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Posts tagged ‘Europe’

The “stop in your tracks” architecture of Madrid.

Is there something that always makes you stop on your tracks and take notice? It could be a stylish shoe, a perfectly tailored shirt or a bouquet of verdant flowers. What is it that makes you instantly say gleefully  – Ooh, Shiny!

For me, it’s grand architecture – not necessarily grand in stature but in the intricacy of work that was painstakingly put ages ago into the museums or palaces  or cathedrals or fountains. And so it’s no surprise that I was enthralled by the architecture in sunny Madrid.

Here are some of the pictures from the European capital city that are making me nostalgic about that “ooh shiny” feeling:

This post was inspired by the WordPress weekly photo challenge! See other creative entries here.

The Mediterranean jewel that is Capri

What can I say about Capri? The two days spent in Capri, an island off Amalfi Coast in Italy stand out among all my travel memories like a clear teacher’s pet that the teacher keep’s comparing every other student to for decades.

The island of Capri, located in the Bay of Naples, is half an hour by ferry from Sorrento and about an hour by ferry from Naples. 


Arriving in Capri by ferry


The day after we drove the length of the Amalfi Coast from Sorrento to Ravello and back, we took an early morning ferry from Sorrento’s Marina Piccola (the small Marina) to Capri. As the ferry sailed towards Capri, I could not help but notice that the sky was grey, brooding and overcast and it was depressing to think that we would spend another day next to a pale blue Mediterranean (see my post on our day spent on the aAmalfi Coast).

However, by the time we reached Capri and boarded a funicular for Anacapri, the sun was shining cheerfully upon us and we caught a glimpse of the glittering blue Mediterranean that was going to give us company for the rest of our time in Capri, ever-present in the horizon and peaking through the rugged cliffs, villas and lemon groves.   


The brilliant blue of the sea against Capri’s cliffs

Without wasting too much time, we traded the big ferry that had brought us to Capri for a smaller ferry for a cruise around the island. The cruise boat neatly skirted the cliffs on waters that seemed to turn blue to green to blue again. Seeing Capri’s landmark Faraglioni rocks rising tall and majestic above the sea, and sailing right through one of them was particularly exciting. These famous rocks in the Bay of Naples, even have names – (from the left in the picture below) Stella, Mezzo and Scopolo!


Capri’s Faraglioni rocks (Stella, Mezzo and Scopolo) as seen from the ferry

The clear highlight of the day was taking a chairlift up from the piazza in Anacapri to Monte Solaro, the highest point in Capri (I must confess – I am partial towards points of high altitudes such as mountains, buildings, towers and campaniles, which through elevators, funiculars, cable cars and the like are easy to scale).  


Looking down from Monte Solaro

Once we reached the top which is spotted with cobbled-stone steps and shaded gazebos and looked down below at the perfect blue sea and the Faraglioni rock formations, I realized that this was the view I had been waiting for all those days that I had been planning this trip to Italy. It’s hard to say which spot provided the best view of the beautiful cliffs plunging below into the sea, because in all honesty, there was no such thing there as a bad view! 


View of Bay of Naples from Monte Solaro

The next morning was a whirlwind of activity – checking out of the beautiful hotel San Michele in Anacapri, taking an open air taxi down to the Marina (an adventure in itself), boarding the ferry to Sorrento, retrieving our suitcases from our Sorrento hotel, and beginning the drive to Tuscany. 

But the day’s adventures had just begun, as I would realize later. 


Sun rising in Capri


The Mediterranean comes to life on our second day in Capri

A hilltop in Tuscany, Italy – New Horizon

SONY DSCA rolling hilltop in Chianti, Tuscany, which seems content and contained at the same time. This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is New Horizon – where we explore something we want to achieve in 2017. For 2017, I want to find my happiness within and in the moment, instead of getting caught up in the loop of “I would be happy if only…..”. As they say, “Happiness is a choice”, and I want to consciously keep making that choice.

Here’s wishing everyone a very Happy 2017.

The Amalfi Coast drive – with gray hues instead of blue.


On a regular Italian summer day, this should have been a stunning blue sea!

“Driving will not be easy in this rain.”

“Why don’t we take the SITA bus?” I say, referring to the big blue public transport buses easily identifiable on the road.

” That would not be any fun.”

“Fine, let’s go tomorrow then.”

“Oh-kayy (sigh) Let’s just go.”

This is the bizarre conversation that Sach and I had, on repeat for about 5 times, before we drove forth into the twists and turns of the Amalfi Coast. It did not help that our day had started at 4 am when we checked out of our hotel in Rome and we had already drove for three hours to get to Sorrento, a city near Naples which is the de-facto beginning of the celebrated Amalfi Coast drive.

Pick up any guide-book for Italy and tell me if you are not seduced by the jaw dropping pictures of pretty towns along the Amalfi Coast perched over cliffs overlooking the vast expanse of shimmering blue Mediterranean Sea.


Driving down the Amalfi Coast

But the shimmery azure colors of the Mediterranean need one prerequisite – a sun shining overhead. As it happened, during the day we visited the Amalfi Coast, that too in mid-August, the sky was completely overcast with intermittent showers. And thus instead of blue colors, we drove alongside a sea which was pale blue bordering on grey. This was the case during the entire drive from Sorrento to Ravello.

I had been planning this trip for almost 5 months and in these five months I had almost memorized the Amalfi coast section of the Frommer’s Italy travel guide. And thus I knew exactly what I wanted to see there – the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello.

All along the drive to Ravello as we passed the towns of Amalfi and the celebrated Positano, I was amazed at how the narrow 2 lane road was easily accommodating the blue SITA buses, cars and motor cycles with space to spare for vehicles to be parked on the side.

Once we reached Ravello, we could not find any Parking signs for about half an hour and then finally parked our Hertz rental where we saw some other vehicles parked. After this bit of confusion, finding Villa Cimbrone was easy. Seriously, the village of Ravello, where the Mediterranean plays hide and seek from behind scented lemon groves, is what an Italian dream vacation is made of. After having lunch at a cafe in cobbled stoned piazza devoid of any traffic, and stopping at a pretty souvenir shop selling all manner of lemon themed curios (did I mention that Amalfi Coast is the home of Lemoncello, a lemon liquor that has to be tasted to be believed?), we began the small hike to Villa Cimbrone.


Lunch in Ravello!!


Preponderance of the lemon motif in the Amalfi Coast souvenir shops

After stopping many a time to take in the views and passing lemon groves (yes, lemon groves… where else will you find lemon groves?), we finally ascended all the steps to the Villa. The Villa dates back to the 11th century and its charming cloisters and courtyards are reminiscent of the Venetian and  Gothic architectural style and are lush with plants and flower beds. Once in the Villa, you are immediately drawn to is its belvedere called the Terrazzo dell’lnfinito or the Terrace of Infinity. As the name suggests, the Terrace of Infinity really puts you front and center in the Mediterranean. The terrace is surrounded with really run down and broken marble statues which at least look good from a distance.


The cloisters of Villa Cimbrone


wThe gardens leading to the Terrace of Infinity


The magnificent Terrazzo dell’lnfinito (never mind the run down marble statues).


The Sea as far as you can see!


Would you believe that this gray expanse is the Mediterranean?


We spent a few leisurely hours in the Terrace of Infinity and the pretty gardens of the Villa, admiring the sea from all vantage points, even though its hues were gray instead of blue, and then almost reluctantly started the drive back to Sorrento. The skies had cleared a little bit, and we stopped at Positano to admire its postcard-worthy perfection.


Pretty Positano


The drive back to Sorrento

And thus our cloudy-with a chance of dissapointment-day on the Amalfi Coast came to an end. When you plan your trip – pray for a sunny day (or not – it will still be a memorable experience!).

Practically speaking:

If looking for a place to stay on the Amalfi Coast, you cannot go wrong with Best Western – La Solara, a nifty and efficient hotel, with jaw-dropping views of the Mediterranean, and a frequent shuttle to the city center.

Evening shots from South Bank, London 

It’s dinnertime in London! I had seen the majestic Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, before but seeing these gems lit up against the pink-purple-grey evening sky was a sight that took my breath away.

This post is inspired by the WordPress weekly photo challenge, Dinnertime. See more amazing photos submitted by talented photographers here.






Landscape photographs in Prague

Prague, the capital of the Czech-Republic, is any shutter-happy traveller’s dream city. I was inspired by this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge – Landscapes to “dust-off” some landscape shots taken in Prague in March 2012. It was about time I showed these pics some love.



This panaromic picture of Prague was taken from a cafe tucked away in the back of the Lobkowicz Palace within the Prague Castle. We would have completely missed this hidden gem of a cafe, had it not been for the diligent reading of a guide-book.


Prague Castle framing the Vltava River, shot from the Charles Bridge.


Charles Bridge and the Vltava River, shot from a cruise boat.


When in Rome…..

When you are in Rome as a tourist in the month of August, you would feel that you are in a mythical place where all the locals have disappeared and the tourists have descended in such large numbers that they are everywhere, and I mean everywhere…. You could go into the most narrow and sleepy looking alley, hoping that it would lead to a deserted piazza, but visitors would be there too.

Such was our experience in August of 2010, when we landed in Rome during the time when the locals escape to the seaside for their own vacations. But even with tourists everywhere, I found Rome to be hot, gleaming and amazing, because it was my first time in Europe (barring a 2006 trip to Ireland), and the beginning of a love affair with Italy.

Here are the happy memories of the Roman holiday:

– the Trevi Fountain is gorgeous, the crowds notwithstanding. Its enormous, really a fountain complex. There is some significance to the amount of coins you throw at its incredible Baroque architecture – one guarantees a return to Rome, 2 coins would lead to a new romance, and 3 coins would lead to marriage. And me, being married and on this maiden Italy trip with the husband, made it a point to throw just the one coin.


– I would gladly loose myself again in the sun-soaked piazzas in Rome. If you are a proponent of slow travel and not too keen on checking off all the touristy items in this very touristy city, just relax at the piazzas – there is so much beauty and history everywhere that there is nary a need to enter a museum or gallery. In the shiny but not glaring sunlight of late afternoon, these piazzas acquire the warm tone of a perfect Instagram filter.  A prime example is Piazza Navona with another beautiful fountain, Bernini’s the Fountain of Four Rivers (“Fontana dei Quattro Fuimi”). The four rivers personified in this very intricately carved fountain are the Nile, the Danube, the Ganges (or Ganga) and Rio de la Plata.





– When you are at Piazza Navona, why not visit the adjoining church of the martyr Saint Agnes in Agony? Another great example of Baroque architecture, this church is beautiful from the inside as well, without the long lines of the Vatican.


– One of the best things we did was visit the Vatican late in the night, where we were able to take photos of the very elegantly and romantically lit  San Pietro basilica and Piazza San Pietro. Not to say that you should not visit during the day, if only to take in Michaelangelo’s beautiful work of art – the Pieta.


– One gallery which would not be found in every tourist to do list is the Villa Borghese, which has a formidable collection of sculptures by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Alas, photography is not allowed inside the gallery, and thus I have no photos to show why even All-I-know-about-art-I-have-learned-from-the-movies person like me could tell that these sculptures were truly exquisite and thus the entry to the gallery made limited to a small number each day (Tip: book your tickets online in advance). The one sculpture that I loved was the “Apollo and Daphne”. The intricate details of Daphne turning into a tree to escape Apollo are quite simply amazing.

– We were quite smug as we passed the long line of tourists queuing at the ticket counter of the Vatican museum, as we had booked the tickets online in advance. However, there really was no research on my part going into the Museum, which was a rookie mistake. Other than knowing about Michelangelo’s pivotal Sistine Chapel ceiling, I entered this great collection of art completely clueless. It’s no surprise that I can only vaguely recall passing through an gallery containing very old maps, and being in a room covered from floor to ceiling by work of Raphael. But I still remember excitement when we saw with our own eyes the Creation of Adam, with the iconic two hands, on the ceiling inside the Sistine Chapel.


All in all, Rome turned out to be everything we had hoped for and then some. But after rounds of the museums, galleries and basilicas in the Italian capital, we were ready for the shimmering blues of the Amalfi Coast. But that’s another blog post for another day.

The weight of love (locks)!

When I first saw the love locks on Pont des Arts bridge on the river Seine in Paris, I thought it was a really cool idea, and the only reason I did not leave my mark on a railing of the bridge overflowing with love-locks and toss metal in water, is that, well, I could not find a lock.

It so turns out that – surprise surprise – these locks are actually bad for the beautiful Pont des Arts and other historical structures, and in June 2015, a bunch of these locks, all 45 tonne of them, became meat for bolt cutters.

Here are some pictures of the locks that were, quite literally, weighing down the Pont des Arts. Adieu, dear locks!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Wall


As we walked out of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam (one of the best museums I have visited but more on that later..), I took this photo of a tiny shop selling crepes.

Click here for more beautiful walls that each tell a story!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Reward


The view of Florence Cathedral from the top of the bell tower.

The view of Florence Cathedral from the top of the bell tower.

The stunning views of Brunelleschi’s  candy-cane dome and all of Florence and the surrounding countryside – this was our reward for climbing the 414 steps to get to the top of the adjacent bell tower. The steps were tall, narrow and at certain points, downright hazardous!  But the views from the top were a fitting reward. Now all we had to do was brace ourselves for the walk down the stairs….

See other entries for the weekly photo challenge here.

Florence and surrounding countryside

Florence and surrounding countryside

Another picture capturing Firenze taken from the bell tower.

Another picture capturing Firenze taken from the bell tower.

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