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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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If you look carefully on the top left, you will see the formation of a woman with long stresses.
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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.

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

 

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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.

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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.

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Mr. Somani and me
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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!

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