2007-11-30

Milan shopping - trip came to end

Time to say Ciao, a presto (bye, see u soon) to Venice!!! Although we knew it might never be soon again. With happy mood we left for Milan from where we started our memorable journey. We boarded Euro-star for which we had to make advance reservation. Indisputably it was the best train we boarded in last seven days. On reaching Milan kept our luggage in lock room and set off to explore the business city as well fashion center of Italy.



Starting with Milan’s cathedral, the city’s centerpiece and third-largest church in Europe is worth visiting. Next to Cathedral Square “Galleria Vittorio Emanuele” – Milan’s great four-story-high, glass-domed arcade- place to shop for rich and famous. Milan’s famous opera house was closed for renovation. We skipped Leonardo’s “Last-supper” and his bronze horse which he never built.


We had pasta at lunch in small store which was really ambrosial - no doubt. Late afternoon, wandered through big brand stores for clothes and ultimately I bought one wrist watch for myself as souvenir which cost me dear.




Galleria Vittorio Emanuele


Early evening, we headed towards a restaurant recommended by guide book in the business district which was very deserted being Sunday. Unexpectedly, we found the place and it was big restaurant with white table cloths. We were received with great affection and hospitality by owners which we can never forget. Service was excellent along with food. We started with Pasta and had fish as second serving oh! That was big fish as they served us; Pamela missed all those bones and head as they took away that trolley (as she is a big human cat who loves to chew bones be it fish or chicken). Well, slowly clock was ticking off giving us a reminder to say Ciao to Italy. Train to Paris came from Venice and we had a good night sleep after a long strenuous day.



Epilogue: Writing travelogue after 3 years was not easy. Had to refer various web site to get the details right. But the only person made it finish is Pamela as she wrote each pages and I just added few lines here and there. Yes, its worth remembering those eight days. This was great to immerse oneself with recollections of those lazy afternoon or vigorous morning for sure as I know I am not going to have this kind of break soon in my present life.



2007-11-27

Venice at leisure

Venice from Lido

Next day, when we woke up, were very happy to see blue sky after two days of grey sky. Around 9.00 AM we came by boat to hot-spot St. Mark's Square. St. Mark's Basilica which is Byzantine influenced was too crowded to visit that time and unfortunately in evening we ran out of time and could not make it so satisfied ourselves from outside only. Doge's Palace is a gothic palace with bridge of sighs at rear end which is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. It connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace and last view point of Venice that convicts use to see before their imprisonment. Campanile bell tower is worth for city view only but we did not take the flight of stairs as we have lot more to explore. Visiting museum was big NO as we had enough (time was another constraint).

St. Mark’s Basilica blue sky small

Did enjoyed trip along the Grand Canal with hopping on-off. Countless bridges lace together the neighborhoods of Venice. Amazed to see many historical buildings is slowly sinking into the marshy ground…getting tilted?

At afternoon after lunch we took a cruise to one of islands in the Venetian lagoon. We went to Murano where one gets chance to watch Venetian glass blowers fashion their delicate objects known for glassware, lamps, chandeliers and glass jewelry. We started with glass museum and visited few glass factories, they show you the art, but for them it is just part of work. We got few souvenirs for friends and family.

gandola

At evening we came back to Rialto Bridge. Rialto Bridge is famous for its shops. There are three bridges joined together which makes it special. Wandered around saw many taking gondola ride – it’s ‘expensive’. Best if you are a group of four to split the cost for those twenty minutes. Any way, we could not found another couple to share and decided against it. The route from the Rialto to the Academia (one of the famous museum) and back to piazza San Marco winds through ornate squares and is quite interesting.

TIPS: Get a travel pass to ride the elusive water bus – else single tickets are less economical if you plan to spend days touring in order to explore every nook and cranny. We missed few things at Venice; we did not visit the famous Opera house which underwent renovation. We stayed in Lido but we did not explore its beaches. Last but not least we missed to pick up those carnival masks for wall hanging.

It seems Venice is not the place for pasta. Rather, Cichetti (chee-keht-tee) are small portions of food served in bars all over the city, with small glass of wine. You eat while standing in a crowded room. Certain bars display all the Cichetti before you; Sorry, couldn’t enjoy that as I am not a wine-lover.

2007-11-26

Half day at Florence and Venice

Piazza della Signoria

After spending three nights in Florence it was time to move on. We packed and checked out, keeping our luggage in the hotel. We walked towards Palazzo Vecchio (Piazza della Signoria) - city square adorned with fine arts. Basically, Florence is full of timeless beauty which can keep you captivated. Close to this square is Uffizi which we reached by 8:30 AM for our visit. Uffizi’s structure is like a long rectangle; it is not very big in structure like other top European museums. Famous paintings by Leonardo, Dante, Michelangelo & Boticelli are a sight not to be missed; a true Mecca for art lovers.

Around mid-day we were back to hotel; picked our luggage and headed to train station for next destination – Venice. Venice is only three hours away from Florence by train. An unusual city built on small islands and traversed by some 100 criss-cross canals.

St. Mark’s Basilica at evening

Reaching Venice first thing we bought 2 day-pass for Public Transport. Don’t be surprise the only way to transit in this man made city is by boat or water-taxi. We stayed at Lido across sea and there are plenty of ferries connecting St. Marco Square and Lido. On reaching hotel, to my surprise for the first time someone knew my birthplace as mentioned in passport. The manager on duty was a Bangladeshi who took refuge in my home town during 1974 war. He is been leaving in this romantic capital for a long time. After a while we departed immediately towards St. Mark’s Square which is quite lively with tourists enjoying drinks and duel orchestra. It’s the place where you can notice increase in level of tide water which shows sign of sinking Venice.

Venice is the place where one can get lost in endless mazes of backstreets, deserted squares and mysterious alleyways leading off from the city. We walked carelessly around there and explored few narrow lanes near by.

grand canal at night

Cost of dinner in the city of romance is very expensive if you are looking for fresh local sea-food. We opted for a crowded simple pizzeria. Taste of the pizza was awful; disgusted with same as we were discussing between ourselves when a mother and her teenage daughter joined from next table. They were from New Zealand on their winter vacation. It was a nice and long conversation with them as they were supposed to go to Florence from Venice.

We took some night mode picture of empty St. Marco square with our new tripod before returning to Lido.

With all said and done I found Venice like a big Disney land. There are only two kinds of people; either tourist or related to tourism. May be there is a vibrant and young Venice somewhere which we missed to figure out. In Rome, Milan or Florence we never had the same experience as there we saw local young people going to school or college or just hanging out in one of the piazza.

2007-11-25

Siena

Doumo from Distance

There are plenty of places to explore in Tuscan region from Florence as day trip. We decided to visit Siena which is only one hour. Reason for choosing Siena was for its medieval beauty; in that era Siena and Florence were at war when Florence defeated Siena.

Travel by road through Tuscan region is really amazing as you cross those post-card hills. But exhausted from yesterdays walking on the cobble stone roads of Florence I dozed as soon we hit the highway that made Santanu bit furious as he couldn’t share those moments.

Piazza del campo

Bus dropped us near to city center from where we visited top-sights – Piazza del campo square (city hall, museum, bell tower) and cathedral (with a baptistery, cathedral museum and viewpoint) of medieval town with twisting alleyways.

Siena’s city square (unique shell shaped piazza) is huge and it is the main landmark; only accessible by feet or taxi. There are lots of leather shops along Via di Citta (Main Street). Besides, there are numerous other shops and restaurants lined against the narrow lane which we found outrageously priced and too crowded with tourists. We walked along that street and had mouth-watering pizza for lunch in one resturant.

Marble Work small

Siena’s cathedral is outstanding with black and white marble columns and dazzling mosaics on the floor. Do not miss the magnificent Bernini statue of Mary Magdalene (does this bell a ring from Da Vinci’s Code?) hidden away in a niche of marble. Duomo is unfinished as you can see the half constructed outer wall. inside every possible inch of wall, ceiling and floor has been decorated. Adjoining the cathedral is the Piccolomini library which is also must.

Later, we walked to San Domenico (Basilica Cateriniana) with delicate and soft gelatos in our hand. This is a huge gothic church with minimalistic design so there is no fancy marble works or any thing.

Finally, we walked back to the bus stop (to Florence) with my eyes wide open this time.

At morning we crossed famous open market of Florence. But unfortunately, in the morning we were too early and in evening we were too late.

2007-11-24

Florence

Yesterday, late evening when we reached Florence it was drizzling and continued raining during the night. We got up to find grey sky - a very big disappointment compared to last few days as we had picture perfect blue sky. We also had to take out light jackets as temperature dropped. The hotel we stayed was not great but it was clean and functional in the centre of city even we could see the dome of famous cathedral from our hotel room window.

Florence was capital of Italian Renaissance so planned to visit famous Uffizi and Accademia dell’Arte. We started with the later one as it was next to our hotel. But we were surprised to find a long queue at 8.00 AM. We had to use even umbrella in between but those rain did not deter anyone in the queue as all were waiting with patience for their turn to enter.

Photography is completely prohibited inside; there are too many security personal who try their best to stop you as soon as you remove lens cap off your camera. Although flash photography is not allowed but still cameras flash and whispering sound you can hear. Some art students try to sketch at corners. He (David) looks really magnificent; recently celebrated his 500th birthday. Besides him there are numerous other art objects to explore.

TIP: Only if you are interested in visiting David and Slaves then must otherwise there is no point to explore as not worth the entrance fee.

We walked to Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral) after that. The cathedral of Florence needs lots of words to explain its beauty of architecture; marble works on the wall and floor. You can spend days to gather details of those fine craftsmanship. The top of the cathedral (dumo) is really big and it’s an engineering marvel when such huge dome was created without using any steel. The famous “last judgment” is there but looking long at that one might hurt your neck. Outside in the corner there is Battistero di San Giovanni which is considered oldest building and in front there is “gate of paradise” which inspired Rodin to create his “gate of hell”.

david

Nucleus of Florence is very animated and pedestrian friendly. Top attractions are minutes apart by walking. Piazza della Signoria (a.k.a. Palazzo Vecchio) is one of the main squares of Florence. Once upon a time original David stood here along with other numerous sculptures before moving to his current home.

Arco River and Uffizi

We decided to take Renaissance walk towards Ponte Vecchio through town centre. On the way we bought advance ticket for Uffizi museum. Ponte Vecchio is the oldest and most famous bridge over the Arno River; the only bridge to survive WW2 air bombing. This bridge is lined with jewelery shops connecting Uffizi to the old Medici palace.

It was time for lunch so we walked into a restaurant without thinking much and found it was white table clothed one. Surprisingly, the prices were not enormous like other tourist places. We tried pasta which they served with freshly baked bread; WOW I still lick my lip for.

After that great meal we crossed Arno but we did not went to Piazzale Michelangelo or other attraction like Boboli Gardens from there you get very good view of Florence but we skipped that.

Ceiling of Santa Croce

Instead we went to Church of Santa Croce; which have monumental tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Dante, and many others. Though Duomo is not very far this is the every day church for locals. There is a minimal fee to enter as tourists with free access to other parts inside the building. There is a leather factory run by the church where you get beautiful stuff without hassles of bargain. The inside garden (cloister) is calm and lush green. Besides, this in surrounding areas they have lot of leather shop.

Tip: good place to buy fashionable leather jacket.

Santa Maria Novella

Took a bus to railway station to visit another famous church Santa Maria Novella, but we found it closed. This also contains numerous art works. At last, at day end we went back to our hotel to freshen up and then while we were looking for restaurants were greeted Buonasera!!! to one of true Italian restaurant. Here we had Tuscan speciality at one of the small, neat and hunted by locals. Worth saying gracias.

Tip: It’s better to reserve in advance for museums (preferably by internet to avoid long queue) although its bit costly but saves time. Louvre museum also have plenty of renaissance work so if you are from Paris you can save money by visiting on months first Sundays (free entrance).

2007-11-23

An afteroon at Pisa

Being exhausted from last evening we got up bit late and had very good breakfast before hitting the road. According to our itinerary, distance to be covered was long one as our hotel was booked at Florence.

We took train to La Spezia, it was a crowded, got packed with each passing stations of Cinque Terre but became empty as soon as we crossed Riomaggiore. We had to wait a bit at La Spezia as train was coming from north was late. We heard trains in Italy sometime get delayed by few minutes to hours.

On our way to Florence we planned to visit the amazing 180 feet high Leaning Tower of Pisa - stop for taking pictures as we were crunched with time for visiting top sights.

doumo-pisa

At Pisa, we left our luggage at locker room of railway station went to “Duomo” by local bus, which was a quick way to get a glimpse of this old city. Pisa is also known for its famous university. As soon as we got down from bus we found the entrance was packed with hawkers and souvenir shops. It is a pretty common site in Italy to find people from North African countries trying to lure tourist with fake designer bags to sunglass.

After years of restoration leaning tower of Pisa now allows visitors to climb up 500 plus stairs to get a breath taking view and unique experience. But there was a small catch – we were told to wait for next five hours for our turn to come. With exhausted legs from yesterday’s hiking and dampened by the long queue we dropped the idea.

The Baptistery

In the same campus there are three other key buildings which was also build around the same time. The bell tower only looks leaning once it is referenced against it surrounding. We started with the cathedral (duomo) influenced by Byzantine architecture with magnificent red tiles on the top.

After that we visited Baptistery- famous for its acoustics. And we were very fortunate to witness the same. There was a group visiting the same at the same time and one among them sang beautifully. Though we did not understand any words what that gentleman was singing but we experienced the power of music. It was a superb impromptu performance as every one inside stopped and made sure there was pin drop silence.

From there we went Camposanto (cemetery) which are guarded together by wall called as Field of Miracles. As we have nothing much to do we tried plenty of pictures where we tried to give a push or hold the tower ;)

Baptistery-Pisa-santanu-small

Back at station we picked luggage and boarded train to Florence. The view from the train was superb as we crossed the Arno River few times. The lush green of wheat fields with mountains at backdrop were very scenic with sun setting in west.

Arno river is very famous river as it flows through the famous Tuscany region. To some Arno divides Italy in north and south as there is vast political and socio-economical difference in those two parts.

TIP: European trains are very particular in time not fit for people following Indian stretchable time. It’s always better to have some time in hand as they close the doors of train 5 minutes before departure.

2007-11-22

Cinqueterre – Mediterranean nirvana

We got up early had a quick breakfast and dragged our bags to Milan Central Station; bought our ticket for next destination “Cinqueterre” - refers to five small villages (Corniglia, Manarola, Monterosso al Mare, Riomaggiore and Vernazza) - cling to the rugged mountains along Mediterranean coastline with breath taking view.

cinque_terre

This UNSECO heritage site is not on the main train line or motor-way that connects Milan to Rome. To get there, we have to cross the mountain to reach the western side of Italy. Need to change train at Genoa- known for its pesto sauce and native place of Columbus. It is said that as the western side of the Liguria hills gets the best sun light which is perfect for tomato and basil. As we had to change train from main line to local line we could only get glimpse from train.

There are special trains from Levanto to La Spezia which stops in these five villages. As I write down about different trains lines I am sure you got an idea how remote these little villages are ; yes they are really small villages. Tourist attraction has not yet turned them into mini town.

hotel-levanto

Cost of hotels in those five small villages were enormous so we booked hotel at Levanto, north of Cinqueterre a small village with sandy beach, bustling day-time markets. Later, while exchanging travel notes with friends we found Levanto was a better choice in terms of food, spacious room and most importantly price and service.

After checking into the hotel in afternoon we rushed back to the rail-station to head towards the south most station Riomaggiore. We got one day “Cinque Terre Card” that allowed us to hike and ride public transport in Cinqueterre. This small amount helps to maintain this National Park.

The best way to explore Cinqueterre is to hike the trails between the 5 villages; there are other numerous trail which connects vineyards and sea. Of course, there are public transport or ferry to hop between villages.

 Hiking at cinque terre

We planned to hike south to north in one go; the distance between Riomaggiore to Monterosso al Mare is 12kms, a lot of the trail is steep and rocky. The hike started with steep stairs leading to famous Via dell’Amore, (which needs no translation I hope - Path of love). The walk from Riomaggiore to Manarola is the easiest which takes about 15-20 minutes depending on how long you stop to gaze at the view! It is paved all the way and fairly flat.

The next section of the walk is from Manarola to Corniglia ( 3km long and takes about 1 hour). Parts of this trail are pretty easy, but it is steeper at times, the ground is sometimes uneven. The most exhausting part of this section is at the end. As you arrive at Corniglia train station there are also signs to reach secluded or public beach along the way. That means you need to hike down to the sea. The station is located by the sea side, while the town of Corniglia is on top of the hill which is connected by long flight of stairs!!!

The section between Corniglia and Vernazza is most scenic part passing through vineyards, fragrant herb bushes and rocky outcrops with spectacular views. It took about 1.5 hours to complete, though we stopped quite a bit to admire the views and took some breathe.

Cinque Terre

Toughest section is between Vernazza and Monterosso with lots of ups and downs and steep stairs. It is a real bridle path which unwinds itself by the seaside.

From here, we returned back to Levanto by train full of sun-burned tourists.

TIP: Need good pair of shoes to avoid weary legs and hiking pole will save your knees. We hiked this part in late afternoon as we were crunched with time but will advice to start in the morning so that you take more frequent stops to admire the beauty and give rest to your legs and lungs.

At the end, we almost had to run as we were not prepared for hiking in dark and it was only us on that trail. You can spend few days in these villages to unwind and explore churches and other historic buildings if those interest you. </p

2007-11-21

Milan and Lake Como


Prologue:

Weeklong journey of Italy takes us back to summer of 2004; due to various reasons never posted travelogues on time though pictures from the same were published on time. Please hang on as we try to recite detailed vacation from our faithful memory.

We had a night train from Bercy Station, Paris. For us, reaching Bercy was bit far from our Metro Station (Exelmans on M9) as there was no easy interchange; while on street-road map it looks closer from our apartment. This train is not a fast train (TGV) but fast enough to take you to Venice from Paris in one night. We started around 20:30 but due to summer it was still very bright day when we left Paris. We travelled by first class; the cabin was similar to AC 1st class compartment of Indian trains in size. No doubt, the spotless and punctual services are incomparable. Only down side of this night train is missing the beauty of Alps as we cross in the night.


Journey Begins:

Parco Sempione

After checking in pre-booked hotel at business centre of Italy, Milan and having our breakfast we left for Sforza Castle, rebuilt brick fortress and Parco Sempione. There is also “Arco della Pace” resembling Arc-de-Triumph of Paris to hail Napoleon’s entry into Milan. These are in the northern part of Milan and worth visiting.

Santanu had heard a lot about Lake Como from his old colleague Antonio about his home town. Those countless description aroused a curiosity to visit Lake Como. Como and other lakes of Northern Italy are very famous as they border with southern part of Switzerland. They are the tourist destination to relax in tranquillity for rich and famous. Rich bankers, fashion designers or Hollywood movie stars all want to grab a lake side property here. In old time, these lakes also meant reliable mode of transport to higher Alps from southern end.

Lake Como

Just half an hour from noisy, bustling Milan, Lake Como is a magical combination of lush Mediterranean foliage and snowy alpine peaks. We took a classic lakeside promenade, where roads are narrow, bit congested, and lined by old villas (some of which even converted into hotels) and from here we took a ferry ride to Bellagio on the southern shore known as the pearl of the lake.

Ferry ride is very enchanting leading to other small villages along lakeside which are hop away. Bellagio has narrow cobbled streets, breathtaking views, impeccable small homes and glorious villas with winding alleys, flowering balconies and lace-curtained windows which give a feeling of most captivating spot.

Tips: Instead of walking you can take a cab or bus from the train station to the lake front if your legs feel weak.

In recent time, two big ticket movies which I saw were shooted here - “STAR WAR –II” and “Ocean Twelve.”

Although, village is not animated by tourists but still we repented to leave this place as we had already booked hotel at Milan. Train journey from Milan to Como was nice but lost in our memory to the natural beauty of the lake and that magical afternoon on ferry. On returning had dinner at one of the restaurant near Galleria Vittorio Emanuele which was scrumptious.

Tips: As summer days are long, afternoon ferry ride is a better option that way you can use the first part for exploring something else. You may enjoy the afternoon sun on the ferry for a sun-tan. But too late in the afternoon means you might not be able to get an “aller-retour” ferry ride.

2007-11-19

Fresh Tomato Soup

carrot-soup

Till far only soup ever tried to make was carrot soup in Paris that too in bleak winter. Big thanks to my French Teacher for sharing the recipe en Français. Recently, went to local vegetable market; seeing tomato got so tempted that without thinking bought two kilos. Then I brainstormed a bit to think and idea of soup came as an escape. Here is my 2 cents recipe. If craving for something sweet and sour at the same time just have a bowl of creamy tomato soup to satisfy your desire as an appetizer.

  • One kilo Tomato – boiled, peeled and deseeded.
  • Two/three carrots – chopped to tiny pieces.
  • One big Onion finely chopped
  • Few cloves of garlic
  • One red chili
  • One Bay leaf
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • Black pepper
  • Nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil / ½ tbsp butter
  • Juice from one fresh Orange
  • Low fat cream or thick yoghurt
  • Dried Basil / Parsley leaves - optional
  • Salt to taste

Heat the oil/ butter and fry cumin seeds, bay leaf, garlic and onion with pinch of salt. When onion turns golden, add carrots and continue frying at low flame. Once carrot is tender add tomato and fry for few minutes

Make puree in a grinder (remove bay leaf before). Add water according to thickness required. Put the blended soup back in the pan. Bring to boil and cook for 5 minutes on medium heat. Now add freshly squeezed orange juice and cream after removing from heat. Season it with nutmeg and fresh black pepper. Garnish with a couple of parsley or basil sprigs if any and serve hot with either croutons or bread slice.

bread-talk-dessert

Best news is “Bread-Talk” boutique has recently opened at Vashi. It is a famous bakery chain from Singapore and they do cater good quality of various breads as well as desserts. But sadly, the dessert I got from there was too creamy, spongy and sugary. I will say tasteless to my taste buds as these kinds of pastries are very popular throughout India. After tasting European pastries, I find these one as - concept of western baked goods mixed with Asian ingenuity makes cool looking pastries that are hit-and-miss at certain point. While multi-cereal bread which I got was awesome.

2007-11-12

Playing with shutter speed

kharghar fun with  exposere

Love taking pictures with long shutter speed at night - technique is very simple. All I needed was a tripod to secure camera from shaking while leaving the camera shutter open. I know this is not a great picture but that is what I got from my balcony. A better one with Kharghar landmark Utsav Chowk is posted here.

Got G(oogle)-Phone


Well downloaded G-Phone application from Google. on my Blackberry. All I needed was data access enabled phone to download G-phone. The speculation was running high about a new hardware from Google in lots of web sites. Lets see how these applications (Gmail, Google maps, Google news, Google search, Gtalk, Google calender) will work on a normal phone where the display is not as big as Blackberry and you do not have full keyboard or track wheel. Any feedback on that, have you tried already ?

2007-11-09

Festival of lights

Decorative paper lanterns

Today as we celebrate India’s grand festival of Light signaling triumph over evil after a protracted fight which is marked by lighting of oil based traditional earthen or clay lamps as they shine brightly in each and every home - Be it lowly or mightily from the hut of the poor to the mansion of the rich when good with all its might, leads us from darkness to light. A day when old and young indulge in royal feast on this festival of snacks and sweet.

For one and all we pray gift of light -
Wherever you travel, may a star lead you
The wind be at your back and road rise to meet you
Let God holds you in hollow of his hand.

Wishing you all a very happy, prosperous and safe Diwali

Day 3 - Rishikesh

The weather looked gloomy with an overcast sky as we woke up. We had breakfast at the hotel and decided to visit Rishikesh today. Again we...