Serenity

There is an eerie stillness after a snowfall. The pure white blanket of snow induces a different kind of serenity inside – not of bliss but that of surrender, as if the nature is telling you to slow down and go into a peaceful sleep…

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Polish Dancing – Krakowiak (contd..)

I wrote down a few stories of Krakow in the previous post. It’s a wonderful city and I wanted to see every bit of it despite the painfully cold weather. The Tuesday that was my first day of sightseeing there, was a bit windy and therefore, felt much more colder than it actually was. So, the best thing to do – keep walking and added bonus – learning more stories of the city.

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A horse carriage waiting for riders at the market square, Cloth Hall building behind the P sign

Continuing from the last set of stories.

Fifth Story

The main market square – Rynek Glowny has retained its shape since the medieval ages. However, the level has grown by 6 meters! Why? That’s because of – guess what? Garbage disposal. In the houses, what would now be the cellar, would have been the ground floor in the 13th century. In 2005, an excavation led to the discovery of the settlement that must have been destroyed by the Tatars in the 13th century. There is an underground museum today there called the Rynek Underground which was opened in 2010 and has a great multimedia system to explain everything about that settlement. How the people lived in those days, what they wore, their tools, the toys, the clothes – every big and small detail is displayed and explained.

A terrible and yet, fascinating piece of the exhibition is getting to see how suspected vampires were buried in those days! If you are curious, then I must tell you – it was not a comfortable position as can be seen in the open graves displayed there with the bones of the legs and hands arranged at unnatural angles. (Thinking back, I realized that I was there on Halloween day, so I guess it’s not by chance that I was getting the dose of spooky!).

A tip – the museum is open for free entry on Tuesdays!

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A man in the multimedia clip telling you to move on and not stare at him (after you watch an argument between him and a woman in the street)

Sixth Story

How can one leave the market square without the story of the Brave Trumpeter of Krakow? So, there I was – listening to the Hejnal (Hymn for Mary) being played on the trumpet by someone from a window at the top of the St. Mary’s Cathedral. It is played every hour in all four directions but it stops abruptly.  Now there was once a trumpeter who played his trumpet for the hejnal as well as important announcements for the city in the 13th century. One day, as he looked out of his window on the top of the cathedral, he saw a big cloud of dust coming closer and closer to the city. And then on looking carefully, he could see the invading Tatars. What could he do to save his city? It would be a waste of the precious time to climb down and alert someone. So he thought may be if he started played the Hejnal over and over, people would surely take notice. And he did that. First nobody understood but slowly it dawned that it was a warning and the people prepared themselves and defended the city. But also, the Hejnal stopped as suddenly as it had started because alas, the Tatars saw the Trumpeter and shot an arrow to his throat! After the battle, one of the friends of the trumpeter went looking for him and found him dead with the throat pierced by the Tatar arrow but still holding his trumpet as if ready to play more!

The story of the brave trumpeter is commemorated till today with the ritual of playing the trumpet and stopping abruptly by the people of Krakow. There are three conditions for becoming the trumpeter of the tower today:

  1. You should be a man (yeah, yeah, I know)
  2. You should be a member of the fire-brigade
  3. Most importantly, you should know how to play a trumpet.
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St. Mary’s Basilica from where the Trumpeter plays the Hejnal (top of the left tower)

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See the window that’s opening for the trumpeter?

Side note: The trumpeters have to stay at the top of the tower for a few days at a time. So it has all the facilities that one might need to live like in one’s home. I don’t know about the internet connection though.

Seventh Story

Now since I started writing about the cathedral, it is important to know that the entrance for tourists is different from the entrance of the worshippers – makes sense so as not to disturb the ones who are going to pray for that is the main purpose of a place of worship. One can go inside for free and admire the magnificence. But for going up to the tower and to get close to the most famous piece of work there – the altarpiece by Wit Swotsz (German name – Veit Stoss), there is a small fee.

Now Veit was a renowned sculptor from Nuremberg, Germany. His fame reached Poland and somewhere in the 15th century he was commissioned to make this altarpiece for the cathedral in Krakow. He moved there with his family and worked on this piece for 12 years! After living in Krakow for 20 years, he decided to leave the family business there to his son Andreas who was also quite skilled and returned back to Nuremberg with the rest of his family. Mmay be he was missing the German Bread – which I have seen people from Germany missing when they are abroad for too long or may be Poland was getting too cold (it was definitely super cold when I was there) – who knows why he went back. But it was not as rosy for him when he went back – got arrested twice, getting branded on the cheeks was prohibited from leaving Nuremberg, getting on the wrong side of the city council but being in the good books of the Emperor Maximilian saved his neck. He did carry out some interesting pieces of work despite all the drama for it was probably difficult to stop a good artist of some international acclaim, from making art.

I didn’t get a picture of the altarpiece from too close but you can see it at the back in the picture below.

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Inside the St. Mary’s Basilica

What else did I do? Ah yes, I went to see some more churches from inside to both admire them as well as to get some respite from the cold weather, while waiting to go for the next tour that would start at around 6 PM. Despite the freezing cold, I was quite keen on going for that tour, for one never knows what would “tomorrow” bring.  The stories from that tour – in the next post. Until next..”Do widzenia”.

Polish Dancing – Krakowiak

On the evening of an icy, windy Monday, I boarded the flight from Gdansk to reach the next beautiful city of Poland – Krakow. Upon arriving at the airport, it was easy to follow the signs and find the way to the train that runs between the city center and the airport except at the point where a sign was kept on the floor (like a board) and a girl standing in front of it obliterated the view. So in the confusion, I missed the first train by two minutes. The next one was after half an hour, which I then boarded and reached the city center in about 20 minutes. From there, with the help of google maps, I walked to the room I had booked. I had informed the property and the receptionist was waiting for me till that late even though it was not a 24 hour reception kind of place (it was around 11 PM). She handed me the keys, explained everything and then left. I was too cold and tired to go get anything to eat (although a 24 hour supermarket was just round the corner). So I just snacked on something I had in my bag and went to sleep. Had a restful sleep. In the morning, I searched the net and found a restaurant close by that offered gluten-free options for breakfast. So I got ready and reached that restaurant. It was a very modern themed restaurant. I ordered something but it took too long to come. So I had to gobble it up quickly instead of savoring it, as I was getting late for the walking tour that was about to start.

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The Fancy Breakfast

And then I sped towards the Florian’s Gate, where the tour was supposed to start. Thankfully, I reached in time and other people were also just getting in. We had a pleasant guide who started with the first story of Krakow.

First Story

In the 10th century, there was a king with 5 sons. Probably he seemed to consider all of them equally worthy of the kingdom, or he couldn’t decide who would take the kingdom after his death. So the kingdom got divided into 5 parts. Thus began the struggle of 200 years when the kingdom kept getting divided over generations. Then in 1320, Wladislav I “Lokietek” (the Elbow High) from Krakow, reunited all these fragments. For 400 years after that, every king of Poland was crowned in Krakow. The coronation route would start from the St. Florian’s church. The church was renovated several times and the current look is from the 18th century.

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Street musicians in traditional attire under Florian’s gate

There were 7 gates to the city but the only way to enter was through the Barbican – which was the defense gate since the 15th century. There used to be a huge moat around that which has now been transformed into a beautiful park – the Planty.

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Autumn in the Planty

Today, there still remains a small part of the city wall with St. Florian’s Gate and the Barbican due to the efforts of a Professor named Feliks Radwanski at the beginning of 19th century when the city officials wanted to demolish the city walls. The reasons given for preserving these ranged from logical to hilarious. I don’t know which one finally convinced the authorities. One of the arguments given was that if the wall was broken, then the Northern winds blowing till the Main Market Square will knock people off their feet, while exposing women and children to influenza, rheumatism, and perhaps even to paralysis. However, the funniest one of all was that the wind would blow up women’s skirts and who would want that inappropriate thing to happen :-).

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Tourists in front of Florian’s Gate

Second Story

In the photo of Florian’s Gate, do you see the McDonald’s logo? That’s the first McD that opened in Krakow. The guide told us that when it first opened, it was like the symbol of a huge transformation for the country – from communism to capitalism! The queue was legendary – people waited for hours to get the taste of the big mac. The significance was not because of the taste or quality of McD burgers (a controversial topic), but because of the freedom of choice after living in the communist regime for so long.

Third Story

Going back to 14th century, after king Wladyslaw I, his son Cassimir the Great or as he is called in Polish – Kazimierz, became the king. He was a very strong king but the last one of the Piast dynasty as he didn’t have any sons. A huge contribution from him was the founding of the University of Krakow – which he could establish with the blessing of the pope but only on agreeing that there won’t be a theology department in the university! We don’t know the exact reason for that but one reason could be that the king needed lawyers and accountants instead of theologians. Another reason stated is the pressure from the pope to not have that department. Now, after Cassimir’s demise, the kingdom went to his nephew from Hungary – Louis I. He also didn’t have any sons but had a daughter – Hedwig (Jadwiga) who was then crowned king of Poland (yes, you read it right – King). That happened because of the work (read – giving privileges to noblemen) done by Louis during his lifetime to persuade the noblemen to allow his daughters inheriting the throne. The kings of Poland needed to be “elected” by the noblemen of Poland, unlike in other countries where this was a hereditary practice. The kings therefore, granted a lot of privileges to the noblemen in return for their loyalty.

So, Jadwiga became the king and then as a religious-political move, she married the king of Lithuania Jogaila when he pledged to convert to Roman Catholicism, thus making Lithuania a catholic country. The king was baptized as Wladyslaw Jogiello and he became the co-ruler of Poland with Jadwiga.

Jadwiga had a life full of political turmoil but despite that, she did a lot for the University of Krakow which became the Jagiellonian University. She funded it with her own jewellery. The people of Poland venerated her during her lifetime and even after, and in she was canonized in 1997 by the Pope.

Wawel Cathedral where Jadwiga was coronated and buried

Fourth Story

Now that I mentioned the Wawel Cathedral, let me tell you the most iconic legend of Krakow. There was once, a long time ago, a terrible dragon who lived on the Wawel Hill. He had to be appeased with a regular diet of cattle and once a month treat of a young maiden . Then the day came when there were no more maidens left except the king’s daughter Wanda.  The king in desperation, announced that whoever gets rid of the dragon, would get the princess as his bride. Several people tried and of course failed. Then came forth a shoemaker called Skuba. He stuffed a sheep with sulphur and left it outside the cave of the dragon. The dragon ate it and because of the sulphur, became so thirsty that he started drinking the water from the river Vistula. But the thirst just wouldn’t get quenched. When the dragon had drunk almost half of the waters of the river, he could drink no more and exploded! Thus came the end of the terrible dragon, and of course, the princess married the shoemaker and everyone lived happily ever after!

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The Story in the Souvenir

There are two huge bones hanging today at the entrance of the Wawel Cathedral, assumed to be the bones of the dragon; the guide told us that they actually belong to a whale and a mammoth.

With this, I can finally bring this post to an end (has been in draft mode for soooo long) and write the remaining memories of Krakow in the next one.

Polish Dancing – Polonaise (finale)

It was a cold windy day, with occasional rain and with the sun sometimes peeking out from between the clouds. So it felt very nice when we would stop to see a sight while being in the sun. This was the case when we stood on the bridge on the river Motlawa outside the Green Gate – which was at the end of the main street (Long Market). It was built in the 16th century.

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Green Gate and Palace

It includes a palace which was made for the king. Funnily – neither the gate was green nor the king ever stayed in that palace! Why you ask? The gate probably got its name from the wooden draw bridge that used to be on the river here which must have been mossy, hence green. As for the king not staying there – that is more easy to guess. The place had fishermen selling their fishes, hence, it must have been very smelly. Sulphur was a major item being traded – another smelly issue. And thirdly, the place was lined with taverns where loud, brash sailors would spend their time when in town. Definitely not a place fit for the king. So the palace was there just for namesake.

Thereafter, we moved along the river, towards another landmark of Gdansk – the Crane.

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It had two huge wheels that we could see. Four heavily built men used to stand in each wheel (probably like a hamster), and thus, the wheels rotated (gravity played an important role). The chains linked to the wheels thus, uploaded or offloaded the cargo from the boats. It was a legit job at the harbor – no prisoners or slaves were involved. The workers got a daily payout of money and beer! Yes, you read it right – beer. The reason being the high calories in beer which were required to replenish the energy for the workers (besides being better than unclean water).

While walking on the streets we also got to know about some of the famous people born in Gdansk – Fahrenheit being one of them. The current President of the European Council – Donald Tusk is from there.

On that note, let me come to the 20th century. We reached this building which was the Post Office of Free city of Gdansk established in 1920, after the Treaty of Versailles. Now this post office was unusual than others because it was not just for post. The postal workers were secretly trained for defending the city.

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And on the 1st of September, 1939, 4 AM, the fears came true when the German army invaded Poland. So this became the place where the first shots of WWII were fired. The German army was taken aback because they were not expecting any resistance, it being a post office with just 56 people! The battle continued until 3 PM when the Germans declared a ceasefire, expecting the defenders to surrender. The brave defenders decided not to surrender, unaware (because of the phone and electricity lines having been cut by the Germans already in the beginning of the battle) that the whole country was under attack by then and the army won’t be able to come for their help. But they couldn’t continue for long, after the basement was filled with gasoline and set to fire with a grenade! First the director came out with a white flag – shot by the frustrated German army,  then the commandant tried again with a white flag –  same fate as the director…then the rest were allowed to surrender. The German army had brought along journalists, thinking they would have occupied the post office in no time and could use this for their propaganda material. But the bravery of the soldiers didn’t make it that easy. What came out of this was the coverage of the whole battle. Not that it helped Poland but just that this unfortunate time of history was recorded in pictures. The surrendered soldiers were not immediately slaughtered but later were court martialled and put to death.

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Fingerprints of surrendered soldiers on the left wall and the photo of that event straight ahead

After that we all know what happened in WWII.

At this place, the tour ended and we thanked our guide and took our leave.  I wanted to go look at the second part of the history – post war and hence, the Solidarity Museum but unfortunately, it being a Monday, the museums were closed. Now that I think of it, I could have taken the walking tour about it but I was tired and cold. May be some other time for that. So I went to get myself some lunch and looked around a bit, went inside the church, braved the rain, got some Amber and then went back to my hotel. Relaxed there for some time before taking off for the flight that I had to take to go to my next destination – Krakow. Thus, comes to end my very slowly performed Polonaise.

Polish Dancing – Polonaise (contd..)


A nice sunny morning today with a good coffee, is making me feel hopeful for a good day ahead.

But first I should finish the story of Gdansk although I don’t think I can manage it in one post. Let’s see.

So, the city of Gdansk has been around for a very long time but written records are from about 1000 AD onwards. It is on the Baltic coast. Strategically located for trading by the sea and hence, has had the best economy in the whole of Poland.


We started the walking tour from the Golden Gate. It was a chilly, windy day interspersed with sunshine, drizzle and  sometimes the raindrops turning to ice! Opposite to the gate was an imposing tower which is an Amber Museum today but was a prison tower in the past.

The guide showed us the old city gates which had the coat of arms of Poland, Prussia and the city of Gdansk on it. There was something written in Latin below : “justitia et pietate sunt publica rum omnium fundamental” which translates to “Justice and Piety are the foundations of all states”. Locals have their own interpretation “Rum is the foundation” due to the typo ;). That would make sense considering the city is a harbor city with a lot of sailors coming and going out of there.

We moved along the main street which was used also for royal processions in the past. Every new elected (yes, elected – more later) king of Poland had to have a procession here on this street leading from the Golden Gate to the Long Market at the end where the townhall/clock tower is. The wealthiest merchants lived on this street. The ornamentations on the houses were indicative of the wealth – the ones with the stone ornaments being the most wealthy to be able to afford those! In the previous post, I mentioned that the buildings reminded me of Amsterdam and I was not wrong! The guide informed us that the people of Gdansk were not the experts in travelling by ships. So the city had a lot of foreigners working there – Dutch being the most prominent ones. Especially because the river flooded every year and who are the best to claim land from water? You got it right – the Dutch. So naturally, they brought their architecture with them. And just like in Amsterdam, here also the tax was according to the width occupied on the street by the building, hence the houses would grow vertically and deep inside.


Sometimes during the tour we would dive into the sidelanes when the guide wanted to show us some other interesting things like the armoury or the “pukers” (kind of gorgoyles on the sides of staircases leading up to the houses.

The Church of St. Mary on the Main street is supposed to be the biggest gothic church in the world made of bricks. According to some estimates, it has about 5.5 million bricks! I went later inside the church, after the tour, and was kind of surprised that the imposing structure outside houses a very plain interior. I asked my tour guide in Krakow about this contrast and he explained that the church became Lutheran (Protestant) church in around 16th century and hence all ornamentation was probably removed as is the ideology of the Protestant churches.

St. Mary’s basilica

The next imposing building is the city hall which was already there from about 14th century but expanded later. It has a golden idol of the king Sigismund on the top of it – which moves in the direction of the wind. The most interesting thing for me there was to understand the presence of a sundial despite a huge mechanical clock being there. That was there because pendulum was not known at that time.  The mechanical clock though easier to read, lost time over a period of time. So an expert had to correct the time every few months by reading the correct time from the sundial! Seemingly, this was the case everywhere where the mechanical clocks were installed but the other places got rid of sundials when they replaced the machinery of their clocks with the pendulum mechanics.

Town hall

This is all I can write today. Will come back with some more about Gdansk in the next post. Keep an eye on the blog. The next post will have some humor but also some tragedy – going to be very interesting.

Polish Dancing – Polonaise

After a restful sleep despite the very cold night, I woke up on my own at the usual Monday morning time. Then tried to go back to sleep as I didn’t have to go to work. “To get up or not to get up, that is the question” as a modern day Shakespeare would say. Ultimately I got up at 7 when there was some light outside. And when I looked out of the window, the thought that had been nagging me since yesterday finally cleared up. I realized that the houses reminded me of Amsterdam.

Rows of houses slowly coming to life with the rising sun

Slowly I proceeded to get ready. Realized that the shoulders and neck that have been painful since two months due to an accident, were again aching. Got an idea to apply warm compress to the sore points with the help of the heater. Did that and it helped.

Then I made myself some coffee, had the leftovers from last night’s dinner as breakfast along with an Indian snack mixture (I had a packet with me) and checked out of the hotel. The receptionist stored my luggage safely so that I could go out freely.

I had registered online yesterday for a walking tour that was supposed to start at 10:30 am. I had plenty of time before that to stroll around. So instead of going to the main part of the town, I just took some other turns and came across interesting buildings. I have no idea of their identities though at the moment.

A building with some wooden sculptures


Came across an indoor market which reminded me of Bangalore! The outside is much more beautiful though of this market.

Exterior of the Indoor market

Also came across flower and fresh vegetables market where locals were buying their day’s or week’s supplies.

Flowers

Then after taking some more pictures and unsuccessfully trying to see the monastery (the door didn’t open), I went towards the meeting point for the walking tour. The story of the walking tour to come in the next post as now I am exhausted after having a majority of my time spent outdoors on a very cold day. 

Until next..dobranoc!

Polish Dancing – Kujawiak

After exploring so many places to go for the extended weekend, somehow I got whimsical and booked Poland. It is super cold, rainy and very windy at the moment but I often have the feeling that one reaches the place one is supposed to be at, when he/she is destined to be. So, let’s see how the next four days would go.

I started this morning from my home quite early because the airport from which I had to take the flight is at a not so well-connected location. So instead of directly going there and sitting there for the whole day, I went to another city from where there are more connections to the airport.

Started there with a coffee and a huge portion of scrambled eggs (not eating meat and being gluten-sensitive is still not easy).


After getting refreshed with the breakfast, I walked a bit in the old town area and remembered the day when I had been there  a few years back in Spring and had spent a full day. This time it was a wet Autumn day with leaves fallen everywhere giving a completely different feel. Memory here.

Then I returned to the main station from where I was supposed to board the airport shuttle. Even this was quite early but I didn’t want to take a chance as this was the first time I was going to this airport and didn’t know what kind of traffic was to be expected. There was actually none! The scenery was beautiful along the way.

Then at the airport, waited while charging the phone which seemed to take forever. Then did the security check and then  waited at the gate. I always forget to keep a book and the magazines sold at Relay are not in a language I can understand yet. So there is no choice but to look around and observe people. May be one day this observation will pay off and I can write a book myself! Until that day, I’ll just keep posting on my blog.

So, after some delay, the flight started and then after some flying, we landed in Gdansk. Now it was only about 6 pm or so but it was freezing cold outside the plane. Everyone hurried up to the terminal to get out of the wind. Upon reaching inside, almost everyone queued up at the currency exchange counter (Kantor) or at one of the two ATMs in sight. I was getting worried that I would miss the bus to the city center as I had read that on Sunday the frequency is less than on week days. Nonetheless, got the local currency (Zloty) and came out of the airport. Found the bus stop, went to wrong bus, then saw the stop for the correct one, had some struggle with the ticket automat (nobody was ready to accept that it didn’t work – so everyone in the queue gave it a try –  with coins, notes, credit cards – but it didn’t work). Then ran back inside to get some change as the ATM had spit out big notes only. The friendly shopkeeper changed it for many of us who struggled. In other places, people just refuse or ask to buy something first. So this gesture of the lady was just the first impresson of the nice disposotion of the Polish people. Then got the bus, reached the city, and then walked to my hotel. It was raining but I managed. However, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering as to why the buildings have no awnings here! So there is just no way to take shelter if it’s raining.Then I checked into my hotel which is very nice, went for some dinner at a friendly place and now going to sleep.

Hooooo Hoooo Halloween

Dinner

Layered

It’s quite a coincidence that the theme of the photo challenge is “Layered” which was the exact feeling I have from my recent trip to Italy. Why, one would be curious..

That’s because the present day Italy has several layers of civilizations underneath it. I am not sure which city of Italy wouldn’t have ruins of as far as the Roman times, if not even older, under it.

But for the photo challenge, I’d like to present these terracota statues – “The Compianto” made by Niccolo dell’Arca in the 15th century, which are today housed in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, in Bologna. The statues are so lifelike that it feels like someone froze a moment in time. Now what is the connection to layers here? The traditional statue making with stone involves chipping off the stone but in terracota, one needs to add one layer over the other to achieve the effect. It was considered by sculptors of the likes of Michelangelo an inferior form to create something by adding (putting layers of clay) than by removing (chipping off marble)! To each his opinion. My opinion is that art forms are means of expression of the same thing inside us human beings that wants to come out – and hence, no form can be inferior or superior. A form can be easier or difficult to work with – but ultimately, it is the end result that is important. Does the work on display evoke any emotion in the observer? If yes, then it’s good work. If not, then it probably could be made better.

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For more interpretations of the theme, you can visit here.

Amsterdam 3

And finally the day came when I had to return home. I still had the morning to taken in some more of this beautiful city. There was a small guide in my hotel which suggested some interesting things to do – and that too for free!

Following the guide, I went first to the Public Library where it was allowed to go up to the top and get a view of the city. I had not been to a public library in a long time. Had to wait until it opened (I reached a bit early). When I entered the place, then I was pleasantly surprised at how modern this place looked. I had not seen another public library like this.

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The Public Library

After taking a look at the library and the view of the city from the top, I came down and strolled towards the central station and captured some beautiful images of the city.

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Reflections

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Cycles looking over the canal

Hadn’t got a chance before to step into these huge clogs that the shops had placed outside them because there were always so many people taking their pictures. But then as it was still morning time and was relatively empty, I got my chance. They look pretty but are quite uncomfortable I must say. I wonder how the people wore (not the huge ones but ones that was of their foot size, of course) and worked in them everyday.

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Traditional Wooden Shoes

Walking and taking the tram somewhere, I reached the Bloemenmarkt  – the Flower Market at the Singel canal. I had read on the internet that it is a floating market. But I didn’t see anything floating, don’t know if I didn’t look properly or the boats weren’t there. There were rows and rows of flower and souvenir shops. It might be that they were on houseboats moored in the canal – although I didn’t feel any movement when I stepped into them. Whatever the case may be, it was just beautiful.

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Tulips

I found a cheese shop there which allowed for tasting and paired its cheeses with some special chutneys! Quite stimulating for the taste buds, in a good way :-).

Then I checked the time and realized I had just enough to go eat something at my favorite restaurant, which I had been going to for the last two days and then return to the hotel. This time I got a seat beside the window and I could see the cyclists closely who would stop at the traffic light. The cycles in Amsterdam are of a very simple kind – no gears and fancy stuff. But what caught my eye was the variety of people riding the bicycles. I captured this musician on my lens.

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The musician cyclist

Then I returned to my hotel – was even a bit late to checkout but thankfully, the friendly staff was not angry about it. Then to reach the place where I had to board the bus from was slightly tricky but managed to reach in time. The return journey was uneventful and quite alright. Looking forward to going there once again and experience some more of this wonderful city..