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Posts tagged ‘Europe’

Weekly Photo Challenge – Depth

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Mount Tibidabo, Barcelona

An apostle overlooking the depths of the valleys below, on Mount Tibidabo, Barcelona.

Click here, for more submissions to this week’s photo challenge.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Serenity

Algarve, Portugal

Algarve, Portugal

Serenity, when your heart and mind are at peace, when you are totally immersed in the moment, when you have accepted the past and there is no foreboding about the future…. serenity is watching from a cliff, waves rhythmically gaining momentum and seamlessly merging into the shore below.

Serenity really means different things to all of us. For more individualistic interpretations of serenity, click here.

Weekly Photo Challenge – Yellow

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This picture of yellow flowers was taken in the Champagne region, France, famous for producing its namesake bubbly drink, somewhere between the towns of Reims and Epernay.

I am not a photographer or even an amateur photographer. But I am stunned by the photography talent here at WordPress. See for yourself by checking out other submissions for this week’s photo challenge ūüôā

2 days in Lisbon – Part 2

Our second day is Lisbon was the most wonderful – touristy but still worth remembering – single day spent in a European city (which is saying a lot, as our travel style is usually laid-back as opposed to go-go-go). This is because on day 2, we discovered Belem! Belem is a specific area of Lisbon, not terribly far from the main squares, and we took public transport (bus in this case) to get there. Belem is a popular tourist destination because of more than a few historic gems in very close proximity.

Street art that we encountered on our way to Belem

Street art that we encountered on our way to Belem

 

Our first stop was this iconic cafe called Pasteis de Belem. Both Sachin, my husband, and I has received recommendations from separate people back at home to visit this cafe. And the dish to have in Pasteis de Belem is their one-of-a-kind Portugese pastries which is like a rich crusted custard. Do not be deterred by the crowds on the outside, we were told by our “recommenders”, the cafe has plenty of seating inside. And this turned out to be quite true. The cafe justifiably was crowded, but we were seated immediately. Pasteis de Belem is a must visit for its very Portuguese feel of lovely blue and white tiles, and of course the pastries.

Sachin outside Pasteis de Belem

Sachin outside Pasteis de Belem

 

More from inside the cafe.

More from inside the cafe.

 

Then, unto the next stop, the vision that had attracted me to Belem in the first place РTorre de Belem. Torre De Belem is the glorious white castle like structure right on the River Tagus (Rio Tejo). After taking its glorious Portuguese-gothic style architecture from a distance, we paid for the tickets to take the few stairs to the 2 different terraces, and fully soaked in the April afternoon. The Tower along with the nearby Jeronimos Monastery, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Torre de Belem (Belem Tower), Lisbon

Torre de Belem (Belem Tower), Lisbon

The turrets, the statues and the laced stonework of the limestone Tower.

The turrets, the statues and the laced stonework of the limestone Tower.

Looking down from the upper terrace unto the lower terrace and the River Tagus

Looking down from the upper terrace unto the lower terrace and the River Tagus

 

After taking countless pictures of and selfies with the Torre de Belem, we finally pulled ourselves away and walked over to the Monument to the Discoveries. The Monument, which has 33 statues etched in it, is dedicated to Portugese explorers and discoverers, including Vasco Da Gama and Ferdinand Magellan, who put Portugal on the map as a maritime power to be reckoned with. At the Monument, you can pay a minimal amount and take the elevator to reach the top observation deck (which we certainly did, because, after all, there was an elevator!). While we did not go inside, we admired from outside the Jeronimos Monastery, built in limestone and similar architectural style as the Torre de Belem.

The Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon

The Monument to the Discoveries, Lisbon

The Jeronimos Monastry, Lisbon

The Jeronimos Monastry, Lisbon

 

It was late afternoon by this time, but still we wanted to make the most of our last day in Lisbon. So, we bid farewell to Belem, and hopped on the bus to the Lisbon Aquarium. The highlight for us was the part where you are walking on a transparent floors in a room with transparent walls, and you see giant turtles swimming under you feet and beside you. In another enclosure, you can see penguins frolicking about, another big hit with us! We also caught glimpse of the Vasco da Gama bridge, the longest bridge in Europe.

Turtles beneath us at the Lisbon Aquarium

Turtles beneath us at the Lisbon Aquarium

Happy feet at the Acquarium

Happy feet at the Acquarium

The Vasco da Gama bridge, the longest bridge in Europe, from a distance

The Vasco da Gama bridge, the longest bridge in Europe, from a distance

 

It was late evening when we headed back to Lisbon’s historic city center. As we were roaming in the squares, catching the last glimpses of the walls of the Lisbon Castle from below, we saw a big queue outside a shop that appeared to be giving away free samples of a home-grown liquor. The liquor turned out to be a sweet cherry brandy called “ginha”, and while the shots were not free, they cost a very nominal amount and the shop was A Ginjinha, also quite famous. We patiently waited in line and happily drank the offered drink, toasting to the two wonderful days spent in this beautiful, elegant and sunny city!

 

Final evening in Lisboa

Final evening in Lisboa

A last glimpse of the Lisbon Castle

A last glimpse of the Lisbon Castle

The Santa Justa lift, lit up in the evening

The Santa Justa lift, lit up in the evening

 

Stopping for a shot of cherry brandy at A Ginjinha

Stopping for a shot of cherry brandy at A Ginjinha

 

For more on Lisbon, click here: 2 days in Lisbon – Part 1.

 

Weekly Photo Challenge – Angular

When I first read the word “Angular”, I immediately thought of the pyramids of Giza, Egypt, the ancient iconic structures that we see resonated in plenty of instances in modern day architecture.

Alas, I have not been to Egypt and witnessed the pyramids firsthand. So, for this week’s photo challenge – “Angular”, I have settled for I.M. Pei designed Glass Pyramid which along with three smaller pyramids, sits proudly with all its glass and metallic splendor in the courtyard of the Louvre in Paris.

Glass Pyramid - Louvre, Paris

Glass Pyramid – Louvre, Paris

This picture was taken on a cold and cloudy February afternoon in Paris.

For more takes on “Angular” theme, click here!

Weekly Photo Challenge – Minimalist

A small lookout that appears to have been carved by removing stones in a stone abbey off the coast of Edinburgh, Scotland, letting us peer into the Firth of Forth:

Inchcolm Abbey, Firth of Forth, Scotland

For more photos that tell a story without the need to have too many details, visit the Weekly Photo Challenge – Minimalist.

2 days in Lisbon – Part 1

Lisbon immediately captivated us with its understated, unpretentious charm. It perhaps does not equal Paris in glamour or Rome in grandeur, but Lisbon with its glorious architecture and historic squares, packs its own distinctive flavor and evokes the bygone era where it was the capital of a formidable imperial power.

We reached here from London only in the afternoon, thanks to a delayed flight, and our Day 1 in Lisboa unfolded as follows:

1) Lisbon Castle

A cab took us from our hotel right to the gate of the Castelo de Sao Jorge. The Castle sits on a hilltop, and its fortifications, decorated with canons, offer impressive views of the city, its red terra-cotta topped buildings and the Tagus river. The Castle has been the seat of various rulers over the course of its tumultuous history, but one fascinating detail is that Vasco da Gama, the famous explorer, was  welcomed here upon his return after discovering India (my home country, of course!).  In the present day, you can find yourself in the company of a number of peacocks! These beautifully plumed birds are shy but not camera-shy, and we were able to get some good pictures. The best time to go is in the afternoon. This will give you enough time to amble along the corridors and courtyards, and then catch the sun settling beyond the rooftops and into the river.

View of Praca Do Comercio (Commerce Square) from the Castle.

View of Praca Do Comercio (Commerce Square) from the Castle.

Catching the sun setting over Lisbon from the corridors and towers of Lisbon

Catching the sun setting over Lisbon from the corridors and towers of the Castle.

The beauty of Lisbon is clearly visible from the Castle

The towers of the Sao Vicente de Fora monastery are visible from the Castle.

You cannot miss the peacocks during your visit.

You cannot miss the peacocks during your visit.

2) Miradouro and the Lisbon Cathedral:

After watching the sun set over Lisboa from the Castelo de Sao Jorge, we walked down the narrow alleyways of the historic Alfama district. Lisbon has some celebrated lookout points, called Miradouros. We stopped at the Miradouro de Santa Luzia, and were rewarded with a view that captured for us the essence of Lisbon.

The dome in the picture belongs to the Santa Engarcia Church (or the National Pantheon)

We continued our descent and stopped at the  twin turrets of the Lisbon Cathedral. From its outside facade, the Cathedral looked like a fortress. However, when we made our way inside, we were greeted by beautiful gothic vaulted ceilings and grand frescoes. We were also lucky to witness a solemn holy ceremony being conducted by white-robed priests.

The lighted Lisbon Cathedral

The lighted Lisbon Cathedral

The sumptuous inside of the Cathedral

The sumptuous inside of the Cathedral

3) Sheraton Lisboa’s rooftop lounge:

We ended the night with cocktails in the Sheraton Lisboa’s Panorama restaurant, the restaurant/bar with the highest elevation in the city. From our vantage point, we could see the lighted 25 de Abril bridge, its name commemorating the date of a historic revolution. Also overlooking the city from across the River Tagus was the shining Christo Rei statue (which bears a resemblance to the statue of the Christo Redentor in Rio-de-Janeiro).

View from Lisbon's most elevated restaurant

View from Lisbon’s most elevated restaurant

After an inspiring first day, we could not wait to unearth more of Lisbon’s treasures the next day, but more on that later.

The adventures of our second day in Lisbon are captured here  Р2 days in Lisbon РPart 2

Have you visited Lisbon? What are your favorite Lisbon moments?

Weekly Photo Challenge – Monument

With its striking Gothic style and symmetry, the Parliament building in Budapest is truly monumental, and also a sight that anyone who has visited Budapest would not forget in a hurry. I was so taken in by the red-brown dome and the arches and the sheer grandeur of this architectural gem, that for the weekly photo challenge on “Monument”, this building very easily came to mind.

Here is a picture of the Parliament building taken from across the river Danube:

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For more wanderlust inducing pictures of Budapest, pay a visit to ¬†JustVisitSiena’s recent blog post!

The hiking trails of Cinque Terre

“..The storybook journey, replete with fragrant wildflowers and colorful butterflies, is topped with uninterrupted views..¬†”

When I read this article about Cinque Terre in the New York Times, the part about the paths being fragrant with wild flowers seemed like a bit of an exaggeration. But months later, as we climbed the many stairs in the hike from Monterosso to Vernazza , I remember thinking that the article was right Рthat the air was actually and nicely fragrant!

Often a comparison is drawn between Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre, and while both wear the Mediterranean Sea proudly like sparkling sapphire jewels, Cinque Terre has one thing that sets it apart from the beautiful Amalfi Coast near Naples – its hiking trails, that let you explore the beauty of this region closely and at your own pace.

There are five villages that comprise the Cinque Terre, and thus there are four trails. During our visit, the trail from Vernazza to Corniglia (the center-most town) and from Corniglia to Manarola were closed due to flood damage. So we really did not have to choose – we did the exhausting yet incredible hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, and the “walk-in-the -park” hike from Riomaggiore to Manarola.

Click to enlarge the pictures:

Monterosso-al-mare to Vernazzza

Our trek began by purchasing the Cinque-Terre passes from the tourist center at Levanto, a village adjacent to Cinque Terre. This pass, costing EUR 10 allows you to travel between Levanto and other villages in Cinque Terre by train, and also contains the entry fees for the Cinque Terre trails.

After disembarking from the train at Monterosso, ¬†we started walking in the general direction of the crowd and soon found ourselves on this epic trail. Depending on how fast you walk and how many stops you make, this hike can take anything from 3.5 to 7 hours… we completed it in 5 hours. I would suggest making lots of stops, because the views would definitely be worth your while. About half an hour into the hike, looking back, we could now see a beautiful view of Monterosso from a distance. Then came the steps, oh the torturous and all too many steps (any reservations that people might have of this trail are on account of these steps). But, after making adequate rests, we got through the steps, and the rest of the trail was not hard at all.

The village of Monterosso-al-mare

The village of Monterosso-al-mare

Looking back at Monterosse

Looking back at Monterosso

Along the trail we found lemon groves, terraced vineyards, streams, butterflies, lovely little bridges, wildflowers in myriad colors, and of course, the surreal beauty of the Mediterranean stretching as far as the eyes would go. Also marking the trail were hand-written signs pointing to Vernazza. We took our time, navigating the twists and turns, partly to enjoy the views and take pictures, partly because rest was absolutely needed, and partly to make way for other tourists doing the same hike from Vernazza.

Along the trail

Along the trail

Making our way through the bridges and pathways..

Making our way through the bridges and pathways..

The hills beckon..

The hills beckon..

Signs guide you on..

Signs guide you on..

When we saw the beautiful village of Vernazza ahead of us, we knew that this trek was coming to an end. In Vernazza, we found a small cafe by the sea and celebrated our wonderful trek with some equally wonderful vino-della-casa (house-wine).

The sight of Vernazza towards the end of our hike

The sight of Vernazza towards the end of our hike

Riomaggiore to Manarola

Compared to our hike of the previous day, the walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola turned out to be a veritable stroll in the park. The tiled path is called the Via dell’ Amore (the path of love), and you could definitely love this path for its ease of passage. This path also comes with grand vistas of the Sea, and lest you forget the dedication to love, a statue of 2 people joined in a kiss.¬†A tiny part of us wished that our hike would last a little longer, as we covered this trail in less than half-an-hour.

On the Via dell' Amore..

On the Via dell’ Amore..

Falling is love would be easy here - the kiss at the Via dell' Amore

Falling is love would be easy here – the kiss at the Via dell’ Amore

Ligurian Cuisine

Come for the hiking trails, but I daresay, stay for the Ligurian cuisine. If you love pesto sauce like I do, you will find culinary heaven here, as the Italian riviera is the birthplace of pesto, and the pesto sauce is best served with the signature trenette pasta! We had one of the best meals in Italy in a tratorria in Levanto, Le 3 Cantine.¬†The waitress only spoke Italian ¬†and the only Italian we could speak was “non-parlo-Italiano” (“I do not understand Italian”). But she was well-versed in the universal language of good humor and good cheer, and we were well taken care of.

More pictures of Cinque Terre and the Italian Riviera can be found here:

Getting to Cinque Terre

Getting to Cinque Terre

For sweeping views of the Mediterranean Sea, as you make your way through meandering hiking trails at the very edge of lush green mountains and intercept Italian villages that seem lost in time and natural beauty, there is no better place to go than Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre, which means “Five Lands” in Italian, stands for the Italian Riviera¬†villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. ¬†The villages are as ¬†quaint as their names.

Cinque Terre seemed hard to get to after a first read of the travel guide, because it is not possible to go from one village to the other by car. But like a lot of things in life, getting to Cinque Terre in the Italian region of Liguria, turned out to be easy when we actually set about doing it.

Looking back at Monterosso, as we progress on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza.

Looking back at Monterosso, as we progress on the trail from Monterosso to Vernazza.

The journey started with an  EasyJet flight from London to Pisa. The car-ride from Pisa to Bonassola, a town adjacent to Cinque-Terre, took a little less than two hours. We stayed in Bonassola for 3 nights. Bonassola was a few minutes and some narrow turns away from Levanto. Levanto, with its train station, was our gateway to Cinque Terre.

We travelled the distance from Levanto to Monterosso by train. We then did the epic and five-hour long hike from Monterosso to Vernazza, and then took the train back to Levanto. By this time, we were fully submerged in the beauty that is Cinque Terre.

If you had to choose one hike, choose this one - Monterosso to Vernazza.

If you had to choose one hike, choose this one – Monterosso to Vernazza.

Our second day in the Cinque Terre saw us taking the boat to Porto Venere, a town beyond all the five Cinque Terre villages.  Porto Venere, while not a part of Cinque Terre, is a beautiful seaside village and deserves a place in every Cinque Terre itinerary. On the return boat ride, we stopped at the last village, Rio-Maggiore. There, the stage was set for the second and easier hike, to Manarola. From Manarola, we did our last train journey, back to Levanto. 

One last picture of Levanto, as we were driving away from Cinque Terre.

One last picture of Levanto, as we were driving away from Cinque Terre.

We could not walk the trails to and from Corniglia, the village in the middle, as these were closed for repairs after some flooding. I take this as a sign that there is more than a slim chance that we will be going to the Italian Riviera again.

A more detailed post of the hikes in the trails of Cinque Terre to follow! Meanwhile, here are some  more pictures.

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