Amazin’ ATHENS!

An overdose of some incredible history, awesome archaeological sites, absolutely spectacular beaches, breathtaking island getaways and some mouth-watering street food…these simply put, is amazing Athens.

A trip to Greece with a plan to explore Athens is probably one of the top picks in all of Europe. Being one of the oldest named cities in the world, Athens never ceases to charm a visitor. In southern Europe, this 5000 years old city, is a clear testament of its cultural achievements during 5th century BC that created the western civilisation. Taking the name of its patron Goddess Athena, this amazing city is nothing short of frozen history in beautiful ruins. One extraordinary feature of this city is the fact that you get to see a piece of history everywhere you go. Right among the new structures of the modern metropolis that it has become now, you will find a piece of historical ruins appearing suddenly to grab your attention and make you wonder what it could actually be. 

Passing through time in glorious history

My first visit to Athens had been during the bright summer. Despite the peaking summer time, with an added element of excitement of just being there, never did I mind the heat as the evenings were cool anyway. The first box to tick as a part the travel plan is to make sure to stay close to The Acropolis, very simply, to get ample sights of this incredible structure both in daylight, as well as when lit after dark.  

Temple of Olympian Zeusthe first one to sight

As an ultimate destination for any traveller and as the most visited, the Acropolis of Athens never ceases to loose its incredible status in the world of travel. It was the first on my agenda as I started my walk towards this citadel located right atop a rocky outcrop, as the name Acropolis translates as highest point in greek, overlooking the city of Athens. This elevated landscape played the host for many a historically significant architectural masterpieces.

A lot of ‘must-see’s when in Athens can be done on walking, as we were witness to the temple of Olympian Zeus is the first spectacle that we get to witness as one of the largest in antiquity. This colossal temple right at the centre of Athens is on the way to The Acropolis. As we ascend, it seems like passing through time that narrates some epic stories at every point, with incredible structural forms of ruins.

The Acropolis

As we walk towards the flattened sacred rock of Acropolis, the first encounter with exciting history is the Theatre of Dionysus. Supposedly constructed by the late sixth century BC, this first orchestra terrace is said to have hosted some historically significant & dramatic performances by Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylos and Aristophanes, with a full capacity of up to 17,000 till Roman period. It sure, is an awesome natural amphitheatre indeed, right up on the hill.

The Theatre of Dionysus

After an awesome thought of having witnessed an imaginary concert in the remains of a glorious amphitheatre, a bit of walking brings us to the Ruins of the Asklepieion. This is said to be the sanctuary built to honour the Gods of healing Asclepius and Hygieia, and even served as a hospital in the ancient Greek world. Moving on one gets to see the Stoa of Eumenes, a gallery for the spectators with high arches on the wall on what appears as an artificial terrace. 

The Odean of Herodes Atticus when the musician in me stood in awe

As we ascend, it gets better. The next stop that can inspire an artist to give it all to see himself / herself performing here. The Odean of Herodes Atticus, is nothing short of a brilliant piece of ancient architecture. This Roman theatre in stone is said to have been built in 161 AD by the Greek Herodes Atticus as a tribute to his wife. This seems to narrate his love & his interests. The best thing about this spot is that it forces you to let your imaginations run away into picturising those ancient concerts being held with a full house audience on those steep rocky seating…spectacular indeed!. Currently it hosts some of the best concerts and other events and if you happen to plan your travel to Athens, look for the schedule, as the most popular Athen festival happens from may to October. 

The tall arches…

It is then a short climb up to the sacred rock, the flattened top of the Acropolis. On reaching the flattened top of the hill, it is a surreal sight of some of the most important masterpieces of incredible architecture and artistic expression in limestones. Clearly as a grand entrance to something spectacular and one of a kind in the world, the Propylaea, though partially ruined stands as the monumental gateway to the Acropolis of Athens. Most visitors, as they climb the grand steps of Propylaea, stop to take pictures and this results in slow movement up momentarily which actually adds a bit more to the excitement of being a steps away from witnessing some incredible monuments. 

Traffic @ the entrance
the Propylaea...an entrance to ancient history

The Parthenon

At about 150 meters above sea level, standing 14 meters tall, is one of the most beautiful & monumental creations in the world, the Parthenon. This 438 BC creation stand majestically supported by those Doric columns that are recognisable throughout the world instantly. The magnificence of the structure is so overwhelming that as a visitor you tend to ignore the restoration work happening all around. In fact it is very interesting to see the way the modern engineers are perfecting the restoration work by matching the colour, shape & artistic creativity. Looking at it in awe, my thoughts are running amok trying to answer logical answers to those numerous questions in my mind starting from how they would have brought these huge stones up the hill to every aspect of the magnificent workmanship without the modern technology that we are now equipped with. 

The Parthenon…

With difficulty, I had to move away only to look at the other impressive structures that stood on the other side of the Parthenon. The Erechtheion is characterised by the stunning sculpted six virgins standing as columns in support. These Virgins, as the Porch of the Caryatids, seem to offer great views for the whole structure from different spots as you walk around. With the distant skyline of the spectacularly ancient Athens, every click here can turn out to narrate a story. 

The Virgins…

Moving from Temple of the Athena and the Erechtheion, I find an equally spectacular Sanctuary of Zeus Polieus in its interestingly ruined state as these structures never cease to impress. Very interestingly a lone tree stands strikingly posing right in front of Erechtheion, and is considered as a sacred Moria tree with religious significance.   

East of the Parthenon lay the foundations of a small building attributed by the first excavators of the Acropolis to the Temple of Rome and the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus. These circular marble columns and other exquisite sculptures in their ruined forms lay there as a separated pieces of architectural marvels.

The amazing ruins…
Frozen in time….

As I walk around, among these archaeological remains of the Acropolis, it is exciting to just be amidst the building blocks of Western Civilisation. The flat top of the Acropolis offers spectacular views of amazing city of Athens. 

Spectacular views from the top…
The city…a view!

A trip to the Acropolis is not complete without checking out the most impressive Acropolis Museum. Contrastingly made of steel, glass and concrete, this is a modern structure that treasures most of the significant contemporary works of architecture in Athens. The rich history that defines Athens well represented by over 4000 priceless finds from the Acropolis monuments are displayed in the Museum. One can connect more with the magnificence of the Acropolis, witnessing these works that are in display. 

A panoramic view of priceless history!

Other sites that stand out

The Panathenaikon Stadium, also called as Kallimarmaron, is right in the heart of the city. It dates back to ancient times, as the host for the very first Olympic Games in 1896. This structural masterpiece is clearly a testament to the sporting spirit of the ancient era and the master craftsmanship, as it stands intact still holding the traditional torch-lighting ceremonies for the modern Olympic Games. I considered myself both lucky and yet not-so-lucky as I arrived in the City but made it to the Stadium as the beautiful ceremony was concluding.

The Panathenaikon Stadium

The Zappeion Mansion close to the stadium is another impressive and grand structure, which currently is an exhibition venue that hosts events as a centre for promotion of arts. 

The Zappeion Mansion
The columns that stands the test of times
The evening light seems to play hide & seek with the century old columns…

The Athenian pie

When it comes to Greek street food, nothing beats the delicious Athenian pies. And my all time favourite is the most authentic Spanakopita, the spinach pie. This flaky pastry with a filling of cooked spinach, feta cheese and the tang from the lemon juice is, without a doubt, a ‘must-have’ when in Athens. There is no better place than Plaka, the historic centre of the city and particularly Athinas Street at the commercial hub, to have these exotic pies as you bury yourself in an ancient time zone experience. 

The Temple of Poseidon

When in Athens, one of the must-dos is the scenic drive from the city to Cape Sounion, to witness one of the most spectacular monuments of the golden age of Athens, The Temple of Poseidon. The temple built in archaic period in dedication to the God of sea to grant the seafarers safe journeys, stands in ruins, marking the end of Cape Sounion, right on top of the rocky hill overlooking the Aegean sea. 

The first sight as I take the turn towards the ascend…
The ruins of the great temple
The interesting shapes the Doric Columns take

The Doric columns of the Temple are a standing proof of invasions, wars and extreme weathering over centuries since it was built during 450 BC period. It offers amazing views of the Aegean Sea and if you are one with the lenses, standing right on the edge of the cliff is the best that you can ask for. 

Spectacular views from the edge of the cliff

The beautiful beach side 

Athens, the ancient city, marked with some of the most amazing structural forms of frozen time, also has beautiful beaches to awe every visitor. 

The Athenian Beach side as the sun went down

Athens…an amazing city indeed!

Pictures – irk99 www.instagram.com/irk99

Prix de Diane – When the charming Chantilly gets ‘Hatted in Elegance’

Chateau de Chantilly

A short drive or a 30 minutes train ride away from Gare du Nord, Paris is this charming little commune called Chantilly in Northern France. As we drove in, I was told that this 18th century town is known for some of its exquisite lacework, beautiful porcelain and whipped cream. The one thing that you can’t miss out in this charming get-away is the Chateau de Chantilly. As the history unfolds an interesting story, this beauty is a creation by this prince, son of the last king of France. This man, considered to be the great collector of his time, made sure the Chateau stood as a testament to the rich culture & history showcasing some of his vast collections that included masterpieces in art and manuscripts. 

The Musée Condé art gallery inside the Chateau is a must-visit when in Chantilly. The Petit and Grand Châteaux strike an awesome pose with the surrounding still water reflecting this beautiful structure as an extension and a compliment. It offered a picture perfect view as we stood there in the green lawns a distant away.  In my mind I couldn’t help but think about the princely life once lived, his collections and the wonderful stories that this Chateau holds as it stands through centuries and for more to come. 

This is not a tale about this prince Henri d’Orléans, though it holds more than a great story for every traveller. Chantilly is all about horses with its 18th century grand stables to house over 200 horses and is one of the most popular horse-raining centres. It is called the French ‘Capital of Horses’. This is the prime reason why I was in Chantilly. As a part of the team invited by the iconic watch brand Longines, I was in this charming commune to attend the most popular Longines Prix de Diane. 

Riding the hoods!

Longines always identified itself with equestrian, supporting the sport the world over, for years. The brand resonates the tradition, the racing aesthetics and the glory of this sport with their design values, as one of the most admired Swiss watch maker. Longines as the title sponsor, the Prix de Diane happens every year in Chantilly, the equestrian racing hub of France, during the month of June. Ever since 1878 when Longines designed a watch with a jockey and a horse on the dial, it is said to be associated with most equestrian events. 

Carnival mood!

This grand event attracts tourists from across the globe to this northern French part to witness some of the finest horses being raced. With the beautiful Chateau de Chantilly and the surrounding Renaissance-style architecture forming the backdrop, some of the most pedigreed & race-bred fillies assembling in style for one specular racing afternoon, what actually adds the best of colours is the prestigious Mademoiselle Diane held by Longines Concours d’Elegance. And this actually, is the most fashionably interesting part of this tale that I am framing here. 

Party in pink n blue!

Le Prix de Diane Longines is a Group 1 race, which is the highest level in horse racing, is also an event of High-Fashion that attracts women flaunting the fanciest dresses & particularly the hats to compete in the prestigious Mademoiselle Diane competition…in such elegance.

Elegance!

The event offers nothing short of the latest in high fashion, absolutely spectacular hats, and overall an electrifying atmosphere with a picnic spirit. On a typically beautiful sunny French afternoon, the event heats up with some of the best wines being poured along with the choicest of culinary delicacies popping up out-beating one course after the other. 

Elegantly hatted!

The one thing that stands out from all of these is this specular collection of hats worn by the women with flair as they walk in large numbers. Its one big carnival by noon and with the finest race action in the middle showcasing some of the fine horse-racing, you can never go tired of watching the hats. Intricate floral arrangements, placement of fruits, beautiful lace work that Chantilly is known for, different assortments of feathers, naughtily netted & knotted, tall and structurally architected and a plethora of more interestingly designed hats.

Hatted conversations

These hats worn with such elegance captures every imagination of how creative one can get. As event warrants an elegant attire and sophistication, the hats are easily the stunners. Every creation deserves appreciation as it showcases craftsmanship and taste, as an incredible evidence to stand apart from the crowd in style, boldness, elegance, exclusivity & as a winner. 

weirdly interesting hats.
Carrying an architecture…
Taking on the sun…
Showing off…their hoods.

Every year, the event attracts more than 400 participants parading on a catwalk set up in the centre of the Village de Diane. Among 45,000 spectators at Prix de Diane Longines, Aishwarya Rai, the Miss World title winner & an actor from India turned heads in her black Armani ensemble teamed perfectly with a chic hat and sporting the newest timepiece from the DolceVita collection. She still is one of their most sought-after brand ambassadors, having been associated with Longines for over 16 years. Apart from launching the new DolceVita line, Aishwarya also gave away the ‘Mademoiselle Diane par Longines’ Award for Elegance to the most stylish woman at the race. 

Aishwarya Rai…the brand ambassador
Carrying a craft.

A sunny afternoon in French oaks, most picturesque racing event with the very Chateau de Chantilly for a backdrop, the finest of race-bred horses, the best young jockeys from around the world, some great French wines & champagnes, a well designed & delectable menu and a generous dose of some high fashion distinctively marked by the HATS!

Hatted in Style!
Hatted in Elegance

That is exactly what Prix de Diane in charming Chantilly is all about. You cannot ask for a better reason to plan that French trip during the race schedule…and to get absolutely charmed by Chantilly with ‘hatted’ elegance. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

When the world’s most beautiful race rolls into Roman streets!

If a trip to Italy especially Rome is always an enticing one, I could not have asked for a better reason to have planned one in May. Quite honestly, it was indeed a surprise that it turned out to be one such sweetly timed plan that fell in place for one awesome experience. 

There is an old motto that says ‘Its fuel rather than blood flows through the veins of the people who come from Brescia’, a beautiful city in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy. This clearly depicts the Brescians innate passion for racing dating back to the nineteenth century. With a rich history of having held the first ever ‘speed race’ and motoring passion, many automobile manufacturers were found in Brescia.  These races became bigger and better over the years and attained much popularity.

As the history narrates, on January 18, 1927, the preparations for the first Mille Miglia Cup began to take place. From that day on, the name ‘Mille Miglia’ along with ‘Red Arrow’ trademark have remained the inalienable property of the Brescia Automobile Club. The first race took place during the month of March in 1927, which was won by Minoja-Morandi OM 655 Sport ‘Superba’. 

The founder Giovanni Canestrini in his book states the history of 1000 Miglia, as a description of the memorable incident that occurred on December 2, 1926, the day that has since been officially recognized as the birth of the Mille Miglia.  It narrates how a group of Brescians arrived to his home in Milan on Via Bonaventura Cavalieri, which included Franco Mazzotti, Aymo Maggi, Renzo Castagnet, (the other three musketeers) and his friend, Flaminio Monti. The rest of the story is history as it came to be known as ‘Mille Miglia Cup’ – the most beautiful race in the world. And it was quite an incredibly interesting history learning for me as someone who was very keen to know when this all started.

The incredible racing event has been bringing together exceptional personalities to the world of sport. And here I was absolutely lucky and super excited to be in Italy on time to witness it all. The re-enactment of the Mille Miglia currently, is an event in a class of its own. Mille Miglia combines tradition with innovation, and vividly colours that combination with creativity, elegance, beautiful scenery and the Italian way of living. This plethora of rich elements makes the Mille Miglia a symbol of Italian excellence all over the world.


This clearly makes visiting Italy during this grand racing event most unforgettable. The beautiful narrow roads play the lucky ‘red carpet’ for all the awesome ‘vintage-to-contemporary’ cars to roll on. The hardcore racing fans line up on either side, especially at the crossroad junctions and turns to get a good look of these amazing beasts whizz past. And I was also at one of those junctions strategically closer to a traffic signal, as it drizzled on and off adding to the cool of a spectacular evening.

Some of the best classics ever made in the history of car making from the iconic creators such as Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Fiat, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Ferrari, Bugatti, Porsche, Austin Healey, Aston Martin all racing down the streets of Rome, can anyone ask for more. Specially for the car and auto sports lovers, this exciting event makes it a perfect time to visit Italy. 

For me, this turned out to be one unforgettable experience standing in awe watching these beauties roll by, sometimes even forgetting to click pictures. 

As for those planning a trip post this Great Covid Pause, be there on time to pick your spots in the historical streets of Rome to witness what is truly ‘the most beautiful race in the world’.

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

TAIPEI – The City of Azaleas & its awesome get-aways

Taipei 101 stands tall as the sun sets in the city of Azaleas

Taipei itself is a great city that has a unique character of a typical east asian shade with western influences. A busy capital city throws open a lot in itself to explore in the evenings. For one, if you are someone like me who is intrigued & interested with tall structures, this is the city that has one of the tallest man-made structures in the world. I made sure to pick a hotel that gave me a clear vision of this super skyscraper from my room…always.

The Taipei 101 is an architectural marvel that showcases the city’s pride. It is truly a majestic structural marvel that stuns you at the first sight and continues to do so every time. To start with there are two special elevators to the top, engineered by Toshiba, that gives you the fastest ascending experience in life. I would call it a ’37 seconds to a super high’! Yes, it takes only 37 seconds to travel from the 5th floor to the 89th floor of the skyscraper, at a speed of about 1010 meters per minute.

A stairway to the skies…?!

Influences of Asian aesthetics in its modern avatar defines its architectural styles. This structure is built to withstand earthquakes and storms. The skyscraper has an observatory right on top that offers some spectacular views and keeps someone like me with my lenses very excited and keen to find angles to capture Taipei from over 500 meters above ground level. Within the city, there is Taipei National Palace Museum, an incredible testimony to oriental architecture, to enthral any traveller with so much on the Nation’s history and an remarkable collection of over 700,000 pieces of ancient Chinese imperial artifacts and artworks.

A treasure trove of ancient history

The terrific Taroko Gorge

When in Taipei on a short trip, be it business or a quick visit, a one-day trip to Taroko Gorge is easily the best choice that one can make. As I set out as planned on a day trip, primarily to check out the Taroko Gorge, I am told by my travel operator that there are a couple of places that can be checked out on the way by bus. And then take a high speed train ride as it gives an opportunity to experience the country side of Taiwan. After a pleasant ride, making a couple of mandatory stops to check out the local artisan’s work, we reach our destination for an authentic local lunch.

This for me, was an interesting lunch as it had the essence of their culture in the local tribe’s cuisine style. The one thing that stood out and deserves a mention was the rice cooked inside a bamboo stem. It was indeed a cool experience to break open the stem to take the cooked rice and consume, with some exotic locally grown veggies that I had never seen before in my life. 

Enroute to the world’s deepest marble canyon

Taroko means magnificent and splendid in Truku language and it was splendid indeed with mountainous landscape and thick green cover all over. The Truku is an aboriginal tribe that resides in this region and the best part of this trip is that one gets to experience their culture and know a bit about their livelihood. Taroko Gorge is a long canyon composed of metamorphic rocks such as marble and is about 20 kilometres long situated by Taiwan’s east coast. And thus began our walk into this beautifully rugged coastal cliffs through untamed path towards an elevated deep green cover of the coniferous forest. 

A terrain so rugged cut through rocky marbles
An awesome drive curving through steep valleys along with white waters

As we walk, its interesting to see the white and raw marble stones showing themselves in patches as some of the miners work their way to cut and scrape them out of the mother earth, in an orderly fashion. The views turn spectacular as we keep going up on a rocky & rugged trail with the waterway crawling in frequent curves below. Steep valleys and narrow canyons give this place the colour of adventure and excites travellers like me with my lenses looking to capture every uncommon view. As the world’s deepest marble canyon Taroko gorge poses itself with absolutely narrow sections that are a thousand feet high.

A view from the inside
A trek through…
A view from the outside

I am told that Taroko National Park as a subtropical terrain is a home to over 140 species of birds with some of them being indigenous to Taiwan and also has lotta butterflies some animals and reptiles. The best part of the trek are few bridges, very old, rustic and a couple of functional ones that hangs across the gorge invitingly. 

Ropes and planks…to walk across with rocks & residual water below…!
A bridge so beautiful
An exciting entry into the deep green!
One of the indigenous species
A Holy Shrine embedded among the rocks and cushioned by the thick green

On completing the trek reluctantly, a bus ride towards the coast offers some beautiful views as we roll towards a specular beach. This is clearly what I call a ‘pebbly Beach’ with millions of rocky pebbles in incredible shades of colours forming the shoreline. 

A road to paradise by the coast…!

The blue of the sky seem to sink and merge with the aqua-blue canvas of a calm sea. With the peaks at a distance forming spectacular backdrop in blue and grey one behind another, the beach cannot be missed for an awesome evening walk by the coastline to finish the day off. 

Shades of Nature…moody rocks, browny sands, shining aqua-blue waters, blue mountains, and a sky with an artistic cloudscape !

The other ‘must-do’ get aways from Taipei.

The Chiffon village is a drive away from the big city of Taipei and is a quaint little place over an inclined landscape. Once a gold mining centre, this cute village now is a most colourful & bustling spot with some of the most unique teahouses lined up with a number of shops that sell a variety of taiwanese traditional stuff. 

A quaint little village

One can get the best taste of the local cuisine and buy some of the ethnic handicrafts of this land. Historically speaking, the gold rush should have turned this place into a busy little place which now attracts a lot of tourists for an unique shopping experience.

A gastronomical galore

As I walk through the narrow lanes and climb steps in between the beautifully constructed wooden houses, it opens up on top for some great views of the entire village, the sea and the islands. 

Shades of blue…and a view so spectacular!

Formations of Nanya

Another get-away is the northern coast of Taiwan that showcases an amazing coastal rock formations. Titled the formations of Nanya, this place is a must visit as it has beautiful waters bordered with some spectacularly shaped rock formations.

A rocky shoreline
Landform marvels
The rocky northern coast
An ocean to fish from…all for himself!

These sandy rocks to begin with on the shore has masterfully created layers naturally and has given themselves some interesting shapes. And as you walk towards the water these rocky shore gets darker in grey and then turns black closer to the waters, offering an eerie yet beautifully rustic look and ending my exciting ‘get-aways’ when in Taipei.

Piercing the skies…101!

Taipei, is an interesting city, that has much to offer, to make even a short trip, a memorable one. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

A bridge in the sky…where eagles dare!

A man-made marvel in between God-made nature!

Very often we find ourselves in a situation having to decide on places that we need to visit especially when the visiting country throws open a number of getaways. Malaysia is one such nation that offers multiple choices in terms of exciting destinations within its borders. And I had this challenge too as I was planning my trip to Malaysia. As someone with a passion to explore everything that I can, Langkawi fitted right into the plan.   

Langkawi is possibly an undeservingly undersold destination when compared to others, among all the places that you could visit when you are in Malaysia. The reasons for this are the amazing man-made creation amidst some breath- taking nature. The very first sight of that picture showing the Cable car ride and the Skybridge as they appeared in a climax of a movie and then its appearance in front of my eyes, in the travel guide book in my hotel room, reassured my plan was absolutely right indeed. 

Langkawi…by the pier.

Getting there

 Air Asia and Fire Fox are the two carriers flying to Langkawi and I chose Air Asia. The other option is by a ferry, if you have enough time. Made up of 99 islands on the west coast, Langkawi quietly dazzles as one place that cannot be missed when you are in Malaysia. Though you may not find many fancy resorts and glamorous hotels, this place does have modest accommodation facilities to offer. The fact that it is not commercialised as some of the other destinations, keeps Langkawi raw and full of nature. Sporting a hot, humid and a tropical climate with an average annual temperature of about 32 degrees Celsius, Langkawi’s popular beaches are Burau Bay, Pantai Cenang, Pantai Tengah, Datai Bay and Pantai Kok. The main island, surrounded by an absolutely stunning sea in the best of turquoise as it can get, has in its interior, a mix of beautiful paddy fields and the jungle-clad hills.

Amust do’ without a doubt.

The first in most list had to be the Cable Car & Skybridge, which woos many a visitor to this place. After about an hour of driving through some really picturesque fields, with the glimpses of blue water making it more interesting as the terrain kept getting uphill, I reach the Oriental Village in the upper northwest of Langkawi Island, near Pantai Kok. This is the entrance for what turns out to be one long ride in the cable-car all the way up to Mount Mat Cincang. And as the car climbs higher, better it gets in terms of what I see, which includes an awesome view of the Telaga Tujuh Waterfalls like a thick white line with twists and twirls sketched on a 550 million years old grey rock, that makes a rugged canvas. 

Spectacular setting…as the Sky Cab climbs up the heights

The best part of the whole experience is this ride itself in the longest free span mono cable car – the Sky Cab as they call it. This incredible ride offers spectacular ‘360-degree’ views as we cruise along a height of 650 meters above sea level, covering over 1700 meters in distance. What a ride! Rainforest jotted with hills under my feet, cool clouds on a blue sky over my head and the invitingly chill breeze hitting my face, I get there on top, the final destination. 

From one mountain top to another…cable cruising.

I step out to find myself actually looking at the magnificent Sky Bridge, all made all in metal, suspended across Mount Mat Cincang and a neighbouring mountain. The first flash of thoughts are in awe of this beauty. An amazing work of architecture, a brilliant art in metal and a masterpiece that defines incredible precision in design & balance.

Engineering at its best…that defines perfection in design & balance

Considering the height, this longest free span and curved bridge in the world, never ceases to amaze, especially when the passing clouds sometimes causing less visibility, it is as though you walk through ‘a curved bridge to the heavens’. Suspended from a single pylon, this brilliant work of art hangs at about 100 meters above the ground level. The uniqueness of this masterpiece lies in its curve as it offers spectacularly changing views of the world below and an unforgettable spatial experience. 

Hanging with a curve to offer the best of views
Brilliant balance…cool curve & another awesome view

This place offers such amazing views that makes you want to spend more time on top, especially if you are one who enjoys more with a camera in hand and looking for newer sights. The climb down by the SkyCab downs the excitement level too, but with a satisfaction of having explored the heights, where eagles dare!

Beautiful blues…and the green islets

Whats left to explore… 

Back in the plains, the calm beaches present a pleasant picture and worthy enough to spend time strolling around. With the ships and boats spread around on these blue waters provides great frames for the camera. 

when the sky went wild…offering a volcanic effect.
Sailin’ through…on waters so blue

The other ‘must do’ things when in Langkawi are the Eagle Square which actually offers a beautiful view of the sea with ships anchored around, an awesome landscape as a part of the background and some nice Indian cuisine. The interesting cloud formation in a characteristic dark grey right above the tip of the peak offered my lenses a volcanic effect. Sungai Kilim Nature Park, where they feed the sea eagles, Bird Paradise and Wildlife Park completes the list.

A bridge that curves…in between mountain tops…and a walk in the sky.

Langkawi, which means ‘eagle’, is a little island destination which makes a perfect ‘short getaway’ for an unforgettable experience, when in Malaysia.

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

A masterpiece in mighty metal, that millions marvel!

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.

The mighty Eiffel…just when I turned into the road to encounter the marvel

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. 

A structural marvel

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. 

On the way to dizzyin’ heights…
Shining bright to stand out from the rest.
The most scenic River Siene

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.

A spectacular view of the nearer old and the farther new of Paris!
Perfectly designed…a green view from the top.
…the green junction
An incredible view…

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.

Beautiful bridges
A view from the other side…
Tall & awesome.
A mighty engineering marvel & truly a strain in the neck view!

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. 

Its so Paris…and incredibly so, from the running Seine!

The best of Paris by the River Seine…as I cruise along

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. 

Beautiful bridges that never fail to impress…

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.

Cruising along…for a pure visual treat of rich history.

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.

Differently designed…to bridge the present with incredible history

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.

Clap board 3…shot 5 and the count of the bridges continue…
Adorned with magnificent statues and sculptures!
Clap board 18…shot 27 and still counting with great views.
Cruising through history amidst works of art…

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.   

Moments in partnering…in a city so romantic!

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.

The river divider…in the finest French Gothic architecture

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. 

Giving sky, the shine…

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. 

The Eiffel…sandwiched!
A view of Eiffel while cruising along river Seine…as the sun goes down

Without a doubt, for an unforgettable experience of this beautiful city called Paris, the Seine cruise is an absolute must.

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

Gothic Heidelberg castle & a cruise through romantic Rhine Valley.

History in brick red…at dusk

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. 

The steamer by the pier for a cruise on the Rhine

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.

By the Rhine…as we pass quietly
Calm & peaceful
a quiet & romantic village

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.

Standing the test of times…in twilight
Weathered & pricey
Testament to an incredible history…

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.

The youngest traveller who managed to distract me…very sweetly!

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.

An interesting set up for a fine wine tasting session

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.

The lovely loos with an incredible collection of interesting antiques

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. 

Gothic glory stands elevated…
an approach marked by the ruins…
A gateway to a renaissance structure
To enter…back in time

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 old Town, a beautiful bridge and river Neckar
A view…with the evening sun shining through the town

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 Fassbau

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 great Heidelberg Tun – the giant wine barrel

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.

Perkeo…the eternal keeper stands guard

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

Standing tall & majestic
A fabulous facade weathered over centuries

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.

Designed to inspire…through the ages

The palace courtyard flaunts richly decorated creations of art on the inside and has lovely gardens on the outside, with incredible views.

A historical sit-out…
…for a beautiful view!

Heidelberg – the Gothic town 

The old…and the not so old…as the sun sets
…for a perfect walk
…for the shopper in us
An evening in the romantic town of Heidelberg…as the sun goes down!

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. 

Clearly a ‘must-do’ when in Frankfurt. 

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99

Lovely Lucerne…that is simply Suisse!

Lovely Lucerne

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.

Heaven on earth
A shot that I jus’ couldn’t miss…

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.   

A perfect setting

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 Chapel Bridge at dawn

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. 

The Chapel Bridge at dusk

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. 

A walk though the Chapel Bridge…in awe
Mated for life!

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

A cool cruise along the river Reuss

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.

A little town by the lake

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.  

Gone fishing…Lucerne lake

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.

Walkin’ the city so beautiful!

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. 

Cobbled-stoned lanes & age old structures
An old church

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.

Shopping…
Lovely Lucerne!

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.   

Pictures – irk99 | www.instagram.com/irk99