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.
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.
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.
Black and yellow metered taxi’s made famous by Bollywood movies play a major role of public transport in Mumbai other then auto rickshaws, trains and buses. In New York they are yellow, in London they are Black and in Mumbai they’re both yellow and black. They are part of Mumbai heritage. Normally, they move in snail space at peak hours which may depend on the area traversed and the state of the roads. Truly, at times cannot help to mention their weird way of driving.
- These metered taxis ply throughout Mumbai otherwise only mode of hired transport in proper Mumbai as auto-rickshaws are not allowed. Bandra on western and Sion on central line marks the demarcation point. This is a big bliss as there is not much noise pollution, no mad driving and not much squeezing on road for space.
- They are quaint vehicles which are quite reasonable in price to hire, even if short on leg room, seat comfort, ceiling height, and window space.
- They also run in share mode, maximum of four person can share the ride but routes are fixed for this kind. Mostly Mumbai-ans uses them to reach office from station or vice versa.
- All most 99% black and yellow cabs are Premier Padmini by FIAT
- FIAT does not produce these car any more so all cars on the road are 20/30 years old.
- They run on CNG (that is the only reason taxi fair did not got a hike in last few years).
- Fixing the car is easy, not much electronic like new car. Each driver knows his car’s technical fine points like his palm.
- Taxi drivers in Mumbai are still OK; not as honest like old times but better off from their counterparts in any other major cities in India.
Though there are new air conditioned taxi on the road which are yet to become mainstream. These will be air conditioned and fitted with GPS, cordless phones, electronic meters with printers. These new taxis will charge a little extra than the traditional black and yellow taxis because of the luxury frills.
Even recently one Cab Company has decided to employ ladies driver catering mainly to ladies passenger and this service will be started by this November.
Cricket – is India’s gorgeous past time – it is not taken as a sport. This picture was taken during Cricket World Cup of 2007 inside a Mumbai cab. But somehow I never posted the same. I am not a big cricket fan but is impossible to avoid cricket while you are in India.
In recent time, performance of Indian cricket team is quite disappointing. But that does not change Indians breathing cricket - be at India or abroad. Performance of India in any other sport is quite dishonorable considering its population.
Cricket and cricketers are most sought after in India. Best Indian performance of cricket in world arena was almost 20 years back when there was not so much glamour and money in that game. May be that is why they were more interested in playing cricket rather than endorsing any brand or product.
The worst of all is the Indian cricket board which is most money milking sport’s body in the world even beating those big football clubs of Europe. Chairs of Indian Cricket Board are filled up with politicians and old cricketers whose greed for money, power and limelight or Page-Three attention never ends. Enough of ranting …..for something which I don’t even care.
Calcutta (Kolkata) – mega city of Eastern India. In this vibrant city with a distinct socio-political culture, cabs are grand old Ambassadors from Hindustan Motors and most of cars are manufactured from the nearby plant of Uttarpara. This picture was taken next to major long distance Sealdah Railway Station which shows that city of joy still struggles with traffic congestion. Unlike of other major cities where Tata indica or fiat or Maruti are common hired forms of mechanised transport this city has almost all taxis as amby painted in yellow.
Before Maruti it was the only car on Indian road. This reminds me of my childhood times when me and my brother used to identify a Mark-II, Mark-III or Mark-IV by its sound (all these models looked very similar). It was a stupid game in era of Nintendo –Wii. The game was a simple one - we used to hide behind a wall as we saw an Ambassador approaching, try to identify the same by sound and confirm as soon as it passed by from behind.
While writing this post I just found the web page of this car and found 10 reasons to buy this car ……
- First Indian car – [born in 1950 (inception in 1948. Originally based on Morris Oxford ,United Kingdom ]
- Power Steering – [Trying to match up the new market with Maruti, TATA, Honda and Toyota.]
- Multi Fuel Injection – [Well, all new car has that - what a big deal?]
- Company fitted CNG – [Well, you can convert almost every petrol car in India to keep your running cost as low as 1 Rupees for 1 KM.]
- Tough - [tested on Indian roads for long time but why they have to list the toughness twice?]
- Roominess - [Yes, more then 10 people can travel in a single car at a given time!!]
- 5 Speed Gear box - [Another lame reason, all car now a days has the same. ]
- Easy repairable – [They claim across the country all mechanic knows the car inside out.]
- Serves the country – [Used by Indian Army and de-facto car of Indian bureaucrats and politicians. ]
If I have enough money one day I will like to have a chauffeur driven amby for myself just to hang out in nostalgia or in the roomy car or to be different from every one else .My eleventh reason or may be only reason for having this car.
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.
On day 2 we woke up late from bed took a stroll in the backyard then decided to walk towards main market to book our return trip and to have breakfast. On the way we had strawberry from street corner as its very common people selling it through out same product. We booked our return bus trip and were asked for shared taxi at 175 Rs for Mahabaleshwar darshan which we accepted. Walked on main bazaar street of Mahabaleshwar which is full of quaint shops that are certain to catch your fancy.
Its bit hot at noon in this time of year. We had Kate’s point, Echo point, Needle hole, Venna lake, Lodwick point, Elephant head and sunset point.
Sunset point called Bombay Point being close to our MTDC resort, is the expansive view of the sunset considered to be one of the most beautiful, popular and oldest sights in Mahabaleshwar. But too crowded with tourists and people come here to ride on horse and get themselves photographed with horse stunts and backdrop of sunset. It got its name since it was on the old road to Bombay.
Next day started return trip in the morning; we got to enjoy the whole journey in those semi-comfy chairs of bus. Otherwise we had to face hair raising stunts from some of the crazy drivers in those winding and hair-pin bending roads.
Unlike last time we booked our trip with bus agency for 700Rs (2 persons). Our reporting time was 00:15AM at Kharghar node but we were quite early then our reporting time 11:30 PM fearing we might not get a public transport to reach on time. We waited for our bus and waited, and waited and waited some more. It was about 00:30AM and there was still no sign of our bus. We gave a call to bus counter and asked them when the bus would show up. The guy there kept on saying that it was late and it just started from other side of Mumbai-suburbs.
It was about 01:00 AM and yet no sign of our bus. All shops had closed down and everybody else around us had boarded their respective buses and gone. And there we were, two sitting with bags on the pavement in the middle of the night. Phew! All along we were cursing ourselves and was thinking the difficulties we might have to face if we have to return home then at last at 1:30AM we did board the bus.
Well, this time we even booked our hotel beforehand with MTDC. One can check the availability; book the room of your choice from your own PC. The only trap is - pay heavy penalty if you change your mind at last moment. We booked for Krishna cottage for 1450 Rs per night. MTDC is located near the road to Pratapgad outside of the city center, the dwelling units are covered in thick greenery. The stretch of road on which the MTDC lay is quite desolate. The PWD guest house is adjacent to this resort, which is equally or rather more charming. Tourists of MTDC can walk into the PWD guest house, stroll and even have food at the PWD restaurant. One more beauty about the PWD bungalow is the sunset spot which we missed. The beautiful lawn in front of the PWD bungalow overlooks the whole ranges of Sahyadri, more importantly, there is no crowd here. Really, much better than Mahabaleshwar’s famous sunset spot. The lonely road is a good joggers’ track or one can enjoy the walk (inside) which is pleasant or can enjoy the backyard of cottage and you have an opportunity to listen to chirping of various kinds of birds. There are 30 cottages which is most beautiful part of this resort. This resort is heaven for nature lovers as shrouded in greenery. A great escape for those assaulted daily with the view of our urban jungles who really want to get stress relief. The trees sway in the wind the swishing sound engulfs you and makes you feel relaxed.
Since, we reached early morning we had an option of choosing cottage of our choice. We picked lucky 13 close to PWD guest house. The cottage rooms are quite spacious and have good clean big bathrooms as well. The rooms are equipped with television which is only useful in case you plan on staying indoors.
Not accustomed with nocturnal bus journey we were groggy. And moreover Santanu wanted to relax rather then rushing from one point to another. After having breakfast at PWD guest house we took a nap to recharge ourselves. With nothing better to do we set off for Panchgani, Pratapgarh and Wai at noon. Though Taxi wallah having fixed rate cards we bargained for 1000Rs for 3 places.
We started with Panchmari which derives its name from five hills that surrounds it. This trip includes Parsi point and tableland. Parsi point is famous for best view of Krishna valley down below. And table land offers the panoramic view of Panchgani itself. It's largest plateau in Asia, a small plane can land here. It is situated 60 meters high on the eastern side of the town. It protects Panchgani from strong winds, heavy rainfall and makes this hill station enjoyable all year round. It streches far beyond eye can see. On way we went to strawberry garden where you can buy all the fresh products available there. We bought strawberry jam.
From here we went to Wai, foothills of Panchgani ancient town with temples. It is believed Pandavas stayed here in disguise during their exile. Dolya Ganapati Temples on the bank of Krishna river are well preserved of their times.
After having late lunch we set off for Pratapgarh which is about 26 kilometeres from Mahabaleshwar on the opposite side of our first two destinations. This is the fort where the legendary confrontation between Shivaji and Afzal Khan took place and which saw Shivaji emerge victorious. At pratapgarh we hired a govt. recognized guide Satish for 80/- who was very informative and helpful for taking our snaps:-).He explained every aspect of it in detail. The fort was quite fascinating and we climbed up some 400 odd steps to enjoy the view from atop. There is a splendid view of the lush green valley and the forts Raigad and Makarandgad can also be viewed on a clear day. We were not lucky enough to have crystal clear weather rather it was hazy. On the east and the south the hills have steep slopes covered with dense forest in contrast with rocky west and the north. The hills gradually descend to the valleys separating Mahabaleshwar and Kineshwar range on the east and the Konkan valley on the west. We enjoyed sunset on our way back to Mahabaleshwar from one of the Shayadri range.
At twilight, we headed towards our cottage. Suddenly there was a strike in the city and all the shops were closed. This situation caught every visitor’s off-guard and everyone approached MTDC restaurant for dinner. Though tired and famished we had to wait for 2 hours - as small kitchen was not capable to handle such big volumes of orders in one evening. What a chaos it was. Oh GOD!!!
Though journey was not very memorable or different than that of those I had while growing up in North-East region except that Pamela was with me this time. Traveling by Jeep through those narrow winding roads is an experience in itself where our co-passengers thought that we are going for honeymoon trip. The drive was very scenic with Teesta River flowing all the way. The forested hills are still green but truly there is continuous deforestation going on for either cultivation or smuggling woods.
Weather was getting worse. Tea, snacks & film rolls are available at the dozen of temporary stalls near the lake. But there is no facility of accommodation or proper toilet for the tourist. Rides on yaks and mules are also offered which was worthless to enjoy for Pamela at that temperature.
Now, looking forward to travel to North Sikkim some day which we heard is more beautiful with valley of flowers and lakes to explore.
The evening we reached was bit late around 11PM so I decided to take a cab from the airport to the hotel. The hotel people told me it cost around 35 euros from the Airport to the hotel. But it cost us 54 Euros so I was very angry with the Taxi driver at first for taking longer routes. But when I asked again with the hotel guy he said it is normally around 60 Euros. Well that made me feel good but not better.
Next day, Saturday, we went to Melk by train from Vienna the weather was great with blue sky and warm temperature. The train ride was nice as it gives a good view of Austria’s country side. Melk has a very beautiful abbey which is known as Stift to the local. From there we took a boat ride on Danube River to Kermes. While walking from the boat stop to the train station we met a lady from Graz. She suggested us to take the train ride to her beautiful town in the Alps on any sunny morning.
That evening we came back to Vienna and walked around StephansPlatz and dined in a vegetarian place, the food was good.
Sunday we had our coffee and some tasty pastries to start the day. We walked along the ring starting from Opera, Hufburg Palace, City hall, Museum Quarter Parliament, University and the stock Market. After that we went to St. Augustine’s Church to listen the Sunday Chores. It was a very different experience the music and singing was really very soothing to ears. After lunch we went to Belvedere Palace. It was very special day as Austria was celebrating its 50 years of Freedom. There was live music, dance in different form. We really enjoyed those great outdoor performances.
On our last day we went to Schonbrunn (beautiful fountain) palace. It was summer residence of the royal. Its beautiful park really demands a good amount of time from you to explore those lavish green surroundings.