Krakow – Poland

If you are a World War 2 buff, Poland is a must visit. My travel buddy and me did a girls only trip and we could not have chosen a better place.

We stayed in an excellent, spacious, two room, two bathroom apartment pretty much in the heart of the city. (Józefa Sarego 28. Krakow). Every sightseeing desitnation / museum / restaurants etc were all pretty much within walking distance.

Important Places to visit:

Aushwitz Tour: This is approximately 2 hours away. I strongly urge you to book a tour and a little in advance. The tour ensures a pickup and drop at the doorstep. More importantly, if you do not go in a co ordinated tour, you will have to wait in long lines, and that may also be futile as they stop non-tour visitors after a certain time.

wagons that carried the “undesirables” to auschwitz.

 

the very daunting and haunting auschwitz camp

                  bunkers

Be on time, carry water, and be prepared to walk a lot – I mean A LOT!

Do not be daunted by the history and horror stories. It is definitely a distressing experience, but it allows your empathy to develop and it’s most assuredly a humbling experience.

Old Synagogue : The oldest Synagogue of Poland where Polish Judaism was practiced. In 1300 ‘s the King welcomed Jews into the country to increase entrepreneurship and commerce. Poland had the largest number of Jews, and the numbers have gone down by almost 90 percent after the holocaust.

old synagogue

Jewish Quarters – Kazimerez: This covers the history and geography and culture of the Jews of Poland. It’s also bustling and full of restaurants cafes and entertainment. The night life buzzes here.

Zgody Square: A part of the Holocaust history, this square is a memorial to the tortures of Jews.

jewish atrocities were carried out in this square

Krawl through Krakow (pub crawl): Visit their website. They take you all over the city tasting various different Polish Vodkas and local brews. We both are not vodka drinkers so did not go. But Vodka lovers should def try this.

local polish beer

Plac Nowy: Where the castle starts. Buzzing night life.

Galactic Museum: Paintings related to the new and old Poland, taking into account the alteration of Poland post the Holocaust.

Wawel Castle tour: Must do a tour. Interesting history.

Salt Mines: An hour from Poland. Take a tour, don’t go on your own.My advise? – unless you are super curious about salt mining, don’t waste your time. I found it two hours of time and money waste. Fully hyped.

Schindler’s Facotry: This is a museum. We did not go, but it’s worth visiting.

Krakow Walking Tour: This is a must do, if you want an indepth knowledge of Poland and it’s history, take this tour.

Shopping:

There is a huge mall in the new town area. It looked rocking and had some local brands as well. We did not do any shopping whatsoever so cannot comment on it at all

Vodka: do pick up a local vodka for your bar.

 

Places to eat:

We found some fabulous places to eat in. Vegetarian was easy to find.

I’l Calzone : part of a hotel. Food was Italian and great.

Hamsa : New the old town. Excellent Mediterranean. Not to be missed.

Vegab : Falafel and wraps. Again not to be missed.

Pod Norenami : Completely vegetarian, hole in the wall restaurant. We really enjoyed our meal there.

Hotel Balthazar: Dinner in their very cute courtyard restaurant. Order in advance for vegetarian. Service was excellent.

Try Zapiekanka : It’s a local open flat bread dish. There are stalls near Plac Nowy which serve it.

 

THINGS TO REMEMBER:

  • If you are staying in an AirBNB make sure they have lifts or some help to carry up your luggage. If it’s summer, AC or fan is a must
  • Carry water at all time because you will be walking a lot.
  • Take walking tours. These give a lot of info and cover a lot of ground in terms of historic / cultural centres.
  • Auschwitz is a must do, but prepare your self for some horrors. You will have to walk a lot. Plan to take a tour after a heavy meal, or carry snacks.
  • Where ever possible take organized tours.
  • If you want to take it all in, plan a 3 day 4 night minimum stay.
  • Go with friends who don’t mind walking.
  • Enjoy the night life of Poland.
  • Talk to the locals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Norway – Oslo and Bergen

Oslo and Bergen – Norway.

Land of the midnight sun indeed!

 

FACTS

One of the richest countries in the world, with a prohibitive exchange rate.

Norway still uses it’s own currency – Krone (fondly known as NOK). They prefer not using Euro. And they prefer credit card to cash. If you shop using Euro, you will get back Kroner in return.

Exchange rate in the airport was quite good. It’s a good idea to carry Norweign Currency from your home country.

The water is the best in the world, and anywhere in Norway you can drink straight from the tap.

Taxi’s are very expensive. Food is fairly priced.

Vegetarian food is easily available.

Check weather for rain.

OSLO

THINGS TO DO.

As countries go, this was beautiful gorgeous and made for an amazing holiday. But if it’s history with brave wars and fearsome battles you are looking for, it’s not going to be a part of your tour here. Nevertheless historical facts exist and you must make time for a walking tour around Oslo. It’s best to have a guide who can take you through. There are statues and museums all around, but the information surrounding them is far and between.

The walking tour will also take you to the waterfront, and the new Oslo promenade.

 

FACTS

One of the richest countries in the world, with a prohibitive exchange rate.

Norway still uses it’s own currency – Kroner. They prefer not using Euro. And they prefer credit card to cash. If you shop using Euro, you will get back Kroner in return.

Exchange rate in the airport was quite good. It’s a good idea to carry Norweign Currency from your home country.

The water is the best in the world, and anywhere in Norway you can drink straight from the tap.

Taxi’s are very expensive. Food is fairly priced.

Vegetarian food is easily available.

Check weather for rain.

 

                                                               A park statue in Oslo. This man was a World War 2 hero.

THINGS TO DO.

As countries go, this was beautiful gorgeous and made for an amazing holiday. But if it’s history with brave wars and fearsome battles you are looking for, it’s not going to be a part of your tour here. Nevertheless historical facts exist and you must make time for a walking tour around Oslo. It’s best to have a guide who can take you through. There are statues and museums all around, but the information surrounding them is far and between.

The walking tour will also take you to the waterfront, and the new Oslo promenade.

https://www.visitoslo.com/en/articles/the-harbour-promenade/

The modern architecture is quite gorgeous and well – uh! Modern. Walking up to the highest point will grant you gorgeous views of Oslo. This area is now the most sought after residential area.

Statue garden. End your walk at the statue garden. There are close to 200 statues made by Gustav Vigeland.

https://www.visitoslo.com/en/product/?TLp=181601

statues made by Gustav Vigeland.

Take a taxi or Uber back home, because by now you would have walked quit a bit!

Shopping : we did not shop

Food: We ate at a few good restaurants. Nothing the shout home about.

You absolutely have to try their caramalised cheese.

It’s called Brunost, and it was the most amazing and different cheese I have ever had.

Salt by the promenade was a great experience though. Many varieties of cuisines are available in this open air market. Great places to sit eat and enjoy the ambience. Very neat and clean.

 

BERGEN

Fjords

We took a taxi from Bergen to Voss (where the mineral water comes from). We asked a local taxi driver who had got us from the airport to quote a full days fare and we hired him. Alternately your hotel can book a day taxi for you.

From Voss we took a the ferry to Flam. We got into the “Norway in a Nutshell” boat for a trip to Fjords. It was a 3 hour tour in the Fjords and we docked in Flam. From Flam we took a train (past of the tour) to Voss and got into our car and drove back home.

Some more info on Fjords tour

You need to give this tour a full day.

Those motion sick can take a mild tablet – waters are fairly calm and there is no rocking.

Norway in a nutshell is the company we used to book our tickets and the entire tour. They have many permutations and combinations. Look it up.

https://www.norwaynutshell.com/

There are also companies which give you a 3 day in water – like a cruise, and leave you in another city.

FJORDS

Furnicular

Bergen has the cutest Furnicular going up on the top of Mt. Floyen where the entire Bergen can be seen through a birds eyeview. There is also a small café, which serves snacks, drinks and munchies.(time required 1 to 1.5 hours max) In peak holiday season the tickets could take time to buy. Please check if its available online

Also the queues to get into the furnicular could be long.

https://www.fjordtours.com/things-to-do-in-norway/museums-and-attractions/bergen-funicular-floyen/

 

Waterfront

Colourful fronts : for which Bergen is famous for.

Sunsets are quite spectacular. In summer the sun sets around 10.30 – 11 pm. The city is bustling and alive till quite late at night.

 

SHOPPING

The water front has very cute shops . Some of these are in the lanes of the colourful homes and exteriors you will see. There is also a history attached to it and these shops serve as way of livelihood to the sellers.

 

FOOD

Some of the restaurants we ate in.

Madame Felle (water front) I cannot praise this restaurant enough. Normally we shirk from tourist populated areas, but this restaurant, which served Mexican fare was utterly brilliant.

Altona wine bar: Very good selections

Colonialean 44:

Lysverker seas food and wine:

OpusXVI

 1877

 All restaurants mentioned above were worth noting. There were a few others which were nothing great.

 

NORWAY IN A NUTSHELL (HA!HA!)

Go with the complete understanding that it’s going to be an expensive holiday!

2 nights in Oslo are enough. 3 in Bergen!

Carry your NOK currency

Try not to take taxis

Food is very good, and almost all cuisines are available

Fjords are definately a must.

Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sedona (Arizona)

 

Heads up: This journey is a road trip. Car is required.

It was family holiday time, and we had gone to the USA for my daughter’s post grad ceremony. A proud moment indeed!!

The son suggested an offbeat, not oft visited place in Arizona. The ANTELOPE CANYONS. Well at least most of us did not know about this place. It’s also a canyon, but for some odd reason the Grand Canyon became a tourist attraction, and this beautiful naturally occurring, ever changing rock formation and catacomb like structure remains popular but far less appreciated than it should be.

We first went to Scottsdale. A cute, well to do town in Arizona. It looked like a beloved and well loved town by its denizens, because every street corner, some street walls were beautifully and thoughtfully decorated. It boasted of a beautiful canal, some outstanding restaurant and cuisine choices and a high street which seems to come straight from a Enid Blyton book where things are cute, charming and cheruby!

We stayed only a day, on way to Sedona. The W hotel is a nice place to stay, with it’s own very popular and fancy after dinner bar.

Next morning we headed to Sedona, a 4 hour drive. We arrived late – a warning if you want to go there. It’s a small town, and all food places (again a huge variety) close max by 9 pm. More on that soon–

We stayed in Log Cabin type accommodation. Extremely extremely cute, with it’s own fire place, huge bedrooms and great bathrooms.

I will not mention the name because the service was pathetic. No breakfast, rude housekeepers and no regular housekeeping!

But where ever you stay in Sedona, you need to be stuffing your face by 8.30 pm latest! Or then you can cook! The Cabins had a completely done up kitchen.

We reached the arid, almost deserted looking Antelope Canyon. The highlight of Sedona. This is a Native American reservation, which means only Native Americans can live and work there. It’s considered sacred land, and stretches till you cannot see any further!

Only Native American owned tours can take you there and I cannot stress enough the seriousness of booking way way in advance. We did not know this, but the kids did a hunt and we were able to secure a tour. Last minute or depending on the concierge of your hotel can burn a hole in your pant, of a kind that you will look like you dont own a pant anymore!

We booked through :

Dixie Ellis’ Antelope Lower Canyon Tours (928) 640-1761

http://antelopelowercanyon.com

The tours are every few minutes. If you can – ask for Vernon’s tour timings. Of all the guides in al the places we ever needed one- he was the best and most gracious and helpful. PS: Him being a photography aficionado you will manage stunning pics.

IMG_1488
If you look carefully on the top left, you will see the formation of a woman with long stresses.
IMG_1468 3
cracks and holes, gaps – al formed and reformed with falling rain and floods.

The canyon is below ground. The rocks you see are quite young and every monsoons they get a barrage of water falling through and sometimes flooding the canyon for a few hours. Water falling heavily, downwards towards gravity, from a small opening – such is the power that it can change and break rock formations, cause holes in the sides and basically wash away their carefully created infrastructure of stairs and walkways.

IMG_0105 2
Vernon took this picture from a particular spot, using the panorama effect

 

IMG_1485
skylight

Arrive into the canyon area an hour before your time. A little further away, in the reservation itself is restaurant and a massive river, where you can do a river tour too. Just ask for the MARINA.  To and fro from the Marina to the tour area takes time, so do keep in mind your tour timings.

From Antelope Canyon, we went to the Horse Shoe Bend. Gorgeous view from far far above. Many places to take pictures. The kids were getting a bit adventurous with going too close to the edge for pictures, which made me super anxious and worried, so I nudged them back into the car again really quickly.  A fair warning :: to see the horse shoe bend, one has to trek a bit.

IMG_1498
The Super Gorgeous Horse Shoe Bend.

Off we went to the Grand Canyon. Everybody goes only to the West Rim. It’s the most famous. We landed up in the South Rim, which was also gorgeous. Totally breath taking – the entire stretch, as far as the eye can see. They also have helicopter rides, which you can look up online.

IMG_1518
Mr. Somani and me
IMG_1509
South Rim

We stayed the night at a motel by the South Rim and headed to the West Rim the next day.

It takes a few minutes to get used to the glass floor.  You are not allowed to take pictures, and if you want pictures taken, then there is a separate line as you enter the glass floor outstretch. It was well worth it, because a few pictures are a must. Helicopter rides here too. Book in advance.

4T5A1145

5 EVENING RAINBOW
shots taken by professionals.
13 SKYWALK SUNRISE
shots taken by professionals.

 

7 LIGHTNING EAGLE
(shots by professionals) If you look carefully, jut below the lightening, you will see an eagle with his wings spread out. He looks after the spirit of the Natives.

This is also reservation land. There is a rock formation resembling an eagle. The Natives are taught to do the right thing. It’s a matter of pride in their community. They say that if the mom’s are busy and cannot keep an eye on their children, the eagle keeps an eye on them, making sure they do no wrong.

At the end of our 5 day road trip, we landed up in Las Vegas – but then what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. :))

PS : some more pics on your way out!

IMG_1496

 

IMG_1494

 

 

Amritsar

If someone tells you that a day in Amritsar is enough, disown that person immediately!!

We spent 2 nights and 3 days, and still were running short of time to do everything we wanted to and eat everything we needed to.

Amritsar is one part spiritual, and one part sin! Both are as diverse and as important. We were a mixed group of people, some who were careful of what and where they eat, some small eaters – but sweet lovers, some who just went with the flow. Let me tell you every single one of us enjoyed the spiritual and sin part equally!

GOLEN TEMPLE (the spiritual side)

It is worth going through the history of the temple before you go for the darshan. You can read it here.

You are allowed to carry a bag and your phone.

Park you car at the Golden Temple parking and either walk or take a three wheeler to the temple gates.

There are four gates to enter the temple. Please try and go from the gate closest to the information centre (so that you will easily  find one of the sin parts I was talking about! :P)

Wear footwear that can be washed later. Leave your footwear at the footwear centre. (You must note the sewa that goes on there. You will find people polishing your shoes, or cleaning them.)

Enter the temple and join the line that leads to the Harmandir Saheb where the Guru Granth Saheb is kept in the day. Go up one floor from the main Granth Saheb and then one more floor up. You will see the oldest Granth Saheb. A priest reads from this non stop – 24 hours.

Take your prasad . – for this do carry a small box or zip lock bag. A lot of prasad is given and sometimes you might not be able to finish it on the spot. This way you can eat it at leisure – or with your langar.

Head to the Akal Takhth – the main Sikh Seat. Sit there for a while. It’s considered very holy.

Roam around. Take pictures. We went in the night. The Golden Temple runs 24 hours – by the way!! The glamour and beauty is very visible at night. Around 8.30 pm to 9 pm they take the Granth Saheb to the Akal Takhth for the night. It’s bought back in the morning at 4 am in a palanquin, and that’s the other darshan which would be worth doing. We went in the evening, did the darshan, had dinner at the Langar and left for the night.

the golden temple

You must eat at the Langar. It is a very simple fare. But the fact that it feeds anyone 24 hours of the day, and is made by sevaks who carry deep spiritual intent, makes the food extra special and tasty.

Finally we picked up our footwear and headed to the hotel.

At every auspicious place people pay their respect. If you are confused about what to do, just follow the lead of the public.

PLACES TO SEE

Jalianwala Baug

A must visit. It might bring out a rage in you, or it might just be another page in history. But do go. It does not take long.

Gobindgarh Fort 

They have a sound and light show, and a 7D show. It gives you the history of the fort, some about the struggle for independence and loads about the Gurus of the community. Look up the timings and see the show. I found it educative and interesting.

Wagah Border for the fiery Indian spirit. We did not go, but our friend did. She said she had goose pimples throughout. You have to book a seat via web site before hand. Ask your hotel to do it. Don’t go with the touts, keep your own car.

FOOD (the sin side!)

Ah! Sin city this Amritsar. Diet before hand. Starve if you must, but be prepared to eat delicious food  in Amritsar.

Kulcha land. People will tell you it’s where all tourists go. Don’t let that deter you. They go there because the Kulcha and channa is  seriously unbelievable. Do not miss.Have the masala kulcha. Tell them to make it really crisp. Lassi is also awesome.

Kesar Da Dhaba Another hole in the wall, but a must visit.

Kanhyalal They make those stuffed Bedmi Puri with Aloo lonji, channa and spicy aloo sabji. (you have to ask for the aloo sabji). Have the lassi. Yum! Best place for breakfast.

Ram Lubhaya & sons. For khatta and aam papad. Right next to Kanhyalal.

Gurdass Ram Jalebi Wale. When you leave the Golden Temple, (which is why I asked you to enter from the gate close to the information) ask anyone for Khooi Galli, or the famous Jalebi shop itself. You must must eat the Jalebi and the Gulab Jamun. Exactly opposite this shop is a shop which makes hot milk. 

Makkan Surprisingly many Kulcha shops in Amritsar are purely vegetarian. For the best fish in town go to Makkan. They do good chicken also.

Bira Chicken lovers paradise.

Gianni Tea Stall  for fabulous tea in matti ka kulhad.

Paan  Next to Kulcha Land, there is a paan shop. Just go to see the mad varities he has. We got a simple paan made, and it was outstanding. He is very famous for his fire paan.

Bansal sweets for original pinni, moti choor ladoos etc.

Taj Swarna  we stayed there and had one meal there. Fantastic Kuclha, channa. Amazing service.

SHOPPING

Raunak for jooti’s. Though frankly, jooti’s are available dime a dozen, the ones available here are very comfortable. My friend bought one from else where but found the ones from Raunak better.

Kartar Singh Di Hatti.  For all phulkari dupattas, salwar suits, lucknowi suits etc. It’s a huge shop, he gets it tailored too (I cannot vouch for his finishing), and you can request him to courier it too. To get there: ask the guy at Raunak to get you a small rickshaw. The driver will wait for you there and take you back to your car / hotel. address – Katra Kanhiyan. Goal Hatti Chowk, Katra Ahluwalia. Ask to meet Deepak, amazing sales man – catches your needs and shows you exactly what you want without wasting your time. Trust me – this is the only place you need to go to.

Kamini Mehra Great Salwars at very reasonable prices. Fancy Salwar shopping can be done here. Address: Dayanand Nagar, Lawrence Road. 8283817192, 964608887

Ujagar Singh Karam Singh for papad, warian, and all those kind of takeaways. Taj and all the good places get their papad from here. Dont buy papad just about anywhere. There is lots of soda and not that great a taste. These people had decent stuff.

Address :Bazaar Kathian Under Shiv Mandir, Near Mai Sewa Bazar, Opposite Sujan Singh And Sons, Amritsar, Punjab 143001   Phone no: 0183 253 1434

(to know how to use the warian, follow  http://www.therecipelarder.com  – blog on warian recipes coming soon) .

Take back home some sweets from Bansal sweets.

TAXI SERVICES we were recommended Rajpal Driver – +919855337598 He was excellent and is a mine of information. Very sweet person, drives well and knows the nooks and crannies of Amritsar. Do ask him for recommendations. He was suggesting a place in the old city for Kulchas, and being a local he would be bang on about it.

Amritsar is a land of goodies. Make the most of it. Keep your own driver if you can, and go with friends. It makes the experience worth it.

In the end – quick but pertinent points…

-Wear washable footwear for the temple

-Definitely go for the evening darshan.

– Cover your head at ALL times in the Golden Temple – men and women. For women a dupatta is not necessary. A large handkerchief is good enough even for the women. You get people selling them outside the temple, thats good for men and women.

-Clothes – even jeans are ok for women. Head should be covered. Of course keeping the sanctity of the place in mind shorts, short skirts and sleeveless tops should be avoided.

– Take a small zip lock or box with you for the prasad.

– Eat at the langar

– Keep your own taxi driver

-Eat without restrictions 😛

-Stay away from touts for Wagah Border

-Take advice from the locals, we struck gold there.

-Taj Swarna is a great place to stay in.

-Try to take the trip in winters. Even the local faces bleached at the thought of us tourists trying to visit Amritsar in the peak summers.

 

I hope you enjoy your trip.  And this blog

Cheers!!

 

 

Ireland

IRELAND the world of bars

Ours was a whirlwind trip to Ireland. We could not make it to the North of Ireland, but the South as far as I see it, was well covered indeed.

The North Ireland is under the United Kingdom. And the South is Republic of Ireland. There was some major confusion about visas. One web site said those having British Visa, would have no trouble getting in. One said it’s at the discretion of the Immigration officer.

VISA

Anyway not to confuse you – Those having British Visa’s made or renewed post 2015 would mostly have a BIVS visa. They will have no problem entering Ireland, as long as they have an immigration stamp in UK – meaning they have to come via the United Kingdom.

Those who have older visas – well October 2016 the end of the agreement between UK and Ireland, so you had better get an Irish Visa for entry.

ARRIVAL

We reached Knock airport. Two airports are close to Galway (from where we started the journey). Shannon and Knock. Dublin would be a few hours away.

DRIVING

We wanted to be free to stop for drinks or take a nap in the car. So we did not choose to drive around. Instead we hired a chauffeur driven taxi. It turned our pockets into dust, but was well worth it.

Also we had heard / read that the roads in some places can become so narrow that it could cause a traffic jam, if a car came in from the other side. So yes!! A traffic jam with only two cars is apparently an Irish thing. And it did happen, but far and large we found that Ireland very easy to drive in. The roads were very good.

http://citytaxisgalway.com

We used them throughout the trip.

At one point we had to take an internal taxi in Galway. The driver gave us a good rate – still a shock to our pockets – but you can also try to talk to the local taxi guys. They are willing to help.

THE IRISHAre very very very and I cannot add really add the number of “verys” I really want to – FRIENDLY. Helpful. Happy. Amazing Singers. Inborn Musicians. And some of them as naughty as their famous Leprechauns. Asking an Irish for help, could often lead to a story waiting to be told. Within an hour of us visiting pubs, we had heard the life story of many a local.

the friendly irish folk
the friendly irish folk

THE WEATHER. Now that’s the most controversial word in Ireland. This country is known for it’s untimely rain and bleak weather. The Irish, have got so used to it, that even their sheep look up in disdain and disinterest when the weather goes foul. Carry a warm water proof jacket. Ours stood us in good stead. If you don’t have a head covering, carry an umbrella. Scarves and mufflers are a good idea. We went in late September, which according to me is the best time to be in Ireland.

 

OUR ITINERARY

 We started in GALWAY

We stayed in The Twelve Hotel. This was a little away (appx 15 minutes by cab) from the main Galway city(Barna). We did this on purpose as the other hotel we were looking up, was bang in the middle of town and at the start of a noisy street.

I would recommend The Twelve in a heartbeat. They had a fantastic gastropub, an amazing concierge and fabulous rooms.

The breakfast was outstanding. The recommendations for restaurants, bars and pubs outside the hotel were bang on.

Our room was HUGE. And rates were fantastic.

The Quay Street.

The Spanish Arch is just outside Quay Street. Hmmm! It’s noting to shout back home for. Just an arch. But – once you go through, the sea catches up with you, and the view is spectacular.

the spanish arch - galway
the spanish arch – galway

The Latin Quarter, is a huge network of streets with all the shops, bars, pubs and restaurants. Since Galway is a student town, the place rocks on weekends. The streets are buzzing with the most amazing street performers, and the pubs and restaurants, put out seating outside (when the weather is good) and it’s a full bonhomie scene out there.

Here are some recommendations for bars and pubs.

For good wines – go to Bunch Of grapes, Quay Street bar, Freeny’s, Neactin.

Deli La Tosca served fantastic Spanish Wines.

Other bars and pubs.

The Crane bar was highly recommended, but we were not too impressed.

The Quay Street bar was super.

Restaurants.

Milano Pizzza (it’s a huge and popular chain), Kia (food was fantastic), Adbria, Twelve Hotel Gusto Bar, Lighthouse – at Abbey Gate Street, Quay Street Kitchen.

CONNEMARA

We went to Connemara for a day trip. We stopped at the Clifden Castle, for some champagne. (Um! It was our 12 noon break folks. You drink the coffee we will stick to our champagne- Thank you!) This was a really quaint stop, over looking the mountains. A perfect serene get away.

clifden
clifden

After that we stopped at the Kylemore Abbey.

kylemore abbey
kylemore abbey

http://www.kylemoreabbey.com

This was bought by Mitchell Henry for his wife. After she passed away, he sold it to the Benedictine Nuns. It still belongs to them. I do believe they could be the holiest of the lot, so peaceful is this place. It’s a museum of sorts, and we could hear plaintive piano music as we roamed around. They also have a walled garden, which was very non impressive. But do walk around. And take in the essence of old world charm.

 

DOOLIN. We stopped at Doolin on the way back, for a meal. Stone Cutter’s Café. A small quaint yellow house, in the middle of fields, occupied by sheep and cows. As whimsical as it can get. But the astounding part was the food. It was unexpectedly amazing, both in taste and variety. We were vegetarians and the mélange of dishes had us very impressed.

img_2576

Doolin stone cutters cafe
Doolin – stone cutters cafe in the middle of fields

CLIFFS OF MOHER AND ARAAN ISLANDS: When in Ireland, you cannot miss The Cliffs of Moher. The Araan Islands, were nothing great according to me.But the Cliffs – now they took our breath away. The entire cliff is cordoned off with a wall, so you cannot really stand at the edge. But – a little way towards the left (while facing the sea) start walking towards the cliffs and there is a little walk way, where you can jump the walls and you can walk along the edge. the height is imposing, and my toes curl inwards when I am very close to the edge of any height, but I got some awesome pics. The walk involved wall jumping and getting down from heights, but we had a great view. Since it was raining we got our shoes all nice and gooey, its best to wear sturdy shoes. Take your time and go to the Cliffs. The walk is a must. Try and see if you have the option/ luxury of choosing a bright sunny day. But Ireland being what it is – it could rain the exact minute you step out of your car.

img_5850-2 20120101_090357

Cliffs of Moher
Cliffs of Moher

KILLARNEY. This was the best part of our trip. The coolest, hippest!! The people in Killarney are mad, half drunk and uninhibitedly friendly. Within an hour into the city we knew who are the locals, who lived where, did what?O’connors pub: do go there. You must go there. For all the locals go there. And that is where the fun is. And if a band called The Small Hours is playing anywhere in Killarney, DO NOT MISS IT. Go to the ends of Killarney for it. It’s a husband, wife band, and they are fab.

O connor's pub and the locals singing
O’ Connor’s pub and the locals singing

The grand. Another rocking party place. Bouncers and all. The front, they play Irish bands, (the New Foundland was amazing) and in the back of the club, they have a discotheque. It’s a bit risque. So please go with company.

Food. We ate at the Khao (Vietnamese) and the Stone Chat Café. Fantastic food, authentic and fresh. There were many other restaurtants, but we had only two days, and both the days the lunch was out of Killarney.

Must Visit.: The National park.Take the Jaunty ride. Its fun. Alternately its an amazing place for a long walk.

Jaunty ride
Jaunty ride

The Cathedral: was very pretty. We did not go in, but the sites from outside were also majestic.

Ring Of Kerry.This takes a full day. So you can do what we did. We went half way then turned around and took a short cut back.

20120102_054824_2

20120102_071103

img_2652

Skelligs Chocolate Factory: is a must do. We stopped off the coast for a quick lunch. It was basic pizza fare therefore I did not write down the name.

We stayed at The Ross.: it was round the corner from all our sinful debacles. Completely walkable and very safe. Heart of town, but not in the noisy streets.

 

DUBLIN: We stayed at The Mespil. I don’t recommend it at all. Coming to Dublin after friendly Killarney was like getting lost amongst wolves. The city seemed too big, the people too busy and nothing suited us for a few hours. Once we got the hang of it we were good, but we would have liked to do Dublin first, so as to savor the flavours of small towns towards the end.

We were there only for a day, so have not done much sight seeing or food eating.

Temple Bar: The district and the bar. Every local will turn up their face at it, but I am telling you – YOU HAVE TO GO. Its jostle jostle, bump bump, no place to get drinks, too many people, loud music, but Oh Lord! Its amazing.

A tasting bar of the original Temple Whisky is attached to the main temple bar. Do visit if you are a Whisky lover.

At the end of the Temple Bar district, stands a small take away selling the most amazing French fries. PLEASE HAVE SOME!! 😛

The Quay Street bar was also nice.

Grafton Street: also has a lot of clubs and pubs.

Guinness: Now whether you like Guinness or not, you cannot come to Dublin and not visit the Store House. Book in advance and pick up souvenirs for your friends.

img_6002

Trinity College Library: is one of oldest and most well kept libraries in the world. Must visit.

img_6030-1

img_6038-1

img_5973-1

img_2692

Trinity college Library
Trinity college Library

Food: We ate at the Bull and Castle. Fantastic service and great food. Hugo, was a champagne bar. We were caught in rain, and decided to stop walking and work up our appetite with cheese and champagne. They have a very cute window seat, so if you are just two on a romantic evening out, book it in advance.

Rasam: we had a private invite, but invite or not, distance or not –(its in the burbs) if you feel like eating Indian, go no where else. The food was authentic, fresh and the restaurant was one of the most classy ones I have ever see. Since it was a personal invite by the owner, I can vouch for the fact that the owner stands at the helm himself and manages the show.

img_2746
Rasam

 

 

img_2609

Beautiful Ireland
Beautiful Ireland

 

This husband wife team, have an Air B and B and the husband also has his own car which he uses to drive people around Ireland as a tour guide. Very sweet people if you want someone to drive you around.

img_5872-1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan

Japan

The land of the Rising Sun, Shoguns, Samurai and Sakura.

Time to Visit – Look up the internet for the year’s correct information on Cherry Blossom, (sakura) blooming time. Mostly it is End March to Early April. The cherry blossoms bloom completely only for a span of 2 weeks. Post that they start closing up, and the green leaves start showing. It has to be seen full bloom, else the entire point is lost.

Cherry Blossom time
Cherry Blossom time
Pink Blooms
Pink Blooms

Autumn, is also a lovely time to visit Japan. The colors change, and the leaves are in full glory, from yellows, oranges and reds. I have not seen this sight, but was told by locals that it’s a sight to behold.

Do’s and Don’t’s.

Visit the shrines. You must. It’s a bit tedious, but the ones I would have left out, saying – seen one seen all, were the ones which will stay with me forever. Thankfully we had with us a friend who cajoled us and relentlessly took us to see everything there was to see. Be prepared to walk a lot.

Subway – The subway in Kyoto is fairly well connected. Its BRILLIANTLY connected in Tokyo. Take day passes. It works out super cheap and efficient. It is for 24 hours from the time you take it.

Taxi – Take as few times as possible. Prohibitively expensive. And they hate going to close by places.

Stay – in a RYOKAN in possible. At least for a night or so. We stayed in a very basic one. Try and find a little higher end one. It’s an experience you wont get anywhere else.

The people – are polite, amazing and extremely helpful. If you approach them for direction, they will drop what they are doing, drop the line they are standing in and take you to the place you were asking for. I have nothing but respect for the Japanese. We have never met a better race of people. They humble you with their polite behavior. You will find many of them wearing masks. Its not for their protection, but for the publics. They feel they have a cold or something infectious, and want to protect the public from it. Their motto in life is the neighbor should not suffer, at any cost. Absolutely amazing.

Weather – was cold in April, first week We got slight rainfall too. Look up the weather before you leave. It can get unpleasantly cold and take you by surprise.

Bullet Train– Shinkansen. We took it from Tokyo to Kyoto and back. An experience I tell you!! We were moving at the speed of 350 km/hr and felt not one lurch. Ever! Use the J R pass for the same.

Booking – can be done online. But you have to go and redeem it into a pass. It tales time so be prepared for the wait. Queues are long. Keep the pass carefully.

Its worth the money. We calculated daily tickets v/s the pass, and the pass was more worthwhile.

Train pass – The J R pass (Japan Railway) made a lot of sense because we traveled to Kyoto from Tokyo and back. From Kyoto we also went to Nara, using the same pass. We would have been able to use to to Mt. Fuji and Hiroshima too.

No eating in public transport! – Just not ok. Japan is so clean its unbelievable. And you wont see dustbins anywhere. Why? Firstly, people are not eating all over the streets. Secondly, they all carry a small trash bag with them. (YUP!) and take the trash home to throw.

Bus – Very effective. You have to pay when you get off. Keep change handy. They also have coin changing machines. In the bus!

Language – is an issue. Google translate is fantastic. You can also click a picture of the words you need translated and it converts those lines to English. Its fantastic and very helpful.

Guide – We booked for 3 days. Frankly you need them only for a day in Kyoto when you are doing the main shrines. Once you get the hang of the layout and language issues, you can maneuver yourself quite easily. We booked them through the Japanese Cultural Centre. _ Just for your info – they were just ok.

Tips – no one expects any tip what at all. Not the taxi driver, not your waiter in bars and restaurants, and not your bell boy. In fact they can take objection. I had taken small gift articles specific to India, and they were happy to accept those.

Drink – the local whisky. Its fantastic. Try the Sake. I did not like it much, but my friends loved it.

Shop – at local boutiques and stores. I picked up a lot of stuff from MUJI and UNIGLO.

Japan has lovely cotton clothes. Expensive, but some things were worth it.

Money Exchange – very funnily the best rate was available in the airport. Remarkably better. Both Tokyo and Kyoto city, had rates much worst than Tokyo airport.

Drinking water– tap water is safe in Japan. They have dispensers on every road, every corner, every mall.

Food – can be a bit of an issue. We had carried Theplas etc and were happy for it. Mostly we needed it in our train journey. Having said that we got great food all the way. You have to be a bit ready to experiment with Buddhist food etc. You can ask for chilli paste/ oil almost every restaurant. Also try the tofu dishes. You will not find better tofu anywhere else in the world. Jap food is healthy. I did not see even one plump person in Japan – forget obese.

Tofu Salad
Tofu Salad

 

HAVE THE LOCAL MEALS – see the restaurant section of this blog.

Buy local Japanese ingredients. I picked up Wasabi, Wasabi powder, Togarashi powder, some sort of ginger based powder and tofu skins.

Shiatsu Massage– It was soooo relaxing. It’s a kind of acupressure massage. They make you wear a robe and press points from head to toe. I felt like a zombie for a bit after the massage. The state of relaxation was really complete.

Voltage Issues – don’t buy electronics in Japan, unless you plan to use them in USA. They work on 110V.

 

KYOTO

Kiyomizu Dera . This is off Gion area – on a hillside. It was dark when we reached, but it was beautiful. I can only imagine it on a misty morning, with the clouds pouring in and the bells of the shrine tonging.

Gion – is a lovely area to walk around. Get the feel of the local area and the local life.

Nishiki Market. This is 100 years old. A sightseeing place as much as shop. Get the famous Japanese knives here. Buy some kimchi. Check out the different.

100 year old Nishiki Market
100 year old Nishiki Market

Philosophers Path. Dear lord! This place was heaven. The best Cherry Blossoms. The river flowing in between was filled with pink petals and the entire effect was amazing.

Cherry blossoms Also known as Sakura
Cherry blossoms Also known as Sakura

Ginkaku ji Shrine. The silver shrine. Thus named because the reflection of the moon would fall on the roof and make it look silver. Beautiful Zen gardens adorn the surroundings of this shrine.

The moon hits the roof and makes it silver.
The moon hits the roof and makes it silver.

Arashiyama – Bamboo forest. Must see. Walk between the bamboos to get a feel of how we humans are small little midgets compared to nature.

Bamboo forest
Bamboo forest

Nijo Castle. The Shogun’s retreat. The great hallways, the conference rooms, everything reeked of great history.

Inari . The shrine of the 10000 red gates. Beautiful red gates one after the other. Each gate was offered as a payback for a prayer answered. Quite a sight to see.

IMG_4111

Inari Shrine -- 10000 gates
Inari Shrine — 10000 gates

Kinkakuji Shrine. – Golden Pavillion. We did not see this one. But its on the top list of sight seeing in Kyoto.

NARA

An hour’s bullet train ride from Kyoto. NOT TO BE MISSED. My favourite shrine. The shrine with the hugeeeee Buddha. Todaiji Shrine. Mesmerizing.

Todai - ji Shrine Nara
Todai – ji Shrine Nara

Deer Park. Very interesting. Buy the cookies sold by the vendor and feed the deer. They come so close. And try feeding them some other food! They look at you like you have committed a sin! ;P

Feeding the deers - Nara
Feeding the deers – Nara

Restaurants

We found all restaurants in Japan, very small, very clean and run by minimal staff.

Sigestu – Tenryu ji Restaurant . Buddhist / Zen Meal. Absolutely amazing. Its called Shojin Riori – the meal.

http://www.tenryuji.com/en/shigetsu/

IMG_4061

Zen Meal
Zen Meal

Beer Komachi – Cute pub bar. Small.

Falafel Garden – good hot fresh Lebanese food.

Arash Kitchen – also Lebanese

Kerala – amazing indian meal. Don’t go anywhere else. Book in advance.

L escamoteur – PLEASE GO. It was the most amazing bar we went to. Go early as you will get turned away if there is no place. Fabulous host, fantastic cocktails. Vie for the swing seat, if only two of u.

Mad place – truly! No food!

L’Escamoteur Bar
Address:
138-9 Saisekidori, Shijosagaru, Saitocho
Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto 600-8012

Contact Details:
Phone: +81 75-708-8511
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/L-Escamoteur-1392735951033939/

Swinging charis
Swinging chairs

On the same street as L escamoteur are many many restaurats. Great Italian places.

The Pontocoho Alley has many bars and restaurants. Dive into the small side streets. You will find hidden gems.

Some of the ones we visited were – Atlantis, K-ya, etc.

 

TOKYO

Hip – modern and completely city!

Shrines

Senso ji Shrine Either we had a shrine over load or this really wasn’t that fantastic. Worth missing.

Meiji Shrine – Please GO! The walk to this serence shrine is well – serene. I loved the peace and quiet. Shuts at 6 pm!

RESTAURANTS

Tofu Kai Zen Meal. Fantastic atomosphere and fantastic service. Book in advance.

La Jolla – Mexican. Was a good break and a good meal.

Gonpachi– very very famous. Kill Bill scenes were shot here. Fabulous food, though the din can get to u.

The dishes I want to highly recommend

Takana Meshi – Rice pickled with mustard leaves, and served in a hot stone bowl.

Zaru Tofu – Special cold tofu in a bamboo basket.

Rigelleto – In the famous Roppongi area. Fantastic – yum yum!

garlic mashed potatoes
garlic mashed potatoes

Try their – mashed garlic potatoes and Jalapeno fritters

Sembikiya    The fruit restaurant. MUST MUST MUST GO. Its located in the same buiding as the Mandarin Oriental hotel – the Nihombashi towers. 2 nd floor fruit parlour!

IMG_4160

 

IMG_4153\

We went quite beserk! Have the fruit platter. The avocado and tomato sandwich and the fruit sandwich. TRUST ME ! Your mind will be blown away!

Umenohana Ginzanamiki Dori it’s a mouthful to pronounce, but the food is worth everything u have and you may have to give away! Book in advance. – book a veg meal in advance. Zen Meal.

IMG_4184

 

IMG_4181

Pinsa de Roma – small restaurant tucked away on way to Meiji Shrine, in the Takashite area. It’s a little off but plan to eat the pizzas there when you are on way to the shrine. You will not regret it! Best I have had. It was crisp, crunchy and sublime.

IMG_4185

 

Peking Restaurant at the Imperial Hotel. Great chinese food.

Vivo bar – fantastic music. Ask for RICARDO   very sweet chap. 

Peter Bar – at The Peninsula Hotel. View of the city. Nice.

 

SHOPPING AND OTHER THINGs

Ometosando – shopping. High end stuff. In the middle of the street , there is a Japanese Craft centre. Good stuff for souvenirs. Do go. Its worth it. I picked up really soft towels from there.

Liquor Store – amazing one. Small but loaded.

Liquors Hasegawa – Shop no 1, Under Tokyo Main train Station. East Spot. Chuo Dori Avenue. Close to Daimaru.

Pick up your Japanese whiskies and Sake here.

Other shopping places – Daimaru, Sogo, Mitsukoshi, Takashimaya. Frankly I went crazy for the local stuff.

Local food – Basement of Takashimaya – there is a small super market called Medina (i forgot to write down the name – but it was something like that)

Akiabara – electronics market. You might not be able to pick up much because of the voltage issue, but do go and take a quick look. Its huge, massive. I haven’t seen an electronics market like this. Ever.

 

Japanese Knives
Japanese Knives

 

Tofu making
Tofu making

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pashmina – A seductive dance with a stranger.

Dear Reader,

Please hear this song  before you read the blog. This is an audio only link – Please don’t see the video!!

————————————————————————————————————————-

I was alone in the studio that afternoon. With Pashmina blaring on the audio system, I danced within myself. My moves were silted, controlled. I danced not for passion, but for a show. Somewhere I had lost the fire.

It was hot outisde, and I wore a wispy thin dress which fell just on my knees. I need them thin flowing dresses – the costumes I wear sometimes choke me. As the song roared, I hugged myself and danced. Suddenly there was a threatening silence. The music was cut off. I turned, angry at having my peace and space invaded. Before I could focus, the music started again – softly this time, like an echo of a inner heart beat and the song of a soul. I was whirled  towards the wall, my head facing away, and a rough calloused hand slid on my waist, while the other hand moved up and down my bare arms. Holding me, but giving me space. And as the lyrics hit the room, our dance started. I had no time to feel anything, not even fear.

 

Pashmina dhaagon ke sang
Koi aaj bune khwaab aise kaise
Waadi mein goonje kahin naye saaz
Ye rawaab aise kaise
Pashmina dhaagon ke sang

 I was still not facing him, but I felt him – tall lean and muscled. Smelling faintly of tobacco.  Like a far away fragrance, I had always known, but forgotten. His long fingers caressed my dress, from my arms to the hem, from where hung faint wisps of threads. I felt like I was that soft pliant pashmina thread, and that thread was being felt and stroked for its susceptible beauty.

His fingers, just two of them, moved up my thighs, just grazing them, and his other hand rested on my forehead. Calloused, rough, long seductive fingers stroked my temple, while the other hand grasped my waist, and we both – our hips stuck to each other, did a half turn to the lyrics. My head felt light, dreamy. I had still not seen his face.

Just then I felt his  stubble, next to my face. Lifting me by my waist he swung me around. My legs taut and extended, my dress billowing around me, I felt like I was on the top of a misty mountain, and the breeze tingled on my skin. When he put me down, his fingers again moved along my arms, tingling with goosebumps, and my skin pricked in anticipation.

I felt in my head a long forgotten song. I felt it in my head, I heard it in my heart. And somewhere as I was being whirled around by this stranger, I realised that the music echoed in me from valleys of misty mountains.   

He let me slide down, and as his hands once again skimmed down my bare arms, his fingers twined themselves around mine, and locked them in.  His face was still to be seen.                                             

 

Kaliyon ne badle abhi ye mizaaj
Ehsaas aise kaise
Palkon ne khole abhi naye raaz
Jazbaat aise kaise
Pashmina dhaagon ke sang
Koi aaj bune khwaab aise kaise

His strong wrists felt mine. It was a signal, a move a dancer knows. I locked my palms around his wrists, and when I was lifted into the air, I knew he would let go of me for a few split seconds. I rose up, and free untethered. The trust was impulse, the move calculated. When I tucked my hand around me, hugging myself and twirled in the air, I knew I would land into his strong lean arms. There was anticipation. A tumble in the stomach –  I would finally see his face.

As I descended I opened my arms, knowing I would want to tangle them around his neck. Not had to – for he would hold me – but want to. He did not let my feet touch the floor, but grasped my waist when my face was just above his head. I lost all semblance. The dance and it’s grace were no longer my concern, and I struggled to peer down. Who was this stranger, who felt like home?

I looked down, and he looked up, his nose touching the bottom of my chin, and my world opened up. I gazed into eyes the colour of chocolate that is melting in front of you. Long eyelashes hid those half closed liquid eyes. Eyes that were locked into mine. Still held tight agains’t his chest, I heard and felt the world whisper its deepest secrets to me. Tumultuous emotions overwhelmed me. Had I been standing, I would have dissolved into a heap of passion. I felt frail, yet strong. I existed, but my soul had moved elsewhere.

 

 

Kacchi hawa, kaccha dhuaan ghul raha
Kaccha sa dil lamhe naye chun raha
Kacchi si dhoop, kacchi dagar phisal rahi
Koi khada chupke se keh raha
Main saaya banun, tere piche chalun
Chalta rahoon…

Pashmina dhaagon ke sang
Koi aaj bune khwaab aise kaise hmm…

I could  not take my eyes off him. Curly wisps of his hair stroked my face. I did not have to see the rest of him. Our dance so far had made our bodies an elemental knowledge to each other. Now only the eyes met and souls touched. I felt vulnerable! Soft! New! Old! Happy! Sad!

It was a new feeling. A raw awareness of self, but tangled with another secret, a known familiarity. I knew the path I had taken, which I had no control over, was dangerous, and a further dip into the labyrinth of emotions would have me crossing over into new territories. I was not ready, and yet my entire being yearned only to complete this journey.

His arms wrapped around me, my heart thudding , we danced. In slow motion, his steps synchronising with mine. Round and round we went, spinning over and over again, turning and whirling circles, head, body, mind and soul – until he lifted me and holding my waist – me standing straight, balancing only on his hands, he ran with me across the room. I don’t know how he held me. There was no definite grasp or hold.. like I was sitting on his palms, yet standing upright.

Poised in front of the huge sparkling studio mirror, he let me slide down. Like butter falling of the rim off a heating pan. Just as I was gliding below his knee, he stopped my drop, and slid his arms under my arms, holding me just under my shoulders. With the song belting its heart rendering lyrics, he lifted me up again, and his hands fell to his side. I immediately felt bereft.  For a moment we were two people – a man standing behind a woman, eyes locked into each other – reflecting in the mirror.

Before I could drown in his eyes, his hands went up and circled my neck, while his other hand thrust against my hips. Now I was to lead the dance, and he would be my shadow. I moved, my right  foot sliding towards the back. He followed. Both of us on the floor, in a split position.  My left feet to his left, my right to his right. Other than his hands around my neck, and his palms on my hips, no part of our body touched – yet the sync was perfect.

A dance where the partner can read your mind, is as near to bliss as one can get. Holding our sitting positions, I leaned back against him, and he leaned back towards the floor, till my back had arched and moulded perfectly to his perfectly bowed torso. Both his arms went around me, and both of us rose again, and in one fluid motion we were standing. I fell forward, my arms straight on my side, and his cheeks grazed my back, his palms went parallel to mine and our fingers entwined.

 

 

Shabnam ke do qatre yunhi tehal rahe
Shaakhon pe wo moti se khel rahe
Befikr se ik dooje mein ghul rahe

I had lost all sense of time and self. I only existed for this dance, for this moment and now for him.

His right fingers still entangled in mine, we let go of every other contact. Slowly facing each other, arms extended and holding only our right hands cupped into each other, we circled. looping the same path – slowly. His eyes held mine, all my control sacrificed. His fingers crawled up my pulsing wrist till we held each others arms. The feel of his rippling muscles, his penetrating glance, straight roman nose, damn it! his entire structure, made me feel like I was thrust into an alternate surreal world.

As the lyrics changed he pulled me to him, crushing me to his chest. My arms went around him, and I held him fiercly. We stood there, all dance forgotten, the world surrounding us forgotten. We only heard the din of volatile, erratic heart beats. Two bodies fused as one. Before the song could finish, he pulled out of my hold and without turning around, with his eyes still fixed into mine, he backed out of the studio, leaving me trembling and in tears.

I was left without words. What can one say to an interlude of this kind? What can one think? All logical reasoning had left me. I was a puddle of emotions. Wave over wave of tremors went through my body. Where had he come from, who was he? Who was I? – after he had danced with me?

I left the studio, not knowing what to do, where to go, how to proceed with life after this.

A dance with this seductive stranger.
A dance with this seductive stranger.

 

 

Jab ho judaa, khayalon mein mill rahe
Khayalon mein yun yeh guftagu chalti rahe
Haan haa..

When my stage show got over, I got a standing ovation for over 10 minutes. Abandoning my former routine and choreography, I danced alone. To Pashmina. And my partner was his absent shadow. 

 

Ye rawaab.. aise kaise
Aise kaise.. aise kaise..
Aise kaise.. aise kaise..

 

For English translation of the song – click here