Vienna: Hanging with the Hapsburgs! (II)

I am back. And I am picking you up from exactly where we left last time. In the by-lanes of Vienna, Hanging with the Hapsburgs, enjoying the architectural sights and stories (click here for a recap)..

After the sights of Vienna, its time to dig into the tastes and sounds here. Staying at Wombats, Naschmarket was a huge plus. Not because of the clean rooms, friendly staff and the in-house pub with cheap beer! It was the walking tour. Apart from the usual tour-tour, it included an introduction to the food and entertainment in the city. It said Vienna is love. And here is why:

1. The Quest for the Best Sacher Torte:

Vienna loves good living and the Sacher Torte is an important element in it. The recipe is pretty simple. With an apricot jam filling, its basically chocolate on chocolate. I scouted for the best Sacher Torte in town. Feasting at Cafe Sacher, Demel’s Cafe and Zanoni & Zanoni. The final was definitely between Cafe Sacher and Demel’s Cafe. Infact, they even fought it out in court for the tag ‘the original Sacher Torte’ which went on for a century. But I think Demel’s had the best one. Perfect dense chocolate cake, with a think layer of apricot jam coated with a thin dark chocolate icing, served with unsweetened whipped cream. Perfect. Period.

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Demel’s Sacher Torte

But I asked the tour guide if he agreed with me. He said, ‘Bloody hell, no. The best sacher torte is made by my grandmother and no one else.’ I touched a nerve there.

2. The Apple Strudel story

Another multi-national Viennese delight. I tried the strudel at Demel’s. I actually saw them baking the next batch. The wheat based filo comes from Turkey, apples from Germany. Tossed with sugar, cinnamon, rum raisins and rolled up neatly before it enters the oven! And in 20 mins, voila – the Viennese Apple Strudel. Wiped off the plate clean. It was that good!

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Demel’s Apple Strudle

3. Schnitzel – Wiener or Italian ?

I walked into a traditional restaurant in Naschmarket thinking the Schnitzel would be a light snack. After all, google said it was a portion of meat fried in oil or fat. But no! Its actually conceptualized in Italy but here, they add Bohemian dumplings and serve with Hungarian goulash. It is made of veal, garnished with lemon and served with potato smash and butter. And the ghoulash- that’s a vegetable and meat stew spiced with paprika. Delicious but heavy stuff!

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Schnitzel – Wiener

4. Buffet Trzesniewski

And we are still not done with food. Whenever you are in Vienna, you have to go here for lunch. And its not just you, a local, with whom I shared the table with, told me that for ages people have grabbed a quick lunch here. Infact, Trzesniewski is an institution for finger sandwiches. Grab the menu and select 3-4 sandwiches. I selected ham on egg, egg on egg and herring with onions and chicken liver. Also get the tiny traditional beer – Pfifff. Fast Food – Viennese style.

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3 sandwiches and a Piff!

5. Love & Support for LGBT:

The Austrian government supports the LGBT cause like no other. Do not miss the LGBT Freedom on all Trams right in the front. If you miss that, I am sure you wont miss these cute traffic lights. 50 traffic lights at Vienna got a makeover. something not just Austria but the entire humanity can be proud of.

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Traffic lights after the 2015 makeover

6. Naschmarket

I have this love for markets. Not just for the candid picture but especially markets which sell everything together – antiques, clothes and food. Naschmarket is one of them. Its on the Vienna river. I got talking with the chirpy owner at a food stall. Told him wanted to eat something traditional. He said he was Hungarian,  but said would be really happy to take me around in the market. He took me on a 15min tasting tour – I had fresh olives, baked baklava, a 5 day old cabbage (supposedly very healthy – a vitamin treasure – no wonder it tasted shit) and a couple of drops of the strongest berry vinegar in the market. That one almost gave me a shock. Got back to his stall and I ordered the fattest stuffed chicken leg I have ever seen. Baked chicken, spiced with paprika and served with salad. So much food-gasm in this post!

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The fattest chicken leg ever!

7. OPERA!

When it comes to the Opera, everywhere in the world people go ga-ga over it. One, I don’t understand music. Second, I had heard, one show costs anywhere between a fortune to a kidney! And then I was in Vienna. The Vienna state opera is listed in the top 5 Opera Houses in the world. So I knew i could not afford it on a backpacking budget! But hellllllo, opera at Vienna is almost free if you can grab standing tickets for the show. It has limited standing tickets costing 3-4 euros a person. Sale starts from 4:30pm and people start lining up from 3:30pm. I reached the place at 3:15, stood in the queue for an hour reading a book (i had come prepared to pass time), grabbed a ticket and absolutely enjoyed the show for the evening – it was Macbeth! Yes, THE MACBETH by Giuseppe Verdi at the Vienna State Opera. I did not know much about him, but I was completely enthralled by the experience. I got back to the hostel and googled him. He is one of the best! I was so addicted to the experience that I went for another show the next evening. L’Elisir D’Amore by Gaetano Donisetti. Also, attended Mozart’s Don Giovanni by Karl Sollak in Prague! Addicted now!

A late night snack & coffee at the Opera cafe will energize you for the night to follow.

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Is this the most beautiful cafe ever?

Polish of your travels with a sundae at Tichy. Or a Choclate cone!

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Bigger the better, No?

Perfect end. I am going to stop at 7, I am a Harry Potter fan 😛

Things I did not do:

  1. Dropped in at Mozart’s or Freud’s
  2. Visited the oldest zoo in the world – Panda bro! –dont like caged animals-
  3. Hit the night scene -wombats had an in-house pub which served cheap beer.-
  4. The amusement park and the Giant Ferris Wheel -lost hair. parks dont amuse me- 

BY THE WAY. In other news, I am back in the Bay. Europe. Mischief Managed. Came back to India in July. Despite the insane traffic, absolutely love it here!

“You can take the Boy out of Bombay, you cannot take Bombay out of the Boy” Rushdie.

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Vienna: Hanging with the Habsburgs!

After the end of a long semester and a never ending masters’ thesis, My Central European Capital Hopping Tour was next up. Capital Hopping –  Vienna, Bratislava, Prague and Budapest before heading back home!

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Welcome to empty streets, cool buildings, roadside sandwich shops and weird cycling lanes!

Vienna was the capital of the mighty Hapsburg Empire which ruled Europe for approx 600 years since the 14th century. During these six centuries, people from the various corners of the empire traveled to the capital and settled here. The original Viennese are known to be a unique Hapsburg cocktail – mix of Hungarians, Slovaks, Italians, Poles, Jews and Serbians. These people brought to Vienna their food, clothing, culture and traditions making Vienna a melting-pot capital, giving birth to the rich Viennese culture! To think about it, no other place has anything named after a city. We have the French cuisine or the Spanish culture or the Dutch traditions. But  here, in this elegant capital of Austria, I was treated to some of the best Viennese  stuff!

In this post, I will explore a majestic Gothic cathedral, visit the Habsburgs in their palaces, marvel at their crowns and jewels, ride on the grand circular Ringstrasse and then return after sundown to click a few slow shutter shots! Lets go folks, it time to hang with the Habsburgs

St. Stephen Cathedral: A massive cathedral where you would need a wide angle lens. This is the most famous landmark in the city. The elegant designs in the interiors will surprise you. The roof and towers are supported by tall columns minutely carved till the top. One of the first renaissance period structures where the creator Anton Pilgrim was allowed to shine with a self portrait on one of the columns. First instances of humanism in architectural history.

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The majestic cathedral with the famous rood and towers!

Imperial Complex: The Habsburgs had 2 luxurious palaces. The main palace was called Hofburg palace is the epic-centre of the old city. The Palace was last used by the royal family in 1918. Today it houses the offices of the Austrian President and a hundred government workers. But you can still visit the Boy’s Choir, Spanish Riding School and Royal Treasury. The Boy’s choir and Spanish riding school have scheduled performances – please plan well and pre-book.

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But i did visit the Royal Treasury which has 20 rooms filled with gold and rare jewels. Gold on vases, flowers, sticks and clothes. It has it all. The highlight is the 10th century crown of the Holy Roman Emperor which gave the divine monarch the grace of God. The crown’s eight sides represent the celestial city of Jerusalem’s eight gates. The precious stones on the front panel symbolize the 12 apostles. There was also the Imperial Cross which preceded the monarch wherever he walked, the ‘holy’ nail of the original cross, and the 500 year old unicorn horn. I always thought unicorns were a Harry Potter thing!

Then the crown. The best in the world!

You can also visit the graves of the Habsburgs nearby.  People say the graves are huge with a lot of sculptures depicting stories. But i don’t do graves!

The other one – Schönbrunn palace is a couple of metro stops away. It is the summer palace and stands at the edge of the town. I did the grand tour – a guided tour through 40 of the best rooms in the Palace giving you just a hint of the lavishness enjoyed by these monarchs. Photography banned inside. So if history and royal living does not interest you but parks do, just walk inside and turn right. You do not need a ticket to see the beautiful gardens and well maintained lawns.

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The Belvedere: The Belvedere has a special place in the heart of art lovers. Not just art maybe, the museum is also an architectural masterpiece. It is often said, when you are here in  Vienna – Dont miss the Kiss. Ofcourse, Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece – the Kiss is the prime attraction at Belvedere. But I think I preferred ‘the Embrace’ by Egon Schiele. You can actually feel that raw emotions in the subject in this one. Here are the two photos I downloaded from their website. Photography isn’t allowed inside. (L-R The kiss, The Embracse)

If you aren’t a great fan of art, you wont miss the Kiss in Vienna – a city for the romantics!

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The Ringstrasse: The Old city centre lies around this grand circular road. The medieval protective wall was torn down as Vienna started expanding and this beautiful was commissioned. This arcs 3 miles and is lined with Vienna’s best buildings. Hope on Tram#1 and  Tram#2 to complete this loop from the State Opera stop. The road is lined with ‘neo’ buildings – Austrian Parliament, the palace the town hall, court theatre, state opera, etc.

Come back later with a tripod: This is a new addition to my solo trips. During the day, I identify vantage points for some slow shutter speed shots. Backlit medieval architecture and moving people make up for a good twilight frame. My new favorite!

For now, Tschüss, Tschüssi! Bye- Bye! We will meet Vienna again as we embark on the quest to find the best when it comes to food and entertainment!

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Barcelona – See you in 2026!

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Barcelona will amaze you, sweep you off your feet. It will then take a bit of your heart for ever. Barcelona, one of the party capitals in the world,  was our 31st December plan!

We did a lot of things wrong in Barcelona:

  1. My friend’s phone got robbed in a crowded metro. I still think I caught the robber but my friend allowed him to go away. This was the 1st hour of 2016 btw.
  2. We did not buy tickets to the Sagrada Familia online. And we were unable to buy one at the counter because the daily quota of tickets was over.
  3. Having missed the Sagrada, we decided to give the Gaudi walk a miss. We are going back in 2026.

Apart from a free walking tour in the morning, finding a quiet place on the beach in the evening and claiming victory at the Arc du Triomphe, we did not do much. Yes, we did eat the 12 grapes, 12 seconds before the new year for good luck and enjoyed a fireworks show. I think Rahul did something wrong in this act. He was robbed of his phone in the next 25 minutes.

Here are a few pictures:

Barcelona Cathedral: Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. A neo-Gothic structure was built for Saint Eulalia – 13 year old who suffered martyrdom for refusing to recant her Christianity. She was subjected to 13 brutal tortures, finally leading to decapitation.

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Tomb of Saint Eulalia

Arc de Triomf: This was merely an entrance to an exhibition held in 1888. The  triumphal arch is built with colorful brickwork in Mudéjar style.

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We caught up with the afternoon tour just in time. My favorite walking tour operator – ‘New Sandemans’ run free walking tours twice a day. Talking about food, dance and culture to why Catalonians fight for independence even today. Also talking about the intense rivalry with Madrid and why the El Classico is not restricted to the football pitch

Catalan Caganars: They also do ‘shitting’ jokes on individuals in Barcelona which is worn like a state gallantry award.I enjoyed that. If you are popular in Catalonya, be sure that you will be next to these greats!

We loved the beach. Walked from the port to the other end. The water was too cold for a dip. In 2026, we are going in the summer.

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Sagrada Familia: This detailed architectural brilliance is under construction. They are building for tomorrow! Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece is projected to be completed after 144 years of construction in 2026.

To Catalonya, we will see you again!

 

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Segovia: Aqueduct, Cathedral and more

Our love for medieval cities was on the rise after out day trips to Bruges, Ghent and Toledo. We decided to go for one more, even though we were supposed to travel at 10pm the same day. Our destination for the day was Segovia – a Spanish town which played a key role in the country’s history.

The hostel in Madrid informed us that we could either take the train or the bus. The train is quicker but the bus is cheaper. Plus the train station is far away from the town centre (you need to take another bus) while the bus drops you in the old town. So no brainer! But the cheaper reason was convincing enough to take the bus. But we almost paid a huge price for it!

We booked the return bus tickets (Le Sepulveda) from Moncloa metro stop and we were assigned a bus which was after 25 mins. After arriving at the bus station in Segovia we checked the bus timings and targeted the 530pm bus before setting off towards the Aqueduct. Little did we know that we had to be assigned for an evening bus as well! When we came back at 5pm for the bus, we were in for a rude shock. We were assigned the 700pm bus. After coming back to Moncloa, we rushed to the metro, rushed to the hostel to collect our luggage and then rushed back to the metro stop to get the Barca bus. But we made it! Just about made it!

Moral of the Story: If you are going to Segovia by bus, get yourself assigned to an evening bus in the morning itself.

Other than this confusion, our day was pretty perfect. Segovia was charming with great food, detailed architecture and happy-go-lucky local folks all around! Here are a few pictures:

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Segovia Skyline from the Alcazar.

The Aqueduct: The trademark Segovia symbol and arguably the most significant landmark of the town! Considered as a Roman engineering marvel, it is on UNESCO’s world heritage list. Walk towards the Aqueduct and take the flight of stairs to your left to enter the walled city. The views of the mountains beyond this structure make up for a nice postcard shot. It was constructed with granite blocks without any mortar and used to transport water back in the ages.

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The Alcazar: Built as a fortress, served as a royal palace in the past, today it houses a military archives museum. All roads lead to this place which is built on the highest point. We did not enter inside. We were not going to enter inside. But we walked to this place for its façade and towers have been an inspiration to Walt Disney’s trademark castle design.

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Alcazar – Walt Disney castle under restoration.

The Cathedral: Located in the Plaza Mayor, this Roman Catholic cathedral was built in Gothic style. The entire complex is intricately designed and the detailed carvings on columns or the ceiling are quite unique and different to the gothic cathedrals or castles I have visited till date.

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Plaza Mayor: I think every town in Spain has a Plaza Mayor – the centre town square. Segovia was no exception!

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The Main Town Sqaure

The Town of the Roasted Suckling Pig: We visited the Soportales on the way to the Aqueduct for its known for Roasted Suckling Pig. We had a nice meal and some more sausages. It was nice. But it was a little hyped :p

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The bandwagon now moves to Barcelona next. Not for Gaudi but for the new years’s eve!

And in other news, after a capital hopping tour of Eastern Europe, the bombay nomad is going home after 10 months 🙂 

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Toledo, The Magic!

Travel an hour to the south of Madrid by a direct bus from Atocha railway station (the-cheapest-mode) and arrive at the medieval capital of Spain – Toledo. One of the most well preserved destinations by law – a new building required by law to be built in the same stone and architectural style. Absolutely incredible today!

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One of the few motorable streets in the old city!

While passing the Alcazar palace, I overhead a guide explaining the most fascinating story in Toledo’s history – stories of Christians, Jews and Muslims, three distinct cultures co-existing in harmony. It reminded me of that meme – Bitch Please, I am from India! But knowing European history and the constant threat of Arabs from the south during those years, this indeed was incredible. This period has shaped the skyline of this erstwhile capital – gothic churches, synagogues and mosques with similar structures and stone hues.  The streets, alleyways and walkways are narrow, steep and winding and by the end of the day I couldn’t feel my feet.

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The Old Town Centre!

There are many guided tours from Madrid, but we bough a cheap map at the bus station and off we went in search of the free escalator which takes you to the old cty. Here are a few memories on this walk!

1. Alcazar of Toledo: The map first led us through the main sqaure to the Alcazar. Once a Roman palace, the restored stone fortification now houses the Regional Library and the Museum of Armies. It is also located at the highest point of Toledo.

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A small human element, the mighty Alcazar, the birds and the blue sky!

2. St Mary Cathedral: The Gothic cathedral is the highlight of the town. Though the archs and towers are beautiful, it masks the interiors. It is absolutely huge from inside and it is just vow!  This is built on the former site of a mosque. And today, it is a peaceful holy place open to tourists and people of all faith. Some learnings for us.

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The Entrance

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Outside the Cathedral.

3. Monasterio San Juan de los Reyes: There was yet another church at the end of our walk with a courtyard complete with orange trees. This church was beautiful complete with a mobile app to guide you through its history. This one rests in the centre of the jewish quarters. The walls, cloister and pillars are intricately designed. I hope my pictures do justice.

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The church courtyard with orange trees!

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The Balconies!

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Inside the church. Everyone was glued to the commentary on the app!

4. Sinagoga de Santa Maria La Blanca: The synagogue was under construction. Nevertheless it is beautiful. Tall pillars and minimum carvings, it is elegant. The story said that this synagogue was actually built by the Arab community for its Jewish neighbours. Today, catholic nuns look after it.  Will never forget this place!

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5. And a bit here and there…

Streets aren’t streets here. They are more of alleyways. Narrow and winding, steep with stairs!

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And we took this path back to the centre of the old town! lovely!

A must do if you have a day in Madrid! Convenient travel and absolutely beautiful!

I have added a flick stream for my photos for readers. Check the photostream here  – https://goo.gl/81Ljpy. Another Day trip from Madrid soon before we head to Barcelona. Stick around!

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Madrid! Te Amo!

Standing near the Prado museum at midnight, with no internet, no maps and absolutely zero knowledge of the Spanish language we were trying to find a certain famous ‘Calle de la Huertos’. Armed with a few directions scratched on the pad and 5 devices constantly hunting for ‘free public wifi’ – this was yet another long struggle! Later that night, we checked in at La Posada Youth Hostel (here) and it was perfect. The Bombay Nomad recommends this place!

Madrid, Hola! Though it is known for its palaces and paella, tapas and sangrias – the morning city tour introduced us to a different city – one with rich history and culture. Another reason, I absolutely loved the life here was because they are known for their Spanish Siestas – THE AFTERNOON NAP! The bloody best!

The hostel has a partnership with a free walking tour team and our guide for that day led us across the city for 3 hours. He was continuously speaking and I can hardly recollect all the details – how Madrid was called Ursaria – the land of bears and hence the bears in the city emblem, how Madrid wanted to build a church better than Sagrada Familia but it couldn’t and how they cover it up by saying that atleast our church is complete and not still unfinished/ under construction. During the tour, one thing stood out, the Madrid v/s Barcelona rivalry was an El Classico in every walk of life and not just the football pitch.

Plaza Mayor: Bull fights, open markets, trials and public hangings in the past, it was decorated with a huge Christmas tree, the Madrid Christmas market and some fancy lights that day. We would be back again in the evening to look through for souvenirs.

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The Plaza Mayor by the day!

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And then later in he evening!

Catedral de Santa Maria La Real De La Almudena: Originally built for the Royal family, it is the principal church of Madrid diocese. The cathedral is beautiful. Though the design is medeival, it was recently completed in 1993 (after 110 + years). So in a way, its better than Sagrada! 😛

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The first sights!

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From the Palace side!

The Palace – Palacio Real de Madrid: Who builds a palace with 2000 rooms? Insanely huge! But we could see the finesse in every room that we visited (only a few are open for the 11 euros that we paid) And photography is not allowed in most of the places. I really hate such places. I have taken a few of the palace corridors and staircases, but none of the Royal Armour, Royal Pharmacy, Royal Dinning, Royal Tea, Royal Bedrooms and Royal Toilettes. Such a Royal waste!

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The 2000 room Palace!

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The first flight of stairs!

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St. Xavier’s Bombay look-a-like?

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The famous Giaquinto’s fresco on the ceiling !

Puerta de Sol: Yet another happening place. All cafes, restaurants and pubs are close by. We went to 100 Montadis tapas bar. €1 Tapas Menu was so awesome. So much food for €1. And all beers at €1 too! I wish I could get this in the French Riviera. Also, dont forget to take a picture at the “centre of the country” tile in this sqaure!

The Oldest Restaurant: Restaurante Botin in Calle Cuchilleros is recognised by Guiness as the oldest restaurant. Opened in 1725, it even retains the 18th century firewood oven. Here – pork chops entering that oven!

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Strictly non veg oven!

Artists & Life: The number of artists on the streets or people performing on public squares was absolutely unreal. There were people selling their paintings, some playing music, other balancing upside down for hours on only their fingers and a few others behaving like statues and then moving all of a sudden!

Dressed as soldiers, they stand in the forward bending position absolutely motionless. And then they move – that’s when i realized they weren’t statues!

 

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The artist outside the Opera!

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Graffiti everywhere!

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The Police – like a Boss!

Home for  3 days with day trips to the medieval towns of Toledo and Segovia – we loved every bit of this city, the food, the music and the spirit  of the people. You never get bored here. Madrid, Te Amo!

 

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Brussels: The Heart of Belgium!!

Brussels was home for 4 days, base for wonderful day trips to Bruges (read here) and Ghent (read here), and a great start to our winter holiday. Two evenings and a full day in Belgium’s capital, Brussels treated us to everything that the country stands for – waffles & chocolates, beer & fries, Tintin & Asterix and some majestic architecture. Infact, the serving EU capital is a subtle introduction to Europe as a whole and a melting pot for European culture.

We checked all boxes while we were there. From talking a walk around the Grand Palace in the morning and then coming back to enjoy the annual Christmas lights and sound show later in the evening, to walking down a narrow street known for Tintin comic strips to find a small boy pissing in the street – Manneken Pis. That was a bad one. Sorry!

And Hello! Happiness is having a Sandeman’s walking tour introducing you to the city. They have one is Brussels and you can find more information here. Its a 2.5 hours tour introducing you to the monuments, museums, people and life in the city. Here are a few moments from Brussels.

1. Grand Palace: It is the first thing on any itinerary. My 18-55mm lens could not do justice to the magnificent City Hall tower. The City brochure told us that it was the only important building to escape bombardment by the French in the 17th century – weird because it was their main target. Here are a few pictures. Don’t miss the details on the guildhalls while you are standing in the square. The Christmas light show in all its glory. And a weird vertical shot of the tall tower. Dont forget to carry your wide angle lens.

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Fail Attempt 1: Sleeping on the floor at the far end to get this entire magnificent tower! 

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The Christmas light and sound show. 

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The Grand Palace model at Mini-Europe. Only place I could get the whole thing!

 

2. Manneken Pis: I don’t think any country celebrates taking a leak in public! This little boy statue is just 61cm tall and has a separate gallery in the Maison du Roi museum displaying his wardrobe. I think, its growing popularity is going to make it the national symbol! He was dressed up as Emil Zátopek – the Czech Locomotive on Christmas. Read more about this incredible Olympian and the story behind the 3 gold medals at Helsinki here.

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A fellow traveler’s head and his Iphone gives you a scale how big this is!

3. Atomium: 9 house sized metallic balls linked by columns containing escalators and lifts. They are supposedly arranged to represent iron atoms. It was a science fair project back in the 1950s. Mine always ended in the bin the next day, so lets just say that I have massive respect for this one!

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The Iron Atomium!

4. Mini-Europe: Next to the atomium is the mini-Europe. I loved it. A small park which houses models of architectural marvels or national symbols of each of the member nations of the EU. All together in one place. Once you enter, you are given a guide book explaining the history or the significance of each of these monuments. We spent a good couple of hours here one morning.

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All of Europe in one place!

5. The Comic Scene: Serious comic fans can have some serious fun here. Along with the beer, chocolates and waffles, Belgians who love comics take them very seriously. I just clicked the TinTin in the streets but you can visit Belgian Comic Strip Centre. More here.

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The TinTin comic strip!

And some more life ..

Brussels Stock Exchange – I remember visiting the Bombay Stock Exchange in India. We have the Market Bull outside a tall building with people staring at the electronic board prices. This was a welcome change. A beautiful building with a Christmas markets outside selling local food, chocolates and souvenirs . Also, a live street orchestra.

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The Stock Exchange was a ‘chill’ place! No monetary tensions!

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A live orchestra outside the stock exchange!

Royal Gallery Saint Hubert – I loved this shot here. With a arched glass roof, the uber rich shop here. But i loved taking a walk here. From an exquisite collections of watches to some weird blazers – it has all.

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My favorite shot of the evening!

DELIRIUM Cafe – You should-must-ought-to visit this place. We walked inside and found it small and relatively empty with only a few beers on offer. We had heard so much about it. Only after finishing a beer we realized that we had to walk downstairs. The other place was mad – Atleast 100 different types of beer. We selected the home brewed Christmas beers, a bit potent with 9% alcohol but way better than what we were having earlier. The music was good and we loved the place.

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The Delirium beer in their special glasses!

See you soon with some stories from Madrid!

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Ghent – Tryst with FOMO

We did a mistake. High on a successful trip to Bruges (read here), we set out for Ghent on Christmas day! And with all the Christmas spirit, we even left earlier and caught the previous train to reach our destination for the day. But alas, we were in a relatively quieter town with closed museums and deserted Christmas markets. Completely our fault to imagine that people would turn up early (11am-ish) on a festival holiday. Or turn up at all? If i remember correctly. even the Cathedral hadn’t opened in the morning after the midnight festivities.

What struck me was the Fear of Missing Out. The fear that I am going to miss out on something completely. We had a list of things to be done for the day – a couple of museums, the tower, a cathedral, the canal boat ride. And guess what! Everything was shut when we reached the place. So, I did not visit:

  1. Gravensteen – The 10th century castle. I realized while writing this post that I don’t even have a picture of the exterior walls.
  2. Belfry of Ghent – We visited Belfry of Bruges (read here) and the view was amazing. But we weren’t lucky again.
  3. St Bavo’s Cathedral – It houses the Jan Van Eyck’s huge altar masterpiece called ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’.
  4. Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent – Another place you ought to visit as an art lover.

But wait. On our way back in the evening I was happy and I thought we had a wonderful day! So missing out on prescribed places was, in a way, accidentally good. I am not undermining these monuments or museums. I am sure you will enjoy them but we did a lot of other things, maybe small, which gave us joy. Moments of Happiness.

The photographer in me was happy to shoot pictures of medieval architecture without tourists in the frame or the giant-wheel ride which was set up in the center gave us the tower view which we wanted or the snack & coffee by the roadside soaking in the town life or trying local cuisine in the markets. And those long walks in the city. To top it, trying our hand at a bollywood-dubsmash recording. Looking back, I think I would have forgotten the art pieces or artifacts but I won’t forget these moments of happiness.So was my tryst with FOMO.

Ghent is a beautiful city – photogenic canals, ancient buildings, delicious food and great beer. Very similar to Bruges, but without the tourists. Here are a few pictures.

1. The Ghent Railway station. A beautiful building with a tourist information center which will provide you free maps!

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Ghent Station Building – The Beauty in this town starts as soon as you alight from the train.

2. A relatively deserted town meant that I could click medieval buildings without disturbing humans in the frame.

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St Nicholas Church

3. The Ghent Classic Photo

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The Photogenic architecture along the canals

4. A day of long walks with some great architecture for company.

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Soaking in the city with a coffee along the canals.

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It was indeed a memorable walk.

5. The only Gravensteen shot

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Gravensteen walls on the right. ‘They’ said it was a must visit.

6. Cycling in the Canals: The Art Installation – The Escape of the River LYS celebrates the glorious days of competitive track cycling in Belgium. Every year 6-day races draw spectators in thousands. Belgian and international cyclists battle it out in the velodrome. The Six Days of Ghent is the last remaining event of its kind in Belgium. (quoted)

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The Escape on the River LYS

And here is our first take at the Matargashti!

The GHENT Lesson : So, its good to have a list (of places to visit or a few things to do) handy because you should know what the place is known for. But running from one place to another doesn’t make sense. If you aren’t meant for this running then try something else. It can be as small as having a coffee and soaking in whats happening around, a chat with another traveler or exploring the countryside or the local cuisine. In the end, its going to be worth it. FOMO is going to be there.. but well, there is fun beyond it too!

While in Brussels we stayed at Malbeek – the underground station which was bombed last week. Heart goes out to the Belgian people – the victims, injured and their families.

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Bruges – The Best Medieval Town!

The December break did take me to a few medieval towns. All of them were beautiful. But none like this one. So here it is, a day in Bruges.
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Lying down on the pavement to get the cobbled streets, colorful buildings and cycles.

I am one of the laziest bunch of travelers. I never start a travel day early. I have observed over the last 2 years that I function better after 11am. And when a lazy person is served Canals, Churches, Cobbled Streets, Colorful Buildings, Chocolates, Fries, Beer and Waffles in a platter, he moves on from a hemorrhaging vodka hangover and his heart cries out in delight. That’s me on the 24th December.

We reached Brussels the previous day from Amsterdam and checked into a cosy yet spacious AirBnb house in Malbeek (Here). Yo homie, we did AirBnb – the thing is in vogue! It was a 15 min walk to the tram station and a further 10 mins in the tram to Brussels-Central. And that’s where we rode the train to Bruges from. (Alert! Return tickets are 50% on weekends, plan accordingly. Nobody told us. :/)  A 1 hr 20 mins early morning journey through green pastures, blue skies and village homes. Apologies, I do not have pictures. I was still recovering from the hemorrhage and it was ‘early morning’. I slept through the journey. (Note to self: I sleep the best in trains)

Lets dig into some photos to find out what we did:

A cappuccino to wake up my head and our coffee-maker for the morning was kind to explain us the way. And he said ‘our city is meant to be explored on foot’. ‘Aye Aye Captain’. The skies had cleared a bit and armed with coffee we marched in the direction of the city-centre.

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The Path through perfect public gardens leading to the Hent Zand circle.

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When an Maharashtrian realises, every man on a horse is not Shivaji Maharaj! 

A path among public gardens took us to a Hent Zand circle. On the way we were looking out for a Sound Factory inside a modern building. But the coffee guy told us it is the ugliest building in town and give it a miss. So we did not go. Instead we clicked a few pictures at the fountain -another modern artpiece.

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The fountain – A modern artpiece. PS: NSFW content on display

Along the ZuidZand Straat we now started walking towards market streets. Just like they describe it on Travel channels. Cobbled streets, colorful houses, tiled roofs and there was the Belfry of Bruges in the background!

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The photo was perfect till I noticed this guy in the foreground staring in the frame….

The Belfry of Bruges was our first stop for the morning. Well yes, it is the normal bell tower which is at the centre of every medieval town. Keeper of the time and keeping an eye out for attacks. This one housed the treasury and archives in the olden days and has 366 steps (i counted) to the top. The most prominent symbol for any Bruges album.

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This photo explains my longing for a wide-angle lens

Grote Markt stands at the bottom of the Belfry. The Christmas market had taken over the place.  Full of food, wine, shops and people. Another prominent photo of Bruges are the colorful building on the square. Its all old school.

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Colorful Buildings – these make it to the Bruges prominent phoots

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Hire a carriage, rent a bike or take the bus. Its all old school.

Provincial Hoof: Another important building in the market square which partly houses the post office now. A part of it is used for provincial ceremonies and exhibitions. Looks good from the outside.

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The Provincial Hoof!

2be Beer Wall also known as the Wall of Beer is where draughts run through the taps all day long. I noticed that the Belgians are pretty serious about the beer. Sipping and tasting the brew of the week before calling for a flask. For us, nah, it was all about beer.

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Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Basilica of the Holy Blood: It is well known a repository for a vial the which contains a cloth with the blood of Jesus Christ in the upper chapel. It is located in the Burg square and it was surprisingly shut on 24th, a day before Christmas. Prayers from outside (normally work in Indian temples)

Church of our Lady of Bruges: The tallest structure in town and most well know for the marble statute of Madonna and the Child created by Michelangelo.

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The church tower. 2nd tallest brick tower in the world. I do fancy stuff at times. With the swans et all!

Well, we missed the Groeninge Museum which owns the most world’s finest collection of Flemish Art. And i learnt something about the FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out. More on that in March.

The evening was spent walking and eating in one of best towns I have ever been too! 

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The perfect postcard. Another frame on the wall after I get back home.

Add it to your bucket list. Take the trip. And then, Thank me 😛

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Geneva: The World is here..

An eventful flight took me to Geneva. Eventful because.. One was the Mont Blanc moment (read here).

Second was the landing. The departure from Nice was delayed by an hour due to heavy fog in Geneva. Later, as the captain prepared for landing, the cabin crew took their seats, the landing gear came out below me and I was still waiting for the fog/ clouds to clear. I had a window seat and as always, I was eager to see an aerial view of a new city. As we lost altitude, there was a loud dhud as our aircraft tires touched the tarmac. And I was shocked. How on earth did the captain manage that ?? The fog was so dense that even after landing I could hardly see more than 10mts. One hell of a landing.

Geneva was a family break. So more than the place, I was super excited to meet my cousin, brother-in-law and the newest addition to our big family – my niece. And the couple of days I spent with her, just perfect. And homemade food. After about 5 months, I had chutni and dosa, biryani and raita, pork and rice. Too much happiness!

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Introduction to Geneva – Quiet streets, green lawns and the european drizzle.

Geneva: Lonely Planet starts with this : The whole world seems to be in Geneva. And its so true. While we were standing besides the Broken Chair artwork facing the UN, i had a look at the map and the entire city seemed to be full of governmental and non-governmental organisations. Also majority of the resident population consists of expatriates. An entire town and so much time, money and resources devoted to lobbying and asking countries to be good. Pity.

Though I did not do a tour of every monument and museum in the city, I did walk through the old city and click a few pictures.

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The Centre Square in Old Town.

1. Jet D’ Eau: I think 150m tall jet of water in the middle of the Geneva Lake. Some 7 tonnes of water is in the air and its shot at a monstrous speed. We had a nice walk in the drizzle around the lake. Refreshing.

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The Jet in its glory. No reason is good enough for a bad photo. But this is a shot in the rains.

2. St. Pierre Cathedral: A gothic structure in the city centre where protestant John Calvin preached. His seat is still there in the northern aisle.

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The Cathedral. The right wing is currently under restoration.

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The Interiors of the Cathedral. It was majestic with all the Christmas music.

3. The Reformation Wall: This wall is in the grounds of University of Geneva. It was built to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Calvin’s birth and 350th anniversary of the university’s establishment -wiki. It honors the protestant reformation movement.

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The Reformation wall built in the the old city walls.

4. The UN and The broken chair: I skipped the UN tour because I had just the morning and the afternoon. But i did manage to click a few pictures of the art installation named The Broken Chair outside the UN (Palais des Nations). Designed by the Swiss artist Daniel Berset and constructed by carpenter Louis Geneve, it is a giant chair with a broken leg to raise awareness about land mines and cluster bombs. A reminder to the countless politicians and leaders visiting Geneva – the number of people living in war-torn areas that continue to be victims of land mines to this day!

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The Broken Chair and the UN in the background.

5. The Floral Clock: Located in the Jardin Anglais (English Garden), it symbolizes the Swiss watch industry and has been in place since 1955. The minute hand is the longest is the world (2.5m) and clock functions as an actual timepiece. With more than 6000 flowers and plants varying according to the season, its beautifully maintained.

6. The Old Arsenal: There are 5 canons on display at the 15th century Hotel de Ville (Geneva City Hall) which was either borrowed from Austria or lent to them during the world war. I am a little weak in European history! And don’t remember what I read!

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The Old Arsenal

 7. The Museum of Art & History: Located in the city centre near the St. Pierre Cathedral, it houses the works of Witz, Rembrandt, Modigilani, etc. Also, its a beautiful gothic structure building. Worth a visit, they say.

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The Art & History Museum.

And many more things to do.. The Red Cross tour, the Watch Factory tour, the UN tour. Plus Fondue, Cheese, Chocolates, Shopping. Geneva has it all.

But I would suggest you go back to the University Grounds.

A Chess game at the entrance..

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The old man waiting for a game.

And when you lose, and you dont want to play again, you can always walk in the grounds

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A walk in the grounds of University of Geneva

Or if you are lucky enough, the sun will shine on you. And the drizzle will continue.. And its going to be beautiful.

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Will see you again in February with Brussels, Bruges and Ghent!

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