for some tuktuk time!

Tuktuks!
Tuktuks!

Luckily for us, we were visiting my dear dear friend from university who lives in Bangkok, and seeing her bargain with the tuktuk drivers probably gave me the highest sense of satisfaction I’ve felt in ages!

2. Tail boats- The backwater experience!

A large and conspicuous part of Bangkok is the Chao Phraya river, which runs along most of the tourist attraction sites of the city.

dingy ports along the river, Bangkok
dingy ports along the river, Bangkok

Water transport is a very relevant part of the daily business and there are several boat cruises which can provide several splendid views of the city from the river.

Bangkok river cruise
Bangkok river cruise

However, once you have cruised along the beautiful river lines on a tourist boat, I strongly suggest you take the tail boat cruise, for the real Bangkok experience!

The tail boats
The tail boats of Bangkok, Thailand

Tail boats are used for transport and tourism along the back waters of the city of Bangkok. This tour provides some amazing visuals and insights into the city’s local life.

The Tail boat experience along the dingy backwaters of Bangkok
The Tail boat experience along the dingy backwaters of Bangkok

 

One can see the low lying boat houses, wood homes suspended less than a feet above water, porches crowded with the most interesting chimes you will ever see.

Local houses one can see only along the backwaters
Local houses one can see only along the backwaters

I may be looking too deep, but I remember seeing low lying houses with uncanny paintings inside, intense graffitis, floating Art houses with real life statues, floating markets and Iguanas basking in the sun casually while children play in the water a few feet away from them! You have to see it to believe it!

Usual sights along the river banks
Usual sights along the river banks

The tail boats are low lying and very close to the water, and the thrill of this experience is unparalleled.

The floating markets
The floating markets

3. The City of Temples

Bangkok is rightly called the seat of palaces and temples. The temples of Bangkok are intricately designed, conventionally run and spiritually inclined. Old Bangkok has most of the temples, and a stark difference is portrayed between the two sects of the city.

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

The three main temples are Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew and What Pho! A must visit on the itenary of everyone visiting the city of Bangkok.

The Shrine located in Wat Arun-The temple of Dwan
The Shrine located in Wat Arun-The temple of Dawn

Wat Arun is the temple located directly on the river bank and you can reach this temple using the short ferry service which runs continuously.

Wat Pho, Bangkok
Wat Pho, Bangkok

This Buddhist temple is built in levels and not for the weak heart-ed. Climbing up the first level is easy, the second level is difficult but the climb up to the third level is so steel that one cannot climb up without using the rope railings as the climb is almost vertical. If you do make it up to the third shrine, the climb down is heart stopping and probably one of the most challenging experiences of my life.

The leveled temple of Dawn
The leveled temple of Dawn

The temple is intricately carved, with great attention to detail. The dress code is strict and they assert that all body parts be covered before entering the temple.

Wat Pho, Bangkok
Wat Pho, Bangkok

Each temple has its share of markets and tourist engagement counters but one visit to the stunning temple towering 79 feet above the river is enough to highlight your Bangkok experience.

Temple of Dawn
Temple of Dawn

Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace

One of the most stunning temples in the world, the Wat Phra Kaew is located within the grand palace grounds and is a visual treat.

Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra
Wat Phra

The temple is breathtaking at first sight and seat of the Emerald Buddha as well.

At the Wat Phra Kaew
At the Wat Phra Kaew

It is colorful, photogenic and majestic and even has meditation houses where one can commonly sit and meditate with the monks.

Stunning temples of Bangkok
Stunning temples of Bangkok

Walking around the three main structures can take a while and the sheer aura of this temple provides spectacular photo opportunities.

Tourist delights and Photography
Tourist delights and Photography

The Grand palace is the royal seat of Bangkok and common sights are those of the traditional guards, chinese temples and stupas, iconic statues and museums.

An iconic statue of Ravana at the gate of Grand palace
An iconic statue of Ravana at the gate of Grand palace

Wat Pho

The Wat Pho is another stunning temple of Bangkok which is the seat of the “Sleeping Buddha” or the Golden reclining Buddha!

The sleeping Buddha, Bangkok
The sleeping Buddha, Bangkok

The temple house housing this statue is elongated and huge but it is the magnificence of the sleeping statue which has one awe struck from the second you lay eyes on it.

The beautiful peaceful statue of the Buddha
The beautiful peaceful statue of the Buddha

Serene, calm the sleeping  Buddha statue seems to be in a blissfully meditative trance. A must visit if you’re in Thailand!

Stupas around the Wat Pho
Stupas around the Wat Pho

Each of the temple has several of its own cultural rituals, like the shaking of numbered sticks till one falls, following which one must pick the prophesy with the corresponding number to know their fate! Thailand is a land of faith and that is what makes it very very endearing.

4. Thai Food

Thai is my favorite cuisine and I am often found scavenging around town for the best Thai places to eat at! So imagine our delight when we landed in the country from where this food comes! As we were staying in the Sukhumvit area, we got to check out some great eateries and delis along Soi 11, the most dynamic street lined with clubs, pubs, lounges and cafes catering to tourists. Some must tries are:-

Khao Man Kai
Khao Man Kai
Phat khi mao- Stir fried nnoodles with chicken and vegetables
Phat khi mao- Stir fried nnoodles with Crab and vegetables
Phat kaphrao- Chicken, pork, prawns or beef stir fried with Thai holy basils
Phat kaphrao- Chicken, pork, prawns or beef stir fried with Thai holy basils
Kaeng khiao wan - called "green curry" in English, it is a coconut curry made with fresh green chillies and flavoured with Thai basil, and chicken or fish meatballs
Kaeng khiao wan – called “green curry” in English, it is a coconut curry made with fresh green chillies and flavoured with Thai basil, and chicken or fish meatballs

The food around Bangkok, whether at a restaurant, cafe or along the road shops is rich and delicious. If nothing else, visit Thailand for the food. It is worth it. 🙂

5. Thai traditional coffee

The concept of traditional coffee really intrigues me. I have had the Vietnamese coffee made from beans grown in elephant dung in London, and that had bestowed upon me a sense of accomplishment. However, I was in for a delightful surprise when I came across the local stall of traditional Thai coffee and tea, which is serves with Milk and Ice and tastes divine.

Thai traditional milk coffee
Thai traditional milk coffee

The best coffee tasted so far, the flavors almost burst in your mouth as you gulp down this strong intense coffee! Definitely makes it to my “exotic Thailand” list.

6. The night market- An unconventional shopping experience

Shopping in Thailand is a pleasure during the day! At night however,there is a more carefree, forbidden feel to the market which happens to be open through out in some places.

Bangkok markets- A shopper's delight
Bangkok markets- A shopper’s delight

While malls like MBK and Palladium are amazing shopping retreats, it is the roadside window shopping which must be indulged in! The streets are lined with several low priced clothes, shoes, accesories, home equipment, sunglasses, tourist gifts and what not!

The floating market- another variation
The floating market- another variation

The interesting bit however, is the Night market which literally sells anything and everything. Adult tourism in Bangkok is very tourist friendly but avoided to a large extent by the locals and the government. Along the night market on open roads one can buy adult equipment, accessories, drugs and films. These shops are more aligned with the interests of foreigners and tourists and the sex tourism industry is probably one of the most lucrative industries of the state. Massage parlors are present after almost every two shops but what is the most incredible thing in my opinion is how easy going and “relaxed” the locals are about this. “It is what it is” is the mantra they have lived by and it seems to be working wonders for them. Also, I definitely recommend Bangkok for Bachelor parties.

7. Our sweet Ladyboy friend- Boi

This brings me to the another reason why I feel Bangkok is exotic and immensely gratifying as a travel experience.

As we were staying at the Ibis hotel in Sukhumvit, we unknowingly walked into the Nana plaza, which is the largest adult playground in Thailand, located three blocks away from us. Walking around in and out of bars and clubs we ran into one of the sweetest travel friends I have made over time- Boi. Boi works and performs in one of the largest ladyboy clubs of Bangkok, and while we sat there talking to her, the conversation flowed from one dimension of her life to the next as she discussed her problems, relationships, work and daily struggles! Boi wanted me to remember her and meet her the next time I visit Bangkok… This is for Boi 🙂

With Boi, Bangkok
Learning the story and personal struggles of Boi, Nana plaza, Bangkok

Bangkok has an amazingly relaxed aura. Its a land of stark disparities and an equal amount of unity. Grey, monotonous buildings infiltrated with eccentric colorful monuments, adult tourism to cultural delights, river banks ranging from dingy dirty ports to fabulous ones with floating markets, shocking backwaters to gorgeous riverscapes, skytrains to tuktuks..

Bangkok with friends is probably the best way to see the city
Bangkok with friends is probably the best way to see the city

My visit to Bangkok has been incredible and I hope you make it there at some point, hopefully with friends, with an open mind, with a lot of shed inhibitions and well…lots of heart!

Sah wat dee Bangkok!
Sah wat dee Bangkok!

13 reasons why Amsterdam!

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.

AMsterdam
AMsterdam- the city of canals

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!

Tram delights
Tram delights

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!

Incredible Amsterdam
Incredible Amsterdam

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.

Walking along the sunny streets of Amsterdam
Walking along the sunny streets 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 🙂

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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!

Bands play all day and night at the Liadsepein square
Bands play all day and night at the Liadsepein square

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.

In front of Madam Toussad's museum, Amsterdam
In front of Madam Toussad’s museum, Amsterdam

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 🙂

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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.

The Bulldog cafe
The Bulldog cafe

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.

At the Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam
At the Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam

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.

Holland casino
Holland casino

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.

At the Van Gogh museum
At the Van Gogh museum

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.

Discover Anne Frank's Amsterdam
Discover Anne Frank’s Amsterdam

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.

World's most unusual museums
World’s most unusual museums

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.

A torture device used in the medieval times- More at the Torture museum Amsterdam
A torture device used in the medieval times- More at the Torture museum Amsterdam

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 largest flower market in the world
The largest flower market in the world

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.

At the Flower market, Amsterdam
At the Flower market, Amsterdam

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.

The red light district, Amsterdam
The red light district, Amsterdam

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.

 

Amsterdam with my girls
Amsterdam with my girls

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.

Old school Amsterdam
Old school Amsterdam

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.

The Westerkerk, AMsterdam
The Westerkerk, 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 Museumplein
At the Museumplein

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 🙂

Amsterdam eye !
Amsterdam eye !

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.

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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.

Houses of Amsterdam along the canals
Houses of Amsterdam along the canals

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 🙂

Dutch pancakes!
Dutch pancakes!

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!

The Heineken experience, Amsterdam
The Heineken experience, Amsterdam

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..

At the Leidseplein square, Amsterdam
At the Leidseplein square, Amsterdam

What I wouldn’t give to be back in Holland again..

Cardiff and Happiness!

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.

City center with my girls
City center with my girls

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.

Milennium sports stadium, Cardiff UK
Milennium sports stadium, Cardiff UK

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! 🙂

At Walkabout with members of the "Wales supporters club"!
At Walkabout with members of the “Wales supporters club”!

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.

An evening in Cardiff
An evening in Cardiff

The roads are well structured and the most delightful part is- almost all facets of the city overlook the bay!

Stunning views from the bay
Stunning views from 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 wall of love, Cardiff bay 🙂

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 cinematic landscapes of Wales
The cinematic landscapes of Wales

The Cardiff bay area is a stunning location, and is home to the world famous Senedd, a popular tourist spot with extremely urban architecture.

Cruise along the bay waters and enjoy the sun and the wind- best way to spend a holiday
Cruise along the bay waters and enjoy the sun and the wind- best way to spend a holiday

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 🙂

Signor Valentino- my favorite restaurant in Cardiff
Signor Valentino- my favorite restaurant in Cardiff

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..

Cardiff, and happiness!
Cardiff, and happiness!

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!

Night lights in Cardiff
Night lights in Cardiff

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.

Cardiff castle, Wales UK
Cardiff castle, Wales UK

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.

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Cardiff castle grounds, UK

One can even see the clock tower and the Millennium stadium from here.

The clock tower, Cardiff castle
The clock tower, Cardiff castle

The castle interiors are intricate and extremely well preserved, considering the structure was bombed several times over the years.

Cardiff castle, a look inside
Cardiff castle, a look inside

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 castle fort
Cardiff castle fort

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!

Cardiff Bay, the happiest place to be
Cardiff Bay, the happiest place to be

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.

Cheers 🙂

1 Day: 3 Countries!

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..

Vienna, Austria
Vienna, Austria

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!

 

Ring boulevard, Vienna
Ring boulevard, Vienna

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.

city center, Vienna
city center, Vienna

 

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.

Gorgeous walks along Vienna
Gorgeous walks along Vienna

The city offers several photo opportunities through day and night, and has especially quaint and  well designed traditional cafes and age old pubs.

Vienna is well connected by its trams which also add to its aesthetic value
Vienna is well connected by its trams which also add to its aesthetic value

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 majestic Hoffberg
The majestic Hoffberg

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.

Outside the National museum of Wein
Outside the National museum of Wein

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.

National museum of Vienna houses the war museum as well
National museum of Vienna houses the war museum as well

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.

Museum of fine arts
Museum of fine arts

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.

St. Stephen cathedral
St. Stephen cathedral

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.

The Opera
The Opera

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.

Blutgassen district leading to the Naschmarket
Blutgassen district leading to the Naschmarket

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.

Naschmarket
Naschmarket

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!

Usual sights along the roads of Wien
Usual sights along the roads of Wien

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.

Schonnbrunn palace, Austria
Schonnbrunn palace, Austria

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.

The view from Schonbrunn palace
The view from Schonbrunn palace

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.

Cosmopolitran night at the Babenberger Passage
Cosmopolitran night at the Babenberger Passage

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.

Lunch in Vienna
Breakfast in Hungary

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/  🙂

Lunch in Vienna
Lunch in Vienna

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.

Dinner in Slovakia!
Dinner in Slovakia!

 

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.

The gorgeous city center of Bratislava
The gorgeous city center of Bratislava

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.

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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.

"No matter what girls, you must never mess with a man's pocket scarf!"- wise words of the funniest guy alive
“No matter what girls, you must never mess with a man’s pocket scarf!”- wise words of the funniest guy alive

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. 🙂

vienna-at-night-14

 

Budapest- The conquest of Paradise!

 

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!

Exotic Budapest
Exotic Budapest

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!

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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.

Atop Gellert hill
Atop Gellert hill

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.

The walk up to Gellert hill-top!
The walk up to Gellert hill-top!

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.

Incredible Budapest
Incredible Budapest

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.

Budapest castle- Reblog
Budapest castle- Reblog

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.

The cable car ride, Budapest castle
The cable car ride, Budapest castle

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.

St. Stephen basilica
St. Stephen basilica

However, one of my personal favorites is definitely the Fisherman’s bastion. Located at a height, this building is spectacular and extremely beautiful.

The Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest
The Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

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.

Terror Haza museum- The Holocaust experience
Terror Haza museum- The Holocaust 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.

Heroes square, Budapest
Heroes square, 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.

Hugarian parliament house, Budapest- View from the river

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.

Club Studio, Budapest - Reblog
Club Studio, Budapest – Reblog

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!

Steaming Mulled wine and cheese pretzels- A must have
Steaming Mulled wine and cheese pretzels- A must have

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. 🙂

Incredible Budapest
Incredible Budapest