If there is one thing that comes to everyone’s mind the moment the city of Paris is mentioned, it is the Eiffel Tower. And it is also the very reason why it is clearly the No-1 if not the top attraction for every first-time visitor to what has been long cherished as a most romantic city in the world.
As a traveller I am no different and neither do I wish to be different not to put the Eiffel Tower right at the very top in the list during my first visit to Paris. As most visitors, my expectation too was as towering high, right on my way to the Eiffel that showed itself in glimpses as we drove towards it. Standing over 1000 feet tall and weighing over 10,000 tons, this amazing structure in metal on 4 pillars clearly makes us go awestruck at first sight. As it is claimed, this incredible structure having taken 2 years, 2 months and 5 days, without a doubt has amazed millions till date and will continue to do so for 100s of years to come. As a testimony to French engineering, this tower is a frozen moment of the great industrial era at the end of 19th century.
Though the wait in the queue may put you off, it is definitely worth it once the ascent begins. Having been modernised in 1900 by Gustave Eiffel, a decade later after their inception in 1889, two of the original elevators are still in service. Now this is an incredible fact that elevates the excitement and interest levels of most visitors like me, as we move up. As someone with the lens in hand and hungry for the views that are differently captivating, every stop that we made at different levels offers more of them.
The lovely landscapes around…
As we move up, the first sight is a spectacular landscape that showcases an orderly built city, star-studded with centuries old monumental structures such as Palais de Chaillot, the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral, esplanades, the beautiful River Siene and the beautiful lush green Champ-de-Mars park forming the intermittent spaces that completes a perfect panorama. Every frame from the tower’s high, offers nothing short of centuries of rich history and culture. The slowly moving boats carrying loads of enthusiastic tourists on River Siene, adds more than life to every view, be it live or through the lens.
The higher one gets on the Tower, more interesting are the views and the experience. The whackier side of me is made to imagine a large cake with some intricate icing in white and a green base, that has been precisely cut into a pattern of different sizes. And thats exactly how one of these city views appear right from the top.
Every little variations seem to be adding more beauty to these sights. And one cannot miss the beautiful bridges that seem to appear like those incredible line drawings that connect interesting points on carefully drawn travel plan on a large canvas. The three main bridges Pont d’Lena, Pont d’Alma and Pont de Bir Hakim pose elegantly for me as they connect the two sides of the waterways, right below the Eiffel Tower, and also conveys much about the sophistication in planning of this romantic city.
The Iron Lady, as it is called, standing tall above the French capital, celebrates 130 years and this goes as a little tribute remembering the Parisan engineer Gustave Eiffel, the creator. This mighty engineering marvel is sure to awe millions from all over the world for 100s of years to come.
This undeniably romantic city never fails to charm a traveller, be it, the first time or a frequent one. As travellers we identify and reminisce every place we visit with a distinct feature of its own. When it comes to Paris, many such features converge to make this beautiful city, one of the most adorable one without a doubt.
Be it the beauty of the Parisian landscapes, the awesome architecture, the incredible history in the form of the memorable museums, the art or just the magical beauty, Paris bares it all, incredibly so when viewed from river Seine. This particular trip to Paris, one of my ‘must do’, was the day Cruise on the River Seine. As Seine runs through in a pattern just as if to show some of the best sides of Paris, it is a pure treat for my eyes as well as my lenses.
Running through the heart of this beautiful city, river Seine defines Paris and its very character in such an adorable way. And the perfect way to enjoy this ride is to be on the top floor of the boat positioned just enough for spectacular views and to frame ‘em with your lenses. Another wise thing to do is to take a ride that starts late afternoon and ends just after the sun goes down. This way you get to see the best side of Paris in different lights. The sunny late afternoon glare, the pleasant evening light with an orange shade as it beautiful turns pink and then red, and finally the pale dark as the city lights get switched on. The ear plugs for the pre-recorded narration provided in multiple languages, is a must to understand and adore the history that you pass by as the boat cruises along.
One of most interesting and inevitable part of this ride is when the boat cruises under those ‘differently designed’ and ‘built to impress’ bridges. So many of them. If you are one with a camera, I bet you cannot deny yourself of not being tempted to capture most of them. Adorned with magnificent statues and sculptures, some of these beautiful bridges are artistic masterpieces.These bridges big and small, sort of creates a pattern with equal time periods, like the clap board for different scenes, that Paris offers for us to enjoy.
As we pass through the tree-lined boulevards, the majestic structures stand in beautiful order studded with many iconic landmarks and it is a sight that we can soak into. Not to forget, some adorable sights that features beautiful people being themselves to reiterate why Paris is such a romantic city, true to its claims.
Musée d’Orsay appears to awe as we sail, with its interesting history of transformation from a modest railway staton to a museum that treasures a trove of masterpieces from great artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Renoir and Gauguin.
Once a prison that had dingy dungeons underneath, The Conciergerie now, that houses law courts, appears elegantly. It is bizarre to know as the history tells the story of many men and women were herded to the guillotines like lambs to the slaughter, right from this structure.
Notre Dame, as a most famous church building in the world and as one of the best examples of French Gothic architecture appears next to amaze us. The sheer beauty of this structure urges you to wish the boat slows down so that you had an ‘eye-full’ of this masterpiece that treasured some of the best objects of faith such as the Crown of Thorns, a fragment of the True Cross and the Holy Nails.
If these are not enough, some of the most interesting history captured and created in the form of breathtaking structures such as Palais Garnier and Opéra National de Paris appear one after the other as we cruise along. And yes, the one and only Louvre museum shows off the iconic facade, declaring why it is the best of its kind as the boat sails past.
And as the sun sets, by now, with the cloud lines blurring and the pinkish red of the dusk streaking across, the darkest brown structure in metal magnificently standing as Eiffel Tower poses in all its glory, as the cruise nears the end.
Without a doubt, for an unforgettable experience of this beautiful city called Paris, the Seine cruise is an absolute must.
As they say they, some of the best travel experiences are from those that are not so well planned. This one really was a perfect example of one such experience that I had when travelling in Europe. And the more you stay excited to explore places in the short gaps in between your planned travel, better are the chances that you find yourself enjoying such awesome experiences. This was one such “a day’s experience” that is sure to make a wanderlust soul like mine, very happy, when in Germany, especially in Frankfurt.
Cruising through rich & interesting history
After a nice drive from Frankfurt, it is time to set sails along the Rhine river. A traditional steamer anchored by the pier looks more than inviting to unfold history so rich, as it cruised along the river. Though most popular among the travellers from across the world, this is a ‘must do’ one that should be featuring in your lists of ‘things to do’. This route takes us through UNESCO listed River Rhine and what better way to travel than on the top deck that is open to sky offering great views on either side as we cruise along. And if you are one with a camera and a couple of cool lenses, you are in for a treat.
The Rhine Valley that is a world heritage site unfolds history as we cruise along. Some of the best known landmarks such as Lordly Rock and Rudesheim appears to be posing just the way we want them to. The quiet and romantic villages that appear on either side seem to be undisturbed by the chaos from the outside world.
This is clearly a ride to keep counting those medieval castles and feel intrigued as you hear interesting stories about everyone of them. The grand old castles, some of them almost as the remains of ruins bare a haunted look, while some look rustic but liveable are converted into expensive hotels. And I am sure every room in these castles will have an unique and interesting story to tell from the medieval age.
Being the end of winter season, the flora on either side of the Rhine offers an interestingly eerie feel in different shades of grey. With cloudy skies above, the waters too seem to be dark and moody, as the chill winds keeps stinging my cheeks.
After the spectacular ride through history on Rhine, the cruise comes to an end, only to be hosted for a wonderful evening of wine tasting. The ambiance that the little ‘family run’ place provided us, was something that makes this wine tasting truly unforgettable.
The entire place appeared to be a museum of some sorts, with every inch on the wall with an antique displayed. The floor just enough for the visitors to walk around, this place offers the best German wine with a lovely dinner.
And the most adorable spot clearly are the toilets that is sure to retain every visitor in much longer than the usual, gazing around and most likely clicking pictures of a wide range of interesting artefacts.
Heidelberg castle – the remains of rich history
The best landmark in this little town of castles is clearly the Heidelberg Castle. Standing high on the hill the Heidelberg castle appears to be in an elevated level from the plains, as one of the most important renaissance structure in the north of the Alps. Originally built in 12th century, the castle, as history says, has been hit by lightning bolts twice apart from the wars. Partially rebuilt in 17th and 18th centuries, the castle stands in all its gothic glory with its ruins narrating interesting stories from centuries past.
Once on top the castles, you get a spectacular view of the old downtown, the beautiful bridges that run across the Neckar river, the similar looking houses that are built to appear in an orderly fashion with red tiled roofs.
The dominating brick red colour all around and the ruins that seem to have experienced time and history, characterises the castle thus making it more interesting to know about.
The best part of the castle is this giant wine barrel that sits inside the castle adjacent to the king’s hall. The Barrel Building’s cellar houses a giant wine barrel – the great Heidelberg Tun, sitting unbelievably big, all in oak wood and with an incredible story to narrate.
The story narrates about a dwarf called Perkeo of heidelberg, a court jester who used to entertain people with his jokes and his legendary ability to drink wine. And boy, what a big barrel! Built in 15th century this giant barrel can store over 200,000 litres of wine, that was collected from the ruled territory as taxes during those days.
And the life size wooden figure of Perkeo by the giant barrel stands as a guardian, an eternal keeper of the barrel and became a mascot to the city too. On top of the giant barrel is a dance floor for the visitor who loves to shake a leg on the wooden floor seasoned with centuries old wine. And if you fancy a private celebration in such an historical structure, they hire out the King’s hall next to the barrel… obviously for a fat price.
The fabulous facade and incredible interiors
A part of the castle, as one of most beautiful palaces of German renaissance, stands with its facade adorned by amazing sculptures that seem to bring alive the likes of David, Hercules, Samson, other Kings and Emperors.
The palace courtyard flaunts richly decorated creations of art on the inside and has lovely gardens on the outside, with incredible views.
Heidelberg – the Gothic town
After an overdose of historical ambiance, for those who wish to ease out into shopping, there is the city of Heidelberg with cobble stone streets and perfectly placed lamp posts, adding flair to the evening. The cute looking shops and inviting restaurants set up a perfect end to an awesome day of exploring and remising history in Heidelberg.
As the train approaches my destination, it seems like the views through the window sequenced a misty and beautiful dawn. Nature in all its creative glory turns these quickly passing views into the first etched memories of the city of Lucerne, forever.
When in Switzerland, apart from the big cities such as Geneva and Zurich, one little ‘must-visit’ city is Lucerne. As a most popular town in central Switzerland, it has a lot to offer and I am never tired of this beautiful place despite multiple visits. Whether you travel on work or for leisure, a day and a night is a ‘must do’ in Lucerne. The best things are, to laze around Lucerne with long walks on those beautifully cobbled-stoned lanes, a chilled out sunset cruise, incredible chocolates, good wine and some amazing food.
The first best thing to do is easily be the first thing that you get to see the moment you get outta of the railway station after reaching Lucerne. Its the river that runs by and straight ahead you are treated with the sight of bridges, big and many small connecting the lanes so beautiful. As it is located by the shores of lake Lucerne and its outflow, the Reuss river, the town has always been a perfect destination for tourists. As always I start by walk around the lake with the spectacularly posing ‘snow peaked’ mountains – Pilatus and Rigi that form the background for an amazing setting.
Charming Chapel Bridge
Be it morning as the sun rises or in the evening as the dark sets in, this most famous wooden bridge appears to be one of the best things that can be viewed through your lenses from either side of the river. The Kapellbrucke, as they call it is built to last for centuries as an iconic wooden bridge that welcomes you the moment you step out of the Lucerne station.
The bridge spans diagonally across the river Reuss and remains ever-inviting for a walk through the 14th century structure. The wooden pillars and beams in symmetrical patterns seem to create a perfect walkway from one end to the other, while offering an amazing view of the city on either side. A collection of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Lucerne’s history are at display inside the Bridge. With the blue waters reflecting the Chapel Bridge, the lake’s most favourite swans, as always, add to the calm and serenity to the entire view and a cool shot for my lens too.
A visit to lucerne is never complete without this moment looking at these swans, as they say ‘mated for life’, with clear water, chill evening breeze and a walk across the bridge. As the evening creeps in at dusk, the mesmerising image of the snow capped alps begin to fade into the blue, only to dominantly reappear in the morning.
The crying Lion of Lucerne
As we walk on the other side of Reuss and into the lanes, the next thing on the mind is to spot the Lion of Lucerne. As an inquisitive wanderlust, this is more than a reason to find something that sounds so interesting. This is a sculpture created as a memorial commemorating the Swiss soldiers who lost their lives during the French revolution.
A dying lion, wounded and in pain sculpted to depict the sadness. This monument that is set amidst rocks today, is said to have made Mark Twain praise as the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.
The Lucerne Cruise ride
My personal best is the sunset cruise, though you have the option to choose the lunch cruise too. One of the interesting things when you travel is that you get to realise and appreciate certain ways to do things when you travel. And the fact that ‘the best way to see some of the places is through the waterways’ is one such learning.
And Lucerne too, offers the best of its sides with some spectacular views when on the cruise ride. An antique paddle steamer, which we were in, moved gently into the calm waters showing us every bit of the alpine nature on either side and the little towns by the banks. The ‘deep blue’ clear water, the rocky slopes, comforting greens, old churches, idyllic coves, some fishing boats and the snow-covered mountain peaks form a perfect backdrop for the incredible painting-like views.
After an amazing cruise ride, it is time for some sweet indulgence. The board says Confiseur Bachmann and once you are in, it is hard get out, as they have some of the best chocolates and confectionery products.
The chocolate wall, the sweets & savoury items, the ice cream and the treat goes on. And if you are a sucker for chocolates as I am, there is no escape from this place. Walk along the beautiful lanes to find town squares and awesome looking churches.
If you have an interest in horology, you will find some of the best watch makers in action in the watch shops. The town lives up to its watch making history and traditions and you can catch up with these watch makers actually in their act with such precision and details, displaying master craftsmanship.
And finally to end the day, the city of Lucerne offers a wide variety of choices to savour the culinary diversity. Be it the Swiss cuisine or even the Indian, there is always a place to settle down for a perfect dinner by the banks of river Reuss or the lake Lucerne, with some fine wine.
There will be mornings when you get up with the urge to simply indulge. Walk through the cobbled historic lanes of Italy, shop at a slowest possible pace, step into beautiful vineyards to savour some world class wines and bite into freshly made, award-winning gelatos all day long. And that’s living life “king’s size”!
We went on a gourmet trail through San Gimignano and Siena, the most gorgeous Italian destinations that treasure the magical beauty of medieval history by proudly portraying the splendours of a wondrous past. These places easily make it to the ‘must-see’ list for the discerning traveller, with an irresistible urge to indulge.
An ancient beauty
According to fascinating legends, this uniquely beautiful town has its history dated back to 63 B.C. and the first mention is stated to have appeared in the documentation during 929. With such an incredible history, this place seem to have emerged as a result of a two young brothers who built castles here after they escaped from Rome as they were implicated in a conspiracy.
San Gimignano, declared as a world heritage site by UNESCO is a city of beautiful towers. As you walk through the beautiful lanes carved between the towers as many as 14, the story unfolds to enlighten you as they are once symbols of power and wealth of their inhabitants. It’s a perfect scene for beautiful vistas, numerous streets and piazzas, centuries old walls with unaltered sight of medieval magic.
With around 8000 inhabitants now, this Commune lives on agriculture and wine production. Every bit of the complex history about this awesome town is sure to awe every traveller. And if you are more of an ‘inquisitive’ kind like me, San Gimignano is the place for some amazing medieval ambiance that is treasured for centuries.
For the world’s best gelato!
Remember this indulgence, halt only to sniff in the aroma of fine wines from breath-taking vineyards and for a regular dose of salami, gourmet cheeses and a mind-boggling selection of bruschettas.
And the most exciting part of the ‘urge’…the hunt for the best and the original gelato in the land of gelatos! Gelateria di Piazza is one place that can’t be missed for its marvellous creations. A favourite among celebrities across the globe, each flavour here is unique and is crafted in the original gelato-making tradition. From cream drizzled with saffron and pine nuts to pink grapefruit, raspberry and rosemary to blackberries and lavender…the list is enticing and endless. No wonder the boards on these outlets claim winners of the Gelato Ice Cream World Championships!
Think of a most beautiful medieval city, a world famous (Palio run) horse race around the spectacular piazza and the very place you enjoyed watching in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace, it is Siena. With rich and interesting Roman history, Siena sits pretty over three hills and right at the heart of city is Piazza del Campo that is marked by the red tower, Torre del Mangia. Quite interestingly, we get to see the tower from different angles depending upon where you are walking from towards the Campo.
As a testament to some brilliant Romanesque architecture with influences from French Gothic and Classical styles, the Siena Cathedral (Duomo of Siena) stands tall with all its glory. With a most fascinating facade, this Cathedral built in 12th century is a beautiful example of sienese workmanship. The pillars with angels, the alter and the grand dome with a gilded lantern like a golden sun shining in, this structure epitomises what we witness inside the Cathedral. Overall, the fascinating facade, the bell tower that is strikingly captivating and the incredible interiors makes Siena Cathedral a ‘must visit’ when you are on a day trip to Siena.
Siena and San Gimignano…without a doubt is where every traveller walks into history, gets to taste some world’s best gelato and soak in the beauty of these quaint destinations.
‘God has been partial to this place’ – this is the first thought that rushes through my mind as I set my eyes on one of the most surreal destinations in Switzerland, Interlaken. I peer out of the large train windows as it meanders around a shimmering lake reflecting myriad shades of blue. The shutterbug in me excitedly captures nature as she poses for me – the cheery sun rays tears apart the cloudy skies, the morning mist seduces the lush green and little boats with blue sails bob around in perfect tandem. The train ride to Interlaken, from Zurich, Geneva or any other part of Europe is sheer delight. And if you are a photo enthusiast, every glimpse makes a gorgeous picture postcard!
Exploring the town
Located in the Canton of Bern, Interlaken is sandwiched between Lake Brienz in the east and Lake Thun in the west. Strategically located between the two lakes, Interlaken is the most ideal place to stay for tourists as it has easy access to most attractions such as Jungfrau, Titlis, Chilthorn, Luzerne lake and so on.
A wonderful little town, Interlaken can be actually covered from one end to the other on foot, if you are willing to explore. For all those who love adventure sports, Interlaken has lots to offer like skydiving, hang gliding, paragliding and skiing. Apart from lush green adorned with a rainbow of flowers, the quaint churches add to its artistic skyline.
If you choose to drive (on-road option), it takes you through the streets, little villages and farms dotted with some absolutely stunning views of cliffs, waterfalls and lakes.
The Harder Kulm
Despite the regular tourist attractions, one experience that dazzles through my itinerary is the Harder Kulm point. While most visitors tend to skip this trip for want of time, it’s worth every Swiss Franc you have set aside to splurge. It starts with a funicular rail ride in a very specifically built railway compartment or a boogey to climb up and down this interesting railway line that goes over 2,340 ft right up the summit in a straight line.
This funicular leaves every 45 minutes to 1 hour from the ground level and it takes about 20 minutes to witness some absolutely stunning views of the entire town as well as neighbouring cities like Speiz and Bern. While you marvel at the way the funicular has been built, it reaches mid-way to flaunt a breathtaking sight of a sparkling emerald-green lake cutting across the green land mass and flowing through it gently changing its colour to different shades of blue. Once you reach atop Harder Kulm, one can enjoy amazing views of mountains like Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau – some green tops, some white, two lakes and alpine tress scattered around.
The highlight of this trip is when it starts snowing, but well, you must be there at the right time of the year for that. A panoramic restaurant at the top lets you grab something to eat and the best thing to get back is to take a walk down the summit through the woods.
The other places to visit when you are in Interlaken include the Alpine garden, the Mystery Park. The Trummelbach Falls which is the world’s only glacier waterfalls. For the trekkers, there is Rugen forest. If you are making your travel plan in January the chances are that you can catch up with the International Lauberhorn Race which is a part of the Audi FIS Ski world cup or be there to enjoy the lake Breinz Rock festival.
Or you can indulge in a private visit to a cheese dairy farm in a nearby little town to learn about the art of making cheese, Swiss-style. This little town offers quite a few shopping options too. For watch lovers there is Bucherer watch store showcasing some of the best Swiss brands. There are other lovely looking shops to walk around and shop for traditional Swiss bells, chocolates and other souvenirs.
And if you are one of those crazy rich Indians, looking to feel and chill like a Bollywood star, Interlaken offers just the right place for you. Located right in the heart of Interlaken, perfectly positioned to offer you the picturesque mountain setting of the Bernese Overland, Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel & Spa offers an unforgettable Alpine experience. With the best of regional and international cuisine and bars, this property offers fine dining experiences with breath-taking views. From culinary artistry at La Terrasse to pasta creations at the restaurant Quaranta Uno, the Victoria bar is popular for cocktails and nightcaps. The Spa Nescens is where you want to be when in Victoria-Jungfrau Grand Hotel to pamper yourself.
The superior duplex suites have a view of Interlaken, while the deluxe duplex suites offer views of the Jungfrau. The Tower Suite with elegant furnishings that characterises the unobtrusive luxury, is the highest and the largest too. It offers great panoramic view of the Alps. And for the true Bollywood lovers, you have the Yash Chopra Suite dedicated to the filmmaker, who personally opened it in 2011. Designed in Indian style with subtle accents makes you feel like a movie star.
Truly a beautiful little town
Interlaken, without a doubt, deserves to be right on top of the list of ‘must see’ places in Europe and the best choice to stay when in Switzerland. It truly is a ‘heaven on earth’ in between two lakes, to indulge.
Right after breakfast, I walked to the nearest Tube station to catch a train to Victoria Coach Station, exactly as the tour brochure at my hotel in London’s Earl’s Court had recommended. Boarding a mini tour bus at Victoria Station, I was excitedly on my way to a half-day tour of Stonehenge. The image of Stonehenge was a familiar one, as many computers come preloaded with it as a desktop wallpaper, but I knew very little else about the ancient place.
I needn’t have worried though as the bus driver’s introductory talk was packed with all the interesting information. “It was so saddening when I heard one man say that it is just a pile of big stones,” the driver said with genuine hurt in his voice, expressing dismay at visitors who have no sense of history. After all, what appears to be the remains of incomplete, but ‘thoughtfully arranged big rocks’ at Stonehenge is nearly 3,500 years old, making it one of the most important prehistoric monuments in Britain.
The first thing that strikes you when you arrive at Stonehenge is the surrounding perfect English countryside — beautiful, lush green fields interspersed with delightfully yellow strips of rapeseed; a perfectly laid highway that runs more like an artist’s brush, making one long stroke from end to end.
Vehicles, especially long trucks loaded with new cars, suddenly appear up the curve and disappear below, before reappearing at the next curve and finally disappearing out of sight.
Lending a picture-perfect touch was a flock of well-grown fluffy sheep grazing on the hillsides. It was especially delightful to watch them drink together from neatly arranged water troughs.
Prehistoric labour of love
Each visitor is provided an audio guide, with a pre-recorded voice narrating the history of the place. The best part about this arrangement is that you can always pause and rewind to the sections you may have missed at first hearing.
The structure we see today is believed to have come up in three stages — an earth bank and a ditch came up in the first stage; the second stage is the dramatic part in which gigantic bluestones were dragged on rollers and sledges over a 240-mile track, all the way from Preseli Mountains to Amesbury. The third stage, set around 2000 BC, saw the arrival of Sarsen stones; after 1500 BC, the bluestones were rearranged to appear as we see them today. This truly is an awe-inspiring history in stones.
Popular heritage site
Located a little more than an hour away from London, in the English county of Wiltshire, the World Heritage Site of Stonehenge is a popular tourist attraction. The site is also revered as a place of pilgrimage for neo-druids and others who follow pagan or neo-pagan beliefs; in June it turns into a popular venue for those celebrating the Summer Solstice.