Follow Our Explorers


Antarctica by:Vispi Mistry

Antarctica 2016 | Vispi Mistry


Argentina by:Subhash Motwani, Durva Gandhi & Mahek Shahani

How To Explore Buenos Aires Like Never Before | Subhash Motwani


Glaciers and Falls  | Subhash Motwani


Argentina, Here We Come!!!  | Durva Gandhi


Argentina with a touch of Spanish and a dash of Tango  | Mahek Shahani

 

Australia by: Yazneen Rana & Mayur Shah

Brisbane, Gold Coast & Sydney

Brisbane, Gold Coast & Sydney | Yazneen Rana

                       Australia

When people ask me about my job and are told that I am in the Tourism Industry, their first remark is usually, "So you must travel a lot!" Unfortunately, that's not always the case. But we do get some rare opportunities for visiting far off lands with Incentive groups or on Familiarization trips. I completed the Aussie Specialist programme in February 2008 which qualified me as an Australia Tourism Specialist and also gave me a chance to be eligible for a Familiarization tour to Australia. Twenty eligible agents including myself were chosen by Tourism Australia to participate in this tour. These Famils, as they are called, are organized each year by the Australian Tourism Board and Aussie Specialist agents are selected to visit the country. This includes a lot of touring and site inspections. We are also introduced to new tourism products which they wish to promote.

                       Famil Tour Team

Our 10-day adventure included Brisbane and Gold Coast in Queensland and Sydney in New South Wales. Queensland is known as the Sunshine State – "Beautiful One Day, Perfect the Next." We arrived at the Brisbane Airport where we were met by our lively, mischievous and lovable Tourism Queensland Representative – Ms. Anne Miller. I have never met a lady like her who makes you feel so comfortable and at home right from the first meeting. She was with us throughout the tours of Brisbane and Gold Coast.She also went out of her way to arrange some site inspections and touring that we wished to do but were not mentioned in our schedule.
Our first city was Brisbane. Young and vibrant, Brisbane lies at the heart of one of the most diverse and popular holiday regions in Australia and enjoys an enviable climate of warm, bright summers and clear, mild winters -making Brisbane an ideal place to visit all year round. The city lies on the banks of the serpentine Brisbane River, a colourful waterway for high-speed ferries, paddlewheelers and pleasure boats. Just over the bridge from the Central Business District, the South Bank area has all the fun, festivity, art and culture on the south bank of the Brisbane River.

 

Brisbane Eye            Kangaroo Bridge

 

There you will find the Queensland Performing Arts Complex, State Library, Queensland Art Gallery and Museum. Not to miss out is the Brisbane Eye,which is 61 metres tall and gives you a great view of the city as it moves. The entry charge is around 15 Australian Doller for a ride. South Bank Parklands on the Brisbane River is home to restaurants, cafes, the Maritime Museum and a real sandy beach and lagoon – all with a city backdrop. Certain must-do's in Brisbane are taking a quick trip on the City Cat cruise, visiting the Botanical Gardens in front of the Parliament building, shopping for souvenirs at Queen Street Mall which has a variety of small restaurants, pubs, grub corners, coffee shops, a movie theatre and a cell phone store. Brisbane has a number of bridges with the most popular being Kangaroo Bridge and Story Bridge.
A popular recreational activity is the Story Bridge Adventure Climb. For shoppers with a budget, Brunswick Street is amazing with a China Town and Flea Market open on Saturdays and Sundays. The first night we stayed at the Sofitel Brisbane – located in the City Centre and linked directly to the train station. Our first day started with a short city tour of Brisbane and then we headed to the Holt Street Warf to take a 1 hour and 15 minutes ferry ride to reach Tangalooma.

                       Feeding the wild Bottlenose Dolphins

Chad Croft from Tangalooma was there to receive us and update us about his property, the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort. It is on Moreton Island and surrounded by crystal clear waters, white sandy beaches and untouched national parks. With over 75 tours and activities on offer, the resort is a perfect destination for guests seeking an action packed, educational, nature based or relaxing experience. In fact it is the only resort where all guests get the opportunity to feed the wild Bottlenose Dolphins. This activity takes place each day in the evening. After an amazing Indian meal, we headed to enjoy our Quad Bike ride from the beach up to the top of Moreton Island – a sand island – and coming down another way. It costs approximately AUD 40 but is definitely a must – do here. Later in the evening we walked towards the well lit Jetty to participate in the dolphin-feeding activity where these wild dolphins come really close to the shore, giving visitors a chance to feed them.

 

Quad Bike - Tangalooma Island            Gold Coast - Surfers Paradise

 


From Tangalooma, our next halt was at Gold Coast. Gold Coast is a fantastic place not just for those who want to relax and wander around but also for those who wish to have an action packed holiday full of fun activities. With miles of surf beach, lush green rainforest, world-class golfing greens, world-famous theme parks and with every kind of accommodation from exclusive 5-star hotels to sunny beachside apartments – that's the Gold Coast. The most iconic building there is the Q1 which is the tallest residential tower in the world and ideally located right on Surfers Paradise. It is 322.5 metres high with 80 levels. Inspirational, breathtaking and stunning, it offers luxury one, two and three bedroom apartment accommodation with unique glass balconies.

 

Q1 - The Tallest Residential Tower in the World            View from Q1

 

The Q Deck, which is the observatory, is on level 77 from where one gets a panoramic view of Gold Coast. Level 78 features the Skylight Room, which is available for unique functions and events. Some of the important areas in Gold Coast are the Broadbeach area and Surfers Paradise. Broadbeach is more relaxed, with the famous casino-hotel Conrad Jupiters. Surfers Paradise, on the other hand, is very lively with many shops, a wide range of accommodation, a beach which is great for surfing and countless entertainment options such as a Reverse Bungee Arena, a 0 -5 Bar and Dracula's Cabaret Restaurant. Q1 – The Tallest Residential Tower in the World.

 

View from Palazzo Versace            Dreamworld – home to The Big 6 Thrill Rides

 

We spent our night at Palazzo Versace – the first Versace hotel in Australia designed by Donatella Versace and located in Gold Coast. This is a fantastic 5-star luxury hotel including its own artificial beach besides the other trademark 5-star facilities.
The next morning we headed to Dreamworld – home to The Big 6 Thrill Rides including the brand new Mick Doohan Motocoaster. We enjoyed ourselves at the Nickelodeon Central, Wiggles World, Tiger Island, the Australian Wildlife Experience (where you can get yourself a picture with a koala bear) and Australia's first and only stationary wave, Flow Rider.

 

Harbour Town Shopping Center            Tamborine Mountain Distillery

 

After lunch at Dreamworld, it was time for some shopping at the Harbour Town, located just 15 kilometres north of Surfers Paradise. Harbour Town is an award winning shopping destination with more than 95 brand-direct outlet stores selling over 300 brands of the world's top name fashions and home wares direct to shoppers with savings of up to 60 percent below normal retail prices, every day. This is a great shopping place which I will definitely recommend to all my clients.

Tonight we were at Sofitel Gold Coast on Broadbeach with all our rooms having a fantastic view of the beach. Like the Sofitel Brisbane this hotel too had a direct exit to the Monorail station which connects it directly to the Conrad Jupiters Hotel. Our Indian travel agent group was quite enthusiastic and wished to discover the place more than what was shown to us. So each night after dinner we would all go out for a long stroll to discover more of the city.
On the third day, we were supposed to take a hot air balloon flight for which we were ready before dawn, but due to the unsupportive climate our tour got cancelled instead of which we visited the Q1 along with a visit to the QD – a beautiful and an unforgettable experience. Another activity that we took the same day was the visit to Mount Tamborine. It is a flora and fauna sanctuary in the Gold Coast hinterland. Situated only 40 minutes from the coast and at an elevation of 550 meters the mountain is renowned for perfect climate, spectacular views, lush farmland, subtropical rainforest and country hospitality.
Set amidst this natural beauty are wineries, country arts and crafts, restaurants, antique shops, galleries tearooms and nurseries. Our tour included a visit to the Tamborine Mountain Distillery which is owned by Michael and Alla Ward.

 

Witches Chase Cheese Factory            Italian restaurant Casa Di Nico

 

This Distillery uses a traditional copper pot still to distil a variety of locally grown fruit and this fruit is used in a variety of handmade liqueurs. It is Australia's smallest operating Pot Still Distillery, but of world renown, including in Europe, America, Canada, New Zealand and Asia and has many awards to its credit. We continued to visit the Witches Chase Cheese Factory to see artisan style cheese and gourmet ice cream in the making.
We tried a variety of award winning local cheeses including Tamembert and Witches Blue Vein – one of only two Queensland-made blue cheesess. This was followed by a visit to the fudge shop where there were over 40 different kinds of fudge. After a late lunch we headed back to the hotel for some rest before we left for Site Inspection of Conrad Jupiters followed by dinner hosted by Gold Coast Tourism. This was our last night in Queensland before leaving for the very popular city of Sydney.
Next morning we reached Sydney after a 1 hour and 30 minutes flight. We were received at the airport by Nadine Wilson from Tourism New South Wales. She was our cute and patient host throughout our stay in Sydney. Though Canberra is the capital of Australia, it is Sydney that has all the glitz and glamour and quite often is also mistaken to be the capital city. Endowed with a sparkling harbour, dazzling beaches and a sunny Mediterranean climate, its setting alone has guaranteed Sydney a place among the glamorous cities on the planet. The entire layout of the city shows that it has been crafted for tourists.

 

Sydney Opera House            Sydney Aqarium

 

On arrival we were taken to an Italian restaurant called Casa Di Nico on the King Steet Wharf. The restaurant captures your heart not just with its outstanding food, wine and passion for Italy but also with the spectacular views of the waterfront.
After lunch we continued to the Sydney Aquarium which is next to the restaurant – a must – do in Sydney. It has a large collection of over 11500 aquatic life, the largest Great Barrier Reef Display in the world and an extensive collection of huge sharks and rays. We dropped our luggage at Metro Hotel, a decent 3-star accommodation on Pitt Street close to the majors attractions like the Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Wharf, Star City Casino, Sydney Entertainment Centre and the Paddy's Markets. We took an evening harbour cruise with Captain Cook Cruises which takes you through all the best known landmarks – a great cruise to opt for to orient oneself with the city attractions and their locations. In the evening we took a short 10 minute walk to the Sydney Tower for a fantastic dinner at the revolving Sydney Tower Restaurant. A great option for Honeymooners who can dine along with getting 3600 views of Sydney.

 

Seal Show            Red Kangaroo at Taronga zoo

 

The next day we were ready by 7:30 am to reach Jetty No. 06 at the Circular Quay to board a 12 minute cruise to Taronga Zoo. Taronga is an aboriginal word meaning "Water View" and it is certainly appropriate to the zoo's location on the north bank of Sydney Harbour with panoramic views across to the Opera House and the skyscrapers of downtown Sydney. There we were met by Arabella Hammond who along with her experienced volunteers took us through the Zoo. It houses a variety of animals and is a real treat for the nature lovers. The attraction I loved the most was the Energy Australia Seal Show, a 30 minute spectacular presentation by the housed seals and their trainers.
We had our lunch at the Toranga Food Market. We boarded our ferry by 1pm to take on the Sydney Opera House Guided Tour. A great tour for those into art and music. Besides the tours, concert shows too can be booked here on prior notice.
The Sydney Opera House has a historic tale behind its making. The irony is that the Danish architect, Jorg Utzon who started building this fabulous structure left it half way and left for home and has not returned since then to see the iconic structure of Sydney in its complete form. The Sydney Opera House is now one of the busiest Performing Arts Centres in the world. Working with a new enriching, interactive audio-visual component, where images are projected onto the fabric of the building – the guides take you on an emotional journey. This is one of the major venues where live performances are held each day.

                       Sydney Bridge Climb

After an enthralling experience at the opera we moved on for something more adventurous. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb is a multi-award winning tourist attraction, taking climbers to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during a 3.5 hour adventure. It was a totally different experience reaching the summit of the bridge and looking on to the city from there. After our 3 hour adventure we rushed to the King Street Wharf so as not to miss out on the Sydney Showboat Dinner Cruise departing at 7.30 p.m. A perfect evening cruise with delicious fusion of style and taste from Sydney's finest seafood to modern international cuisine. Guests are also treated to an extravagant show featuring gorgeous Australian showgirls who have danced their way from the Moulin Rouge to the Showboat.

 

Blue Mountains            Leura Falls

 

Our next day was more relaxed with a full day tour to the Blue Mountains. It is a 2.5 hour drive from Sydney and a must-include tour in any itinerary. It is a captivating world of National Parks, spectacular scenery, awe-inspiring vistas and the grandeur of ancient mountains that have remained unchanged from the Jurassic era. The Blue Mountains derive its name from the fact that the gum trees release oil into the air, which reacts with the sunlight to produce a blue haze.
On arrival we experienced the screening of The Edge- a movie which tells one of the greatest stories of humankind. It is the story of discovery and coming to terms with the ancient, complex world we live in. Later we were met by our Blue Mountain Tourism Representative for a briefing of the day's activities and we were divided into four groups for "The Blue Mountain Challenge". We were given over 50 questions about the places and shops we visit and were to answer it section by section. It was a unique way to familiarize us with the place. We started from Leura, a beautiful village with lots of Gourmet Shops and bakeries and a local Clock Tower.

 

The Giant Stairway, Blue Mountains            George Street, Sydney

 

This is a great place to stroll around and browse fashion boutiques, galleries, bookstores and Bric-a-Brac stores. It also has lovely parks and gardens to enjoy. From there we moved on to Echo Point–it is from here that one gets panoramic views of the Southern Blue Mountains, Kanangra – Boyd Wilderness and the Three Sisters rock formation. In the area there are many lookouts and walks including a path to the Three Sisters Walk and the Giant Stairway. We were told that at night the entire place lights up and I could very well imagine how beautiful it would look.
As our challenge continued, we had to make way to the Scenic World. The Scenic World includes a Scenic Railway, Scenic Cableway, Scenic Skyway, and Scenic Walkway. The Scenic Railway is the steepest incline passenger railway in the world and is entered in the Guinness Book of World Records. The Cableway glides smoothly between Scenic World and the forest floor 545 metres below. Once on the valley floor we strolled through the wilderness of the longest elevated timber boardwalk. The Skyway cable car took us on a 720- metre journey above the ancient ravines and dazzling waterfalls. The end of the day also brought us to the end of our challenge. One of the four teams with the maximum correct answers was to be announced as the winner of the challenge.
Our team stood 4th but the experience we gathered was something to remember. We were back in Sydney by 5.30 p.m. and the remainder of the day was for us to explore and enjoy on our own. We were out of Menzies, our centrally located 4- star hotel very close to the Darling Harbour and the Sydney Sky Tower. We took a stroll on George Street, a very popular street for shopping as it has many shops with great discounts. Christmas preparations had already started and the streets and the malls were beautifully lit up and decorated with Christmas decorations.

 

Hunter Valley Wine Tasting            Hunter Valley

 

The next day we took a full day trip to Hunter Valley where we were escorted by Neil Gordon from APT Coaches who gave us ideas on itinerary planning for Hunter Valley and Port Stephens region. Just 4 hours away from Sydney and with more than 120 wineries, Hunter Valley produces some terrific wines, including the Hunter Semillon and Hunter Shiraz. On the way to Hunter Valley we stopped at the Wollombi Village which had a Tavern and a Museum. This stop is included because as a rule all the tourist vehicles need to have a stop after every 2 hours. After the short break we headed to Hunter Valley and our first stop was at the McWilliams Mount Pleasant Estate where we were taken for some wine tasting.
Thereafter we visited Grand Mercure Hunter Valley Gardens Hotel – a 4.5-star boutique property surrounded by beautifully landscaped gardens with apartment style rooms ideally located close to most of the places to visit in Hunter Valley.

 

Lorikeets Feeding            Bottlenose dolphin

 

We had lunch at The Steakhouse and thereafter we explored the 12 themed gardens at the Hunter Valley Garden of which my favourite was the Story Book Garden featuring timeless nursery rhyme characters. The Story Book Garden is a delight for all ages taking the visitor along on a journey through childhood dreams, memories and fantasies. A number of weddings and conferences are held in Hunter Valley and we had the pleasure of seeing some locals in their traditional garments going to the wineries to attend a marriage in a horse carriage.

We then went to the Hunter Resort for our orientation on wines as to how they are made, the different varieties of wines and the art of wine blending and how they are finally bottled. Of course wine tasting followed thereafter!!

Our next halt was at Port Stephens – an hour and a half away from Hunter Valley. Port Stephens is known as the "Dolphin Capital of Australia". Its bay is home to around 150 bottlenose dolphins that you get to see all year round.

 

                       Australia

 

A quite, friendly place and a must- include for all the tours for water and nature lovers. Its amazing to know how such a small place has so many activity options available for tourism. It is a unique place which offers you beach and cruise activities and at the same time you can even go on a sand dune safari and enjoy sandboarding. We reached our hotel Salamander Shores for dinner which is situated on the water at Soldiers Point and each room has a perfect view of the sea in the front. Every morning at 8 a.m. they have a bird feeding session where Lorikeets come to feed on the bread crumbs we offer them.

We had some site inspections for the day at the Oaks Pacific Blue Resort and the Sahara Trails Horse Riding and farmstay after which we headed for the Shark and Ray Feeding Centre . It was a huge pond with friendly Sharks and Sting Rays who love to be fed by the visitors while they cruise around your feet. And then onto Nelson Bay where we had to embark on our Moonshadow Dolphin Cruise – a comfortable 2 hours 15 minutes cruise with our captain guiding us to view the dolphins as they sped by. The unique feature of this cruise was that after some time they released a net in the chilling waters called the Boom Net and the passengers could have a dip and if they were lucky some dolphin may even be swimming along with them.

 

Sand Dune Safari            Yazneen with World's only Blue-Eyed Koala

 

After this unique cruise experience we went for the most diverse activity which was a 4×4 sand dune safari. It was a confused landscape feature with sand dunes that ended into a sea. The Stockton Bight Sand Dunes need to be seen to be believed – covering an area of 2500 hectares along the 32 kilometre long Stockton Beach. The dunes climb up to 30 metres with slopes up to 60 degrees ideal for sandboarding. We did a few rounds of sandboarding but the ease with which we came down the slope, it was with equal difficulty that we climbed up again. This was the final activity of our hectic yet memorable tour which was so accurately planned for us.

Australia has opened up itself to a lot of tourism which is reflected in the entire setup of the cities. It looked as if the cities aimed at increasing the desire of the tourists to visit Australia. Tourism Australia along with the support from the tourism boards of each state organized this famil to equip us with enhanced knowledge to sell these destinations to our travelers and I am sure that with this detailed product knowledge, Australia will be more effectively promoted by us.


The Great Ocean Road

The Great Ocean Road | Mayur Shah

 

                       Mayur

 

Mayur recently went Down Under to Melbourne and the beautiful region of Victoria. With limited time in hand he booked with Compact Travels for a self drive programme along the Great Ocean Road merely 48 hours prior to departure. Besides, the Great Ocean Road, Mayur also visited Yarra Valley and participated in various adventure activities including Skydiving and Hot air Ballooning. Here he narrates his experience of driving down the Great Ocean Road on a very stormy day. I was on my way to Australia, rather just Melbourne with no itinerary in mind as to what should I do out there for the next 10 days!

All I was told by my girlfriend is that a common friend of ours had suggested a self drive down to the Great Ocean Road. I had no clue what it meant and what was I going to experience on the drive but the sheer thrill of driving in a foreign country was good enough for me to fantasize about it for the next three days before the D-day came by!

It was a Saturday morning when we left to pick up the rental car. I had requested my fellow travel agent friend to give me a good car to drive, probably a convertible, considering it was suppose to be summer in Australia. But like all good things come at a price, I had to suffice myself to a Toyota Corolla (what the heck, it still is a European version and not the Asian model as we have it in India!) and forget about the convertible that would just make matters worse for me financially!

 

Mayur Driving            Freeway Melbourne Hills

 

Hertz was our car rental partner in this great drive. Like I said earlier, the thrill of driving a car in a different country was the exciting part. Guess I spoke too soon about it; the minute I got the car out of the parkway onto the street; it was complete mayhem, as we didn't have a proper map to guide us out of the city. We asked for a detailed map from Hertz; all they could do is to guide us on the map that we had. Luckily, we had borrowed the Melbourne city map book from an acquaintance of ours and that helped us queer our way out from the city, even if that meant skipping a right turn and heading onto another suburb instead of heading for the freeway! Once on the freeway, one has to be careful of speed limits. Surprisingly, inspite of speed limit boards stating 80kms through the freeway, most drivers were speeding around 110kms.

On a freewheeling chat with a local at the next stop (Ballarat), I did find out that travelling at the latter speed was of no problem. Talk about taking unwanted risks in life, this was a life saver as Hertz had noted down my credit card details in order to anticipate speed fines and other rules broken through my drive.

 

Ballarat Sovereign Hill            Bacchus Marsh

 

We reached Ballarat through Bacchus Marsh in record time and were in two minds whether to stop by this place (known for housing the maximum number of Indians in and around Melbourne and known for its replica of an old-gold mining town, where you can pan for gold, explore an underground mine and watch a gold ingot being poured). On a second thought, we just didn't want to do anything but enjoy the drive, coz that's where we put our money worth its weight in gold, I guess! As a traveller, it's very important to have like minded people of similar interest and I was fortunate enough to have one!

Mind you, everyone had told me that it would be summer in Australia, but much to our misfortune, since the first feel of touching base on the freeway, we have been experiencing rain. No mild showers but rain that hits like pellets and that too on a windscreen that had not been insured by us. It so happens, that I opted for a cheaper car insurance scheme for the two-day period as I was on a shoe string budget. I avoided the most trust worthy components of the car that should not fail me during my drive, i.e. windscreen and tyres. However, during the drive, my girlfriend did mention that her colleagues had often heard of windscreens getting cracked due to these rain pellets. Found it surprising but nevertheless just kept me more alert to maintain my speed and not push it further.

Talk about hidden costs, this one took the cake, however I must mention that contrary to the beliefs of petrol being more expensive if bought from the car rental company is a myth; in fact Hertz was cheaper by 28 cents to a litre in comparison to the petrol available at the nearest petrol station! From Ballarat to Halls Gap, the drive was quite lonely- The small towns that we passed by like Ararat and Stawell were quite dead, literally speaking! All these towns look more or less the same. Each one of them is self sustained with all the amenities that any family is expected from a small town. Blame it on the weather which made it look even worse but it just compelled us to carry on with our journey to the next destination- Dunkeld. The road from Halls Gap to Dunkeld was the best time of my drive. It was sans speed cameras, a straight drive with minor curves that involved driver involvement and yet helped me maintain an average speed of 110kms. It just brought out the best of me and my car! Sheer driving pleasure I would say!

 

The Road from Halls Gap to Dunkeld            Warrnambool

 

The road from Dunkeld to Port Fairy was quite lean and though it may look long on the map, it was quite a straight one. Moving on to Warrnambool i.e. the end of our destination for day 1 was that of reaching the destination in a hurry. It was post 3 pm, we were hungry and yes as decided earlier, we wished to reach the place as early as possible so that if the weather permits, we can get a slice of the local town by checking out some of the nearby joints. However, there were hurdles. First and foremost, we saw a Mcdonald's outlet on the freeway; as we were hungry and it also happens to be our favourite joint, we invariably had no choice but to take a halt.

Post lunch, we were able to get to the 'Comfort Hotel' (our stay at Warrnambool) during brunch time! Unfortunately, due to strong winds and heavy rains, it looked as if it was 7pm. After a well deserved dinner and an early crash to bed, we were up and going by 7.30 in the morning sans breakfast! We were keen on appetizing the view that the forthcoming ocean drive would have given us! Our drive to the next destination i.e. Port Campbell was a scenic one and a starter for better things to come.

 

Port Campbell            Colac

 

Unfortunately, the strong winds and heavy downpour the previous evening was just going to turn the tables on the other side. We were caught up at Lavers Hill, after passing by Port Campbell. Weather broadcasts were not suiting our road travel and local people strongly asked us to detour to Colac and head straight back home to Melbourne. I just couldn't fathom this and the long travel was taking a toll on my fellow passenger. Understanding each other is a valuable asset in long road drives and this one definitely took the cake. We did head back to Colac that was a long travel distance of one hour. On reaching the destination that was far away from our original route we wanted to give our last try at a possible re-connect on the main route and enjoying the drive that we had come for.

It was a run downhill back to connect back to Apollo bay and beyond. Call it good fortune for the good deeds done earlier or just call it plain and simple good luck favouring us, we managed to connect back on the great ocean road and much to our surprise, the road was amazing as the weather was sunny, with blue skies adorning the whole topography! Was just too happy to know that luck was on our side and the whole experience of going off track and getting back on-line was worth it.

 

Apollo Bay            White Lotus Esprit

 

To top it all, we saw a white Lotus Esprit, the same car that was in one of the James Bond flicks. Trust me I couldn't help crossing my fingers praying that it would be Mr. Bond (Roger Moore) himself or wouldn't mind anyone of his beautiful women either!

The drive was so scenic and romantic that we had no option but to find excuses just to stop and have a look at the beautiful ocean. It was so beautiful that we lost track of time, heading back to the main freeways, connecting to the beautiful town of Geelong and heading back to Melbourne, the trip was nothing else but satisfying!

 

Geelong            Melbourne

 

Czech Republic by:Subhash Motwani

Kutná Hora

Kutná Hora: The UNESCO mining town in Czech Republic | Subhash Motwani

 

                       Cesky Krumlov Castle

 

Our Editor who was in Czech Republic gives his first hand experience of what you should expect from this place in case you plan travelling this summer.

COMPACT TRAVELS provides a very attractive 9 nights/10 days package to explore two Central European countries i.e. Austria + Czech Republic.Czech Republic is one of the hottest destinations to visit Prague, the historic city and the heart of Europe, you can visit two other exciting towns, the UNESCO World Heritage Town of Ceský Krumlov and the Spa town Carlsbad (Karlovy Vary) which is famous for its film festivals as well.

I share my first hand experience having stayed 9 days in the Czech Republic having qualified as a Czech specialist. Here is synopsis of wonderful holiday you can enjoy by visiting the Czech Republic. You need a minimum of 3 days to explore Prague which is comprising of the Old Town, New Town, Malá Strana (Lesser Town) and Hradcany. The Prague Castle, the biggest Castle in Europe overlooks the picturesque city of Prague which is along the Vlatava River. In the Lesser Town it would be a good idea to take one of the walking tours around this region to see the famous Church of the Infant Jesus. The Jewish Quarter is a part of the Old Town, maybe possible to visit the oldest preserved synagogue in the Central Europe or very impressive jewish cemetery. In fact, Prague has so much to offer that the city's historical centre was added in 1992 to the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage.

Ceský Krumlov on the other hand is also 3 hours away from Prague. This historic town is surrounded by the Vlatava River with the famous Cesky Krumlov castle and chateau combine which forms one of the most priceless historical monuments in the Czech Republic. The amazing city of Cesky Krumlov is one of the few cities which has the Gothic, Renaissance as well as Baroque architectures, all you can see in one town and is one of the reasons that I consider this city as one of the most picturesque cities in the world for the amazing architecture.

On your way back from Cesky Krumlov you can visit the UNESCO village of Holašovice which is famous for its well preserved 18th and 19th century houses or farmsteads built in the Southern Bohemian Rural Baroque style. You can also halt at the fortress town of Pisek which has the oldest bridge in Czech Republic or take a detour to Ceske Budejovice, the original Budweiser Beer Town.Czech Republic on the whole is not only an architectural wonder with over 200 castles and 150 lookout towers but also has the unique record of being the country with the maximum beer consumption in the world and over 50 breweries around the country. Actually, the famous Pilsner beer originates from Pilsen Town which is en route to Munich or Salzburg and is one hour away from Prague.

 

Holašovice            Bone Church

 

You can also find traces of Mozart in Prague as Mozart wrote his famous composition Don Giovanni and performed the world premiere there in Prague.Prague though well known for the old historic Charles Bridge, Wenceslas Square for its night life and entertainment, the astronomical clock in Old town square or the famous Bohemian crystal glass, it is equally well known for the famous black light theatre shows which is a combination of music, dance, pantomime, projection and visual effects all combined to produce a unique extravaganza. For those interested in soft adventure, cycling or traditional caneoing is one of the ways to explore Czech Republic and you have 40000 kilometres of marked walking paths to choose from to explore the country.

Those who want admire natural wonders, it could be a good idea to walk around a labyrinth of sandstone creations in Czech Paradise or visit one of stalactite caves with beautiful natural decoration in a complex of underground domes, corridors and chasms.

For those who love mystery, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take a ghost trail in Prague or visit Kutná Hora to see the famous Ossuary which is located in the basement of a chapel in Sedlec. You find here decoratives entirely of human bones and skulls including a chandelier made of every bone in the human body. So whether it's a spa holiday, a mystery tour, an architectural wonder, a walking tour or even a historical delight, Czech Republic has all of this and even more to offer and fortunately in Mumbai, you have a Czech specialist to guide you all the way to exploring one of the hottest destinations to visit this summer.

         &nbs p;                 Charles Bridge

 

Subhash Motwani – CEO COMPACT TRAVELS
now a Central European Destination Specialist too!

Subhash Motwani has completed a five-day, extensive in-country training program at the American Society of Travel Agents' (ASTA) International Destination Expo (IDE) in Prague, Czech Republic, and is now a Central European destination specialist in Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Germany. "IDE gave me an opportunity to explore the many hidden treasures of Central Europe, and to make business contacts that will ultimately increase my expertise," said Subhash Motwani of Compact Travels in Mumbai.

"Prague is an astonishing city that has a rich history and breathtaking scenery; each tour destination made me want to see more! I'm very eager to share my memorable experience with my clients," Subhash continued.

The IDE is not only an event for travel agents but also suppliers and retail sellers. More than 1200 delegates attended IDE Prague, most of whom reported having made substantial business contacts in Central Europe. "You can't say that you're a destination specialist unless you've really immersed yourself in a particular destination," said Kathryn W. Sudeikis, CTC, ASTA's president and CEO. "One important way to do that is to network with local professionals to gain an in-depth understanding of the culture and environment of a region. ASTA's IDE attendees took advantage of a unique opportunity to not only gain valuable class experience but meet face-to-face with travel professionals from all over Central Europe, who shared a wealth of information, otherwise unattainable."

 

Dancing House

Dancing House & Cesky Krumlov | Subhash Motwani

                       The Dancing House

 

The Dancing House or the Dancing Building prominently overlooks the Vlatava River and is situated at the corner of Rasinova Nabrezi and Reslova Street near the Jiraskuv Bridge and was built by Zagreb-born Prague-based architect Vlado Milunic, who had the original idea for the building, and the celebrated Canadian architect Frank Gehry who had also built the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain which is covered in titanium. The Dancing House which houses several offices is also popularly known as the Fred & Ginger Building. Probably, the architecture was inspired by the legendary dancing duo of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the building houses a fine dining restaurant on the 7th floor known as La Perle de Prague. The restaurant is located on the top floor of this building and offers magnificent views of the City of Prague including the Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge and the Vltava River.

In summer, you can sit outdoors (weather permitting) and enjoy some fine French cuisine followed by sumptuous desserts.If you take a city tour of Prague, you will be traversing the Dancing House. Though on its own, the architecture is unique, it blends well with the Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau Buildings which Prague is famous for.

The site of the Dancing House was originally occupied by a house in the Neo-renaissance style from the end of the 19th century. That house was destroyed during the World War II bombing of Prague by the U.S. in 1945. Its remains finally were removed in 1960. The neighbouring house (with a small globe on the roof) was co-owned by Czech ex-president Vaclav Havel, who lived there from his childhood until the mid-1990s.

He ordered the first architectural study from Vlado Milunic. Afterwards the Dutch bank ING agreed to build a house there, and asked Milunic to invite a world-renowned architect. Milunic asked Frank Gehry, who accepted the challenge as two architects had to construct the building in area of 500 square metres. The construction started in 1994 and the house was finished in 1996.
The building is unique in structure as the construction is from 99 concrete panels each of different shape and dimension, each therefore requiring a unique wooden form. After its construction, there was a public uproar due to its unusual architecture. However, almost 10 years after its construction, in 2005, the Czech National Bank issued a gold coin with the motif of the Dancing House, as the final coin of the series "10 Centuries of Architecture." So, when you plan a trip to Prague do visit the Dancing House from the outside and if you want to visit it from the inside, it wouldn't be a bad idea to reserve a table at the French restaurant on the 7th floor and enjoy some lovely food along with a beautiful view of the city of Prague. Moving away from Prague and the heart of Europe, another must visit place is just 3 hours away from Prague and is a UNESCO town by the name of …

Cesky Krumlov – the world's most beautiful town

 

Cesky Krumlov            River Vltava

 

Ask a local at Cesky Krumlov and they will say that it is undoubtedly the world's most beautiful town. The name of Cesky Krumlov was derived from Old Germanic – Krumben Ouwe which means bent mead or crooked meadow. The course of the Vltava River had attracted Celts to this region in the New Iron Age and the Slavs had first inhabited this region during 6th Century A.D.
The town has a very intriguing history and the town and castle reached its peak of development and prosperity during the Rozmberk era who had their seat at Cesky Krumlov for three centuries from 1302 AD to 1602 AD.

In 1602, the town was brought by Rudolf II of the Hapsburg family and the Styrian family of Eggenberg had their seat in this town until 1719. During this period the Duke Jan Kristian who was a music and theater lover built a Baroque Castle Theater which is the only Baroque Theater is used even today.

 

Baroque Castle            Auditorium of the Baroque Theatre

 

The town had undergone extensive restoration and in 1992 it was included in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites. The colourful tower of Cesky Krumlov has become a famous tourist icon for the entire country and the town has a lot to offer for the tourist such as the elegant Renaissance Town Hall, the Gothic Church of St Vitus, the Baroque Chateau Garden – all of which are magnificent architectural jewels and the town itself has retained its authentic ancient image. Although there have been changes in the town, it continues to create the impression of a place where time stopped centuries ago.
Cesky Krumlov is 180 km south of Prague near the border of Austria and the nearest airport on the Austrian side is Linz which is 70 kilometres away. The first recorded reference to the castle dates from 1253. A round tower and a palace then stood on a rock cliff and today constitutes the Hradek or the Small Castle. A settlement, presently known as Latran, was founded at the foot of the cliff. In 1274, a town was founded on the opposite side of the Vltava River and in the 14th and 15th centuries, the castle was extended and the St Vitus Church was erected.

In the Renaissance period, the Gothic castle was rebuilt as a comfortable chateau. In 1586, the Jesuits arrived in Cesky Krumlov and built a beautiful college (the present-day Hotel Ruze). The citizens of Cesky Krumlov built a brewery on Siroka street which currently houses the Egon Schiele Museum. Examples of the Baroque style are some additions to the Minorite monastery, the Jesuit seminar (a Museum at present) and interiors at the chateau.
However, Cesky Krumlov means more than only an exceptional complex of three hundred years of historical buildings. For its visitors the town is also a cultural, congress and tourist centre. The International Music Festival, The Renaissance Music Festival, and theatre performances take place in the chateau garden.
No wonder that the town is the second most frequently visited tourist destination in the Czech Republic. One of the most impressive experiences during a visit here is a walk through its meandering streets and the square in the historical centre. On your way you will find some of the most famous building including the St. Vitus Church, The Egon Schiele Art Centre which is now a renowned European gallery of modern art. The town is well known for its year round music and film festivals, theatre performances and folklore festivals.

You can enjoy some fine cuisine in one of the restaurants such as the Restaurace Maštal on the Svornosti Square which serves traditional Czech cuisine and the meals are cooked in front of you on an open fire and you can enjoy it with a pint of Budweiser from Ceske Budejovice or the beer of Cesky Krumlov- the Eggenberg ale or black. At times, especially in the evenings, you may enjoy your cuisine with some live music going on in the background. You also have the Pizzerie Latrán which is an unusual restaurant in the historical centre with Italian specialities and a romantic wine cellar.
The Zámecká Jízdárna is located in an impressive Viennese Roccoco Building and is a restaurant with an ambience of a concert hall where you can have large functions organized especially for incentives. In Rytírská Krcma Markéta, you will find a Renaissance Tavern that is part of the Castle Gardens where you can enjoy grilled specialties on the open fire. Whilst walking through the town make sure of seeing the following – The Clad Bridge which is a multi-tiered bridge which connects the Upper Castle with the castle garden; Na Ostrovì which is across the river and a place from where you get a unique view of the castle; the Square or Námestí where you will find the Renaissance town hall which was formed by joining two buildings way back in 1580 and is a very distinct architecture.
The Church street is worth walking down to as this narrow lane is magical and alluring. The Wooden bridge is worth stopping at to enjoy a view of the castle and the Castle stairs lead you to the courtyard of the Cesky Krumlov Castle and en route you can see a family of bears. This region has its own beauty in winter and if you are around Christmas time, it is ideal not only to see the old fashioned Christmas markets in the square but the entire town has an ambience of Christmas with all the historically buildings well adorned during this period.
And you get great value for your accommodation in Christmas. You can go to Hochficht and Sternstein on the Austrian side to enjoy some great skiing in winter. The town of Cesky Krumlov has its beauty and there are people who come here for a day trip and vow to come back to spend days as this town is not only the most beautiful in Southern Bohemia but amongst one of the most beautiful towns in the world. Closeby you can also visit interesting places such as Holasovice – the UNESCO village, Ceské Budejovice- the largest and economically the most important city of Southern Bohemia; the romantic mansions of Hluboká nad Vltavou which is so picturesque as if it is straight out of a fairytale book; the fishing town of Trebon or the picturesque town of Pisek which has the oldest stone bridge in Bohemia.
If you think you have seen Czech Republic by just visiting Prague, wait until you reach the region of Cesky Krumlov and you will wonder how you have missed out on such a beautiful region inspite of being an extensive traveller to Europe.
- inputs by Subhash Motwani, Director – COMPACT TRAVELS and Czech Republic specialist who has visited the region of Cesky Krumlov and the nearby towns and is an expert in advising the discerning traveller of how to make the most of their trip to the region of Southern Bohemia.

Karlovy Vary

Karlovy Vary: The exciting Spa Town in Western Bohemia | Subhash Motwani

Last month, we covered Cesky Krumlov and this month we take you to one of the must visit places located in the north west of Prague around 125 kilometres and close to the border of Eastern part of Germany. Also known as Carlsbad, Karlovy Vary is one of the three Spa Towns which forms part of the Spa Triangle -the other two towns which are in close proximity from Karlovy Vary are Mariánské Lázne and Františkovy Lázne. All the three towns are a few kilometers away from each other. Located in the western part of Czech Republic, Karlovy Vary is located on the confluence of the Ohre and Teplá River. The town has become a very popular tourist destination especially for international celebrities as besides spa treatments it all hosts the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. The recent Hollywood Movie Last Holiday which was released in 2006 was shot in the famous Grandhotel Pupp. The town is so popular amongst Americans that there are cities in the state of New Mexico and California which are known as Carlsbad which is how the town is famously known in English.

The Carlsbad Region is very scenic with wooden hills at the western tip of the Czech Republic and although it occupies a very small area of the Bohemia and Moravia regions, in terms of reputation, it is one of the must visit towns in Czech Republic after Prague and Cesky Krumlov. Besides spa, the town is famous for Becherovka and houses the Jan Becher Museum where you can take a guided tour to find out why Becherovka is one of the most popular liqueur drinks and souvenirs of the region.
It's a good idea to visit the historic cellars and lose yourself in the myriad of unique exhibits and discover the secrets of the special bitter-sweet herbal liqueur made out of medicinal herbs and spices and is one of the extraordinary drinks which not only serves as a digestive but also an ingredient of many cocktails. It is hard to believe that it is in Karlovy Vary that the unique Becherovka is produced for over 200 years and is also known as the Thirteenth Spring of Karlovy Vary as the town was already famous for its 12 springs. The most famous Czech cocktail is probably Beton which is a combination of Becherovka and tonic water, along with lemon juice, lemon and ice. Beton is served in most restaurants that offer cocktails on their menu. A tour of the Museum costs around 100 Czech crowns and is worth every Crown and should be included in your tour to Karlovy Vary. Due to its close proximity to the German border, you will find a lot of people speaking German at Carlsbad and now a little bit of history about this beautiful town.

Carlsbad was founded by the Czech King and Roman Emperor Charles IV around 1350 and this town has grown over centuries and is frequented by spa guests from more than 80 countries around the world. The mineral water from the natural hot springs vary in temperature from 9ºC to 73.4ºC and is used in healing baths, irrigation as well as drinking. The hot springs comprise of important minerals for the human body and its helps in cure of several ailments as well as helps to release the various harmful toxins that are stored in the human body.

In all there are 12 spas in Karlovy Vary and besides being known as the largest and most important spa in the region, Karlovy Vary is one of 4 major cities of Europe which hosts prestigious film festivals. The other three cities are Venice, Cannes and Berlin. The Film Festival in Karlovy Vary is generally hosted around the beginning of July and is attended by celebrities from across the world. Due to the popularity of this town, it has its own international airport which has several charter flights coming in besides regular connections from Prague. The famous visitors to this region include royalties, politicians, who's who from Hollywood, writers, composers, scientists , architects and probably that's one of the reasons that Carlsbad is also known as the city of famous visitors.
Today's appearance of Carlsbad especially the spa centre was influenced by the late 19th Century and early 20th century architectural styles – the revivalist style of Historicism and the new Art Deco with finer touches from Viennese architects Helmer and Fellner. Hence, the town has attracted numerous creative individuals and architects and over 70 well known artists live and work here.

Carlsbad is also a shopper's delight as it is well known for its consumer goods and food production. The best known products of Carlsbad are the porcelain known as the Karlovarsky porcelain; glass from the famous Moser for which the credit goes to Ludwig Moser who founded a company bearing his name in Karlovy Vary in 1857. En route from Prague to Karlovy Vary you can visit the Moser museum which displays some of the finest Bohemian glassworks which have been used by royalties from across the globe including the maharajahs and royalties from India.

Moser is world renowned for its precise hand cutting, engraving gold and platinum painting which has earned this house numerous prizes at world exhibitions and rightfully Moser is known as the "Glass of Kings" as you will find Moser products as an integral part of royal houses, presidents and distinguished personalities all over the world. To become owner of a drinking set bearing the Moser trademark has been a matter of prestige for significant personalities across the world.
Carlsbad is also famous for other products including Mattoni-the famous brand of mineral water and the traditional spa waffles known as Karlovarksé Oplatky. The traditional spa waffles are made from the year 1856 and their superb taste, the delicious aroma and interchangeable lightness reminds all visitors the singularity of the spa mood. Such celebrities like Peter the Great, W.A. Mozart, F.W. Schiller and many others tasted the fresh warm waffles.

Carlsbad has also one of the finest golf course- the Karlovy Vary Golf Course which was built in 1904 and is the oldest golf course in Czech Republic. The city is a fantastic walking town and the various colonnades more than characterize the flavour of this lovely town and people can walk around and drink water directly from the springs. The Mill Colonnade is the oldest and the largest colonnades and was built as a Neo-Renaissance column hall closed by a flat ceiling supported by 124 Corinthian columns.
The most recent of all the Colonnades is the Chateau Colonnade which was built in 1911 on the slope below Chateau Hill and at the centre of this colonnade is the Hot Spring known as the "father" of all local springs. The Hot Spring comes from the depth of almost 2 kilometres along a deep fault and is the hottest one of the region at 73.4ºC and spews about 2000 litres of water. Because of innumerable activities the city of Karlovy Vary has several hotels but the star attraction is undoubtedly the Grandhotel Pupp – one of the most beautiful hotels in Central Europe, a 5 star deluxe hotel with room rates going up to 500 Euros per night for their rooms which has hosted celebrities ranging from Kings, princesses, Presidents of States, artists, scientists and film stars.

Some of the honoured guests of the 18th Century included musical composer Johann Sebastian Bach; Russian Tsar Peter the Great; founder of the modern balneology Dr. David Becher; as well as Austrian Empress Marie Teresie of the Habsburgs. The hotel was very sought after for its serenity; other musical geniuses came to stay in this inspirational atmosphere, such as famous opera composers Richard Wagner, Antonín Dvorák and Ferenc Liszt.

The most famous guests of the "GRANDHOTEL PUPP" are made up of traditional celebrities of the political and movie arena. Amongst recent visitors include American actress Whoopi Goldberg, actor Gregory Peck, Michael Douglas and individuals from political world who have stayed here are President Václav Havel, Spanish King Juan Carlos, Norwegian King Harald and many others.
One thing is certain, when walking up the stairways and the soft carpets of the "GRANDHOTEL PUPP", you can actually claim having walked in the steps of history. Or at least in the steps of those, who created the history and on whom the history depended. The hotel has the works- Spa treatments, conference facilities, finest restaurants, Casino Club and those who would like to get the ambience of the complex and not pay too fancy a price can opt to stay at the adjoining 4 star First Class Parkhotel Pupp. The whole complex has 228 rooms with the Grandhotel Pupp comprising of 112 luxurious rooms and the Parkhotel Pupp having 116 rooms.

So if you are planning a trip to Karlovy Vary, you can contact COMPACT TRAVELS – the only Czech Republic specialist travel company in India which can give you a total travel experience of visiting one of Czech Republic's finest towns which will be etched in your memory for a very long time.
The Carlsbad mineral springs include
• The Hot Spring – Temperature A 72°C, B 50°C, C 30°C
• Charles IV. Spring – Temperature 60,5°C
• Market Spring – Temperature 57,2°C
• Mill Spring – Temperature 55,6°C
• Nymph Spring – Temperature 50,6°C
• Prince Václav – Spring I. and II. – Temperature 65,3°C
• Libuše Spring – Temperature 62°C
• Rock Spring – Temperature 53°C
• Orchard Spring – Temperature 47°C

The following ailments are traditionally treated in Carlsbad:

• Gastro-intestinal disorders
• Metabolism disorders,
• Diabetes mellitus,
• Obesity,
• Gout
• Parodontosis,
• Disorders of locomotive organs.

Carlsbad curative methods:

• Drinking cure,
• Mineral baths,
• Siphoning,
• Peat moss and Paraffin Packs,
• Inhalation,
• Cryotherapy,
• Electrotherapy,
• Hydropathy,
• Traditional and Underwater Massages,
• Oxygenotherapy,
• Dental irrigation,
• Pneumopuncture,
• Acupuncture.

Egypt by:Vini Motwani,Subhash Motwani


Cairo and the Egyptian Museum
| Vini Motwani


Pyramids of Giza | Vini Motwani

Aswan, Abu Simbel and Nile Cruise | Vini Motwani

Nile Cruise, Kom Ombo and Luxor | Vini Motwani

Sand, Sea and Sunshine | Vini Motwani

Alexandria: The Pearl of the Mediterranean | Vini Motwani

Sharm el Sheikh and Moses Mountain | Subhash Motwani

 

France by:  Subhash Motwani

Lyon: The City of Many Treasures by:Subhash Motwani

Lyon: The City of Many Treasures | Subhash Motwani

 

                       Lyon- as seen from the Fourvière Hill

 

 

                        Aéroport Lyon Saint-Exupéry

 

Additionally, I also bought a subway (le metro) ticket which would take me from Part-Dieu which is a central terminal and often the first contact area for visitors who get into the city by train. A single ticket valid for one hour on any public transport costs 1,60 Euros. When in Lyon, you can also purchase a one day Liberte Card for 4,40 Euros which gives you 24 hour access on the trams, buses as well as the subway.

Being a SKAL member has its advantages and M Stephane Robillard, Directeur of the Hotel Mercure Lyon Charpennes was courteous enough to help a Skalleague with a room at a very short notice. The hotel is a 3 star property and belongs to the Hotels de Chaine et de Charme which comprises of a chain of hotels which has 3 hotels in Rhone-Alpes including two in Lyon as well as hotel properties in Normandie, Provence-Cote D'Azur, Paris as well as Luxembourg. The hotel is very centrally located and is close to the Charpennes station and the Charles Hernu tramway. A very convenient place to stay; that too at a close proximity to the public transport systems. After check-in, I took the bus to the Cite Centre de Congres or CCC , about 20 minutes from the Charpennes area. The CCC is a very impressive complex situated in an exceptionally natural environment between the Tete d'Or Park and the Rhone river and is easily accessible by bus from the centrally located Part-Dieu TGV Station .

Lyon known as the gastronomic capital of France is a city located in Central East of France in the region of Rhone Alpes and can be reached from Paris, the capital in just 2 hours on the TGV and there are hourly trains to/from Lyon to the capital.Lyon, with a population of over 1.5 million people is a UNESCO World Heritage City full of surprises and great contrasts with a blend of Roman and medieval history, classic and contemporary located at the confluence of the two- rivers, the Rhone and the Saone. You can walk thru 2000 years of history and the Old Town and its quarters are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lyon happens to be the birth place of the inventors of cinema and a visit to the Museum of Cinema is a must to discover the extraordinary inventions of the Lumiere Brothers. The Lumiere Brothers had invented cinematography and it is in 1895 that they had shot the first film in the history of cinema.

The Lumiere Quarter and the Lumiere Museum will take you back in time to admire the fine work, be it cinema, paintings or photography. You can visit the screening room which has a collection of over 80 Lumiere films, the first "set" in the history of cinematography and the photorama which was invented by Louis Lumiere in 1901 to allow the public to admire photos projected at 360degree and at a height of 6 metres. The fascinating museum is spread over 4 floors and 21 rooms and is worth a visit for lovers of art and cinema.

 

Lumière Brothers            The first movie camera invented by the Lumière brothers.

 

Lyon is a city of several icons from being the silk capital of world and a centre of fashion to the Roman remains taking you back to the Renaissance period and the famous "traboules" which connect you thru ancient streets with courtyards, cornices and alleyways to the Cathedral which was built in the 15th and the 16th Century. The traboules are covered passage-ways that create a real network of secret ways from one street to the next and which give Lyon all its air of mystery. It is amazing to see how different buildings are connected to each other thru vaulted corridors and inner courtyards.

 

1st short film, Workers Leaving the Lumière factory            The Traboules of Lyon

 

Then you also have the fascinating murals which adorn the city and the Halles of Lyon where you would find the famous culinary delights. Old Lyon is immersed in history as it has one of the biggest areas of Renaissance architecture in Europe. The Hill of the Croix Rousse on the other hand is the home of the "canuts" – the silk workers which go back to the times of the Jacquard weaving machines, the historic 4 star hotel of La Cour des Loges which is a blend of history, comfort and luxury which once upon a time was a Jesuit College.

The four buildings that make up La Cour des Loges, were originally built for merchants, bankers and printers during the Renaissance period of the 15th and 16th Century. The main walls of No 2 and 4 Rue du Boeuf (Cattle Street) go back to 1341 and No 6 originally was built for a spice merchant in the 15th Century. The Lord of Burgundy, at the beginning of 16th Century, resold No 2, 4 and 6 to the Jesuits who opened a college in what is today, the annex of the 5th district of the Town Hall and transformed No 2,4,6 Rue du Boeuf into the college annex. After the French Revolution all the Church properties were confiscated and the houses were auctioned and rented as home and ground floor shops. The old section of Lyon of what eventually became Cour des Loges, in the mid-70s, deteriorated and from 1981 onwards, it took 5 years to restore it and today it is one of the most historic places in Lyon. Today, this property is a link between the present and the past, a subtle blend of old and new with the four magnificent buildings dating back to the 14th, 16th and 17th centuries restored to perfection. La Cour des Loges is the first choice of accommodation amongst the who's who, whether they are VVIPs or even those from Hollywood and during the site visit of the hotel, we happen to pass by a terrace- facing suite where Clint Eastwood, the famous western hero, had stayed. A room would cost anything between 247 to 485 Euros per night whereas a suite would cost between 525 and 618 Euros.

 

Terrace facing suite where Clint Eastwood once stayed            Bouchons- Another interesting icon of Lyon

 

No wonder the Cour des Loges is known as the jewel of Old Lyon. It is the combination of centuries and marriages of styles – a subtle harmony between the Renaissance spirit and the contemporary creativity that makes this place so special.

Other famous icons of Lyon include the Guignol- a character which was developed in a French puppet show way back in 1808. A visit to La Maison de Guignol is a must to witness a spectacular show where Guignol amuses both children and adults with his wit and humour. Incidentally the year 2008 is when Lyon celebrates 200 years of the Guignol.

Yet another fascinating aspect of Lyon are the mural frescoes and you will find over 100 of them across the various districts of the city. Some of the murals, also known as trompe l'oeil in French are more than mere art. It is a technique involving extremely realistic imagery in order to create an optical illusion where the objects appear three-dimensional instead of a two-dimensional painting. One such sidewall of building comprising of famous people of Lyon extends up to 7 floors and if you do not observe closely, you may actually feel that there are real people standing in the balcony that overlook the street.

 

                        Guignol- a French puppet in various moods

 

Another interesting icon of Lyon are the Bouchons A bouchon is a typical restaurant which serves Lyonnaise cuisine. They are family run establishments serving locally bake dishes such as duck pate, mushrooms, pork or sausages. The menus are fixed prices and serve locally based dishes in an environment which has hardly changed. In a bouchon you get the feel that you are seated in a restaurant in the mid-18th Century or of an earlier era and you start your meal with an aperitif such as a kir which is a wine with blackcurrant liqueur, followed by the various courses of meals. There are nearly 20 certified bouchons in Lyon and a meal in one of the bouchon is a must to get the flavour of the local gastronomy in an ambience that truly represents the days of the silk weavers visiting the small inns during the 17th and 18th Centuries. And it is indeed quite interesting to know the range of cuisine from bouchons to Michelin Star restaurants such as Bocuse, the famous Paul Bocuse which serves award-winning cuisine. Lyon is truly a gastronomic delight.

A bustling stairway in Lyon or an uncannily realistic mural painting?           

In reality the people and the balconies too are nothing but trompe l'oeil or optical illusion created thru art. It was indeed fascinating to know how the mural frescoes evolved. In the beginning of the eighties, young artists formed a group in order to give more life and colour to the walls. They created two associations: "cite de la Creation" and "Mur'art", found sponsors, obtained the agreement of local authorities, and started to work. You can obtain a list of the decorated walls, which will enable you to go and discover this universe by yourself. There are more than 45 walls which are painted in the city of Lyon, each one having its own significance. The stand out fresco undoubtedly was La Murs des Canuts where you have these steps painted and passer-bys in the area get conned and try to climb the steps not realizing that it is just another of the many optical illusions in the city. Simply amazing !!!

Every year the city is worth visiting on 8th December to see the festival of illumination or lights which is supposed to be simply spectacular. In 1852, a statue of "Golden Virgin" was installed here and the existing Basilica was built by the people of Lyon to thank this holy place for protecting the people during the war of 1870. Every year there are religious pilgrims who visit the Basilica seeking protection from Virgin Mary and there are special celebrations held on August 15th, September 8th and December 8th as thanksgiving and special services are held on these days.

 

 Any visit to Lyon is incomplete without visiting the soul of Lyon, the hill of Fourviere from where you get the most stunning view of the city be it day or night. The Fourviere Sanctuary was built on the site of the ancient Rome Forum of Lugdunum where the Virgin Mary was worshipped for over 1000 years. And the Lyonnais have always looked up on this amazing basilica to protect their city from war and disease.

 

The Fourvière Basillica            Golden Virgin

 

The Fourviere Basilica is the work of the architect Pierre Bossan with a solid structure on the outside giving an appearance as if it is a Fortress on a hill and fine work of mosaics, stained glass and sculptures within the Basilica. The Basilica attracts millions of visitors every year and is one of the busiest sanctuaries and tourist attractions in entire France. I had the opportunity of doing the Visite Insolite de Fourviere tour, which is a Mystery tour which takes you to the roof of the Fourviere thru spiral staircase to get a panaromic view not only of the Basilica but the city of Lyon as well. This fascinating tour is a must for those who wish to get the inside story of what went into building the Basilica and on your way to the top you stop at various levels. One gets to visit the grand gallery, the architects' studio, the angels' gallery, the attic and the carillon of bells. The tour lasts for 75 minutes and one can take this unusual tour every day between June and September and on Wednesdays and Sundays in April, May and October.

The Hill of the Croix Rousse offers another dimension of Lyon as the Croix-Rousse is the home of the "canuts"- The origin of the word Canuts come from "cannes nues" which means bare sticks and symbolizes poverty. It is here that you would find the silk workers in the days gone by and hear the sound of the Jacquard weaving machines.Lyon can also be seen from the banks of its rivers and one can enjoy cruises from the banks of the Rhone as well as the Saone rivers. The Saone crosses the historic heart of the city to reveal the most unexpected neighbourhoods along its banks whereas the Rhone has over 5 kilometres of walkways where you can just take a leisurely stroll and you find en route lawns, cafes, deckchairs, pools, barges, concerts and restaurants and for fitness freaks you have a cycling track, a roller park and fitness circuits as well. A 90 minutes tour to see Lyon from the water is a must for any visitor to Lyon to enjoy the sights of Lyon on a shallow tourist boat which takes you across from the Rhone and drift along the Saone and admire the beauty of the city and see the magical and mythical confluence of the two rivers.

Another fascinating experience is the Lyon by Night tour as more than 300 sights are illuminated and the city changes completely at nightfall with the combination of public lightings. The view from the top of the Fourviere Hill of the entire city illuminated is simply spectacular.

 

Lyon by Night            Danny Glover with Subhash at the ASTA IDE Farewell dinner

 

Last but not the least, Lyon is famous for its fine gastronomy and is home to the undisputed master of French cuisine, Paul Bocuse who has been honoured as the "chef of the century" in the Michelin Guide. You find several gourmet shops here and a fine array of restaurants where young chefs display their talent of creative cuisine not just in appearance but in taste as well. A visit to Bernachon, the house of chocolates run by the third generation of the Bernachon family where they believe chocolate is not a sweet or a treat but a real dish is a must. You are guaranteed to put on a few calories during your stay in Lyon. Luckily enough, you have several walking tours that you can take here to see this wonderful city, be it the parks, the art district, the markets, the Old Town and its traboules and you can simply stroll away all the calories.

Danny Glover with Subhash at the ASTA IDE Farewell dinner

Look out for Beaujolais in our forthcoming travel diary……

SOME OF THE HIDDEN TREASURES OF LYON
Passage Thiaffait or Creators Village is a passageway that houses textile, fashion, leather goods and jewellery workshops as well as boutiques.
For late night dining, fashionable pubs and Lyon style bistros OR bouchons, a visit to Rue Merciere is a must.
The three squares Jacobins, Bellecour and Celestins near the Bellecour area is home to over 70 luxury labels, world-famous brands and fashionable boutiques.
The Lyon Auditorium located in the Part- Dieu district is one of the biggest concert halls in Europe and is the home of the Lyon National Orchestra.
You can experience a tasting session of sea food with a glass of wine at the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse or the covered markets on the weekends except Sunday afternoon.

The Maison de la Danse located in the Monplaisir district is the only theatre in Europe entirely devoted to dancing and also hosts the biennial Dance Festival.
The biggest secondhand flea market in the Rhone-Alpes area can be found in the Canal flea market in the Villeurbanne area of the city.
Lyon is home to several museums including the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Fabrics and Museum of Decorative Arts, The Gadagne Museum as well as the Museum of Modern Art.

Mulhouse:Subhash Motwani


MULHOUSE - EXPLORING SOUTHERN ALSACE & THE AUTOMOBILE MUSEUM
| Subhash Motwani


Chamonix:Subhash Motwani


CHAMONIX - A YEAR ROUND ALPINE ADVENTURE DESTINATION
| Subhash Motwani


Germany by: Subhash Motwani,Kaushik & Sona


Saxony: Dresden and Wackerbarth
| Subhash Motwani

Saxony: Saxon Switzerland, Gorlitz and Bautzen | Subhash Motwani

Saxony: Leipzig and Meissen | Subhash Motwani

Frankfurt, Ruedesheim and Rhine Cruise | Subhash Motwani

St.Goar, Koblenz and Heidelberg | Subhash Motwani

Heidelberg and into Freiburg | Subhash Motwani

Black Forest and Europa Park | Subhash Motwani

Bavaria, Castles and Legoland | Subhash Motwani

Munich and Zugspitze | Subhash Motwani

7 Things We Discovered About Germany | Kaushik and Sona

 

Kenya / Tanzania by:Saumya Motwani

My Kenya and Tanzania Experience by: Saumya Motwani

My Kenya and Tanzania Experience, by our Cub Editor Saumya Motwani

 

                        Cub Editor Saumya Motwani

 

I don't know how to start writing about my wonderful experience to Kenya and Tanzania. It is such a memorable trip that one can never forget. I never in my wildest dream could think of such a place.

In my family there were my dada, dadi, mom, dad, younger brother and me. We were a group of 25 people. All the people were Parsis excluding my family and two other doctors' families.

 

My Dada, Dadi, Mom, Dad, younger brother, me and Darayas Uncle            Giraffe Safari

 

Parsis are very humorous and fun loving people. They cracked many jokes making the trip more fun. I made friends with 5 youngsters who were in their 20s or early 30s. Urvaksh from Melbourne, 2 girls Zinnie and Taronish from Sydney, Phiroze from Amsterdam, and Rayomand from India.

My dad was the tour consultant for the trip and chose all the places to stay for 9 nights and 10 days. Those places turned out to be fantastic. Every night we changed places – a bit hectic yet filled with fun, adventure and a wide range of experiences.

The Kenyans are very friendly and talkative people – especially the cute children. They always wave to us in the jeep and it feels extremely good to wave back at them. We also got a free safari suit and cap to wear for every game drive, thanks to the generosity of Darayes uncle, the leader of the group thanks to whom I wrote down my daily schedule which made it easier for me to go about writing my East African experience.

The day we landed in Kenya, it was very cool and breezy. We landed in the wee hours of the morning and left the airport at 0800 hours after passing immigration.

Our first halt was at 0945 at the giraffe centre. It was amazing. We learned plenty of interesting facts about them. Did you know that giraffes sleep with their eyes open for 25-30 minutes? Another interesting thing is that to defend themselves, they can kick really hard with their hind legs. Their solid kick can also kill a lion. Giraffes are herbivores and they don't have any upper jaws to bite. There are three types of giraffes – Masai, Reticulated and Rothschild.

 

Giraffe Safari            Giraffe Safari

 

The most amazing thing about the giraffes was that we could feed them. But I was too scared to and everyone except me did it including my 8 year old brother.

It was windy, cloudy and we could feel the fresh air with the nature looking so beautiful. The leaves of the trees were waving at me, and I could hear the whisper of the wind trickling in my ear. Everything was gorgeous and peaceful that for a moment, I felt like I was in paradise.

 

Giraffe Safari            Giraffe Safari

 

After a couple of hours at the Giraffe Centre, we headed to Karai King, an Indian restaurant to have an early lunch. After a scrumptious meal, we headed straight to our first lodge at 1400. On the way we saw a few zebras and impalas, and at 1815 we reached the Ark lodge.

 

The Ark Lodge            Sweetwaters Tented Camp

 

We reached around 1845 hours and after checking in, we went for dinner . We finished our food at 1930 and after that there was a small presentation. I gave it a miss and instead we went in the viewing area to see the water hole which was illuminated. Here the animals come in the evening to drink water. We saw a Cape Buffalo and a couple of huge elephants. I was too tired after a long day and went early to bed.

It was day 2 and we got up at 0730 and after breakfast left for the country club which was an hour away from the Ark Lodge. On our way we saw a water buck, a few wart hogs and plenty of cows in the meadow. I wished that our city was as cool and green as Kenya. The people here too are very calm, without any stress or tension unlike the fast pace of Mumbai.

At 1100 we reached the country club for our luggage as we had just carried one overnight bag with us the previous evening whilst heading to the Ark Lodge. We were greeted warmly with fresh orange juice and a warm towel. Thereafter, we went to Sweetwaters Tented Camp which is in the same area known as the Aberdares National Park. On our way, we saw beautiful flowers and interesting shapes of trees , making the place look like paradise.

In some places we stayed in tents and in the others were small hotels in the jungle. At 1230 we stopped on the Equator. It is the line that divides the Earth into the north and the south. On a large poster the word Equator was written and we took plenty of family pictures near it. There were about 14-15 small shops where I bought a bracelet for me and some of my friends. Here we were shown how the water rotates in different directions on either side of the Equator.

 

                       Family Picture near Equator

 

We reached Sweetwaters Tented camp at 1415 and after lunch we had a little rest before leaving for an afternoon game drive. Kenya and Tanzania is home to the BIG 5 and we were indeed lucky to see all of them – the lion, the rhino, the leopard, the elephant as well as the wild buffalo.

As we left our camp, we saw baboons , impalas and zebras. We also visited a Chimpanzee sanctuary where we met Poco – a chimpanzee who is believed to have been captured and caged for 9 long years. Did you know that the Chimpanzee is the animal specie which comes closest to a human being in its appearance and intelligence too? Poco seemed to be ill at ease seeing such a large group and started running from one end to the other, jumping and clapping his hand. We thought he was entertaining us until the ranger told us that he was disturbed as he was imprisoned for several years before being rescued by a lady. Chimpanzees are always kept behind barbed wire fence as they could be dangerous for humans and a strike from a chimpanzee can be fatal.

 

Poco            Dik Diks

 

Did you know that animals live longer when caged or rather captured, because they are fed at the right time and sometimes cared for, though they lose their freedom. They only live for 25-30 years in the wild and much more in captivity. I wonder why the caged animals in India do not live long enough.

An interesting fact about elephant's ear is that they have very big ones to cool themselves. So at 1645 we headed back to our game drive and saw a few water bucks, impalas, warthogs and a crown crane. The crown crane is the national bird of Uganda. We also saw giraffes, a jackal and many pretty, bright and colourful birds. It all was just beautiful. We also saw animals called Thomson's gazelle and grant gazelles. At 1725 we reached the rhino sanctuary. Out there we saw this poor rhino that was blind. He was given plenty of grass and he kept on eating it because though it was blind it could feel the grass. Its grey skin was patched in some places and it looked like a very old rhino. There were so many mosquitoes on it, but it stayed calm, eating the grass. I still have pity on the poor blind animal. Anyway, at 1805 we left from the sanctuary and we reached Sweetwaters Tented Camp. One unusual thing of this trip was that we used to sleep very early every night as we either had morning game drives or morning departures.

It was day 3 and next morning after breakfast we left Sweetwaters. It was a clear morning and we could see Mount Kenya with its snow capped peak. Also further down we spotted a Rhino and a giraffe as well. As we were having breakfast, my brother Shaurya was busy chasing a few storks in the garden. The storks collect around meal time and flap their large wings. We left for lake Nakuru and within 2 hours from Sweetwaters we halted at the Kiawara foothills of the Aberdares Mountain.

 

My brother            My brother with Chameleon

 

At 0810 we departed from sweet waters to the Nakuru Lake to see the flamingos. At 1010 we reached the Kiawara foothills of the Aberdares Mountain Range. We had a short stop to see the majestic Thomson falls and here is where my 8 year old brother upset me. He held a chameleon which creeped up his hand and he approached in my direction and I was quite upset as I like seeing animals and reptiles at a distance and not being too close to them.

 

We and Tribal People            Masai People

 

There were a few tribal people with whom we danced for a while and also clicked a few pictures.

As we headed down from Thomson Falls towards Lake Nakuru, we saw a lot of Kenyans jogging alongside the road and our guide informed us that they were professional marathoners. My dad added that the world champion marathoners originate from this region known as the Rift Valley. I sure believed him as my dad does participate in the Half Marathon in Mumbai.

 

Thomson Falls            Sarova Lion Hill game lodge

 

We reached Lake Nakuru around 1250 hours. We saw the Napier grass grown for dairy farming cattle.

We entered the Nakuru Park and within 40 minutes from the gate we arrived at Sarova Lion Hill game lodge. After lunch, we got a break and I took the opportunity to play some table tennis with my dad. After which we explored the property which was spread at different levels and assembled for a group picture. We then departed for a game drive.

The site of the baboons with their little babies clinging on them was a great sight. Also we saw a few gazelles, waterbucks and impalas too. As we were approaching the lake we saw two big rhinos very close to our vehicle and then we got one of the most amazing sights of the pink flamingoes all lined up in the lake.

 

Pink Flamingoes            Pink Flamingoes

 

It looked like a pink ribbon running across the lake – amazing beautiful. There could be over a few thousand birds stretching as far as the eye could see.

As we were driving along the lake side we saw a few Ostriches and our driver guide informed us how to identify a female ostrich from a male ostrich by its colour. The female is lightish brown and the male isn't. They can run for 35 kilometres continuously, and last but not the least, to protect themselves they either kick or scratch their enemy.

It was a satisfying evening and the picture of the pink flamingoes was still in my mind. I was however disappointed not to see either lions or leopards. However, as we were approaching our lodge we happened to spot a lioness and that really pleased me a lot. We returned to the lodge at 1900 hours and then participated in a tribal dance. It was fun and entertaining to dance with the local tribal people who were very friendly and encouraged us to learn their style of dancing.

 

Kenya Safari            Wildebeests everywhere

 

Next morning we had to get up earlier and leave the lodge at 7 am as we had a long drive first to the Masai Village and then to Masai Mara. We reached the village in 4 hours where we saw the Masai dance and we were thoroughly entertained. We participated in some of the dance steps and also saw the Masai village and the way they live in the houses made of soft mud. As we were approaching the park, we saw a herd of Ostriches and Giraffe, followed by herd of Elephants and antelopes. We also happened to see a few lions, including a few cubs too. Very close to our vehicle was a cheetah and then we saw a few lions feasting on a wild buffalo. We drove to a side of the park where there were several jeeps collected as they could see a kill of a leopard on a tree, although the leopard was missing. The most amazing sight for me besides the wide variety of wild life we could see in a few hours was the beautiful sunset. I have never seen the sky so beautiful coloured with shades of pinks, yellows and oranges. And to add to that we could see a rainbow as well. As we were closer to the Sarova Camp, our driver guide informed us that one of the vans was stuck near a herd of lions who were feasting on a buffalo and we had to head back to rescue them. I was scared for a moment as the lions did look hungry and angry. However, one of the jeeps pushed the van out of the area where the wheel was stuck and we were on our way to the Sarova camp.

The next morning was an early wake up call for us as we left the camp for a game drive on our way to the Serena Lodge. As we were leaving our camp, I saw a few Dik Diks – the smallest of the antelope family as if they were waiting to say goodbye to us and they were the smallest of animals that I have ever seen.

As we were driving towards Mara Serena Lodge, we saw a few wildebeests and giraffes as well. A little further were baboons, impalas and elephants too. I was having the time of my life as it was cool, breezy and the landscape was picture perfect. We also crossed the river known as the Mara river where we saw a few hippos and crocodiles too. One of the crocodiles was sitting with his mouth open as if waiting for an animal to straight walk in. We also reached a point where there was a large stone – and we took group photos as this was the point where on one side is Masai Mara, Kenya and on the other side is Serengeti, Tanzania. We reached our lodge in the evening and it was one of the very interesting lodges as we could see the park from the lodge and could see a few elephants very close to our lodge. There were many colorful lizards and chameleons too around the lodge area and I was careful to get into my room without any wild companion.

Like every morning, the colorful chirping of the birds woke us up and we left Masai Mara early enough to reach the border of Kenya and Tanzania. It had rained heavily the previous night and we drove on one of the most difficult roads and the wheel of one our vehicles got stuck in the soft mud on the way.

Some of my friends got off the vehicle and helped the driver guide to get the vehicle on track. The ride was bumpy and we all had fun with the natural jumps and bumps we experienced as the vehicles were going in and out of several pot holes on the way. I must say that the friends I made were very nice and were carrying cameras with large lenses and they showed me a trick or too on how to click good pictures. I did manage to click quite a few and I may want a camera of my own one day to click pictures and write about interesting places too.

The drive to Serengeti was pretty long and after 5 hours of driving we reached the border of Kenya and Tanzania where we filled a few forms to cross over to Tanzania. We had packed lunches with us and stopped for a meal on the way and reached Serengeti around 1700 hours. We were greeted by several baboons at the entrance of the Serengeti National Park which is believed to be one of the largest parks in Africa. Serengeti is bigger than Ireland and although we entered the park at around 1700 hours, we reached our lodge at 2200 hours. So from the entrance it was a long five hours drive. On the way we saw herds and herds of zebras, wildebeests and giraffes too. We saw a leopard right in front of us on the road and I realized that we had seen the Big 5 by now. As we were approaching the lodge and a few metres after seeing the leopard, it was pitch dark and one of the vehicles had a flat tyre and the driver guide took all steps to change the tyre very carefully as we could see nothing at all except the spotlights of the vehicle. This was the longest drive of our trip but it was the day when we probably saw the most animals in a single day. Next morning we left the Sopa Lodge in Serengeti at 0700 hours and for a game drive. We saw a few vultures perched on a tree, followed by a jackal and then we saw some warthogs, followed by baby impalas, a hippo grazing on land and then we saw wildebeests, more wildebeests and even more wildebeests. They were all following each other for the migration which is supposed to be when all the wildebeests and zebras move from one park to the other. One of the most incredible sights was the 4 lionesses who were resting on branches of the same tree as if eyeing the wildebeests.

 

Lions          Kenya Safari

 

A little further we saw an elephant so close to the tree and my father joked that the elephant was born out of the tree and this is an Elephant Tree. We saw some amazingly colourful birds, one in striking blue known as Superb Starling. I would say it was a Superb Blue bird indeed. We had a full day game drive but we were not at all tired as we saw a lion and lioness on a rock. We also crossed an area where it is believed that the Lion King movie was pictured. We saw a few lions herds of zebra and wildebeests, plenty of birds including crown cranes . That evening as we were having dinner in the lodge, the stewards and chefs sang and danced on songs including Jambo and Hakuna Matata. Yet another interesting day came to an end.

Next morning we left for Ngorongoro Crater and on the way we saw a lion and lioness sitting on a rock and as we went we were told they started to mate and a few other jeeps captured a few interesting pictures. A little further we saw some more lionesses sitting on a rock, this time on a hill, a few zebras , giraffes and elephants too. We also saw lots of wild buffaloes and it was interesting to see several birds resting on one of the buffaloes. We drove across the most amazing area of Ngorongoro before arriving at our lodge. We saw these yellow flowers for as far as the eye could see and between these yellow flowers, the black and white zebras were simply looking amazing. The yellow flowers reminded me of a famous movie I had seen – Dilwale Dulhaniya Leh Jayenge. We also saw a lion very close to our vehicle and we soon reached the Ngorongoro Lodge which had an amazing view of the Ngorongoro Crater. This was one of the best lodges we stayed both in terms of size and location too. I brought a few key chains, bracelets and necklaces for my friends and we then had dinner where again we had some waiters dancing and singing which seemed a tradition at the lodges especially in Tanzania.

 

                       Kenya Safari

 

Next morning as we were leaving the lodge, we were blocked by a herd of lions as if telling us not to go away as it was our last day before we were heading to Nairobi. Our vehicles had to wait for a while before we could pass through for a long drive to Arusha where we had lunch and then crossed the border to enter Kenya. After the border, we all got off from the 4 vehicles and we drove in one bus up to Intercontinental Hotel. It was great fun to be with the whole group in one bus and we played many games on the way. I forgot to mention that the Parsis were leaving the same night for Victoria Falls and South Africa whereas our family along with the doctors' family were heading back home. We could not go as my dad had to be back in Mumbai as he had to plan holidays for many other people travelling thru his company.

Lastly, I must say that every new day was better than the previous one because we experienced a lot and the last day was one of the saddest days for me as my dear friends were leaving. As we had a flight the next afternoon, we visited the Masai market in the morning, went to a mall and had an Indian meal with friends of my dad who had organized the trip in East Africa for the entire group. We boarded our flight and reached Mumbai the following morning at 0545 hours and I must say that this trip to Kenya and Tanzania was one of the most memorable trips with a wonderful group and lots of wildlife and natural beauty which I always will cherish.

Although I was sad, I was glad to know that I would be meeting many members of the Parsi families after they would return from their trip from South Africa as some of them were staying back in Mumbai before returning to Australia and I would get a chance of living my trip once again with them by sharing the pictures taken during the trip.

-Saumya is 11 years and studies in Standard VI of J.B.Petit High School, Mumbai and here she shares with us her first hand experience of having visited East Africa during her summer vacations of 2010.

Poland by:Subhash Motwani

Warsaw

 Warsaw, Krynica Zdroj and Muszyna | Subhash Motwani

It was in March 2006 when I got the first major exposure of Poland, that too in Czech Republic when I attended the ASTA IDE(International Destination Expo) which was organized in Prague and that gave me an opportunity to know about Poland whilst qualifying as a Poland Destination specialist after attending a workshop organized by Jan Rudomina, Director of National Polish Tourist Office, North America.

I also happened to meet a few tour operators from Poland who mentioned to me about a Bollywood movie being shot in Poland. Later in the same year, Compact Travels was the first company in India to introduce a stand alone programme for Poland which included visits to the 3 capitals:- Warsaw- the present capital, Krakow- the former capital and the cultural capital, Zakopane- the winter capital.

It was in Zakopane that a part of the Bollywood movie Fanaa was shot. Although not many leisure travellers were going from India to Poland, we were successful in sending a few people and all of them came back with great experiences of the wonderful country and the hospitality extended to them by the Polish people during their visit.

In 2007, I was invited for a FAM tour in September and I was looking forward to visiting a country of great diversity. I booked my tickets on Austrian which has one of the best connections out of India to Warsaw and Krakow via Vienna. It was on a Sunday that I arrived at 0935 hours at Warsaw Okecie airport after taking the connecting flight from Vienna. On arrival in Warsaw,we checked in at the Sofitel Victoria, which incidentally was the first 5 star hotel built in this historic city which was destroyed during World War II. The hotel enjoys a perfect location with fabulous views of the Saxon Gardens and the National Opera and is a short walk from the Old Town which we would be visiting during the latter part of the day.

After having some fine Polish cuisine at the Canaletto Restaurant at the hotel, we had our first halt at the Wilanow Palace and Park. The Wilanow Park and the facades of the Palace are located in the south of Warsaw. The Palace and Park has special significance as it was never destroyed during World War II and it is 350 years old. It is also the residence of King Jan III Sobieski of Poland who used to spend his summers at Wilanow Palace with his wife and 11 children. When the King died it was purchased by the aristocrats and the owners were forced by the Nazis to leave the Palace in 1944.

When the communists arrived, they nationalized the residence and today it is one of the most famous museums in Warsaw . As we went about seeing the magnificent architecture and interiors of the Wilanow Palace our guide gave us a brief background as to how the city was destroyed during WWII, The Old Town and the Royal Castle were reconstructed and found their way on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
The city of Warsaw is a thrilling and busy city with a hectic and vibrant life. Warsaw today is not only the centre of business and administration but also of science, culture and arts. Several students come to study in Warsaw as they have several private and public schools and you will find young people all around the city as the city is also well known for its Operas, theatres, cinemas, museums and art galleries. This bustling and cosmopolitan city is dynamic and as you move across the new city you see the imposing Palace of Culture and Science which is right in the centre of Warsaw from where you can get a great panoramic view of the city from the terrace of its 30th floor including a view of the Vistula river which cuts across the city. This imposing 234 metres building is a true example of architecture which you would find in the Soviet Union.

The Wilanow Castle itself is approximately 6 kilometres from the city centre and is also known as the Little Versailles as the wife of the King Jan III Sobieski who used to stay here during summers in the mid-17th century was from France. The lavish interiors with period furnitures, portraits and sculptures along with suits of armour are worth visiting. Interestingly, in the middle of the 16th Century the capital of Poland was the city of Krakow and the capital of Lithuania was the city of Vilnius, which continues to be the capital of Lithuania even today and they were united to form the the Polish Lithuanian commonwealth and the second largest state in Europe after Russia.

In the middle of these two beautiful cities was the old provincial town called Warsaw which was appointed as the seat of the Parliament comprising of 170 deputies and 142 senators. The senators were nominated by the King for life and so they built palaces in Warsaw and today you will find some of these palaces along the King's Route and that's where we were heading next to see the residence of the Kings of Poland which was the Royal Castle in the Old Town.

We started by visiting the area of the Royal Lazienki Park or the Royal Baths which comprises of 76 hectares or roughly 142 acres and is regarded as one of the most impressive garden complexes in Europe. Within the park is the stunningly beautiful Palace (Palac na Wuspie) which was commissioned by the last King of Poland- King Stanislaw August Poniatowski as his summer residence. Another highlight is the monument of Frederic Chopin. There are lots of beautiful places to visit within the park such as the restaurant, especially in the winter time as it is a green house. In fact the Lazienki Park is the largest park in Warsaw and links the Royal Castle on the Royal Route with Wilanow to the south. It took the name Lazienki which stand for Baths from a bathing pavilion that was located there. Stanislaw August's Palace on the lake is called a Palace on the Water and was established in the 17th Century.

Our next halt was at the Old Town . The Old Town is full of historic merchant houses, churches and the Barbican- a former entrance gate to the city. The Old Town centre comprises of the Old Town Market square with a statue of the city's symbol Syrenka, the Mermaid in its very heart. In fact, the Syrenka is part of the Coat of Arms of Warsaw which consists of the Mermaid in a red field.

The Warsaw arms has been rendered as a mermaid with a sword and a shield in hand representing Melusina, the fresh water mermaid from the Vistula river. Within the Old Town, you can also see the house of Madam Curie, the famous physicist and chemist, a pioneer in the field of radioactivity, who was born in Warsaw. She was born in Warsaw in 1867 and later went to Paris to study Physics and Mathematics and later in life she won a Noble prize- the only one from Poland to in fact receive two Noble prizes and one of two Polish ladies to receive this honour.
As we walked along the Old Town we saw numerous art galleries and outdoor cafes with hoards of tourist even in September. We were told that the place gets busy as the sun sets and you also find several painters including portrait painters in the Old Town. A good way to visit the town is in a droshky which is a horse drawn carriage. Not too far away from the Square is the Royal Castle situated in the Castle Square and close by you can see the 22 meter column of King Zygmunt III Vaza who in the 16th Century moved the Capital of Poland from Krakow to Warsaw. One of the famous streets in the Old Town is Krakowskie Przedmiescie which means Krakow suburb and is one of the most prestigious and impressive street of Poland's capital.

On this street you will find the Presidential Palace, Warsaw University as well as Polish Academy of Sciences which also has the statue of Nicolaus Copernicus in front of it. The immediate extension to this street is ulica Nowy Swiat, which denotes New World Street one of the busiest commercial streets in the city comprising of shops, galleries and cafes, dominated by 19th Century neo-classical residential houses.
Our tour came to an end and we headed to one of the many Indian restaurants that you can find in Warsaw, known as India Curry- which serves some fine Indian cuisine and is one of the popular restaurants even amongst the locals. We were told that besides serving some fine Indian cuisine, the restaurant also conducts cooking classes for those interested in learning about the spices that go into making Indian food.
The next day was a long day indeed, one of the longest of our tours as we were to head to Kazimierz Dolny and later to the Baranow Sandomierski Castle and finally to the spa town of Krynica Zdroj- one long day ahead for us. Like many cosmopolitan cities, Warsaw too has its problems of peak traffic and being a Monday morning we left a little beyond schedule in the direction of Kazimierz Dolny, a small town located in the Lublin province and on the East of Poland, located on the bank of the Vistula River- the main river of Poland. Although well known for its grain trade in the first part of the 17th Century, the town today still preserves its Renaissance influence and is a very popular holiday destination especially for artists due to its picturesque location and also a popular getaway especially during summer.

Located around 130 kilometres South East of Warsaw, the town is on the way to the Baltic and lies on the right bank of the Vistula River. It comprises of 7300 inhabitants and the town boasts of rich history, picturesque medieval houses, wonderful architecture and fine climate and is a popular tourist attraction frequented not only by the Poles but also by nationalities from neighbouring countries as well. In the town centre, there are fine renaissance buildings, and from the ruins of the castles and the hill of three crosses, one can enjoy a panoramic view of this wonderfully landscaped town. Before our visit to the town we had the opportunity of having some fine Polish cuisine at Stara Laznia Hotel which is 200 metres from the Main square. The restaurant specializes in traditional Polish cuisine and also is a historic hotel as it was built in 1921 as a public bath and now is converted into a hotel comprising of 6 fully equipped rooms.
Our next halt was the Baranow Sandomierski Castle which is an ideal place to visit whilst planning a tour to Kazimierz Dolny. Located in the middle section of the Vistula River, the castle, also known as Little Wawel, was a former seat of the Leszcynski family and was built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries and modelled after the Wawel Castle in Krakow. The castle was designed by Santi Gucci and comprises of a rectangular shaped building of three floors ornated in the four corners with distinctive cupolas.

Although we arrived at dawn and pretty exhausted after a long day getting out of Warsaw and thru Kazimierz Dolny, our eyes lit up seeing the magnificent architecture of this wonderful castle which is now converted to a hotel and is an excellent location if you wish to be pampered in luxury. It is approximately a two hour drive from Kazimierz Dolny and from here one can visit the Baltowski Jurassic Park, the Wieliczka Salt Mine as well as many other interesting sites. After spending an hour at the Castle, we headed for the night to Krynica Zdroj and the famous Dr Irena Eris Spa Hotel, almost a 3 hour drive from the Baranow Castle where we would be spending the night and on the following day doing a tour of the region of Krynica before heading to the winter capital of Poland.
It was the second day of our trip and we already had covered quite a distance from Warsaw which is in the Mazovian region to Malopolska or the Lesser Poland region into the city of Krynica Zdroj which is approximately 400 kilometres south of Warsaw and 140 kilometres south east from Krakow- the Cultural Capital. After one of the longest days of the tour, we arrived at the four star Hotel Spa Dr Irena Eris located at Krynica Zdroj which is a place to spend atleast a couple of nights.

Krynica-Zdroj is a region comprising of 13000 inhabitants and is one of the biggest spa towns in Poland besides being a winter sports centre as well. In fact the region is known as the Pearl of the Polish Spas and the town has also hosted the World Ice Hockey Championship way back in 1931. For over a decade, the mountain range of Jaworzyna Krynicka has become a major attraction especially after the gondola lift was installed here in 1997 which takes you on top of the mountain to give you a very picturesque view of Krynica. Equipped with modern skiing facilities, the mountains are a perfect setting for cross country skiing in winters and mountain biking as well as hiking during summers.
As we were extremely hungry and we had arrived at the hotel almost nearing midnight, we headed straight for the restaurant known as "Sixth Sense" for a late night buffet comprising of a wide range of salads, soup along with a variety of vegetarian and non-vegetarian cuisine with some fine dessert to end a very long day. The Sixth Sense restaurant serves a wide range of Greek, Italian, Hungarian and Old Polish cuisine especially on the weekends and the sumptuous food indeed was a great way to end our day! We were looking forward to the morning to explore more of this beautiful region.After breakfast and a quick site inspection, we headed for the Jaworzyna Krynicka ski station which was in close proximity to our hotel to take the gondola lift up the mountain

During our site inspection of the hotel property, we got to know a few interesting facts not only about the property but also of the region. Krynica Zdroj has over 200 years of tradition and is one of the premier spa areas due to its favourable bioclimate, natural landscape, richness of highly mineralized water as well as centuries old tradition of offering healing solutions to health problems.Traditionally, Polish health spas date back to the 13th Century and the spas are not only for those with health problems but also for those seeking peace and relaxation and the tranquility that one gets to experience in this very picturesque region of natural beauty. Krynica Zdroj is an ideal location for health resorts as it is famous for its medical mineral water springs. The vicinity offers picturesque landscapes of the Beskid Sadecki Range. In winter, it is a haven for ski lovers as there is snow all around and ski tracks with different severities for amateur skiers. The Hotel Spa run by Dr Irena Eris is one of the premier properties of the region and belongs to the International Spa Association

Besides wellness programmes ranging from a weekend to a week long programme, the Spa Hotel also offers yoga programmes, slimming programmes and programmes for "mums-to-be" as well as "just married" programmes for honeymooners at great value starting as low as EUR 1250 per couple (which is a mere 625 Euros per person) and you get a great deal comprising of 5 nights accommodation on a full board basis with complimentary glass of wine during dinners, spa and beauty treatments, massages, unlimited access to all amenities at the hotel, cable car ride on top of the mountain range and transfer from the railway station to the Hotel as well. Besides the "Sixth Sense" restaurant, the property has the Lachowka Chalet where you can enjoy a barbecue along with traditional music from the Polish mountains. Then there is the Lamus Club which provides a relaxing evening with live music on Saturday evenings and you can enjoy some fine cuisine with vintage alcohol and elaborate cocktails till the wee hours of midnight. "By the fireplace" pub is the ideal place to relax after a work out or a trek or hike in summer or after skiing in the mountains during winter.

The hotel also houses a 3 storey Dr Irena Eris Skin Care Institute comprising of 19 treatment rooms including beauty parlours, massage rooms with a complete menu of massages, a dermatologist surgery and a solarium as well. The Spa Hotel is truly the ideal place to pamper yourself in luxury without paying an exorbitant price which you would pay for similar category of luxury resorts in Western Europe.

It was very difficult for us to leave this lovely resort as we were all keen on experiencing a spa treatment however there was lots in store for us on day 3 of Pulsating Poland. We checked out after a healthy breakfast to take the cable car up the Jaworzyna Krynicka Station which is located at an altitude of 1114 metres.As it was end of summer, we had some excellent weather with ambient temperatures ranging around 15°C with lots of greenery around. The best way to go up and get a scenic view is by the cable car, although active holidaymakers can follow a bike trail criss crossing the mountain range or do a hike which will take you up in a couple of hours. Once you are on top of Jaworzyna Krynicka range, you can enjoy some warm beer with honey at the bar on top of the mountain and along with it have some fine polish pastries without feeling guilty, especially if you are burning a few calories after a hike or trek along the mountain range. Interestingly, at the gondola station as well as on top of the range there were statues of various species of dinosaurs, probably indicating that the place was waiting to be discovered from the times of the Jurassic period.
The view from up above is stunning and on a clear day you can get a panoramic view of the Beskidy, Pieniny as well as the Tatra Mountains. After spending 20 odd minutes clicking pictures, we took the cable car back down to head to our next destination- Hotel Klimek which is in another picturesque region of the Beskid Sadecki Range known as Muszyna Zlockie. As we were driving from Krynica to Muszyna, the drive was very scenic as Krynica is located in the south- eastern part of the Beskid Sadecki range and is surrounded by forested mountains in a protected zone which is at an altitude ranging between 550 and 725 metres. The region is surrounded by the remains of the former Carpathian Primeval Forest.

Muszyna is located at the river junctions of Poprad, Muszynka and Sczawniczk Hotel Klimek is a modern luxurious four star hotel which was opened in 2005 and has won a few awards for being one of the finest property of the region. Hotel Klimek is yet another fantastic spa resort with quaint surroundings where you can spend five to six days. This family friendly resort is equipped with a restaurant where we had some fine Polish and European cuisine with ample vegetarian options. Besides, a restaurant and a pub, the property has a club room, a billiard room, a fitness club, a bowling alley, a salt grotto, a tennis court, a children's playground, an open-air grill, wide range of spa services and the highlight especially for the family is the aqua-park within the property comprising of swimming pool equipped with cascades and hydro-massage, air geyser, slide, children's pool, dry and wet sauna, Jacuzzi, needle bath and a saline graduation tower as well.

The highlight for us undoubtedly was the Salt Cave where we took a power nap for about 30 odd minutes before heading to the Mall in Krynica. The Salt Cave is the latest and an original method of using marine salt from the Dead Sea for rehabilitation, prevention and health care. The cavern has a unique microclimate and the air is filled with mineral and microelements. You can simply shut your eyes and relax in deckchairs with soft soothing music playing in the background which relieves stress and rejuvenates you after a short session comprising of a unique color therapy system along with a combination of warm light which stimulates you for the rest of the day. The salt cave has curative effects and ideal for those who come for prolonged sessions of treatments.

Our next stop was the Mall in Krynica which is a row of shops where you get local goods of the region . The region of Muszyna comprises of about 5000 inhabitants and is very close to the Slovakia border and from the 14th century onwards has been an important trade and communication route connecting Hungary with Poland. Later in the 20th century it became a spa town due to the curative properties of the springs at that time.

Our last stop was at the town centre of Krynica Zdroj which is having an architecture from the 19th Century that stays in harmony with the surrounding nature- an ideal place for healing processes. The main sanatoria, the pump room and the spa houses are located around the Dietla Boulevards and the entire atmosphere is unique. We did do some mineral water tasting at one of the halls. The natural water had the essence of the various minerals which cures a wide variety of ailments.

It was nearing 5 pm and we left for the e winter capital Zakopane which is approximately 2 hours west from Krynica at a distance of 81 odd kilometers along the Slovakia border. Zakopane happens to be the place where the famous Bollywood movie Fanaa was partially shot and more about Zakopane and to know where Aamir Khan and the crew stayed during the film shoot of Fanaa, you will read about it in the next issue of Opportunities Today

 


Zakopane

Zakopane, Pieniny and Tatra Mountains | Subhash Motwani

We arrived into Zakopane at around 7.30 pm and checked in at the Litwor Hotel which is located in the heart of Zakopane between Krupówki Street and the town park. Litwor Hotel was the first ever four star hotel in Zakopane and the Podhale region and is ideal for family stays as well as weekend breaks. After checking in at the hotel, we walked to the other end of the Krupówki Street for a folk dinner at Gazdowo Kuznia, a restaurant which is located in one of the oldest buildings in Zakopane which was built in 1891. The place is of historical importance as this place was the site of the first hotel in town. As we entered we could feel the ambience of a typical highlander place and the cuisine served comprised of unique local recipes prepared with the old tradition of Polish cooking- the highlander way.The town of Zakopane which is known as the winter capital of Poland was discovered in the mid 19th century as a poor village at the foot of unknown mountains and today it has grown into a symbolic and significant place not only for people of Poland but also for visitors across the globe. Today, Zakopane is Poland's best known centre for recreation and rest, an excellent cultural and sporting venue and receives over 3,5 million tourists every year even though it has a population of a mere 28800 inhabitants.

The oldest part of the town, known as Nawsie, is full of old wooden buildings and at the intersection of Krupówki and Koscieliska Streets, you will find the first parish church built here known as the Stary Kosciólek or the Old Church. As a whole, Nawsie which is also known as the Old Town of Zakopane forms one of the most important complexes of wooden architecture in Poland. The Krupowki Street where we were staying is one of the most well known pedestrian streets in Poland where vehicles are prohibited. The street is busy especially in the evenings as it is an ideal place to take a stroll, shop around or enjoy some fine cuisine at the various restaurants located along either side of the street. At the entrance of the street is a neo- Gothic style parish church of the Holy Family and has been the main place of worship for the locals. As one moves towards the other end and near the Litwor Hotel, there is a stream of water running leading to a wooden building comprising of the Group of Building Schools where there is a tradition of running a Timber Industry School here since 1876. Another significant building is the Tatra Museum Poland's oldest regional museum dating back to 1889 which has an extensive collection of natural, ethnographic and artistic interests documenting the rich history of the Tatra Mountains.

Today, Zakopane is one of the most popular tourist towns in Poland and it was in the second half of the 19th century that Zakopane was discovered as a tourist attraction. The first use of skis in Zakopane was in 1892 and the first major ski competition was held here in 1909. Later Zakopane has hosted 3 World Ski Championships in 1929, 1939 and in 1962 as well. Zakopane has also hosted Ski Jump World Cups and several Nordic and Alpine European cups.In summer too, Zakopane is an excellent region for adventure activities especially rock climbing in the Wysokie (High) Tatras with stunning views of the valleys and hills surrounding Zakopane. The authentic folklore of the highlanders of the Podhale region is one of the major attractions for tourists. The Krupowki Street itself is a busy place lined up with cafes, jazz and rock concerts in cellars and a very colourful crowd especially in the evenings where you have artists displaying their creativity with fine art, calligraphy and is the ideal place to spend your evenings on this very vibrant street. We met a local guide who had been to India and he compared Zakopane to Manali in India which is up north in Himachal Pradesh.

The following morning we left Zakopane to explore the region of the Pieniny and Tatra Mountains. Our first stop was at the Pieniny National Park and more specifically at the Sromowce Wyzne village from where we would go river rafting on the Dunajec river. The Pieniny National Park which covers 6096 hectares and borders Slovakia was declared a National Park in 1932. In fact the Pieniny was not only the first national park in Poland but also the first international protected area in Europe. The best way to appreciate the attractive and scenic areas of the Pieniny Mountains is taking a raft on one of the wooden canoes down the Dunajec River. Rafting across the Dunajec gorge is the best way to visit the Pieniny National Park. The rafting season lasts from April until the end of October and there are two routes that one can take from the rafting marina located at Sromowce-Katy. The first route takes you to Szczawnica which is 18 kilometres long and is for 2 hours 15 minutes and the longer route comprising of 23 kilometres takes you to Kroscienko which is for a duration of 2 hours 45 minutes. We did a cruise lasting 2 hours as we traversed the National Park; on one side we had Slovakia and on the other side Poland. The Dunajec river is 274 kilometres long running thru Slovakia for 27 kilometres and through Poland for 247 kilometrs covering in all an area of 6804 sq.kilometres.

The Pieniny mountains are mainly built from limestone and you see these perpendicular walls on either side rising from the Dunajec River. The most famous peak is the Trzy Korony or the Three Crowns which rises 982 metres above sea level. However, the highest point which rises roughly 9000 feet is on the Slovakian side. The length of the whole mountain range is about 54 kilometres with a width of around 18 kilometres. The Pieniny also forms part of the Carpathian which is one of the biggest mountain ranges in Europe. The mountain has an alpine character with jagged peaks which are generally covered in snow during winter. The Tatra mountains are divided into three parts: The first part is the White Tatras which is predominantly within Slovakia and is built of limestone. Then comes the High Tatras and are part of the Eastern Tatra Mountains on the Poland- Slovak border. And then there is the Western Tatras which is lower down. In the Polish side of the Tatras there is over 250 kilometres of marked trails for walkers and hikers who wish to explore the area. There are plenty of activities in the area; skiing in winter, paragliding, mountain biking.

You can even go and explore more than 700 caves in the area which are accessible mostly with the help of professional guides. Another popular sport in the Tatras is ski jumping and it was Adam Malysz the famous Polish ski jumper who made this sport extremely popular. Malysz has won over 38 World Cup competitions and was the only ski jumper ever to win the World Cup 3 times in a row. In fact ski jumping is so popular that for certain international events in the Tatras there are as many as 50000 spectators from across the world who come here to witness the event of ski jumping. Later in the day we had the opportunity to see some of the ski jump slopes and children probably as young as 7 and 8 years who were practicing ski jumping probably for some tournament. It was indeed interesting to see the focus amongst these youngsters who wanted to be part of major international events as they were intensely practicing and well equipped with their skis.

One of the most popular peaks of the Tatras is Kasprowy Wierch which is 1987 metres above sea level and can only be reached by cable car. The Kasprowy Wierch summit forms part of the main ridge of the Tatra Mountains and has several walking trails and the region is thronged by skiers in winter. The summit is reached by probably one of the oldest cable cars in the world which was built in 1935. The summit station also has a restaurant and nearby there is a meteorological observatory as well. We were unlucky as the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch was closed in September and was likely to open around Christmas.Hence, on the agenda was to visit the Gubalówka Mountain on the following day which offers a great panoramic view of the Tatras as well.The Pieniny besides being surrounded by the mountain ranges has various species of plants including over 600 kinds of mushrooms. No wonder mushroom is always part of the meal of this region.

There are 6500 animal species within the Pieniny, and I am sure most of them were within the dense forest as we coasted along the Dunajec River. The lynx and the otter thrive in this region. The area has over 34 kilometres of walking paths within the park and from peaks such as Sokolica and Trzy Korony you can get excellent views of the Pieniny, Dunajec and the Tatra Mountains.After 2 hours of rafting, we were all quite hungry and we stopped to enjoy some fine Polish cuisine about 20 minutes away at the Karcma U Borzanka restaurant located in Nowy Targ. Nowy Targ is the capital of the Podhale mountain region in southern Poland and its name denotes "new market". The town is situated at the confluence of the Bialy and Czarny Dunajec rivers.

Karcma U Borzanka is an 18th Century Inn, the oldest in Nowy Targ and specializes in Polish and regional cuisine. The restaurant can accommodate 310 guests in 3 dining halls comprising of a cellar, ground floor and an attic. It is a child friendly place as there is a play ground for children, a summer garden and ample space to park your vehicle. The restaurant serves some fine cuisine and it was a pleasure to experience the warm hospitality extended by Kasia and Andrzej, the owners of the restaurant. This award winning restaurant has won a second place in a competition comprising the entire area from Kraków to Zakopane and from Tarnów to Kalwaria as one of the fine places to experience some authentic Polish and regional cuisine- a must visit for tourists to this region.

Later we headed for Zakopane and we strolled along Krupówki Street before heading to an interesting dinner along with folkloric music and dance at Restaracja Bakowo Zohylinia Niznio. The restaurant is located not too far from downtown Zakopane in a wooden highland building within a garden. We were welcome with some highlander tea and warm wine which was followed by a sumptuous Oscypek or highlander cheese from barbecue and cranberry and Moskol which is the highlander potato pancake with garlic butter which was followed by a wide variety of main courses and some fine desserts. The highlanders indeed have a huge appetite or one must say that they serve a lot and it appeared as if the food was for the kings and royalties looking at the huge portions served during every meal that we had in this region. The following morning we visited the Gubalowka Mountain which is at an altitude of 1120 metres above sea level and is one of the highest points in Zakopane. We took a cable car down hill and thereafter headed to see the Jaszczurowka wooden church which is peculiar to this region and we got to see a lot of typical highlander architecture on our way to the Strazyska Valley where we headed next to see the Siklawica waterfall.

Zakopane is one of the very few places in Poland where the old tradition is being practiced of wearing the old traditional costumes and you will find in many traditional restaurants of the region where these costumes are worn by the people as well as they are worn during special occasions such as weddings and festivals and you will find the folk music being played at various restaurants which is peculiar to this area. In August every year there is an International Festival of Highland Folklore in Zakopane which runs for about 2 weeks where groups from different parts of Europe and as far as even Tibet come and participate.

Interestingly, the lowest part of the town in Zakopane is at an altitude of 800 metres and due to its topography, you are walking either uphill or downhill and you do not have any areas where there are flat walks in the region. On our arrival at the Tatra National Park, which is located in the southern part and borders Slovakia, we took a short stroll to the Strazyska Valley to see the waterfall. The Tatrzañski or Tatra National Park has around 250 kilometres of marked trails and within the park there are valleys which start at the northern limits of the Tatras. The Tatra National Park along with is Slovak equivalent is part of the UNESCO's biosphere preserve today. There are various valleys such as the Bailego Valley, the Dolina ku Dziurze or towards the Hole Valley but with limited time in hand we took a short stroll along the Strazyska Valley which undoubtedly is the most popular and one of the most scenic valleys within the national park.

The trail comprises of rich beech-fir forest where you find dolomite rock protrudes and on the way back we stopped at one of the shepherd's huts which houses a small cafe to have a warm cup of tea as it does get a bit nippy in the midst of the forest especially in September. The entire walk was indeed refreshing and built the necessary appetite for lunch at the Belvedere Hotel. En route we did a brief halt at Wielka Krokiew, the ski jumping site to click a few pictures and also admire the intensity with which young children were practicing ski jumps on slopes built to challenge amateurs as well as professionals. Wielka Krokiew is not only a regular ski jumping site hosting World Cup level events but it is also historical as in 1997, Pope John Paul II celebrated a mass at the hill station during his visit to this native country. Ski jump is as popular in this region as cricket is in India. Our last halt en route was at the historic Belvedere Hotel which is a 4 star property, undoubtedly the best hotel in Zakopane where Aamir Khan, Kajol and the crew of Fanaa, the Bollywood movie stayed during the film shoot at one of the most stunning locations of Poland.

The Belvedere Hotel is located in the vicinity of the Tatra Mountains National Park and is an ideal place to relax. The hotel is fully equipped with spa, swimming pool as well as a rejuvenation centre comprising of a Health and Beauty institute, an aqua thermal centre and for lovers of sports, there is virtual golf, bowling as well as pool billiards on offer. There are several conferences organized here all year round as there are excellent conference facilities available. There are some fine restaurants and we lunched at the mountain view terrace restaurant which offers excellent regional cuisine and fantastic view of the mountains close by where you can go skiing in the winter season.The highlight for me on the last day in Zakopane before heading for Krakow was undoubtedly the wooden church of Jaszczurowka with its chapel which was built around 100 years ago and is a masterpiece of fine wooden architecture. The shingled steep roofed structure was put together without use of any nails and is part of the wooden trail in Poland and has also been added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1993 along with five other wooden churches in Southern Poland. An abundance of high quality timber was used to built its interiors and the walls and ceilings are covered with woodcarvings dating back to the 15th century.After lunch we headed to the cultural capital and one of the most beautiful cities of Poland- Krakow, and in our next issue we will be featuring Krakow along with another UNESCO site, the Wieliczka Salt Mine

Krakow:Cultural

Krakow: The Cultural and Tourism Capital of Poland | Subhash Motwani

After getting various glimpses of what Poland has to offer, our last leg of the itinerary before returning back to Warsaw for our onward flight was a visit to Krakow, which is undoubtedly Poland's tourism and cultural capital Krakow was also the former capital of Poland between the 11th and the 17th Century. Krakow lies to the south of Poland on the Vistula River and the drive from Zakopane to Krakow takes a little over 2 hours to cover the distance of 110 kilometres. We arrived into Krakow at around 7.00 pm and on arrival checked in at the Andel's Hotel Cracow, which is centrally located near Krakow's beautiful Old Town, merely 100 meters from the train station and more importantly for the shopaholics from India, it is just opposite Krakow's newest shopping centre.

We were impressed by the chic and contemporary design of the property right from the lobby to the restaurants and the rooms of the hotel as the Andel's in Krakow was designed by a famous duo of architects Jestico + Whiles who had also designed the first Andel's Hotel in Prague and also the PVR multiplexes in Gurgaon, Hyderabad and Juhu, Mumbai amongst a wide range of other international marvels of architecture. Not only the lobby was impressive, but the rooms too had contemporary design and were fully equipped with a 32? flat screen TV, DVD player, WLAN, full climate control, minibar, safe and a spacious bathroom as well. This fine 4 star property is highly recommended for those who want to stay in the city centre in close proximity to the Old Town as well as close to the main station and shopping centre. Commuting within Krakow is very convenient as a single trip ticket valid on a bus or a tram costs 2.50 PLN (Polish Zlotys) which is equivalent to INR 45 approx or you could purchase a 24 hour pass which costs 10.40 PLN or INR 190 approx. If you want to explore the city on your own then you can also purchase the Krakow Tourist Card valid for 2 or 3 days that gives you access to public transport as well as free entry in up to 32 Krakow Museums as well. The card is also valid on the city bus route which takes you to Krakow International Airport. A 2 day card costs PLN 45 (INR 820 approx) or a 3 day card would cost you PLN 65 (INR 1185 approx) which would take care of your commuting as well as visits to the museums .

After checking in we took the tram to the Jewish Old Town of Kazimierz for some Jewish dinner. The Ariel restaurant which serves Jewish cuisine with a live Klezmer Music concert has a dining room which seats 50 persons and a meal can cost you in the vicinity of 30 Euros which is approximately INR 1900 .Worth an experience for those who haven't had Jewish cuisine and would like to experience a combo of a Jewish meal and a concert – a unique experience indeed. We had two days in Krakow and our agenda for the first half of the following day was to visit the UNESCO enlisted Wieliczka Salt Mine. Located 10 kilometres from Krakow, you can reach the Salt mines by a local train or a minibus and it takes you 40 minutes to reach the oldest salt establishment in Poland which has been functioning since the Middle Ages and today is one of the most popular Polish tourist attraction receiving over 1 million visitors every year.

The Salt Mine at Wieliczka was enlisted with UNESCO in 1978 and in 1994 was acknowledged as a National History Monument by the President of Poland. Spread over 9 levels underground, the mine reaches to the depth of 327 metres and consists of over 300 kilometres of corridors comprising of more than 3000 chambers. The tourist route is accessible for a stretch of 3.5 kilometres located from 60 to 135 metres below ground level. This architectural marvel comprises of underground lakes and excavations, chapels carved in salt, sculptures and bas-reliefs which leaves every visitor in awe especially to see life in an underground city with a restaurant, a post office, telephone booths and souvenir shops with internet access and use of mobile phones at 125 metres below ground level, thus providing the right blend of tradition with technology.

There are salt mines across the world, but what makes Wieliczka special is that besides being one of the oldest mines, the mine itself is so enormous and comprises of magnificent sculptures made of salt. The salt mine has the unique distinction of being featured in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first ever underground hot air balloon flight was performed in one of its enormous chambers. Also the first ever underground bungee jump has taken place within the Salt Mine and that tells you the depth of each chamber within the Salt Mine. The Salt Mine has been host to some famous personalities such as Copernicus, Pope John Paul II and Goethe, to name a few. The most beautiful of all the chambers is the one which houses the St. Kinga's Chapel as well as a reproduction of Da Vinci's The Last Supper which is simply stunning. The chamber has hosted many weddings and parties and are ornated with chandeliers which illuminates the fine work around the chamber. The floor is of course, salt, but it appears to be as smooth as marble and the masterpieces on display took 3 miners almost 70 years to complete. The chamber was laid out in 1896 after the excavation of a huge green salt block and is 54 metres long, almost 18 metres wide and 10 to 12 metres in height. The fine work within this chamber is that of the Morkowski Brothers and Antoni Wyrodek.

Salt was mined here in Wieliczka from the Middle Ages until 1996. Until 1772, the salt mine in Wieliczka was the property of the Duke of Krakow and then the king of Poland. Post 1772 and until 1918, the mines were administered by Austrian authorities and then became the property of Poland after Poland regained its independence. A visit to the mine can take almost 2 hours and the mine can only be visited with a guide. The temperature within the mine is stable at around 14 degrees celcius and it is advisable to wear a jacket to feel comfortable during your visit. As it is one of the most popular tourist attractions, the best time to visit the mine would definitely be in autumn and winter as it can get quite crowded during spring and summer.

Social events such as conferences, banquets, weddings, New Year's Eve Ball, concerts as well as sport performances can be organized in the mine. There is also an Underground Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre situated in the Lake Wessel Chamber for those who wish to be cured from upper respiratory tract problems and allergies. To see the entire mine it would take almost an entire week and that too would not be sufficient and although we saw just 1% of the mine, it left us completely awestruck. A visit to the mines is a must for all those who visit Poland and especially Krakow.

After our visit to the mine and a lunch at Pizza Hut, we did a site inspection of one of the most beautiful hotel properties not only in Krakow and Poland but probably across the globe. I am referring to the Copernicus Hotel located on the calm and picturesque Kanonickza Street. This unique property combines the old and the new, its Gothic history is as ancient as the history of the street where it is located. It was opened to the public only in the year 2000 and the building where it is located once hosted the intellectual and financial elite of Krakow which was Poland's capital at that time. Apparently, Nicolas Copernicus, the famous Polish astronomer himself was one of the guests and that's why the name is quite apt for one of the most interesting monuments of medieval residential architecture in the city. During the renovation of this property, objects of historical value were discovered and preserved and today, they are part of its superb interior design and d?r. The hotel comprises of 29 rooms which are furnished in mahogany and exotic woods from Peru and Africa with beautiful Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani rugs that add a splash of colour to its dark hardwood floors of the rooms and hallways. A stay at the Copernicus Hotel is highly recommended for the discerning traveller.

We had time to inspect another hotel of historical importance – The Grand Hotel which is located in the heart of the Old Town, a mere 50 metres away from the Main Square. The Grand Hotel has been in existence since the 19th Century and is one of the finest luxury properties located within a set of buildings that dates back to the Middle Ages. The hotel is a popular place not only with heads of states, monarchs and royalties but also with film crew, actors, writers, scientists and businessmen. The city of Krakow indeed has several properties of historical importance and you need atleast 5 days to explore this beautiful city including its environ such as Wieliczka Salt Mines, and also Auschwitz which is located at the estuary of the Sola to Vistula River in the southern Oswiecismska Valley and was the largest concentration camp between 1940-45 during Hitler's Germany. You could also do a day trip to Zakopane, the Winter Capital as well as visit Czestochowa to see the Jasna Gora Monastery – one of the holiest places in Poland and an important destination from pilgrims across the globe especially to visit the Chapel of the Black Madonna. The Jasna Gora Monastery is located 90 minutes northwest of Krakow and has been the spiritual hub of Central Europe for six centuries and is the third largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world.

After couple of site visits it was time for dinner and we stopped at Pod Krzyzykiem right in the heart of the city for some of the finest Polish cuisine that you will find in Krakow. Krakow is a city for the young and trendy and you find plenty of pubs and bars where you can relax, have a drink and enjoy some fine music till the wee hours of the morning. Krakow has the reputation of having the highest density of bars in the world and you will find hundreds of bars in cellars and courtyards stretching from the Old Town to Kazimierz and although Krakow receives a lot of tourists, most of the places offer extremely good value as we found out whilst going pub and bar hopping. You could get a large beer for 5 Zlotys (PLN). The following day we had lots of exciting tours lined up for us and you will have to wait until next month to find out the details.

 


Krakow:Old Town

Krakow: Old Town, Wawel Hill and Vistula River | Subhash Motwani

 After a long day and a late night, we did a tour of the Old Town in the morning on our penultimate day in Poland and our last day in Krakow. The Old Town of Krakow was built by many generations of artists from Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau times and is truly a treasury of World Heritage. Lined up on Krakow's main square of Rynek Glowny you will find the horse carriages who are in no rush and not far away you see the Wawel Hill which overlooks this beautiful city. On Wawel Hill stands the Renaissance Royal Castle and the Wawel Cathedral which has witnessed the crowning and burial of Polish Kings. Also known as the national Pantheon, this area has also been the place of burial for eminent artists and national leaders.

The St. Adalbert's Church on the Main Market Square of the Old Town and the St. Andrew's Church date from Poland's early Middle Ages, the 10th and the 11th Centuries. The town is flocked by several students across the world as it is a place of higher education and also is the home to one of Europe's oldest Universities- the Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364. We had the opportunity to visit this historic building and later in the Old Town hear the hourly bugle call from the tower of the Gothic St. Mary's Church which has richly ornamented interiors with the high altar carved in wood, a masterpiece of Gothic art. The St. Mary's Basilica is in Gothic style and was built in the 14th Century.

It stands over 262 feet tall and is adjacent to the main market square and the interior of the church is particularly famous for its wooden altarpiece which was carved by Veit Stoss during the latter part of the 15th century and is the largest Gothic altarpiece in Europe. Another famous icon of the Old Town is the Cloth Hall, the Renaissance monument of Commerce and one of the oldest shopping malls which has been in existence for over 700 years in the Main Market Square. Around the square you have over 750 bars and restaurants which lend the old town Krakow its mix of Gothic, Romantic and Renaissance elements.

Nearby is Kazimierz, the area that was once inhabited by the largest Jewish community in Europe and today Kazimierz hosts concerts and exhibitions that display Jewish tradition. Krakow was once part of the "Amber Road" which used to run from Rome to the Baltic Coast along the Vistula River and here you find many articles made of Amber even today and you can get it at a good price as well. Besides being on the trade route, Krakow from the 11th until the 16th Century, was the political centre of Poland as its capital. The capital was later moved to Warsaw in 1596. The city of Krakow is also a great spiritual centre with more than 111 churches and over 20 seminaries. Krakow which has around 770000 inhabitants receives 6 million tourists every year and is estimated to go up to 9 million visitors by 2009.

Krakow's Old Town was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1978. With the largest market square in Europe, historical houses and churches with fine interiors and fascinating history of its fortification, the oldest University as well as the medieval site of Kazimierz with its ancient synagogues and the Wawel Cathedral is what makes the Old Town worthy of its UNESCO listing.
As you drive around the old historical centre, it is surrounded by a narrow dark path which reaches to about 100 metres in width and in some places around 200 metres and which extends to about 4 kilometres. At the end of the 19th century there were demolitions of the fortification remains around the old city centre and what remained were these dark paths. Originally, the old city was protected by tower walls comprising of 6 gates and 43 towers and a large mouth which carried the Vistula river feeding to the nearby mountains. To enter the Old Town you have to drive around it as the Old Town is open for only pedestrians, carriages and vehicles carrying goods for the various stores within the Old Town. Krakow is the only big city which wasn't destroyed during the Second World War. The city was never bombed and there were no battles here.

The Castle became the residence of the Governor and the official residence of the Government when it was taken over by the Germans during the Second World War. Fifty years of communism were very difficult for the preservation of heritage due to the heavy pollution which was related to the presence of the new big foundry and aluminum factory. The state owned the property and most of the houses. After the war, houses were not renovated for 50 years. Everything was renovated mostly after 1989.

Krakow is not only a tourist centre but there are industries as well such as the pharmaceutical industry, information and sciences, telecommunications, centre for the two most important web service providers in the country and there is alsoan electromechanical industry.

Krakow is a big study centre with over 100000 students every year who study in Krakow's schools and Universities, some state owned and some private. The Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest in Europe is where over 41000 students study every year. Recently the University has been extended and new faculties have been added. As we took a short tour of the University, the guide told us that in the late 15th Century a very young boy came here from Poland to study and he was from a very rich family of merchants. He paid for all his 4 years of study in advance and his name was Nicolaus Copernicus. After studying here for 3 years he moved to Italy. From Copernicus times Poland had one of the most famous traditions of Science and Astronomy. Even foreign students study here as some of the faculties are in English and one of the famous faculties is medicine which is cheaper to study here compared to Western Europe or even Scandinavia and on the other hand the level of teaching is very good indeed.

The Wawel Hill was the residence of the Polish Kings from the 11th to the 16th Century and this was built by Italian architects. Krakow was a multi-national city with Italians, Germans, Jews, Armenians, Hungarians, Czechs, amongst other nationalities during the 16th century and it still continues to be one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Poland. The city started its existence from the footsteps of the castle and slowly moved northwards.

After a visit to the Old Town, we embarked on the horse carriage which took us up the Wawel Hill to see the Wawel Castle and Cathedral. It is said that people lived on the Wawel Hill as early as 50000 years ago and the settlements were that of traders with assorted crafts with farming. The rulers of Poland took up their residence here during the early 16th Century and then the splendid Renaissance Castle cum Palace was created. The Wawel Cathedral was the coronation site of Polish monarchs and lies adjacent to the Royal Castle and is the most interesting place to visit with its 1000 year old history. The Cathedral houses objects of art from Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque.

Our next stop was on the Vistula river from where you get one of the best views of the Wawel Hill. Our cruise took us along the Vistula river and after having lunch on the cruise boat we visited the Galeria Krakowska, one of the trendiest shopping malls in Krakow which houses all the well known international brands besides displaying the latest apparels thru fashion shows organized within the Galeria. There are regular events organized at the Galeria and one can spend the entire day shopping and getting excellent deals at better value than you would find in similar malls in Western Europe. We then boarded the Intercity train which took us to Warsaw.

The train ride between Krakow and Warsaw takes under 3 hours. On our last day we had the opportunity to meet some of the local Tour Operators and visiting the Arkadia shopping mall before having our last Polish meal in Delicja Polska which serves traditional Polish cuisine. It was time to say goodbye to our hosts, the Polish Tourist Organization who ensured that we got the flavour of this wonderful country and we also gathered that there is lots more that Poland has to offer to travellers across the globe such as the Tricity along the Baltic coast or the several national parks that this wonderful country boasts of. Many head back home and some of us flew to Berlin to explore the beautiful region of Saxony which lies in former East Germany.

 


Russia by:Megan and Maurice Correa

A Dream Holiday Come True

A Dream Holiday Come True | Megan and Maurice Correa

 

                       Megan & Maurice Correa

 

Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy, the Tsars and the Bolsheviks, romance and intrigue, Dr. Zhivago and James Bond movies, spies, chills and thrills, and finally the Iron Curtain and Perestroika. All this and more, made us yearn to make Russia our next holiday destination. No package tours for us….we were too used to exploring on our own!. But well meaning advice from friends that it was unsafe to travel in Russia on one's own, coupled with the fact that sign boards were in Cyrillic script and English not freely understood, put us in a fix. It was then that we chanced upon Compact Travels. They were recommended to us as agents specializing in Central and East European tours. Since we had already spent days browsing the internet and drawing up a list of places we wanted to see and things we wanted to do, we called them up. We got Puja on the line and explained to her the kind of holiday we had in mind. She was efficiency personified and got cracking on the job immediately.

She gave us a couple of itineraries with costs involved and when we visited Compact Travels for the first time, we finally got to meet the young and dynamic Subhash Motwani. We realized at once that we shared with Subhash a common passion for travel. In the course of our meeting, we used some of his invaluable inputs, to rework the itinerary to include just enough history, culture, adventure, entertainment and time to savour the local flavour and cuisine. Finally, our holiday was beginning to take shape to our satisfaction. Our itinerary became more interesting….we were even sent detailed menus of our meals, which added to the thrill! We had to visit the Russian Consulate in person for our visas, but Puja accompanied us and it was smooth sailing as all our documents were in order.

We left Bombay in the third week of June, and through Compact Travels, joined 7 other international tourists on a tour of Pulsating Poland. It was an enriching and fun experience and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it.

 

Warsaw            St. Petersburg

 

We left Warsaw and flew into St. Petersburg via Moscow. Immigration took a little while as they scrutinize the travel documents and hotel reservations in detail.

We landed in around 9.30 pm to a city bathed in sunlight ! Yes , we had landed during the White Nights, when it is summer and there's hardly any night ! This in itself was an experience!

Our hotel was very centrally located , just off Nevsky Prospect, where all the action lies. After submitting our passports to the hotel desk for registration in accordance with Government regulation, we set off to explore on our own since we were assured that it was perfectly safe to do so . So much for our preconceived fears when we were back home! So we stepped into the street at 11.00 pm with the sun still out. What a glorious sight met our eyes! The streets were teeming with tourists and we felt as if we were in some West European capital. True , the sign boards were in Cyrillic script , but we made note of buildings and monuments and kept them as landmarks to return back which we did only at 1 am. By the way , the city was still wide awake ! I must mention here that our hotel was situated right opposite the beautiful Church of the Kazan Icon, its golden domes glinting in the fading sunlight.

 

Beautiful Church of the Kazan Icon            The Saints Peter and Paul Fortress

 

The next morning, after a scrumptious American breakfast, we were met by Luba, our guide and Elena, our driver, in the lobby. We had a car to ourselves and so started our tour of St. Petersburg.

Cosmopolitan St Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, Moscow being the largest..It is situated on the Neva River. During its history, the city changed its name 3 times, from St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad and now finally , back to St. Petersburg

A city tour included a visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress on Hare Island. The Fortress contains 4 museums including the Peter and Paul Cathedral ( 1727) with its gilded spire and figure of an angel, considered the guardian of the city. The lavishness of the altar, the iconostasis, the paintings and the icons , have to be seen to be believed. The Cathedral is the burial place of practically all the Russian Emperors. In 1998, the remains of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas B and his family, who were shot in 1918, were buried in the Cathedral.

 

St. Isaac's Cathedral            Aurora Cruiser Museum

 

Our next halt was St. Isaac's Cathedral, a unique architectural monument. It's massive dome covered with pure gold , dominates the skyline. It took 40 years to construct and 112 granite columns decorate it from the exterior. Inside, it boasts a profusion of gilt, variegated marble, malachite, murals and mosaics. It can accommodate 14000 people, standing.

St Petersburg is situated on 42 islands, and Vasilievsky or Basil's Island is the largest one. Today it houses the Admirality , and the Aurora Cruiser is a major tourist attraction as it was from this ship that a historic blank shot was fired in 1917, to signal the storming of the Winter Palace and the beginning of the Soviet Revolution.

Perhaps the most outstanding palace complex in St. Petersburg is the green and white fantasy of the Winter Palace or Hermitage on the banks of the Neva. It was the residence of all the Russian Emperors till the Revolution of 1917.. The collection of art in the Hermitage is over 3 million pieces, and it would take years to see it completely.

 

Winter Palace or Hermitage on the banks of the Neva.            Church on the Spilled Blood

 

No trip to St. Petersburg could ever be complete without a visit to the curiously named Church on the Spilled Blood. Its brightly coloured onion shaped domes beckon you fervently, and it is definitely a famed landmark of the city. It received its name because it was constructed on the spot where Emperor Alexander B was assassinated. The cupolas are decorated with bright mosaics, enamels and tiles , giving it a uniqueness difficult to rival. The interiors are covered with masterpieces in mosaic. No tourist can leave without a picture taken here .

St Petersburg is dotted with palaces, churches and cathedrals, each one splendid in its own way. Depending on time and one's interest in history, it is possible to visit them.

We made a spur of the moment decision to include a visit to the Yusupov Palace, a palace filled with mystique and intrigue. It was here, on the night of Dec 16th 1916, that the famous or infamous Rasputin was murdered. .The palace itself is a classic statement of refined wealth and grandeur and even boasts a private auditorium!

 

Yusupov Palace            The Pavlovsk Palace

 

Our time in St. Petersburg was not devoted to just churches and palaces. Since we were there during the period of the White Nights, it was great to explore the streets which didn't turn dark at night. We roamed the boulevards and took in the sights and sounds. Not for nothing is St. Petersburg called the Venice of the North. It has these little waterways and canals and elegant bridges with decorative wrought iron railings and lamps, giving the city a charming look. We took a ride in one of the boats and had a great time identifying the magnificient edifices and monuments !

Soon we were familiar with the local landmarks, be it the pink Stroganhof Palace, (of Chicken Stroganhof fame), the semicircular and imposing Kazan Cathedral, the Catherine Monument, the Merchants Yard converted into a plush shopping mall, or the Bronze Horseman…….the romantic name given to the monument of Peter the Great by the poet, Alexander Pushkin. We made it a point to savour Russia's local gastronomical delights, and to this end we sampled their hearty soups ( borsch ) and Pozharskije…a dish of chicken balls with rice. And of course we downed Russian vodka and had our share of caviar!. A trip to Russia , to our mind, would not be complete without sampling its cultural performances, So we attended the outstanding Russian Circus one day, and on another day ,a traditional cultural show , showcasing their gorgeous costumes and music , and finally a superb Ballet, 'Korsar' at the world famous Marinskij Opera House.

 

World famous Marinskij Opera House            World famous Marinskij Opera House

 

While planning our holiday to St. Petersburg, we had decided that we just had to make a couple of day excursions to the well known summer palaces of Pavlovsk, Tsarskoye Selo and Peterhof. Extensively destroyed by the German troops during World War B, they have now been restored to their former glory. Tsarskoye Selo ( Tsars' Village) is mainly associated with Catherine the Great and Elizabeth. It is also closely connected to Pushkin, Russia's well loved poet, whose monument is given pride of place on the palace grounds. The Catherine Palace is a gilted concoction of frothy blue and white in Baroque style.It's most famous rooms are the Grand Hall with its abundance of gilt and mirrors, and the Amber Room with its amber panels in Warm hues of honey, gold and topaz. The Catherine Park is extensive, with pavilions, lakes, etc.

 

Catherine Palace            Monplaisir Palace

 

The park and palace ensemble of Pavlovsk was a gift from Catherine B to her son , Paul. It is one of the most tastefully decorated palaces and has an extensive collection of porcelain , paintings and furniture. On another morning , we set off for Peterhof, the favourite residence of Peter the I. The 1000 hectare park is dotted with pavilions and ornamental fountains giving the effect of cascades. It is indeed a sight to behold ! Facing the sea is the Monplaisir Palace where splendid parties used to be held. From here, one can also gaze on the Gulf of Finland.

We took an overnight train to Moscow, reaching at the pleasing hour of 8 am. Breakfast came with the ticket, and we were met at the platform by our new guide. In fact, we started our sightseeing immediately. On the topic of trains, I must confess that visiting the metro stations is a must. They are a major tourist attraction with their stained glass windows, icons, chandeliers and mosaics…….almost museums in themselves!

 

Moscow Metro Station            Moscow Metro Station

 

Moscow conjures up images of the Kremlin and the Red Square, of snow and military parades, and we were thrilled to get our first glimpse of the Kremlin across the Moskva river. Later, we actually arrived at the site, and began our sightseeing with a visit to the Armoury and the Diamond Fund.

 

Shabolovskaya Metro Station            Rizhskaya Metro Station Moscow

 

The Armoury is Russia's oldest museum containing precious objects from nine centuries. Here one may gaze on collections of gold, silver and enamel ware with precious stones, liturgical items, and crosses, Faberge's eggs, Russian arms,, coronation outfits of the Emperors and the Empresses, crowns, ceremonial chariots and more. The Diamond Fund is a treasure trove of valuable jewellery and precious stones, diamonds and pearls, rubies, emeralds and sapphires, crowns, tiaras, and ceremonial regalia. It was indeed a feast for the eyes !

 

Kremlin and the Red Square Moscow            The Armoury

 

The Kremlin, formerly a Royal citadel, is currently the official residence of the President of Russia .It is a unique monument of history and culture in the very heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River.. Its beauty and character grew up gradually over the centuries, and hence is rightly called a ' chronicle in stone'. The walls and towers were mostly erected in the 1480s. There are 20 towers in all, the most beautiful being the Saviour Tower. The Kremlin's Main square is the oldest square in Moscow and is also called Cathedral Square. It is ringed by some exquisite monuments of medieval architecture, namely the Annunciation, the Assumption and Archangel Cathedrals, Ivan the Great Bell Tower ensemble, and the Patriarchal Palace. Not far from the Saviour Gate are the administrative offices of the President of the Russian Federation, the Great Kremlin Palace which is today used for holding official receptions by the President, and the Senate Palace which is the official Residence of the President.

 

 

Walking along the beautiful and well laid out Alexander Gardens was a treat…….We were literally walking in the footsteps of former Tsars, and past and current Heads of State! The Red Square is Moscow's most famous square combining churches and civic buildings of six centuries. It brought to mind images of military parades The granite Lenin Mausoleum is in the middle of the square and there is the changing of the guard every hour.

 

Great Kremlin Palace            The Senate

 

One cannot miss St. Basil's Cathedral at one end of the square. It is an irresistible profusion of colours and shapes .The ensemble of onion shaped domes, cupolas, towers , arches and spires, bear a distinctive pattern and hue, and have fascinated visitors since it's construction in the 1550s.

At the other end of the Red Square is the State Historical Museum and the famous departmental store GUM which is like a shopping mall.

 

GLenin Mausoleum Moscow            State Historical Museum

 

Another day in Moscow was spent exploring the streets, and coming unexpectedly upon a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, a personality much admired in Russia. We also visited the famous Tetriakov Museum, which contains a fantastic collection of icons, and the beautiful Novodevichij Covent.

We also made time to visit Kolomenskoye Park This is an open air museum or historical preserve built in the 16th and 17th centuries and used to be a village residence of the Russian Tsars. It is famous for its outstanding wooden architecture, samples of which are brought from all parts of Russia.

 

The State Tretyakov Gallery            St. Basil's Cathedral

 

A visit to Moscow would be incomplete without a walk down the famous Arbat Street with its colourful cafes ,and souvenir stalls with quaint names like ' From Russia with love'. Which brings me to the shopping, of which there is plenty to choose from….be it amber or gold and silver jewellery, hand embroidered clothing or papier mache articles, lacquered boxes and painted wooden Marushka dolls, vodka or caviar and of course beautiful imitation icons .Malls with the latest designer brands are all around. One is spoilt for choice.

 

Kolomenskoye Park            Arbat Street

 

So, as one can see, there is something for everyone in Russia ! We went in the summer when the 'night' is just an hour or so of twilight and the other hours are clear as day, but they say winters have their own breathtaking beauty, so who knows…….our travels might just take us back to Russia one day and we may even undertake the great six day train journey across Siberia ! It's worth dreaming about, anyway !!

 

                       Matryoahka Dolls

 

Scandinavia by:Simran Makhija and Sidharth Makhija

Scandinavian Extravaganza

Scandinavian Extravaganza | Simran Makhija and Sidharth Makhija

 

                        Simran and Sidharth Makhija

 

I had not even heard about this region called Scandinavia until my dad announced one day that we were going there for our summer holidays. At first I thought it would be just a small city with a very low population…. something like a forest, but how wrong the impressions were ! My brother Sidharth and I quickly did some research and discovered that the countries that come under Scandinavia are Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. We further found out about the places we were going to visit during our vacation and discovered that they were Oslo in Norway, Copenhagen in Denmark, Visby and Stockholm in Sweden, Helsinki in Finland, Kiel in Germany and also adding to the excitement was the icing on the cake one more place – St. Petersburg in Russia. These cities claimed to be immensely beautiful filled with greenery, with lots of castles, palaces, theatres, museums and parks. We were thrilled !

We left for our trip to the extravagant Scandinavia on the 13th of May. Our flight was at 2:30 in the morning and we left our house at 11:45pm to catch the flight from Mumbai to Frankfurt which was a 7hr journey to be precise. Personally I hate flying but this flight was acceptable as we were flying by Lufthansa. We reached Frankfurt and had to wait for two and a half hours to catch our next flight to Oslo. Oslo was not a very big city though it is the capital of Norway and the most expensive city in Europe as far as we were concerned. People travel around in trams and on bicycles everywhere There were many shops in the city and my mother and I visited many of them but only window-shopped. We stayed at a 3 star hotel called Anker Hotel Best Western.

 

Oslo            Nobel Peace Museum

 

It was a very nice and a cozy hotel. We just relaxed that evening and decided to sightsee early next morning. We set out on foot exploring the city. We went to the Nobel Peace Museum which was next to the harbour which was filled with tiny sail boats.

The pavements were lined with tulips which looked majestic and which had an exquisite fragrance. We also saw the Royal Palace, the City Hall and other beautiful buildings. The next day we bought tram tickets and went to the Highest point in Oslo which was freezing cold and had a beautiful restaurant which had a den- like appearance. We also went to the Ski park which had a Ski Simulator which made us feel like we were skiing. In the afternoon we made our way to the Vigeland Sculpture Park which had a few hundred different sculptures of men and women. The park was very open and we felt so cold even though we were wearing three sweaters.

 

Oslo Royal Palace            Oslo City Hall

 

Our next destination was Copenhagen which had very pleasant weather. We were staying at a hotel that overlooked one of the canals that line the city. It was a beautiful sight and was very scenic and we even had wonderful rooms with two queen sized beds. We had reached Copenhagen in the morning and left to sightsee quickly as we were going to be there for only a day though we were going to come back after the cruise we were booked on. We went to the City Centre Square, saw the beautiful buildings around and then started strolling along Strotgett Street which boasts to be the longest shopping street with loads of shops which were filled with people. There was lovely weather and we truly enjoyed the city.

 

Vigeland Sculpture Park            Stroget Main Shopping Street

 

Next was the most awaited part of our holiday – the cruise. It was an MSC Cruise ship called Opera. It was very big and beautiful. The first day on the cruise was free as we reached in the afternoon and had 2hrs before sailing. We decided to explore the cruise ship and found that there was a golf course and a table-tennis table on which we decided to and did play everyday. As the ship left the cruise terminal at Copenhagen, we left behind the most beautiful shoreline of Copenhagen. Every day on the cruise we saw a different aspect of nature as we sailed up north so close to the north pole. The sun set only after 10.30 p.m. and at dinner in the formal sit-down restaurant, we had a spectacular view of the sunset every evening form the window at our table.

 

MSC Cruises' MSC Opera            Visby on the west coast of Gotland

 

On the second day on the cruise we arrived at Visby on the west coast of Gotland – is one of the most popular destinations for summer tourism in Sweden. It is also a remarkable combination of idyllic, hundred-year-old small town and a big medieval town. It is a typical Hanseatic town with a ring-wall, has a well preserved street grid, and buildings from the Middle Ages . Medieval church ruins and warehouses blend with the low houses of wood and stone from later periods. The places of sightseeing were St. Nicolai Church Ruins, Trappagatan, Gotland's Fornsal The Art Museum, The Natural Museum, The Powder Tower and The Sea Wall. After we returned back to the ship we relaxed and in the evening went for a show called Sexy and Chic in the theatre of the ship performed by the entertainment team on the ship. There was also the Mr. Pizza contest which was extremely fun to watch.

Stockholm was next – it is called the city of 14 islands and is an exotic city. The harbour area is just beautiful and we had a bird's eye view from a vantage point located up a hill. It is a vivacious tourist destination. The sightseeing places in Stockholm are the City Hall, the Vasa Museum, the Royal Palace and the Drottingham Palace which was beautiful.

 

Stockholm City Hall            Vasa Museum

 

Coincidently on this day the President of Greece was visiting Stockholm and we had an additional treat of seeing the fancy parade in his honour. Back on the ship there was the Grease party organized by the Entertainment Team of the cruise ship where the audience had to elect the cruise's John Travolta and Olivia Newton John. It was very funny as many old couples had taken part and had to act young just like John Travolta and Olivia Newton John and tap their feet to the tunes of the super hit movie Grease.

 

Royal Palace of Drottningholm            Old Church by Carl Ludwing Engel

 

On the fourth day on the cruise we docked at Helsinki which was founded by King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden. It is the capital of Finland and is filled with islands. I felt it was the best place we had visited so far with perfect weather. Helsinki has ample experience of hosting major political conferences. The places that one must visit in Helsinki are the Old Church, Soulmenlinna and Porvoo. The Old Church is the oldest existing church in Helsinki. It was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel and was consecrated on 17 December 1826. It holds about 1200 persons.

 

Suomenlinna            Porvoo

 

We also visited the Rock Church, made out of natural rock and heard an impromptu recital by a group of high school children.

We came back on the cruise ship to once again visit the ship theatre and saw a presentation called Illusion which was all about magic. Then after our dinner there was the Opera Circus where we had to play five games and we could win loads of MSC Opera souvenirs in just a matter of 10 minutes. What made this night all the more exciting was the fact that Manchester United were playing the final match v/s Chelsea, therefore everyone were in high spirits and the gigantic screen that had been set up had a large audience, cheering for both teams.

St Petersburg was awaiting us next. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is often referred to as the Venice of the North or the Paris of the East, but its beauty is really a brand of its own. From the White Nights festival during the mysterious summer twilight to top theatre and ballet productions and concerts on magical winter evenings, the city offers a vibrant cultural life that is second to none. This is a country which was once ruled by a Tsar and Tsarina normally referred to as the king and queen. St Petersburg was ruled by women for 71 years. One can also find a whole lot of souvenirs for cheap prices and can even bargain with the shop owners.

 

Rock Church            Skyline St. Petersburg

 

Stockholm was next – it is called the city of 14 islands and is an exotic city. The harbour area is just beautiful and we had a bird's eye view from a vantage point located up a hill. It is a vivacious tourist destination. The sightseeing places in Stockholm are the City Hall, the Vasa Museum, the Royal Palace and the Drottingham Palace which was beautiful. Coincidently on this day the President of Greece was visiting Stockholm and we had an additional treat of seeing the fancy parade in his honour. Back on the ship there was the Grease party organized by the Entertainment Team of the cruise ship where the audience had to elect the cruise's John Travolta and Olivia Newton John.

It was very funny as many old couples had taken part and had to act young just like John Travolta and Olivia Newton John and tap their feet to the tunes of the super hit movie Grease.On the fourth day on the cruise we docked at Helsinki which was founded by King Gustavus Vasa of Sweden. It is the capital of Finland and is filled with islands. I felt it was the best place we had visited so far with perfect weather. Helsinki has ample experience of hosting major political conferences. The places that one must visit in Helsinki are the Old Church, Soulmenlinna and Porvoo. The Old Church is the oldest existing church in Helsinki. It was designed by Carl Ludwig Engel and was consecrated on 17 December 1826.

 

The Peter and Paul Fortress- Arial View            St. Isaacs cathedral

 

It holds about 1200 persons. We also visited the Rock Church, made out of natural rock and heard an impromptu recital by a group of high school children. We came back on the cruise ship to once again visit the ship theatre and saw a presentation called Illusion which was all about magic. Then after our dinner there was the Opera Circus where we had to play five games and we could win loads of MSC Opera souvenirs in just a matter of 10 minutes. What made this night all the more exciting was the fact that Manchester United were playing the final match v/s Chelsea, therefore everyone were in high spirits and the gigantic screen that had been set up had a large audience, cheering for both teams. St Petersburg was awaiting us next. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It is often referred to as the Venice of the North or the Paris of the East, but its beauty is really a brand of its own.

From the White Nights festival during the mysterious summer twilight to top theatre and ballet productions and concerts on magical winter evenings, the city offers a vibrant cultural life that is second to none. This is a country which was once ruled by a Tsar and Tsarina normally referred to as the king and queen. St Petersburg was ruled by women for 71 years. One can also find a whole lot of souvenirs for cheap prices and can even bargain with the shop owners. The places of tourist attractions in St. Petersburg are the Peter and Paul Fortress, the St Isaac's Cathedral ,the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood and Nevsky Prospect.

 

The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood            Walking on Nevsky Prospect

 

We enjoyed all the sights thoroughly and also visited a lovely souvenir shop where we could pick up some unique Russian souvenirs. This evening the show that awaited us back on the ship was the classical concert and after that we enjoyed a round of karaoke.

The whole of day six was spent on the ship as it sailed the high sea and we played table tennis, mini golf and saw the finale of the shows in the theatre. The show which was put up for us was the circus in which all the previous dancers of all the shows we had seen were dancing for us for the last time. Then the Entertainment Team came on stage and did a small performance on stage which was followed by a tearful Adieu. Each person in the audience gave them a standing ovation for all their effort and hard work they had put in to make this cruise an unforgettable experience. However the best highlight was still awaited and at dinner the crew surprised us when they dimmed the lights and the waiters marched in with flambe dessert which was called Baked Alaska. The setting in the room that night looked stunning and after that we clicked pictures with the personal waiters appointed for each table. The name of our waiter was Juniarta and his assistant waiter was Julius.

 

                       SSimran and Sidharth & The Baked Alaska Flambé

 

Tonight was also the election of Mr Opera, a spoof competition once again organized by the entertainment team. After that was the talent show in which I took part and also won a certificate and medal.

The last day of the cruise had arrived and each person was wishing for it to never end but that remained a dream as we set out to explore Kiel, the last stop. This is a city in northern Germany, capital of the Schleswig-Holstein Bundesland. Located near the Baltic sea the city was the country's long time naval base until the installations were dismantled after the Second World War. It is also famous for sailing events. Every year the Kieler Woche is held, a series of sailing regattas with a cultural framework.

 

Kiel            Little Mermaid

 

All in all this cruise was truly like a dream come true. This cruise was not only international because of the passengers but also because of the crew members, the waiters and the Entertainment team who were all from different parts of the world. I loved my experience on this cruise and hope to come back here next year too. It was a magical experience and I will miss every moment of this cruise.The last day of our holiday was spent back at Copenhagen when, after docking we checked into our hotel, visited the world famous Little Mermaid and then spent the rest of the evening at Tivoli Gardens which was an amusement park with lovely rides including large roller coasters.

We also sat on rides where they were flinging us around from one place to another and that was so scary because we felt as if we were going to fall off any moment and break our heads but that was not going to happen since we were safely harnessed. It was just like the Disney theme park and all of us had lots of fun.

The next morning it was sadly time to go back home and we caught our flight to Frankfurt and from there flew onwards back to Mumbai. This was the best holiday we have ever had and look forward to many more such experiences. We spent a lot of time together and had heaps of fun. Scandinavia was truly lovely !

Simran & Sidharth Makhija are twins in Standard 8 and studying at Greenlawns High School (Warden Road), Mumbai.

South Africa by:Subhash Motwani,The Sri Kumar family,Dinesh Balsaver & Taronish Ghista


South Africa Diary 1
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 2
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 3
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 4
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 5
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 6
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 7
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 8
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 9
| Subhash Motwani


South African Diary 10
| Subhash Motwani


Stunning South Africa Adventures!
| Taronish Ghista


South East Asia by :Saumya Motwani

My South East Asia Experience

 - Saumya Motwani is 13 years and studies in Standard VIII of J.B.Petit High School, Mumbai and here she shares with us her first hand experience of having visited South East Asia during her summer vacations of 2012.

My summer holidays were so amazing that they cannot be described in one word. One of the best I have ever had so far. Though it was hectic still an enjoyable one. We visited Thailand and Singapore. Starting from Thailand our first visit was to a small town Kanchanaburi, then Krabi and finally Bangkok. Every two nights we were changing flights to reach the next holiday spot.

 

oriental-kwai


The first place we visited was Kanchanaburi; it was a small town in Thailand and three hours away from Bangkok. We stayed in a beautiful and peaceful resort called Oriental Kwai Resort that overlooked the river Kwai. There were only twelve cottages in all and our accommodation was in the cottage from where there is a beautiful view of the river Kwai. The resort had a lovely swimming pool and a badminton court. In my spare time I would read a book, go on face book, go for swimming with my dad and younger brother or play badminton with my brother and mom, I could engage myself in so many things that I never even got a chance to say "I am bored". There were five dogs in the resort and my mom is petrified of dogs and to be honest so am I. (Not as much as her though). The dogs were well trained and would not even bark but fear is fear after all, and on the other side my younger 10 year old brother had a blast. He would play with the dogs all day and my dad who loves taking pictures would click thousands of his pictures with the dogs. My mom and dad both love clicking pictures, they are pictureholics but this annoys my brother and me at times.
 

thai-child


The owner of this beautiful resort was a Dutch lady married to a Thai. They had three little girls. One was 5, one was 7 and the youngest and the most adorable one was 3. The little three year old was just not scared of the dogs. She would pet them, play football with them and even climb on their backs. Seeing this fearless little soul my mom and I would get very embarrassed.
 

tiger-temple


One of the most difficult parts of this trip was trying to communicate with the Thai people due to their limited knowledge of English. Majority of them just couldn't understand English; only a few of them could speak as well as understand. We had gone to the famous Tiger temple, where tigers were chained and we would touch them individually and there would be a person who would click a picture of ours. My dad and brother also visited a place called Elephant world, where they bathe the elephants, sat on them and fed them. My brother loved this experience and so did my dad. My mom and me didn't want to go so we just relaxed in the hotel and got a Thai spa done which was very rejuvenating. My dad was forcing my mom and me to come along with them to the Elephant world, but later he thanked us for not coming as there were 15 dogs at Elephant world with whom my brother again HAD A BLAST WITH.
 

elephant-world elephant-world--bathing-the-elephant


We also went to Erawan Waterfall. It was a very small but a pretty waterfall. People were swimming in it but my mom and I avoided and my brother and dad went in the water only for a while as there were too many fishes in it. My mom and dad also got a free fish spa done. They would put their legs in the water and the fishes would eat their dead skin. It was a very tickly experience. My dad tried to convince me to do so, but I was too scared so I just wet my feet in the water.
 

erawan-waterfall


Now coming to the eating part. My mom and I just love Thai curry, so every day we would order at least one chicken Thai curry. After a while we got slightly bored of eating the same so we went out to an Italian restaurant called Belle's Pizza and we had the most scrumptious and hot pizzas ever. We did a little shopping out there as well. So with all these little adventures our lovely stay at Kanchanaburi ended.
 

krabi


Our second destination was Krabi, Hotel Ritz Carlton in an area Phulay Bay. This was a super luxury 7 star resort and staying in such a place is a totally different experience. This was the best hotel. The room was huge, huge is an understatement though. The bed was so big, soft and comfy, there were two lovely bathtubs and our own private swimming pool. I can't describe our room. It was simply "AWESOME". The property was outstanding. It was unimaginably large.
 

infinity-pool-ritz-carlton


Then, there was a huge infinity pool, the biggest I have ever seen so far and my dad, brother and I swam in it for about two hours. We also visited this small town centre of Krabi, near Phulay Bay, Ao Nang that was half an hour away from our hotel. It was like a local market centre and we did quite a bit of shopping out there. We also had dinner in a lovely Thai restaurant.
 

ao-nang


On the second day we went to this place called Hong Island by a speedboat and took plenty and plenty of pictures. My dad, brother and I did partial snorkelling and my mom was sensible enough not to do it. We wore our costumes, but snorkelling was just not our cup of tea and it was a little too tough for us and therefore we came out of the water within fifteen minutes. The main reason was because since it was the jellyfish season my brother got bitten by one and his whole body was itching terribly, especially his butt. So some medicine was put on him and he felt slightly better. We left the island through our speedboat back to the hotel. It was about fifteen minutes away. He felt much better on reaching the hotel and after a nice long bath he did kayaking with my dad, whilst I was in the room reading a book and my mother was resting. In the evening we saw lovely sunset and my dad clicked loads of pictures. On the next day was our departure and I was feeling very sad and decided that I would visit this place again at any cost.
 

sky-park-marina-bay-sands


Then our third destination was Singapore. We stayed in this hotel called Marina Bay Sands. This was a five star hotel and a very busy place. Ritz Carlton was such a calm, quiet and peaceful place and this was just the opposite. Thousands of people coming and going every day. It was a very businesslike place. There were 57 floors and we got a room on the 19th floor. On the first day we went to the sky park which was undoubtedly the highlight of the hotel. The infinity pool on the sky park was an incredible sight. This pool was as big as almost 5 A380 jumbo jets .After admiring the beautiful sky park we went to the mall and did plenty of shopping, since Singapore is well known for it. We didn't go to Jurong Bird Park or the night safari either as we had done all this since we had visited Singapore a couple of times before, but the main reason my dad brought us to Singapore was for Universal Studios since it was not built when we had come before.
 

universal-studio


In Universal Studios there was this experimental Maritime Museum which I thought would be rather boring but I was absolutely wrong. It was amazing. We could colour and shape pots on an interactive screen and then the maximum amount of dollars would come on the screen that was for how much our pot would be auctioned for. At first my pot was sold for only 12 dollars but on trying again it was sold for 495 dollars. Then there were these Thai recipes on another interactive screen which you could send to your email and my mother did so.
 

indian-culture


Various cultures were showcased including India and there was also an interesting 4D cinema. We were in the museum for about an hour and a half and my brother and I didn't want to leave it as we were so indulged in making our pots but finally we had to. Next on list was the Universal Studio.
 

universal-studio-far-far-away         universal-studio-jurassik-park

 

universal-studio-hersheys


Can't describe how wonderful it was especially The Mummy and Transformers ride were the best of them all. All I can say is that it is a must visit. And after universal studios our Singapore trip ended. Our last holiday destination was Bangkok. The name of the international airport of Bangkok really fascinated me. It had an Indian name Suvarna Bhoomi meaning golden earth. So as we reached the airport, after gathering our entire luggage we headed towards our last hotel Rembrandt. It was a four star hotel but a lovely one indeed. The breakfast in the hotel was amazing, the best we had so far, compared to any other hotels. Nice fresh fruits were served to us as well. Our room was also pretty nice. It had a bunk bed and my brother and I had an argument on who will be the one to sleep on top. Since we were staying for two nights we decided that on the first night he would sleep on top and on the second night I would, but eventually I slept down on both the nights. The next day we had gone for shopping. We walked and walked from one mall to another that our legs really started to pain. After all the long walks in the mall we did a very nice foot spa. In Bangkok there is the sky rail that is a public mode of transport. It is a very nice system as it helps to cut down the travelling time, but sadly Mumbai doesn't have it. Finally our trip to Bangkok also ended, and so did our "AMAZING "holiday. This was indeed a memorable holiday, the one which I will never forget.


Spain by:Vispi Mistry

Iberian Peninsular

Iberian Peninsular | Vispi Mistry

VISPI MISTRY is a globe trotter and one of the esteemed clients of COMPACT TRAVELS having travelled to Sri Lanka, Prague, Budapest and recently in May to the Iberian Peninsular and Morocco. His fancy for new destinations is a challenge to our team to go to various extents to do intense research and his next jaunt is going to be the Whisky Trail in Scotland this September.

Although, COMPACT TRAVELS was not offering packages to Scotland, clients like Vispi have become an inspiration- so much that now COMPACT TRAVELS boasts of being expert on advising people to visit Scotland as the Director of Compact Travels has recently completed a Destination Scots Specialist Program thus bringing the total number of specialization to double digit if you include Austria, Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Jordan, Poland, New Zealand and South Africa – a rare feat by any tour company in India. Besides, the above, COMPACT TRAVELS also has exciting package options to Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Russia, Finland, Scandinavia and many more emerging destinations

VIVA ESPAÑA was the call I gave to the charming Puja, the bright executive from COMPACT TRAVELS who has planned and designed many of my foreign jaunts in the last 2 years. Of course, if one goes to Spain then neighbouring Portugal (they share 1300 kms of unguarded border, sigh! wish we could have the same arrangement with Pakistan) and Morocco across the straits of Gibraltar cannot be ignored. So after many debates and innumerable emails our packed itinerary of 20 days was finalized and I am going to take you over an armchair panoramic trip of my 20 days. We flew Air-France to Madrid landing there around 3:00 p.m. – a quick fresh up and off to explore the city. A short ride in the METRO and we landed up in "Gran Via: the main street of Madrid, it's a real hotspot and a very happening street with shops, hotels, theatres and cinema, "paella" and the famous wine based drink the "sangria". The Paella is a tomato gravy based dish, a risotto which is served with boiled rice, seafood and vegetable. You can get Meat Paella too. But seafood is more authentic.

Madrid – the capital of Spain since 1561 is as beautiful as any European city. The same evening we were off on our first Panoramic Coach Tour followed by the local "Flamenco" dance performance and dinner. Flamenco is the national dance of Spain and the dancers have those clappers in their hands with which they click away to the beat of the music. These performances can be enjoyed with a full dinner or "TAPAS", for the uniniated, Tapas means snacks and is equally expensive but very tasty if you like cheese, fish and dry meat.

The next morning we left for our 3-day seat-in-coach package tour of Portugal. The drive to Lisbon from Madrid (approx 650 kms) took 8 hours with a lunch halt at a small town called Trujillo with an impressive square called Mayors' Square. All towns in Spain and Portugal have these squares, which are the beehive of commercial and tourist activities. They all are dotted with shops and usually have fountains and/ or statues. The whole atmosphere with the cobbled by lanes and old well preserved houses transports you four hundred years back in time and this is one thing we sorely miss in India.

LISBON is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and a first class trans-oceanic port. It stretches along the northern length of the banks of the River Tejo estuary, occupying seven hills amongst which Monsanto stands out, with its height of 226 metres.
It was a former Phoenician colony and Roman Capital of Lusitania, being called Felicitas. Julia in honour of Julius Caesar. The city was devastated by the barbarian invasions and in the 5th Century was converted into a stronghold for the Visigoths. The Arabs conquered it in 714 and in the XII century it was taken by Christian King Alfonso.

The next morning we were on a tour of the city which included the tower of Belem, the Hieronomyte Monastery and the 'Padrao dos Descrobimentos' which is a modern structure built to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Portugal explorers discovery of the new world. Lisbon is on the mouth of the river Tejo very close to where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. On our entry to Lisbon we traversed the longest bridge in Europe – the Vasco da Gama Bridge with a length of 17 kms built across the river. The Tower of Belem, built between 1515 and 1521 on the bank of the river Tejo, is a landmark of the city. It was built by the then King Manuel to control the entrance and exit of the city of Lisbon through the water route.

On the opposite bank of the river is the Monument of Christ The King. It is a replica of the famous one in Rio De Janeiro and is an impressive 28 meters tall. The view of the Monument at night is simply breathtaking.

In the afternoon we took an optional tour to 3 lovely nearby towns of Sintra, Cascais and Estoril. Sintra is located on the northern slope of the Serra de Sintra (mountain), between cliffs, woods and natural springs – this town is a haven of peace and greenness. It became one of the favourite place of retreat for the Portuguese Monarchs and welcomed the most outstanding Portuguese people from the world of Arts, such as Luis de Camões, Gil Vicente or João de Barros. In fact, the feeling that one gets on walking around the streets in the old town is that it is a town of artists, because of the amount of handicraft and antique shops that are found with each step.

The heart of the Vila Velha (old town) of Sintra, declared Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 1995, is dominated by the Paco Real (Royal Palace), with its two high and strange cone shaped chimneys. Its construction was carried out in two stages: the first in the reign of João I, at the beginning of the XV century, when they built the bulk of the building, including the main block and the large kitchen under the chimneys which kept the utensils used for preparing the Royal banquets in olden times; the second, at the beginning of the XVI century, during the reign of Manuel I, who increased it by adding various parts and enriching the interior of the palace. On the inside, the most significant collection of Islamic mosaics in the world has been preserved, which in the main adorn – the Sala dos Árabes, the Chapel and the Sala Das Sereias (mermaids). But in the building, the Sala dos Brasões (arms) stands out more than anything else. The vaulted ceiling is decorated with hunting dogs, which support the coat of arms; the Sala dos Cisnes (swans), with its wonderful craftsmanship, the Sala Das Pegas (parrots), whose ceiling is painted with these birds and who carry on their pink beaks the word "por bem" (for good). It is said that João I uttered them when he was surprised by the queen as he was kissing a lady in waiting and so, to put an end to the pieces of gossip, ordered the painting of the vaulted ceiling with as many parrots as there were ladies in waiting in the court.

On the Estoril Coast, a little more than a dozen kilometers from Lisbon, one of the most outstanding Portuguese tourist areas can be found. Known as 'the area of the two springs' due to its microclimate, warm in summer and pleasantly sunny the rest of the year, the coast of Estoril starts at Carcavelos and goes to Guinos, along a line of sea blue, which continues to gently rub the fine white sand of the beaches. There are, however, two towns that shine in this place on the Atlantic coast: Estoril and Cascais. Estoril was formerly a fishing village, barely known for the curative virtues of its thermal waters, but it has become a cosmopolitan place frequented by the aristocracy, full of big houses, modern apartments and luxury hotels. It's elegant international clientele has the opportunity to practice sports such as golf, tennis and horse riding, or go to the Autodrome where the great Formula 1 Grand Prix is held. It also has a school for drivers, which attracts people from home and abroad. At night the Casino, which is high up in the central part surrounded by gardens, offers in its rooms all types of European and American gambling.

Enroute we also passed the Cabo da Roca lighthouse this is the western most point of Europe and a must visit for those interested in saying "I have been there". Cascais was an outstanding port which the prehistoric people – the Romans, Visigoths and Arabs enjoyed, as it has a very protected bay. Cascais achieved its independence at the same time as Lisbon and was granted the title of "Villa" in the middle of the XIV century. It's beginning as a centre for tourism and holidays started in the decade of 1870, when King Luis I converted the XVII century fortress, which was built on a rocky promontory, into a summer palace. One wing of this building is still used as the summer residence of the President of Portugal today.

On our last day in Lisbon, we visited Fatima – the world famous holy shrine of the Catholic faith where the lady appeared to 3 little children. Back in Madrid the next day, we visited the famous Plaza Mayor – this breathtaking square closed with elegant buildings built at the turn of the XVII century, a fully paved 16000 sq.mtrs area which at the time was big enough to hold 1/3rd of the population of Madrid. In the centre of the square is the impressive statue of Philip III built in 1613.

Three days are not enough to see this wonderful city but one cannot come back without seeing the PRADO museum – a real treasure chest of art. It has been the greatest collection of Spanish paintings in the world ranging from the XII to the XIX century. Over 7000 paintings in the possession of the museum can only be exhibited in rotation as there is enough space to exhibit only 1300 paintings at a time. The originals of all Spanish masters – Goya, Greco, Velazquez as well as other great European painters like Rubens, Rembrandt Titian and a host of other masters can be found there.

Another must see of course is the magnificent Real Palace (Real=Royal in Spanish), the elegance and splendour of the rooms will fulfill all expectations. No visit to Spain can be complete without seeing a Bullfight and much over the protest of the ladies of my group (Incidentally, I was the only guy) we went to the fight in the biggest bullring in Spain, which is in Madrid. The stadium with a capacity of 23000 seats was overflowing with locals going hoarse and applauding the bullfighters skill and dexterity as they speared one bull after another – totally six bulls went down in the entire evening. Of course to us Indians it is a stomach churning and bloody gory sight. But an experience not to be missed. We also made a full day trip to Toledo, 70 kilometres from Madrid. Toledo Still protected behind its ancient walls with nine gates, reached by a fine Roman bridge, the Puente de Alcantara, watched over by the Castillo de San Servando, Toledo has always played a foremost role throughout the different stages of history in the Iberian Peninsula, having been inhabited by the Romans who built a fortress on the hill dominating the River Tagus by Visigoths, Moors (who occupied the city in 711), Christians (after Alphonse VI took it over in 1085) and Jews. It was the Jews, in fact, who contributed greatly to the economical and artistic splendour of Toledo. During all these years they were able to live freely in the flourishing city: evidence of this is seen in the eight beautiful synagogues that adorned the city with their elegant architecture, two of which still stand out: the ancient Sinagoga de Santa Maria and the famous Sinagoga del Transito.

Capital of the kingdom for a long time, frequently but unsuccessfully besieged by the Arabs, Toledo lived for centuries in the productive atmosphere of wide- spread and tolerant cosmopolitanism, at least until the end of the XV century, when the Jews were expelled following a period of veiled crisis resulting in considerable bloodshed. However the most stunning building in Toledo is its Cathedral. Modestly speaking I have personally seen many cathedrals in various cities in Europe including St.Peters in the Vatican but this magnificent edifice is one of the finest that I have ever seen. The building of which commenced 800 years ago and has architecture of various styles over the centuries, the interiors of which is incredibly rich and sumptuous with the magnificent choir-stalls in carved mahogany wood, the chapter room with 16th century frescos and the vestry frescoed by Luca Giordano has masterpieces by Greco, Titian and Goya is simply awesome and make one gaze in open mouthed wonder – a must see on any Spanish itinerary.

Toledo also is very famous for its highly skilled craftsmen who make exquisite swords and daggers. These are forged and engraved exclusively by hand following techniques and procedures handed down from generations. Also equally famous is the art of embellishing steel plates with fine 24 carat gold to create stunningly beautiful jewellery and other artefacts, called Damascene art. Lastly, the pastries and cakes – the typical sweet of Toledo is Marzipans – a superb delicacy made of sugar and almonds. The word Marzipan comes from the Arabic work 'Mahasapan' which the Arabs called the boxes used to store sweetmeats and spices. After Madrid and Toledo, we flew to the Catalan north of Spain – Barcelona where the 1992 Olympic Games were held. This vivacious city of Catalunya, boasts of one of the most exotic structures: The Sagrada Familia, which means the Holy Family. This imposing edifice built towards the end of the 19th century by Antoni Gaudi – one of the greatest architects of our time.

This is another must see on your Spanish visit. To get a breathtaking panoramic view of Barcelona take the cable car from Christopher Columbus square – the most touristy spot, to Mount Juic where the Olympic stadium is also located. Other magnificent not to be missed structures are The Triumphal Arch and the monumental fountain both built in 1888 for the universal exhibition. Another beautiful spot is the old fishermen's village now called the Barceloneta – a pleasant lively district where cafés, restaurants and fishing vessels abound. After a couple of days in Barcelona we flew down south to Costa Del Sol. This beautiful seaside region is world famous for its beaches. The first experience of this laid back seaside region hit us when we had to wait for 45 minutes at the Malaga airport for our pickup. But after reaching our hotel 'Marina Sur' and seeing the breathtaking view from our 9th floor room all was forgiven. We were staying in the locality called 'Torremolino' and this wonderful place was in two words – a Shoppers Paradise selling fabulous leather goods and clothes at very reasonable rates. Lucky me!!

Our next three days were very hectic with full day trips to Granada, Seville and yes the Rock of Gibraltar. Granada is an unparalleled city, protected in the North by the majestic Sierra Nevada and its high peaks, snow capped until Spring, and facing south towards the warmest sea of all Spain, the delightful Costa del Sol. Furthermore, Granada has an abundance of water, which rushes down the mountain sides before running into the thousand of streams that make their way around palaces and courtyards, gardens and squares. This element was particularly appreciated by the Arabian dynasties that were the first to give the city its sparkling splendour. Granada is Alhambra and Alhambra is Granada. Rising above the red hills, the royal palace of Alhambra stands proud and eternal – one important architectural structures of the middle ages and the finest example of Islamic art left in the western world.

The gardens of the palace are well maintained with abundant flowers and fruit trees. I learnt an interesting piece of information here: did you know that there are two types of oranges, one variety to eat and the other to make Orange Marmalade! Granada also has a beautiful Cathedral, which unfortunately was closed for restoration, and we couldn't see it. The other interesting facets of Granada are the Spanish Gypsies who even today live in the caves of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The caves are called 'Cuevas'. Unfortunately our tour didn't include a visit to their area.

After Granada, the next day was Seville. According to tradition, Seville was founded by Hercules who appears to have played a very active role in the many ancient legends concerning the origins of Andalusia. Prose-like verses narrate of a prosperous Phoenician settlement occupied first by the Greeks and then by the Carthaginians, followed by the Romans. In effect, Seville simply followed the same fate as most of the large cities in this region: after being conquered by the Visigoths who made it the capital of their kingdom, it was conquered by the Arabs in 712 and flourished and grew under their domination until it could rival the nearby Cordoba in size and splendour. During the XIII century, King Ferdinand III triumphantly took over, and was ultimately buried here, leaving his emblems forever in the city. In the XV century, the Catholic Monarchs established their court here in the old Moorish buildings. However, it was the Discovery of America and the consequent, expanding whirlwind of trade and commerce that brought Seville to the height of glory, and to a considerable increase in population. The dreadful plague epidemic in 1649, however, was the start of a slow but progressive decline from which the city has never fully recovered, even though it still preserves traces of its past glory and maintains its unquestionably lively culture, besides continuing in its role as administrative capital of the region, headquarters of the autonomous government and focal point of its social and political unrest.

Our last day in Cost del Sol was the trip to The Rock of Gibraltar. This famous piece is in Gibraltar, which is the last bastion of Britains colonial past held on by them and inspite of the ridiculous visa charge of UK (Rs.6500/- for a six month visa), how could I miss when I have always prophetically said "The Rock of Gibraltar is an armchair compared to my wife's steely resolve". This very touristy little town of Gibraltar is a walkover from the Spanish coastal town of Algericas about 150 kilometres from Malaga. The Rock, which in itself is a huge, hill approximately 4000′ high towers over and dominates the entire town.

A drive onto the rock gives on a clear vision of the Coast of Africa – a mere 15 miles away. Hidden in the rock are the famous Stalaguire and Stalagmite caves called the St. Michael's caves, which are a truly awe-inspiring site. The town of Gibraltar is a duty free shoppers paradise with half the shops owned by Sindhis and Punjabis. The next day, we took the ferry to cross over to the African continent which was a mere 45 metres away landing at Tangiers – the northern most town of Morocco.After spending a fortnight in Exotic Spain and Portugal, going to Morocco is similar to drinking Vinicola no: 7 (no disrespect meant to the Goan Port), after downing a 15 year old bottle of Porto from Portugal. They are two different continents, countries and culture, can you believe it that only 15 miles of water separates them??

We took a 4 nights package, which took us to Tangiers, Rabat, Casablanca Marrakesh and Fez. After a panoramic tour of Tangiers where we saw the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea, a lovely photo spot, proceeded to Rabat, which is the current capital of Morocco. The two impressive structures in the town are the Royal Palace and the Mausoleum of the current King's Father Mohammed V. It is a masterpiece of Hispano Moresque architecture and was built in 1971. The palace too is an impressive structure from outside. All the towns in Morocco have within them a fortified walled city called the Medina, which means old town/city in Arabic.These Medinas are totally self-sufficient townships by themselves inhibited by citizen numbering anywhere between 100000 to 300000. The one in Rabat had 150000 inhabitants. A quick walk through them showed us the local way of life.

After a long day we reached Casablanca. This city has been made famous by the Hollywood movie of 1939 starring Humphrey Bogart and goes by the name of the city. Situated halfway between Fez and Marrakesh, Casablanca is the largest city in the kingdom of Morocco. The other important cities are far behind both as regards population and economic importance. Over ten percent of the population of the country lives in this city, which contains most of the country's industrial, financial and economic activities.

In the course of the last decades, Casablanca has developed considerably. While the population numbered 250000 at the beginning of the century, it currently counts over three million souls. The demographic growth has been on the increase ever since it was founded.

Casablanca has impressive modern buildings and parks with the Part of the Arab League – a really magnificent one created 100 years ago. The King Hassan II mosque also is an impressive structure. From Casablanca we proceeded to Marrakesh where we were put up in a 5 Star Hotel. Marrakesh is one of the four imperial cities of Morocco. Capital of the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, it was subsequently abandoned by the Merinids. The Saadian brought it back into vogue, but the Alaouites, while still concerned with its development and progress, preferred Fez, Meknès or Rabat as the capital of the kingdom.

The city is important because of its geographical position where the north and south of the country converge, not far from the Sahara and the Atlantic branch out towards Agadir, Casablanca, Fez or Meknès. Moreover, Marrakesh faces onto the mountain slope, opening itself towards the Sahara through the Tizi N'Test Pass and the Tizi N'Tichka. The city has an impressive gate called the Bab Agnaou gate built in 1150. Other impressive structures are the tombs of the Saadian Sultans built in the 16th Century. In the night we attended a local folk show called the 'Fantasia'. As with all Arabs, the Moroccans too are skilled horsemen and showed us their exemplary horsemanship which was truly spectacular.

The next day we proceeded to Fez, our last stop in Morocco. Fez is situated 60 Kilometers from Meknès. Fez has various claims to nobility as one of the most prestigious cities in the Muslim world, for centuries a centre for culture and religion, the melting pot of the Maghreb civilization. Moreover, Fez is the oldest of the imperial cities and the capital of the first Arab dynasty of Morocco.

In an attempt to fully comprehend Fez is to visit its Medina. The Fez Medina is the oldest and the biggest in Morocco housing more than 350000 inhabitants. It has over 10000 streets and by lanes and one would surely get lost if there were no local guide. In the night we went to see a belly dance show, where they had grandmothers for belly dancers. Oh!! Please don't even dream about seeing belly dancing in Fez.

The last morning we were up at 6:00 a.m. to go back to Spain. Driving through winding mountainous terrain to the Spanish territory in Africa called Soeta from where we crossed to Algericas in Spain.

The next two days involved going from Malaga to Madrid to Paris and finally Mumbai where we landed after circling 1 hour in the air to get a landing slot. Did I hear someone in the plane mutter "Be it ever so humble, there's no place like…Mumbai".

 

Switzerland by:Subhash Motwani

The Gateway to the mountains in Switzerland - Zurich | Subhash Motwani


Three countries, one city - Basel  | Subhash Motwani


GENEVA - Super car test drive  | Subhash Motwani

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