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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Last day, woke up very early in the morning to visit Candolim, Sinquerim beach- Just to avoid scorching heat of sun. The shimmering sea stretches to the horizon. Spent some time to savour the view then headed to Fort Aguada. Fort Agauda crowns the rocky flattened headland at the end of the beach. Constructed in 1612 to protect the northern shores of Mandovi estuary from Dutch and Maratha raiders. It was a reference point for the vessels coming from Europe at that time. This old Portuguese fort stands on the beach south of Candolim, at the shore of the Mandovi river. Part of fort is now turned to Taj holiday village and another part to prison. Its worth a visit with superb view from top of the hill where four storey Portuguese lighthouse looks down over vast expanse of sea sand and palm trees. While descending the hill one can see River Nerul. Roads of this part of Goa are really nice and scenic. Enjoyed the ride as pillion rider. Undoubtedly, it is the picturesque palm-fringed beaches, scenic coves, sun-kissed sands and turquoise waters that make Goa one of the world's premier holiday destinations.
For lunch headed to another typical goan no-frill restaurant this time; ordered for chonok and rice which was enough for two as portion was big. Well recommended by guide book.
One more last time went to Baga beach to soak ourselves in turquoise water. Enjoyed thoroughly and headed to hotel for pack-up as we were leaving that night by bus from Mapusa; a new experience to travel with sleeper coach night bus.
The sleeper bus was smooth at beginning but later along the way we had two blowouts. Needless to say, we were late by 5 hours. Santanu was forced to work from home next day.
As we couldn’t enjoy much earlier day we decided to opt for rented bike and move around in our own pace. Rented a bike for 2 days for 400 Rupees. One thing which is very interesting about Goa’s motorcycle taxi locally known as pilots ideal for nipping between beaches or for short distances. Bonafide operators ride black bikes with yellow mudguards and white number plate. These vehicles transport a single pillion rider. (Photo credit: from GoaBlog.org)
As usual after breakfast we headed towards Anjuna beach. Anjuna is gorgeous with its rocky shore and mighty cliffs where you can hear of techno-thumping sounds and see hippies around. With morning sun and plenty of time at hand we made this special sign to remember Goa. Vagator, however, is the perfect hideaway spot with its few beach shacks and fishing boats off in the distance. Black lava rocks, the coconut palms, the lush green landscape, nature playing its own music, and the sea turning from aquamarine to emerald green with Chapora Fort at its background. The reminiscence of the old Portuguese times giving a splendid view of the sea and hills covered with coconut trees and rice fields. To reach middle and little Vagator one needs to walk but the calmness worth the effort as big Vagator gets bus loads of Indian whiskey drinking male tourist.
At noon, sun is really hard to tolerate but for lunch, we made sure to have exotic flavour of the Goan dishes at whatever cost. So, we searched hard to find one place called “Gabriel” recommended by our guidebook as an authentic goan cooking. It was really worth searching.
For most Goans three basic necessities – fish, curry and rice. Goan values their food as much as they do their daily siesta. In their daily meal, seafood always has a pride of place in some or other form. From fried fish to exotic concoctions; sea food is usually a must on the menu, except for the occasional break for some religious observance. Besides fresh seafood, dried and salted fish dishes are also highly prized by Goans.
We ordered Galinha com Coentro (chicken with fresh coriander leaves and vinegar) and prawn curry with rice. It was really fresh, home –made and scrumptious. Owner was friendly; had chit-chat with him. We figured out it was guest-house cum restaurant with lots of shady trees around and not far from sea. Sitting arrangement is in the garden under trees with fan. Since it was shady we spent 2 hours there and at last we were offered yummy chocolate (European one after a long time).
In the evening we prepared ourselves for soaking at Baga beach; smeared well with body-oil. As on day two we found that sand was very fine and it gets stick to the body like glue even after proper shower. So, smearing oneself helps as sand can’t stick to the body and washes off with each roaring waves.
At evening we went to Tibetian market right across our resort where Santanu bought one finger-ring for himself and then headed for dinner at Baga-Calangute road to one nice restaurant. Wanted to taste one goan dessert for last 3 days; since we were not left with an inch place in stomach we could not but today made sure to eat less so that we can taste it. For dessert best is “Infantaria Pastelaria” recommended again by our guidebook which was again right across our resort where we bought Bebinca – a layered pudding.
We opted for package tour with our hotel stay, so our hotel had arranged for two day sightseeing South Goa with river cruise and North Goa. We opted for South Goa to start with.
Left hotel around 9 at Indian Stretchable Time after breakfast in a non-AC bus accompanied by one local guide. The itinerary included Dona-Paula (bypass Miramar beach). Old Goa churches-Bom Jesus Basilica and se cathedral along with two temples Mangueshi and shantadurga dedicated to Shiva and shantadurga (goddess of Peace), visit to Ancestral Goa/old Portuguese house and Colva beach. To wrap it up there is river cruise at the end.
Actually, this kind of package are good way of getting around Goa in short-time. It seems they are more appealing to Indian tourists wishing to combine peek at all top sights with the whistle-stop tour. Sometimes they include certain places inland that you wouldn’t otherwise consider visiting.
Anywayz, Colva beach was not even attractive to us though it is an oldest and largest fishing beach. There were international tourists marinating in the sun and overcrowded domestic visitors paddling. Beach front is dismal as stench of drying fish waft from near-by village.
River cruise on Mandavi was one hour trip over crowed with mostly Indian tourists. Professional troupes perform the Dekni Temple Dance, the Fugdi Dance and the Corredinho Dance with live music. You can shake your leg too as it will tempt you to dance to their beats. They do try hard to entertain but no chance to glimpse the Sun as it sets in Arabian Sea. Its pity that this boat company makes sure you can not view the sun-set as there is a big backdrop on west to hide Sun from you. May be they do it on purpose to make sure everyone is seated and not leaning on side of the boat to take picture of golden ball as it goes down.
Other then this they took us to souvenir shop (where they get commission)- i.e., one souvenir at least visitor always carries home from his holidays in Goa are cashew nuts, spices and wine. Cashew trees abound the Goan hillsides. The flowering in January leads to luscious, brilliantly coloured fruit in March, April and early May. It is then plucked, while the apple is used in the process of producing "Feni" (Goan speciality) and the nuts are roasted for consumption. Here locally produced wines and beer are cheaper than anywhere in the country. Big percentage of tourist to Goa are men from other parts of India who come to Goa as an escape from moral confines of life at home.
Disadvantage of this kind of package trips are they don’t give enough time where they should actually give and secondly you cannot have taste of Goa or in other words you don’t have much choice for restaurants as they take tourists to such a remote part where only one restaurant will be there with awful food and you end up eating those as you don’t have alternative. In short, we are the people who want to explore more of the place, know about the culture, food, enjoy the serenity, nature’s landscape and all. So, this kind of packages are not meant for us. And we decided not to opt for the North Goa trip.
In Goa, traveling around by rented motorcycle or car is imperative if you want more than just sun, surf and sand. It gives lot of freedom but can be perilous at same time. On second day early morning we haggled at least with three owners for renting and lastly ended up with Activa for Rupees 250(it is better to rent for long durations to get good price). Another reason for renting was we wanted to go to Bicholim to visit Santanu’s maternal uncle for dinner. Normally, roads of Goa are as smooth as airport tarmacs except few parts.
After breakfast (bread, butter, jam and juice or tea) at hotel which was included in our package we rode on Calangute-Baga road and soon realised that hotel in which we are staying is at main spot at entrance of this road which leads to Baga beach.
This road to Baga Beach from Calangute is full of handcraft items, which are lucrative to foreign tourist (but not worth the money). Just opposite to our hotel was a nice Tibetan market which offers all kinds of gems and silverwork, wooden statues of the Buddha's and Hindu deities. Besides, Calangute and Baga have been swamped by Kashmiri traders putting up Kashmiri carpets, wooden crafts, embroidery and papier-mâché boxes for sale. Famous night clubs like Tito are on this road - vivacious with tourist and locals that mean shops are open till late while other parts of Goa goes to sleep.
Interesting nugget of information about the Baga beach is that there are a lot of touts asking for para-sailing, water-sports, dolphin boat-ride, and banana ride etc. hawking wares include skirts, tee-shirts, novels etc. You will be offered with cup of tea to ayurvedic massages as every one tries to sell their service or product. It means you can sip chilled beer while getting a temporary tattoo done or reading a novel. For these services you need to bargain -We were told they were offering good Indian price compared to foreign tourist .But in reality tourists are tourists and local try to milk them out as much they can - the bitter truth of vacation.
Well, we rented sun-beds at Rs 50 for few hrs took dip in the turquoise water which was really fun. Best part to see majority of Indian women clad in colourful saris stand up to their waist in the water while others wear shorts, bikinis and swimsuit. Pot-bellied Indian men in shorts or undergarments saving a buck or two for swimsuit. Though there are few smarties (women) who come prepared in Indian attire with swimsuit inside to take a dip and get quickly changed. Indian visitors flock to giggle at the tribes of dreadlocked white-skin on the vast white sandy beach.
Being famished we headed towards Plantain Leaf (only vegetarian) for udipi thali. Came back to hotel for afternoon siesta and left at evening for Bicholim After tanking up at Mapusa we rode via Fort Corjuem to Bicholim - it was a long ride but enjoyable.
Trip to Goa was long due may-be you can say from 2001 when I got opportunity as a teacher with my school children. But unfortunately, I couldn’t make as I was supposed to behave as good girl. Good unmarried Indian girls don’t go anywhere without an escort. To qualify as an escort there are lots of criteria to be checked and considered like friend’s brother, acquaintance from neighborhood etc. is a BIG NO. They never go out after dark alone. They never spent night at a female friend's place, especially if the friend had a brother no matter younger or elder.
Dialogues like “I am old enough to take care of myself” never worked with my parents - you can say kind of very conservative upbringing in certain matters. And it was normal for me to argue on all such matters though consequences were known to me. So, out of anger I told my parents “you will never go to GOA without me or unless I go there first”. They kept their words though they travel extensively within India.
On Satanu’s part he visited Goa for first time with his parents in 2002 summer. They went to visit their relatives. He detested the heat and did not found Goa as an attractive tourist destination. That was the time when we first met at Bombay after his Goa trip. After moving to India whenever Goa came in our discussion as destination fear of glazing sun hunted him.
As Santanu is blessed with long weekends (Indian holidays follow strict Sun or Moon Calendar) at work this year. We booked our flight with Spice-Jet which was only no-frill flight quoting less. Initially, we did booked our hotel with Hotel Mandavi at Panjim. But later came to know from various sources that if one wants to enjoy beaches then need to make choice between north and south Goa beach. We opted for north Goa at last minute and booked with TICLO resort at Calangute.
Different people had different views on Calangute which made us bit skeptical till last but I think we did made a right choice. Normally, hotels provide with “pick-up” service at Goa. On reaching Dabolim airport we realised our hotel haven’t sent any and they requested to use “Pre-paid service” which they will reimburse on reaching and they did stick to their words.
After being ushered to our room which was quite spacious we left for exploring Calangute. We soon figured out that we were not very far from beach so walked few meters along the beach at early evening then had pomfret and chicken in our dinner.
After moving from Paris, we had been planning to take a trip somewhere out of Mumbai. We even bought a Travel book on India to explore more our own motherland. But with time and circumstances our plan didn’t got executed. At last, after longtime we took a day break on last weekend when Santanu came to know at last moment about his holiday on Maha Shivratri. Since it was last moment plan we could only make for one night stay.
Harihareshwar is a small town with palm-lined beach known for pilgrimage centre-Kalbhairav (Shiva) temple and its ideal beach resort of MTDC. This beach is black due to the rock particles from rocky shores being mixed into the sand. The beauty of the place is its serenity (far off from city’s buzz) and lack of commercialization unlike other tourist spots Goa or Kovalam. Beach actually splits in two parts north and south.
The southern beach is where resort is located facing the sea which offers not only rooms but also tents and cottages in a bamboo grove with AC. But it needs booking well in advance. We repented for not making it before hand so we had to stay in “Geetanjali rest house” as paying guest in just 400 Rs a night. We had our lunch and dinner at MTDC canteen as the view of the sea through the green is refreshing sight for mind and soul. There are chairs placed under thatched roof where one can have meal under a starlit sky with a sweeping view of the bay and some lit-up boats bobbing out on the sea. This side of beach is mostly deserted compared to that of northern beach. Though our host asked us to have food with them called as “gharguthis” with costal flavor ( Konkani meals) – simple but hygienic at same time ; we denied politely as they were having fast for Shivratri so we didn’t wanted to stress them.
The northern side is where temple is. It’s that side where one can see stunning sunset we lounge there to watch red ball taking a plunge in the blue roaring Arabian ocean. This roaring sound of restless waves dashing against the rocky shore is something to watch for hours. Its something cannot be explained in words.
Next day we started early for Shrivardhan 15kms away which is famous for its beach, temple and historic monuments. Its home town and birth place of Peshwa Balaji Vishwanath (founder of peshwas) but beach is not that attractive or well maintained compared to that of Harihareshwar.
A lovely drive on NH-17 except bumpy roads starting from Mangaon to Mhasla ahead past till junction where it splits into Srivardhan and Harihareshwar. Though it was a short stay but will last in memory for long time. Moreover this was first time after coming to India Santanu drove all the way 170 kms from Kharghar for 4 1/2 hrs at stretch. While coming back we took halt en route near Mangaon to get some fresh veggies and brunch (Resort Open Umbrella).
At end Santanu regretted for not learning stick-shift before then we could have explored France more.