Amsterdam 1

I reached Amsterdam on a wet Saturday morning in June after taking a long journey with a bus. It was an extended weekend, so I had three days at hand. Had been wanting to go there since years but it wasn’t just materializing and then as it happens with most of my trips, I booked it 3 days before the journey.

First briefly about the journey – I have had good experiences with these long distance buses. This one was also fine except for one administrative glitch. This bus company doesn’t have an app and wants people to print out the ticket. I printed it but the setting was to print on both sides of the paper. Now there was a change required at one place in the journey and the issue was that the driver takes that paper from you. So, as you may have guessed it, I didn’t have the paper with me for the second leg of the journey. But seemingly the language of money is understood all over the world. The driver took 5 Euros from me to return that piece of paper to me. I don’t understand it – if he could give it back to me in exchange for money, why did he need to keep that paper in the first place! If I had the ticket printed on separate papers, he wouldn’t have been able to make any money on that. Unsolved Mysteries. Another thing that happened was that when I woke up upon reaching Amsterdam, I found that some liquid had drained out into my bag from somewhere and had moistened the papers inside. I suspected the collapsible water bottle that had in my bag. Immediately took out the important things and put them in a plastic bag. Later I realized that it was not the water bottle but the pack of disinfectant wipes that had gotten pressed and the liquid soaking them spilled out. Since then, I have started carrying them around in a zip-lock bag!

Anyway, so I reached the destination which was a train station somewhere outside of Amsterdam. I tried to figure out the way to go to the city as per the information I had collected from the internet. They have a good public transport network. You just need to locate the right ticket machine (which took me some time). Then a metro train and a bus journey later (meanwhile also meeting a man who appeared stoned, at the bus stop who wanted me to wake him up when the bus arrived..), I reached my hotel. Thankfully, they had the room ready even though I was early. The window overlooked a beautiful marina.

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After resting a bit, I started for my exploration of the city. It was cold and rainy, so I had a lot of things with me – camera, jacket, umbrella, water…uff! There was a tram stop close to the hotel from where the tram brought me directly to the central station. And as you can see in the picture below, everyone was trying to find a shelter from the rain.

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But by the time I got the information from the tourist information center (opposite to the central station) and sorted out some things, the rain stopped and I could proceed. Reached a shop that invited inside to take a look at the cheeses and take pictures. So I went in. Looked interesting as you can see below with cheese wheels, wooden shoes, weighing scales, mugs and a cow!

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Inside the cheese shop

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Royal Palace

Thus walking around a bit and taking in the scenery of the city, I decided to go for some lunch. I knew of my favorite South Indian restaurant being there somewhere. Went and had a hearty lunch.

I was waiting for the walking tour that was to start from the Dam Square. Reached and then the tour started. Sharing what I learnt from that tour.

The guide warned us by telling us that national sport of Holland is hunting tourists with the bicycle – we have to be verrrrrrrrry careful while walking around – nobody was to take a chance by stepping into the bicycle lanes! Second piece of warning was to NOT go inside the “Coffee Shop” if anyone wanted Coffee. Why you wonder? Because in Amsterdam, Coffee Shops are for getting drugs not coffee. Coffee is served at a Cafe. Phew..just saved! Thank goodness I had my coffee at the South Indian restaurant!

With those instructions we started on the tour. First stop was the Red Light district. It looked like any normal neighborhood during the daytime. Some windows showed the women waiting for clients. Although it is a profession, it still evoked some sadness inside seeing those women looking at people in a matter of fact emotionless way. Only good thing is that since 2000 it is a legalized profession in Amsterdam, so the workers can get insurance.

There was a huge church right in the middle of that area – Oude Kerk – Old Church with all the windows around that church, clearly showing how the city turned a blind eye towards the profession. According to our guide, and I guess there is some truth in that – it was a necessary evil – considering the number of sailors who came into Amsterdam after being on the ships for months, in the last centuries.

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Oude Kerk

About the Dam Square – the big street there used to be the Amstel river. About 800 years ago, fishermen built a dam because the river used to flood the town.

As the country had no major natural resources, so they started business with other countries and gave rise to a huge shipping industry. In the 17th century, it was the richest nation in Europe. There was a city wall from medieval times, which was removed in early 17th century. It became the golden age for the country.

In 1889 – the harbor used to be where the current Central Station is – it is an artificial island!

Walking ahead, I saw this interesting setup with all the old style clothes and the photographer there.

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The photo artist with his paraphernalia

We reached the New Market square and then moved on towards the Jewish quarter. Before WW2, around 120000 Jews lived there but around 60000 were killed.

The harsh winter of 1944 destroyed the area because it was so cold that people took everything and burnt down. It was in such a bad shape that when the city was liberated, the soldiers thought that this area was bombed! This is now a quiet beautiful residential area.IMG_5210[1]

Then we came to the Dutch East India Company. It was started in 1602 and closed by 1792 or so (taken over by Batavian government). It was the first company to start share trading in 1602 – at that time it was for shipping companies.

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Dutch East India Company

 

The current king of Holland is Wilhelm and the queen is Maxima (Argentinian). They live in Hague.

In 1806, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Kingdom of Holland and made his brother – Louis Bonaparte the king. But it was a short-lived kingship for him as he was not the puppet his elder brother had hoped him to be.

A funny side effect of the French occupation of Holland was that til today, the people are carrying the whimsical surnames that their ancestors came up with when they were forced to have one for the purposes of population registry.  Family names were not prevalent before. People followed a kind of patronymic system like “son of x” or “daughter of y” – Jansen or  Jandr but there was no set pattern as such. But when forced, then they came up with interesting names like Zondervan (without a surname), Zeldenthuis (rarely at home). I am leaving out the more “strange” ones. Now this story could be a joke or real – take your pick :).

Other quick facts that I learnt from our guide were:

  • Eduard Douwes Dekker , pen name Multatuli, was a Dutch writer famous for his satirical novel Max Havelaar. It was about the Dutch exploitation of Indonesia.IMG_5218[1]
  • The Dutch people have grown taller – about 20 cm increase in height in the last century!
  • Every year, the water department of Amsterdam fishes out 12000 to 15000 bicycles from the canals. Seemingly throwing bicycles in canals is a popular past-time!
  • In Amsterdam, houseboats are like normal houses with gas and electricity connection. Mooring rights are sold just like you would sell houses in other places.
  • 11 million trees were used to build the base for the city center after reclaiming the land from the sea. The trees have rotted slowly over the years thereby tilting the houses.
  • 20% of country is below sea level
  • Amsterdam is a Unesco world heritage site with 165 canals!

Thus with fun and facts, we ended the walking tour.. There was another interesting thing that happened later but more on that in the next post.

 

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Afterwards

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The Clouds with the message..

As I was waving away goodbye to Italy, little did I know that the return journey would become so long. First the flight didn’t start on time – stood in that queue for almost 1.5 hours because in this cheap flight, they don’t let you in sequentially but rather haphazardly. So everyone just queues up to avoid problem later with no spaces left for the carry on luggage.

Finally it started and I went to sleep. When I woke up, it was being announced that we would be landing soon although the weather conditions don’t look good. I was thinking of my options from the airport once the flight lands. And then all of a sudden, the pilot made the announcement that the flight will go to another airport which is about 125 km away from the airport at which we were supposed to land! Reason given was weather conditions. But I think it had something to do with the delayed arrival too.

Everyone looked at one another incredulously but what else could we do? A little muttering started among people.

Finally we landed and waited in the aircraft while the crew was getting the information about what would be done. Then after some time, they let us disembark and told us that there would be a bus arranged to go to the other airport and “most probably there would be information at the terminal”! Not very promising but again, what could you do? I remember one such incident in India with a local low cost carrier there. They served us water and snacks for free while we waited for more information and then they flew that flight to the correct destination! But probably there it was a strategic move to prevent the situation from getting escalated – we all know the passion that warm countries can generate :).

So here, everyone came out of the plane and reached the terminal but nobody was there to give any directions. I went like some others to get something to eat while all this was getting figured out. Waited near the exit and gradually the people started appearing (after having collected their checked-in luggage). I wasn’t sure what would be better. To sit at this airport and wait for a shuttle that would start post midnight but that which goes to the city I needed to go or go to the other airport which has a proper train station (so possibility of more connections). I had about 3 hours to kill whether I sat at this airport or took the bus ride to the other one. Finally after an hour, a bus arrived while I was still deliberating, and I took it to go to the other airport. (First one got filled just before I could get a place, then a second one arrived some minutes later.)

Reached the main airport at around 23:10 hrs. But it is so huge, it was difficult to get the ticket, figure out where the train would be arriving, reach the platform and board the earliest train. You know the drill.

The next train was at 00:28 hrs. Not any better than the shuttle that I could have waited for at the previous airport. But it just felt safer here waiting than at the other airport which is in the middle of nowhere! It did need a train change at one station. So it was risky due to possible train delay. But I took the chance. The first train was delayed but thankfully the connection was from the adjacent platform (no running needed) and was also delayed. So I managed to reach as planned. Then took a taxi home. Finally sometime between 2 and 3 am, I was at home. And did I mention that temperatures were arouns 10 degrees outside and I was clothed according to the 22 degrees of Italian temperatures?

Was so exhausted but grateful to be safely at home in the warmth of my blanket and went to sleep immediately.

Looking back, it seems that the real adventure was in returning..

Italian Adventure – Day 8

Alas, the trip has come to an end.

As they say, the body is tired but the soul is longing for more. Looks like I’ll have to come again. Italy had captivated me long ago when I came here for 2 days in 2005. One day was spent in Rome and one in Venice – a whirlwind trip. I can’t believe that it took me 12 years to be able to visit this lovely country again. I hope the next trip is sooner.

About today then. I woke up this morning at a lazy pace, had a slow breakfast and then had the major task of packing everything back in the suitcase. I need the charm that I saw Professor Lupib use in the Harry Potter movies! It was such a time consuming task – to compress everything and fit into the carry-on luggage and that when I hardly bought anything here (so much self control – I must be reaching the gyaan stage of the Buddha!).

So I came to Pisa from Florence – this time I did take the train that was in 10 minutes. Took the chance and it worked :).

The first thing at the Pisa station – the airport shuttle (mini train) goes every 5 minutes from there and costs 2.70 Eur one way. There is a machine at the same place from where the train leaves. It is not the same as that for normal trains. The Tabacci at the station very patiently and genially answered my queries about the regular bus and airport shuttle. The regular public bus can take you to the tower. Ticket one way costs 1.20 Eur and valid for 70 mins after stamping in the bus.

I noted the location of the shuttle departure (at the end of the platforms – there are 13 of them) and then went on my exploration of the famous architecture of Pisa. It was perfect to be able to see all the buildings in just one location with green grass lawns around. I lightened my luggage by having the food that I had brought along. Sat at the lawns and enjoyed the view. Since I had started late, I didn’t have time to go inside any building.

Battistry

Of course

Keith Haring Mural

Now I need to board my flight. I checked the temperatures back at home and it is going to be so different there after all the sun and warmth in Italy. Until next – Ciao Italy.

Italian Adventure – Day 7

According to the Old Testament, God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th. I can imagine why us humans would think that – we get exhausted after 6 days and need to rest – whether at work or on vacation , as has been my experience since the last one week.

Today morning I was just not in the mood to venture out for anything. It was raining in the night and I had again a broken sleep. But then at around 9 AM, I saw that the sun was peeking out. That encouraged me a bit as then it would feel like committing a sin to keep sitting inside the hotel. So I got ready, had breakfast and did a kind of “Eena Meena mina moe” to decide between Lucca and Siena as the destination for today. Siena won.

At the train station, I bought the ticket that gave me 25 minutes – you know why! Then located the right platform after asking a trenitalia staff member. It was hidden behind due to some renovation work going on at the station. The train looked rather small – I guess 3 carriages only. The driver was a young guy and just went past us in the carriage and entered his cabin through a door within the carriage. That was unusual – I had never before seen a train driver get inside his cabin through the passenger seating area. 

Then after about 1.5 hr of journey (sleeping intermittently), the train reached Siena. I had read on the net that there is some kind of escalator going up from train station to the city. The posts were from 2011 and peope were discussing in it the ongoing construction. Now it is all running very well – I can tell from first hand exprience today. There is a shopping mall opposite the station. Just keep going up in it using the escalators and you would reach the town. Upon exiting, go left and keep going until you reach a medieval style gate on your right hand side through which majot traffic is passing by. You have to enter that and then just follow the crowd. You would reach the city center.

Siena is a town which had rivalry with Florence. While Florence became the main center of Renaissance, Siena retained the Medieval character. 
I stopped for a coffee and rest room break as the train journey had given me a headache. Then proceeded to the Piazza del Campo while peeking into the smaller churches on the way. 

The piazza was circular with a stunning huge tower on the arc. Lots of people were just sitting there and enjoying the feeble sun. I also sat down to eat something as it was lunch time. People were either at the restaurants or at the piazza with their sandwiches etc. Kids were running after the pigeons and parents after the kids. Thus taking in all the scenery and relaxing my feet, I moved ahead.


The guides yesterday had told that Siena had a huge cathedral and Florence had built its Cathedral to score on Siena. So of course I wanted to see the cathedral here. There was a OPA ticket that allowed to visit 5 places. I took that though wondering if I would have enough time to see everything. I managed by skipping the panoramic view for which the queues were really long with a waiting time of 1 hour. 

The cathedral was indeed impressive but after having seen the one in Florence before it, it seemed just fine. But I am glad that I went inside. I had not seen these bright colors inside a church before this one. It was just awesome. And in addition, there was a library inside which was also lovely. I saw the hand written books on display with beautiful artwork as was the way before the printing press of Gutenberg.



Then I went to the museum, baptistry, crypt and oratorium in that sequence. The panoramic view was through the museum but I skipped it as I wanted to see the other things before they closed.

The amount of religious art from the middle ages that I have seen in the last 3 days is enough to make me see green faces, and babies with adult features in my nightmares! The reason is that the skin tone was made by first giving a green base and then coloring on top. Over the centuries the top coats have faded and one can see the green underneath. And regarding the adult face – for whatever reason, the artists in medieval times had to represent Jesus as a homunculus man – perfectly formed but small.


But the sculptures and architecture works that I have seen makes up for it. They are just marvelous.

I wanted to spend some more time in Siena but was afraid that I might reach too late to Florence, as it is about an hour and half journey plus the time to reach the station and waiting for the train. It had also started raining a bit so I set off. After having missed one by a few minutes, I took the ticket for the next direct one which was one hour later, grabbed some dinner from a lovely salad shop (make your own combinations), returned to the station, found the train and came back home (hotel after 2 days starts feeling like home).

Oh, I forgot to mention – a daily dose of sorbet/gelato is also being taken during all the sightseeing. It’s not cheap here considering it’s the source but it’s superb.

So that’s the end of day 7. Tomorrow is the day of return. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. Ciao for now. 

Italian Adventure – Day 5

First Lesson for the Day

Do not become overconfident about the public transport of a country. The moment you think that you understand it and you can handle it, you will be caught by surprise – and a missed connection.

Today morning, I had 10 minutes to catch a train and I thought it’s easy. I bought the ticket from a ticket machine. The platform number indicated on the board was 6. I was standing next to one that said 6 but the train indicated there said something else. I thought may be there is still time and when this one goes, then the next one – the one I have to take would be here. But now only 3 minutes were left. So I went inside the train and asked a lady there (there was no train number or destination mentioned on the train). She tried to tell me that I needed to go to another Binari (Platform in Italian). Thankfully my senses worked and I exited the train in time. Then looking around, I realized it was 6 Ovest and not 6. Ovest means “West” in Italian – which I know now. So I ran with 3 minutes in hand to find 6. Reached in 4 minutes and the train was gone..as explained to me by an Italian guy standing on the next platform when I asked. So much for my confidence that I would be able to catch a train if I have 10 minutes at hand. So then I thought of going to the human beings instead of the machine – at the ticket counter. Mind you Bologna station is not a simple station. It has 4 levels underground which I now know. Somehow I managed to reach the ticket counter after some up and down. Then I asked the lady outside the counter who was helping people find where they needed to go for their query. She told me to go to a kiosk labeled La Frecce and “try” changing my ticket. That was for last minute service for the passengers of La Frecce – the fast trains managed by Trenitalia. The lady there was occupied – a passenger in front of me took more than 10 minutes – I don’t know what was so complicated in his query. Anyway, so my turn came, I explained the issue and she agreed to change it (Phew!!). I asked for a train that was about 30 minutes later (there was one in 10 minutes too but you know “once missed twice careful”). She gave the new ticket and told me that the platform was 4 levels below the ground. I didn’t believe her but then found that it was true. Then I waited for 20 minutes at the platform. The train came, I boarded and then it was all fine from there. Or so I thought. The weather prediction displayed on the monitor in the train for Florence said “Rain”!! And I had no umbrella. When I reached, I thought I’d be stuck now but then it wasn’t raining. I managed to go to the tourist center, got myself a bus pass for the day (it’s interesting that here you get it from Tobacco shops labeled Tabacchi or newspaper kiosks) and boarded the right bus. And then on getting down, as you would have guessed – it started raining. 

I still went on – moving stopping – as it was nothing compared to the Indian monsoon rain and reached the hotel. The receptionist told me that the room was not ready because I was early. He double checked it for me with housekeeping. I already knew it because I had mailed and asked last night for which they had responded that they would be unable to do so. Moving on, I decided to take out the camera and leave the luggage at the reception. The receptionist got occupied with a family that was leaving, I wanted to ask something and so I waited and in the meantime – he got informed by the lady from housekeeping that the room was ready!! Buon giorno!! Since it was raining anyway, I went to my room, relaxed a bit and then came out when it stopped raining. 

So in the end, all turned out to be perfectly fine – missing the train, reaching later than planned, rain, getting the room….

I would write more about this day tomorrow. For now, it is raining again – heavily this time and I am safely back in my room looking from my window at it.

Italian Adventure – Day 4

I think I overestimated myself for packing in so many places in a short time. It’s not that any place I have been to so far had anything very interesting that I might have missed because of less time. But the journey times between one city and another have been a bit more than I thought because I didn’t consider delays, missing connections, fast versus slow trains. Lesson learnt. 

Started this morning from Como to reach Milan and then from there to Bologna. I splurged a bit and took a first class ticket for the second leg of my journey. The advantage was that it was much quieter and less crowded than the the second class. I liked that because the journey was a long one. Slow train – took about 3 hours from Milan to Bologna. I crossed the famous Parma (Parmigiano-Reggiano i.e. Parmesan cheese), Modena (Balsamic, Ferrari, Lamborghini) before reaching Bologna (Bolognese Sauce fame). 

Now Como was cool this morning as it had rained last night. So coming from there, Bologna felt so hot. Walked down from the train station to the hotel. Was sweating profusely by the time I reached the hotel. And – I was earlier than the check-in time so the room wasn’t ready. I probably should have mailed them yesterday but then last night I didn’t know when I would be able to reach. So I just stowed my luggage in their storage room, freshened up a bit and started on my exploration.

Mysterious keys hanging from a tree


Now, Bologna looks like a town that is still in middle ages – the refinement of 21st century has not reached it – I am only talking about the central part of the city. I was actually reminded of some old cities of India. Electric wires criss crossing above the head spoiling the photo opportunities, narrow lanes, buses, bicycles, scooters, cars – all mixed up in one road..you get the picture.

I reached the information center which is located in Piazza Maggiore. I couldn’t find any free walking tours so bought ticket for the one organized by the tourist office. It was supposed to start at 4:45 pm. So I had plenty of time to grab lunch. I found an interesting place that serves organic vegan/vegetarian food. Chatted up with two ladies from there. Was a pleasure. 
I still had time before the tour so I went to a kind of monastery as it was not part of the tour – San Stefano. It was ancient. 

So today’s lessons. 

The name of the region is Emilia Romagna. That is because it was managed by the Roman general Emilius. 

In Bologna was established the first university in Europe for Medicine and Law in around 14th century. With the tour, We went to the Anatomical Theater to see where the dissection of the cadavers used to take place. It was done in winter only, because of lack of refrigeration technology  in those days. The dissection used to take about 7 hours.

I am still updating the post. Do keep an eye on the blog because Bologna like rest of Italy, also has lot of dramatic stories in its past and I will write all about it.

So about the Tortilleni – The name comes because it looks like a small navel. Technically it is supposed to be 8 mm in size after getting cooked. The bigger ones are for tourists!

Tortilleni

Famous Terracota statues

Italian Adventure – Day 3

Ocean’s 11! The fans of George Clooney must’ve understood what I am talking about. And not the Bellagio casino – I came to the real Bellagio – the “Pearl of Como”. Charming place and hence, super touristy. Reminded me of a village in the Bay Area that I visited long ago. Now I understand what the people who emigrated from Europe to US were trying to recreate.

But, first things first. I started from my hotel in Milan this morning – missed the train that I originally intended to take because I didn’t check my painstakingly collected information the previous night. Then proceeded to the station after having some breakfast. Sadly it wasn’t the same friendly guys at the reception as yesterday. The ones today couldn’t find all the gluten free things that I had yesterday. So I got just some rusk today. Better than nothing!

Reached the station, tried my hand at the first ticket machine that I saw and couldn’t find my destination listed. So I proceeded to the ticket counter. They charge about 1 Eur more per ticket as the fee! And I didn’t want to take a chance – so I booked both back and forth tickets. And then just a few steps ahead I found their self-service machines..the first one I had checked was not from the same train operator, hence no ticket! Mystery solved.

Alright then, I needed to change the train at the next station. I was deliberating whether I should go via the Metro there and then board the connection or just go as per the schedule. In hindsight, I should have gone via the metro. Yes, you guessed it right – I missed the connection – by 1 minute despite all the running, as the first train was late. But I was not the only one. An American family came huffing puffing behind me. Then we looked up the chart and found that the next connection would be 1 hour later. So we went our separate ways to pass the time. Suddenly while I was in a shop, I had the thought of going to the ticket counter to ask if the same ticket could be used or not. So I went there and found the younger members of the family also just right before me in the queue. The lady there told them that there was one more train that was leaving in 10 minutes and we could use the same ticket. We proceeded to that train.

That train also started about 6 minutes later than the scheduled departure. But no complaints there as it was still about 20 minutes before the one we were waiting for. After that, no further incidents and we reached the destination.

We parted ways once more and I walked towards my hotel. It was a hot sunny day. When I reached the hotel, they were cleaning the room (I was early). But they told me that I could leave my luggage. I was preparing for that (getting camera, putting away other unnecessary stuff..) but by then, they made the room ready before I left so I could even relax a bit in the room before starting.

The Cathedral of Como is beautiful – I haven’t seen one like it. It has a mix of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles as it was built over a long period of time. In general it is free to get inside the cathedral but they ask for a little donation like a Euro or two, and also give a pamphlet in a few languages – English, German, Italian.., explaining the church. That’s quite alright for the opportunity to learn about the church.


I reached the Piazza Cavour – the place from where the ferries start towards the other towns on Como lake. Bellagio being the hot favorite, everyone was buying the ticket to go there. It was a long queue and super hot day. I was sweating so much that I wondered if I was in the plains of India in peak summer. Finally got the ticket and had enough time to grab some lunch. Tried searching for an Italian restaurant which could serve gluten-free options but failed. Then found a small charming cafe. Had a nice salad there and moved on towards the harbor to catch the boat.

The boat journey was quite nice, albeit long. After taking tons of pictures, I gave up. But then doing nothing and getting a nice breeze made me feel so sleepy! But you know you just can’t sleep on a ferry like that in front of everyone!


Upon reaching Bellagio, I first checked what would be the way to return because the folks at the ticket counter in Como said something like they cannot issue a return ticket because they don’t know how full the return ferry could be. I found that there was a bus C30 that would take half the time and the ticket could be purchased at a bar (ya, I was surprised too). I took the ticket, noted the time and went to explore the place. Later I found that you could also pay directly to the bus driver instead of buying at the bar (but better safe than sorry as the frequency of the bus is once per hour!).

Found a church – San Giacomo. It was quite interesting from inside.


The shops had really nice things but I was in no mood for falling into the tourist trap. That doesn’t mean I didn’t do window shopping. Here’s a little glimpse. A shop selling glass ornaments made in Bellagio and Murano.


Then I treated myself to some gelato and started towards my bus stop.


Upon reaching Como, I went back to the cafe from the afternoon and had a cappuccino as I had a terrible headache. Then refreshed, I went towards the last attraction that I wanted to finish. It was the Funicular connecting Comp to Brunate. I had seen it from the queue for buying the ferry ticket and wanted to be on it. It was nice. But when I reached, the sun was giving just the last colors to the sky. So it wasn’t so great for taking pictures. Doesn’t matter because I couldn’t find a good place to take pictures from anyway. Then after strolling a bit and taking a few pics, I returned to Como.


Then walked back to my hotel. Heated up some stuff for dinner (it had a kitchenette) and then started writing this post. Thunderstorm outside, so quite glad to be indoors in time.

Until next post..Arrivederci!

Italian Adventure – Day 2

After partly restful and partly broken sleep (the trams start early here and as my luck would have it – the stop is right outside my window), I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning. The trams here are lovely – take you to several decades back in time!

Got ready and came out for breakfast to find that the breakfast room wasn’t so cheerful. But then found that there is a garden area on the other side of the reception. It wasn’t a superb garden but nice enough to enjoy the breakfast under a canopy. So I brought the jams, tea and fruits outside with me while the jovial receptionists brought me some breads and crackers. I was actually wondering if I would be late for sightseeing but then I realized that it’s Italy – a country that enjoys time by not rushing it. So I also relaxed.

After breakfast, armed with a map and directions from the receptionist, I started my walk towards the Duomo.

Saw a church on the way but couldn’t stop as I was afraid that I would miss the walking tour which was supposed to start at 10.


Hurrying up, I reached the Duomo and was taken aback by its sheer size and the color!

But I was in a hurry to find the walking tour. After encountering 3 wrong groups, finally I spotted a yellow umbrella and went to check that out. Voila – that was the correct one! Phew….

So the tour started but first some words about the Duomo.

It is made of marble which reminded me of the Taj Mahal. The last such impressive structure I saw earlier this year was Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral of Barcelona but that’s relatively modern. This one had its construction started in 14th century! Although I must say, the Italians took their time in completing it :). The last doors were finished in 1965! And still something or the other thing is still being built. (Reason for the delay is – no not the relaxed style of Italy – but because Milan was occupied by different empires over the centuries after the construction began. The French, Spanish, Austrian – all had it at one time or the other and therefore, the construction was interrupted several times.)


After that, the guide took the group to a rather unassuming building which had no pretentions outside and as soon as we stepped in, we were mesmerized by the frescoes. It was the church of St. Anthony – who is depicted with a pig by his side. The monks of his order reared pigs and had discovered that the fat of the pigs was useful in preparing the cure for “Shingles” – or as the locals called it “St. Anthony’s Fire”!

The Church of St. Anthony

 

We continued along the university building that houses the Law and Humanities faculty today but which was originally a 14th century hospital. It was very modern for its times – had different departments, people were given clean clothes, private bathrooms, tap water and so on! This improved the chances of recovery than the older hospices where the monks tried to save the soul rather than the body housing the soul! More stories to come later.

After the university, we reached a chapel that had an ossuary – skulls, femurs, tibia – all bones were kind of used as a decoration here. Sounds pretty macabre but in old times, people had a kind of matter of fact relationship to death. The average age was quite less. This kind of ossuaries are in several places in Europe.


Then we moved to an impressive shopping center – the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele which houses many big labels. Besides the impressive structure and beautifully decorated walls, it has an impressive story too.

  • When it was constructed, the gas lamps were used to light it up. Someone invented an ingenious train (small one mounted on a spring system) that would light up the lamps.
  • The architect fell from the scaffolding while checking the last details of the construction and couldn’t be alive to see his masterpiece completed.
  • The glass roof was shattered shortly after construction due to the worst hailstorm in the history of Milan!

Galleria

And the tour ended at this stock exchange building – which has a sculpture gifted to Milan by a sculptor Maurizio Cattelan in 2010.  Quite interesting – isn’t it! He is known for making provocative sculptures.

The Finger

Then the guide bade farewell to us and gave maps and tips on seeing other things in the city to those who wanted. I would definitely recommend the free walking tour – http://www.walkaboutmilano.it/. The way it works is that at the end of the tour, everyone gives a tip to the guide instead of paying anything at the beginning. Definitely worth every cent of what you would give at the end of the tour to the guide. Typical is to give between 5 and 10 euros per person. Our guide didn’t even mention that unlike the ones I have encountered in other cities.

Anyway, following the instructions of the tour guide, after the tour I proceeded towards the Cimitero Monumentale. The nearest Metro station was Garibaldi that I could reach from where I was. Finally  bought a day ticket at a coffee shop, sat down to have a macchiato and then proceeded.

And coming out of the Metro station, as the guide had mentioned, I found amidst skyscrapers these two wonderful towers which have forests coming out of them! Amazing – isn’t it? Reminded me of Waldspirale of Darmstadt!

Then I sat for some time in between the skyscrapers – there was a fountain area there, had something to eat and then went to the Monument Cemetery. It was not like any cemetery I have ever seen. Sculpteres after sculptures strewn there! One can easily spend more than 3 hours there! But it was about to close so I came out.

Juxtaposition of old and modern

Wanted to see something else – a Dolce Gabbana store that has interesting displays in its windows – that the guide had mentioned but couldn’t find it. So I gave up and decided to return.

While returning, I misunderstood some tram stops and reached Centrale – the main train station of Milan. It is a very impressive building. What baffled me was the huge Apple outside it! But then it was not the first time to get amazed by the sculptures in this city.

Then I decided to stroll a bit on the Buenos Aires street which is a huge shopping street. Looked in shops but didn’t find anything that I needed to buy. So decided to find some dinner. The shops were anyway closing. Walked towards an Italian restaurant but found one Ramen place instead. Asked them to customize it a bit for me and they agreed. It was quite nice and satisfying without making the stomach so full that you can’t move anymore.

Then took the metro back to my hotel and decided to call it a night.

With this I end my post for today. Until next..Buenanotte!

The Bridges

Bridges are fascinating. I wonder when was the first time humans created a bridge. But I’m sure that it must have been the day when the course of human history took a big turn. Humans were suddenly able to cross rivers and lakes for going from one place to another and returning back, thus making trading possible for everyone and not just the adventurous sailors! Bridges meant possibilities..

There is a reference to the construction of a bridge of stones in the Hindu epic – Ramayana – which is a story of around 12000 years ago! According to the legend, the bridge was made by the monkeys, to help Ram and the monkey army get across the sea to Lanka from the Southernmost tip of India to rescue his wife Sita who was abducted by Ravan, the king of Lanka. Believe it or not, in the satellite images, the remains of such a bridge can still be seen (immersed now), named Adam’s Bridge in English. You can read more details of the scientific analysis being done to determine the timelines here. So far, I didn’t have the chance to go there yet, but who knows, may be one day I will be there.

So coming back to the present, I’ve had the chance to see so many wonderful bridges. Some of them are world-famous and some are just serving the purpose – helping people get across from one point to the other.

Enjoy.

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A bridge connecting two villages in Switzerland

Bridge Enroute Dresden

An interesting road bridge in Eastern Germany

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A wooden bridge in Switzerland

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A brick bridge in Belgium

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The longest suspension bridge for pedestrians in the world, in Austria

For more interpretations and pictures of wonderful bridges, explore here.

Viennese Waltz – Routine 2

Starting now with the second part of my impressions of Vienna. Hope you enjoyed the first routine. I was very tired after the walking through the city on the first day. So decided to call it an early day.

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Decoration in a Window

The next morning, the skies looked ominous and tried to put the idiomatic damper on my spirits. But I just borrowed an umbrella from the Pension and decided to make a trip to the famous Schoenbrunn Palace. It was a little far from the city center and so, I had to take a train. While waiting, I often find myself looking at advertisements at the underground stations when I am visiting a city and try to get an idea about what’s new.  I don’t know if the locals ever pay any attention to the posters!

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Metro Station Karlsplatz

Finally on reaching the palace, I found an Easter Market set up in the grounds despite the overcast skies.

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Easter at Schoenbrunn Palace

The Schoenbrunn Palace looked quite impressive in yellow color and as it was drizzling a bit, I decided to take a tour of the rooms inside the palace first instead of looking at the gardens.

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Schoennbrunn Palace

The rooms were interesting and as the rest of Vienna, had most stories about Maria Theresa and Sisi. Interesting to know was how much effort Sisi put in maintaining her figure (exercises and dieting) and ankle length hair (a full day every week dedicated to cleaning and conditioning the tresses).

After coming out, I wandered a bit into the gardens which looked quite pretty to stroll in but it was drizzling and the wind was too strong to keep the umbrella open. So I decided to move on.

Now, I was getting hungry and I had heard about the Naschmarkt. So I headed towards it. By the time I got out of the train at the stop nearest to the market, it was pouring. I managed to reach there and looked through the shops and restaurants but didn’t find anything that I could eat. So I searched for an Indian restaurant around as that is usually a safe bet if one is looking for a warm, vegetarian and gluten-free meal. And as luck would have it, I found myself at a restaurant whose owners were from the same part of India as I am! On the menu were two delicacies that I love but haven’t had in a really long time and so quite naturally, I asked for those two items. It was serendipity at work again :-).  I was not disappointed. The owner and I chatted away for some time about life back home and abroad. Looking out of the window, I found that it was hailing. So I stayed for some more time before venturing out again.

I went to the central railway station to get myself the tickets for the next day and then proceeded towards the Opera. Walking towards the Opera, I came across a beautiful church – Karlskirche. It was not possible to get inside as it was getting ready for a concert.

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Karlskirche

Moving on, upon reaching the Opera, I found an impressive 19th century building. Initially it was the place for royalty but then in 1920, after the removal of the Hofburg dynasty, it was named the State Opera. I wasn’t particularly interested in watching the performance (it was Parsifal by Wagner that evening). But I had read that one could get a chance to stand and watch for as little as 3 Euros. So I tried my luck but even the standing tickets were sold out. The lady at the counter told me that I could try again for a ticket post break and the break was at after 90 minutes. Since I was tired anyway of all the walking, I went to the adjoining Opera Cafe and ordered myself a coffee.

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Vienna State Opera

When I came out to try getting the ticket, I found that it was again sold out! So much for the waiting. Then I came out of another exit. And what do I see there? A big screen showing the performance from inside! There were also chairs. Why didn’t I come out earlier?

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Big Screen outside the Opera

Anyway, I didn’t find it engaging so I moved on. It was getting darker and the square was lit up.

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Haas Building

It was much more interesting to listen to the street musicians than watching the Opera. After spending some time listening to them and then having some dinner, I decided to call it a day.

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Street Musicians at Stephansplatz