Archive for the ‘ Travels ’ Category

Cambodia – Temples of Angkor 2, March 2011

After seeing the great Angkor Thom, the next stop was Baksei Chamkrong, justP1040980 outside it. There’s a steep flight of steps to climb up, but it’s quite small in area. Great view from the top. Its dedicated to Shiva, but now all the temples have become Buddhist and so all statues are of the Buddha.

Close to this is the Phnom Bakheng, or central mountain. There’s a 20 minute easy climb uphill to the top where there’s a temple, and what’s unique about this is that you can see the Angkor Wat from the top of the temple. The P1040996temple at Phnom Bakheng was constructed more than 2 centuries before the Angkor Wat. I went in the afternoon, when it was fairly quiet. Its extremely crowded at sunset because there’s a good view. But the steps to climb to the top of the temple are very steep and no more than one person can climb at a time so its single file, which adds to the crowding. I enjoyed this because of the panoramic views.

So after all this, it was time for the famous Angkor Wat! There’s a moat with large body of P1050040water at the entrance, The entrance itself involves a long walkway to the main doorway and then an equally long walkway inside upto the main temple. Its imposing simply in the area it covers and how sprawling the grounds and the structures are. Angkor Wat means city temple. It was built for the king Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city. As the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious centre since its foundation – first Hindu, dedicated to the god Vishnu, then Buddhist. It is the world’s largest religious building.

It’s difficult to understand where to begin here! But eventually I followed the typical route of seeing all the bas-reliefs that line the outer wall of the temple counter-clockwise, then movingP1050054 to the inner area and so on until I reached the central area with the towers. Just looking at everything that has gone into the creation of this temple is mind boggling. The bas-reliefs are detailed and fill the entire length of each wall. There’s the concluding episode of the Mahabharata, scene from the Ramayana, the depiction of the Churning of the Sea of Milk and P1050130many more. The detailing on each would be impossible to assimilate in a single visit. The inner areas have many terraces and pillars leading to the central tower which has 4 different Buddhas. The view from this section of the entire Angkor Wat shows the vastness of space. Easily spend a few hours here so save enough time for it as it closes in the evening. This is a place that you can lose yourself in! Its magical.

On my last day, I thought I would squeeze in some time and go see the temples of the Roluos Group. Lolei, Preah Ko & Bakong were some of the earliest permanent structures built by theP1050279 Khmer. They mark the beginning of classical period of Khmer civilization, from the late 9th century. Not in as good a condition as the other temples, they are nevertheless worth a trip to see how the temple styles evolved. The most picturesque is the Bakong which was the official state temple of the King Indravarman I. It is situated on a river & has a lovely garden & so makes for a pretty sight.

This concluded a beautiful and memorable trip to Siem Reap. It has stayed in my mind since then and the effect it has is quite frankly hard to forget. Perhaps just like Bhutan has stayed in my mind – its the combined effect of monuments and nature. While I soaked in so many temples on my trip, it definitely warrants another visit at a different time of the year. After monsoon and in the onset of winter, because the water bodies at most temples are full and you can see it in completely different light as well as get some spectacular views during sunrise and sunset. Someday, I will be back in Siem Reap.

Cambodia – Temples of Angkor, March 2011

The most anticipated part of my trip… seeing the Temples of Angkor! Fairly easy to organise a trip, either opt for a Tuk Tuk to take you around, or you can even cycle as the roads are well marked. AC taxis are also available. I opted for a Tuk Tuk. I had read about the various temples earlier so I planned a 3 day itinerary, which I discussed with the Tuk Tuk driver, Vanny. He was really helpful and suggested the route for each day. I chose to do some of the farthest temples on Day 1 so that I don’t run out of time later.

Nothing can really prepare you for what you see at Angkor. If you are interested in history, it’s a world you can get lost in. No matter how dilapidated some of the structures are, they are an unforgettable sight & take you back to a time when life was about god-like worship of kings.

The first temple I went to was Ta Prohm, originally called Rajavihara. Ta Prohm means ‘ancestor Brahma’. Its popular with tourists because nature has virtually takeP1040538n over the temples, large trees grow out of the structure and make for a unique sight. Ta Prohm is also being restored with help from the Indian govt. It has a lot of headless statues as do almost all the temples, since the temples have been looted through history especially during the Khmer Rouge era. The elaborate carvings on the pillars of apsaras and kings are lovely, and soon became a familiar sight as I visited more temples. Many stones lie on the ground from fallen towers and broken pillars. Next I went to Banteay Srei (Citadel of Women). Began in 967 AD. Considered one of the best temples because of its art. It has beautiful intricate carvings and is made frP1040593om red sandstone & so is very pretty. Most of the other temples are grey. It was one of my favourites of all the temples I saw. On Nikki’s recommendation (the one I contacted on Couchsurfing) I went to see the Banteay Samre (Citadel of the Samre) (named after the population which lived in the region around Phnom Kulen, to the northeast of Siem Reap). It’s usually skipped by most tourists & I was glad I went here. Like most temples, moats for water form a key part of the temple. P1040596In fact it set in concentric squares, each separated by a moat which is now dry. By now I had started recognising some of the typical temple features. Circular window bars, apsaras on pillars, the triangular towers. But even with all the similarities, each temple is different and has its own charm.

The other temples I saw on the same day were Pre Rup and Banteay Kdei. After all the walking around in the hot & humid weather, I was looking forward to the comfort of my room! There’s a lot of walking and climbing involved so the temples are not a place for kids or older people. Many of the Temples were designed as temple mountains, representing Mount Meru, so the stone steps are high & also uneven. In many cases the steps are not wide enough for the foot, so you have descend and ascend sideways. There’s a slight sense of adventure in climbing up all the steps to the top & well worth it for the view.

Right opposite Banteay Kdei is the Sra Srang, a lake that’s a popular spot to see the sunrise from. This is where I headed on Day 2 at 5 am! As did many others. P1040752But we were all disappointed as it was a cloudy day & the sun was a sliver of red that went behind the clouds almost as soon as it rose. It was a great way to begin the morning though, sitting there at the lake & watching the sky slowly light up. And even better, all the temples I saw next had no crowd as it was still early. Starting with East Mebon, a 10th century temple dedicated to Shiva, I went next to Neak Pean (the entwined serpents). This was unique & I loved it. P1040818There’s a long boardwalk leading upto it as it has water surrounding it in the monsoon. The temple itself has several pools on all sides – 8 of them – but all dry now. In the centre is the temple, surrounded by water. The entwined serpents are at the base of the central structure, I couldn’t get there as there’s water all around. It looks quaint, surrounded by green trees & its very, very quiet. It is not imposing as it isn’t a grand, tall structure & that adds to its charm. Right after this, I headed to Preah Khan (Sacred Sword) – its largely unrestored so has a lot of rubble. It’s also maze like as it has entrances from all 4 sides – N, S, E, W. Its only when you climb up (through a lot of the rubble) that you see the temple towers, otherwise, because they are all set so close, you can’t see them from the bottom. You can easily get lost in this one.

So after all this & the early start to the day, it was time for the famous Angkor Thom and Angkor WaP1040895t. I had a lunch break to fortify myself before I went to some of the largest temples. Angkor Thom was the last and most enduring capital city of the Khmer empire. It was established in the late twelfth century by King Jayavarman VII. It covers an area of 9 km². It has a central road running through it, and structures, temples and trees on either side.The Terrace of Elephants with beautiful carvings, the Phimeanakas where the king spent the first watch of every night with a woman thought to represent a Nāga, the Baphuon which is under restoration & of course the famous Bayon. While there is a lot of walking involved, it’s also through very green patches, lawns, trees, shrubs & its quite pretty.

With its 54 towers, each with the head of Bayon on all four sides, there are 21P10409526 heads staring at you as you enter the Bayon temple! Who’s head is it? Well it may represent the king himself, the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, guardians of the empire’s cardinal points, or some combination of these. There are many steps & towers to go through and this one because of its popularity was full of tourists. No moments of solitude possible here. The main entrance to the Bayon – through which I exited – is grand and imposing with Devas & Asuras lined on either side of the road.

Does this sound exhausting? Well it was! And my day wasn’t over yet! A lot more to come culminating in the famous Angkor Wat – in the next post.

Solo Trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia – March 2011

I landed in Siem Reap to weather exactly like Mumbai – hot, humid and sultry. That didn’t worry me since I was used to it.

The Old Market (Psar Chaa), Pub Street and all the main restaurants were close to my hotel so I walked there often. Amongst the first few little restaurants I spotted was an Indian one, India Gate, P1040489promising the best Indian food in Siem Reap & an authentic Indian chef. Not that I stepped into even one, though I found there were, in fact, a few more – Curry Wala being another one with multiples branches.

What I found strange initially was men on bikes who stop & ask if you want to hop on. It’s a taxi service of sorts, an alternate to hiring a tuk tuk. But it can seem stalkerish until you read about it in the guide books!

The Old Market area is somewhat reminiscent of Goa. But with better dressed tourists! The women probably make an effort to cover a little more of  themselvesP1050183 after reading the guide books. Strongly recommended online, Khmer Kitchen is run by a local & has 3 restaurants in a 1 Km radius. It’s definitely great food at great value & all the food i had there was excellent. They also have deals such as free welcome drink, cold towel, happy hour till closing, or free beer/ coconut water with lunch. It isn’t that hard to find vegetarian food but if you are concerned about the vessels that it’s being cooked in or its proximity in the kitchen to non-veg food, you would then find it very difficult to eat anything at most places. But otherwise, you can pretty much find any kind of cuisine you want, including the local Khmer curry and rice & amok – fish curried and steamed in banana leaf (which everyone told me was excellent). And how can you wrong with a street called Pub Street! Alcohol is cheap, drinks are potent, and everyone is having a good time.

I bought some souvenirs at the markets, most of which begin at 3 & 7 pm. Bargain, bargain, bargain – just as any other self respecting Indian would! In fact it’s tough to buy things that don’t look like they come from India! P1040492From scarves to cloth bags to carved Buddha heads to jewellery, everything looks like something you would find here except for the Tin Tin posters that abound.. People use the same tricks of the trade to make a sale. “You are first customer” “I give you good discount because you are early” etc. Don’t fall for anything. If you really want to buy something, spend time walking around different markets, you will find prices drastically fluctuate. But unless you choose to buy specific stuff like Angkor printed scarves or the head of Bayon (will explain in a later post), you are better off saving your dollars. USD is freely accepted currency here so you don’t need to change into Rial – in most cases, I even received the change back in USD.

Nikki, an American living in Siem Reap, teaching English to students in a vocational school, who also runs the local Couchsurfing group, very sweetly picked me up from my hotel on her little scooter & took me to this fantastic veg restaurant called Vitking for dinner.P1040500 I would never have found it by myself! It was fascinating to hear about the kind of work she is doing & the aspirations of the Cambodian people, driven by the tourism industry. She came to Cambodia on a trip once and immediately felt at home. She also works with local NGOs to help them get more professional and hence get better funding. A great dinner that, with excellent food. She gave me the very useful tip of visiting Banteay Samre, which is a temple near the more popular Banteay Srei, and one that most tourists don’t visit. Definitely a good tip because I am glad I didn’t miss it.

Walking around the area on another day, I went further up towards the Stung River. A completely different area from the Old Market, this has wide roads, P1050330a huge temple built in the 14th century and the National Museum and a large Park further up the road. With much fewer tourists, it’s quiet and relaxed. Most local Cambodians, however, see you for what you are – a tourist – and hope that you will buy something. If a kid just gives you a trinket saying it’s for good luck, beware, most of the time they do want to sell it to you. I was offered everything from bangles made of cane to paper rings to flowers. Some insisted it was free, others asked for money. Can’t blame them since tourism is the mainstay of their economy. But, in general, the people are very friendly and helpful. They have warm smiles & many know about India. Everyone doesn’t know good English, many speak a basic version. When I tried asking where I could get a SIM card for my phone, I was usually handed a business card of the place!

All about the Temples in the next post.

Solo Trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia – March 2011 – Getting There

As it has happened in the past, I realised the financial year was nearing an end and I had about 26 days of leave left, of the total 30 that I am entitled to. Firstly, I couldn’t believe that the whole year had gone by and I hadn’t travelled anywhere! Secondly, I would have been miserable had I done nothing about it. So I planned a trip to Singapore and Cambodia. Singapore was a long pending one. I kept threatening friends that I would come over soon, but never did. So I decided to finally make good on the threat! Of course, Murphy’s Law had to prevail. So when I checked my passport, it was just 6 months away from expiring and I wouldn’t be allowed to enter any country let alone stay for a while. So that began a chapter of getting my passport renewed, but was not as painful as I thought it would be. And then I planned again. Singapore for a bit, then to Siem Reap, back to Singapore and then back home. 9P1040467 days in all.

I won’t be blogging about Singapore since it involved meeting friends, enjoying the super nightlife and of course, shopping. It wasn’t my first trip so I didn’t do any sightseeing. As glorious & memorable as it was, its not what you want to hear about, do you? I shall head straight onto Siem Reap.

I have always wanted to visit the Angkor Temples and it’s been somewhere on my mind, thoughts usually ending with a ‘some day’. So when I was looking at what places I could go to from Singapore, I began reading about Cambodia and decided that was it! Fairly easy to go to as well since there’s visa on arrival. March is the end of the high season for Siem Reap (the town close to which all the Angkor Temples are located) since it’s the beginning of summer. This also suited me well as it was not difficult to get flight tickets on days of my choice and hotel bookings too. I booked everything online & I can tell you that there is no need for a travel agent. I don’t believe in them. Spend sometime reading up about your destination online, make your itinerary & just do all the bookings. Simple. My trip started on a fab note when I was upgraded to Business Class on Silk Air.

Was it safe for me to travel by myself? Absolutely. Since I am on Couchsurfing, I got in touch with a few couch surfers and got a few tips beforehand. There’s a great Cambodia forum on CS which answers most questions & any other questions I had, I asked Nikki, who runs the forum. She was extremely helpful and even offered to take me to dinnerP1050309 to a great new vegetarian restaurant when I got there. I would have of course, liked to Couchsurf in Siem Reap but couches weren’t available for the dates I wanted. So after a lot of research, I chose the Steung Siem Reap Hotel, and did not regret it for a minute. It was a fantastic location, right next to the Old Market and Pub Street, the central area for food, nightlife & shopping in Siem Reap. Unlike people who would stay at hotels closer to the temples and have to take Tuk Tuks to come to this area, it was a much better option to stay in this area as the temples only take 30-40 minutes to get to by Tuk Tuk. Being from Mumbai, that’s a breeze!

Why solo? Well, it just so happened this way. I have travelled solo and with friends. Both are different experiences and there’s something good to be said about both. With friends, there’s never a dull moment, you share all your experiences, and enjoy their company. Solo travel gets you to meet different people since you are more open to conversation with people sitting next to you. It’s lovely to speak to people from different cultures, doing different things in life and a welcome change from all the digital, marketing & advertising conversation that I am surrounded by in Mumbai! I met Gerda, a Dutch lady, travelling solo on my flight in, she stayed at the same hotel and was on the same flight out. So the journey to & fro became memorable instead of it being just another airport-flight-airport-hotel experience. Gerda lives with her family in Singapore & was taking her first solo break from her life and kids for a few days. Some ‘me-time’. I didn’t plan any of my temple visits with her but I very much enjoyed chatting with her about my life & hers, India & its culture, and her travels all over the globe.

Next post will be about Siem Reap & of course, the Temples!

I got some great advice from these blogs & forums, so do check these out too.

Traveling Mark, Bombay Nomads, Fodors, Frommers

My Trip to Rome, Italy – History, Art, Architecture, Grandeur

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The second leg of my March 2010 trip, that I am finally determined to finish the posts about, before another destination comes up! The earlier one on France is here.

Rome Day 1

The much panic-stricken running at Nice airport did result in our catching the flight to Rome & we landed well after midnight, so we had arranged for an airport pickup & hotel drop with a private taxi service since there was no public service available at the late hour. After more drama when he took us to the wrong place at 1 am, got upset at whoever had assigned him with much angry yelling in Italian on the phone, & finally found his way to the hotel, we were exhausted and ready to sleep wary of the early checkout. We were only staying one night because our couchsurfing host was taking us in the next day. That was going to be a great adventure, first time for us staying with hosts.

The Trevi Fountain Rome

The Trevi Fountain, Rome

The Hotel Julia was super, highly recommended to anyone for its central location in Rome. We began by seeing the Trevi Fountain was our first halt, walking distance from the hotel, and it was magnificent. Lived upto everything seen or heard including the famous scene from the movie, La Dolce Vita. Like everythingelse in Rome, we just came upon it. We spent a long time there as it was just too beautiful. History at every corner is the best way to describe Rome, cathedrals hundreds of years old are routine & any monument 200 years old is called young!

Rome

Sun setting over Rome, as seen from Castle San Angelo

From there we headed to the Castle San Angelo which is now a museum, and apart from the exhibits, also has a superb view of Rome & St Peter’s Basilica in particular. We also went to Spanish Steps, the longest and widest staircase in Europe leading to the church Trinita Dei Monti where a choir was in full swing. Our heads were buzzing with everything we had seen on just our first day. It hadn’t come to an end yet. We met Giuseppe, our host in the evening, and he drove us back to his apartment (we passed the Colloseum on the way, all lit up & a magnificent sight!) with a super tiny lift – no idea how we fitted us and our bags into that lift! He even cooked us dinner, pasta with mushrooms, served with some lovely wine. Honestly, we were relieved that he was so sweet. It’s not common to be offered dinner in your hosts’ home.

Rome Day 2

Roman Forum

At the Roman Forum - the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina

Rome has so much to see that a few days are difficult to do justice. The Foro Romano (Roman Forum) is so large that a few hours are not enough. It’s part of the centralised area around which the ancient Roman civilization developed & is an absolute must-see if you like ancient architecture and ruins. Next up was of course, the Colloseum and I had the fight scene from Gladiator playing in my head as I saw what the amphitheatre looked like.

The Colosseum Amphitheatre Rome

The Colosseum Amphitheatre, Rome

The impact of being in a monument built in 70 AD is like nothing else. This was followed up in the evening with a visit to the Pantheon, where we saw the full moon through skylight in the dome. The Pantheon is a beautiful structure, with its Corinthian columns & its gigantic dome. And we also met our second host, also Giuseppe, who volunteered to show us around Rome for the evening even though we were not staying with him. He was just as sweet, took us to some places we would never have been to ourselves. Like a place on a hill with a view of all Rome, we saw it all lit up at night.

Rome Day 3

St Peter's Basilica, Rome

St Peter's Basilica, Rome

The next day was devoted to the Vatican. This was also the most memorable day and a brilliant climactic ending to our stay in Rome. The lines are extremely long for both St Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican museum. So we were prepared to stand for hours but it was well worth it. Entering St Peter’s Basilica, it leaves you spell bound. It’s even more beautiful than any pictures can do justice to. Lined with murals, sculptures, paintings, it has more than you can take in all at once. It’s overwhelming in size and in its architecture. Next up, the Vatican Museum. Passing the famed and oft-seen Swedish Armed Guards in their typical uniform, we headed around the wall of the Vatican City to the Museum entry point. Its great to pick up the audio guides at all the locations as they give you a sense of the history and what’s special about each place. In here, you see the works of Raphael, from his paintings to his frescoes/ murals & of course, works of many other artists. The Sistine Chapel, where photography is not permitted, is an extremely large area with a high ceiling and you can stare at the beautiful panels, of which the central one is the most popular representation, for hours. Though one doesn’t have that kind of time, especially since its crowded and there isn’t enough sitting space.

The Pope, Vatican City, Rome

Yes, that is The Pope at the event at St Peter's Square, Rome

It was late evening by the time we finished and headed for some food. Sitting in an open air cafe, we had just finished our meal when we heard music emanating from St Peters square. Rushing over, we found a concert in full swing! There were popular local singing stars and choirs (from what we could make out since it was all Italian. There were large TV screens projecting this since the square is large. The energy of the thousands assembled there was something to see! There were also armed forces, army, navy present watching the show. Despite the cold wind sweeping through the square, for which we didn’t have enough protection, nothing could get us away! After a while, the Pope came out in a little car, he was driven around, waving at the crowds and finally made his way to the stage and gave a speech. The odds of just walking into something like this, not knowing this was going to happen, really put us on a high!

We met Giuseppe (not the one we were staying with) again at the end of the concert, and he took us to the area with the buzzing nightlife – Trastevere, with its tiny cobbled lanes lined with pubs. Italians also drive and park much like Indians. Can’t find a spot? Park anywhere and hit the distress lights. Live performances in our pub, kept us on a high after that superb evening. Next we went to a place that specialises in shots served in little chocolate

Menu at Trastevere, Rome

Menu for the shots at Trastevere, Rome. Succhiotto means Love Bite.

Shots in chocolate glasses!

Shots in chocolate glasses with whipped cream and chocolate flakes. In a word, awesome.

glasses! All the drinks are named after positions or actions e.g. 69, lovebite, there’s even the kamasutra. After pouring the drink into the glass, it’s topped with whipped cream and chocolate flakes. The bartender also instructs you on how to have it. You have to hold it from the top of the glass, and put it bottom first into your mouth, swallowing it whole! Quite an experience this! And we wouldn’t have had it were it not for Giuseppe! What an end to our stay in Rome.

Couchsurfing is highly recommended, but you do have to tidy up and keep your host’s room & bathroom clean. If you are on your best behaviour, you will find bonding with your host also easy as the last thing anyone wants is strangers messing up their home and expecting them to clean up. As long as that’s taken care of, you will learn more from them about their country & culture than you could by reading guide books. That’s what travel is about anyway. It’s the human interaction that enhances the experience & makes you appreciate your surroundings.

Next up was Florence. So different, but just as memorable. More on that in the next post.

Giuseppe, couchsurfing host

Giuseppe, our couchsurfing host who took us around Rome.

Giuseppe, couchsurfing host

Giuseppe, our couchsurfing host, with the dinner he cooked for us.

My Trip to France – Art, Food, Wine, Beauty

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Long, long pending posts about my France & Italy trip in March 2010. It was so amazing that I wrote this one How to Make the Most of Your Travel Experience just to share my views on traveling! With some 1200 photos, umpteen curios, plenty of cheese and wine and some fantastic people, this turned out to be one of the best trips to Europe that I have ever had. My posts are going to be less about documenting every place we visited and more about the enjoyable moments. Is this for myself or readers? Both, I think!

Aix-en-Provence

Starting with the South of France, where our friends, Tanvi & Julien played gracious hosts to perfection, & their little son, Rohan, was the sweetest face to see every morning with that bright, beaming smile. The town of Aix-en-Provence is picture perfect (as is everything else in the region). Originally called Aquas Sextias & in existence since 122 BC, it has a lovely main street with a large fountain, Cours Mirabeau. We stayed at the Mazarin Quarter which had everything from a cinema hall to proximity to the markets. There’s a lot of emphasis on dressing well, as evidenced by people even taking their dogs for a walk. The clothes, scarves, hats, shoes are all in harmony and the sneakers & rough-it-out pants look makes you really stand out.

Mazarin Cinema Aix-en-provenceThe Market, Aix-en-provenceApart from wandering around the Aix markets (& loving every minute of it!), the highlights of the trip were the visit to Cezanne’s studio & the climb up St Victoire. Cezanne was born in Aix and worked here & the roads are marked with a seal around all the places where he lived/ studied/ worked. His studio (Atelier Cezanne) is a huge room with windows from floor to ceiling, where his clothes & his art tools are still preserved. No photography allowed inside. I just loved seeing that room with large easels and the old furniture. A master artist’s place of work. Climbing the St Victoire, that appears so often in Cezanne’s work added to the charm of Provence. On the way down, we stopped at a cafe where I got locked inside the loo for almost 15 minutes until Louella (my travel partner) came looking for me!  It was not a particularly new occurrence as the waiter opened it very matter-of-factly with a knife and waltzed off.

France is all about wine and cheese and desserts and we had our fill of everything. Multi-course meals with different wines for each course, cheese platters… aah my mouth waters just thinking about it. The sensuousness of Europe is enhanced by the food & drink, such an integral part of the experience. I know the tendency (given our supremely jaw-socking exchange rate) is to eat budget food, & that’s what I have done before myself, but eating more like the locals gave an entirely different perspective to the place. The lunch at Julien’s parents place in particular was lovely,  but more than that the architecture and decor of the home was even more beautiful.

Arles, Marseille, Cassis

We also used Aix as a base and visited nearby towns & villages. We visited Arles, Marseilles and Cassis from here as day trips. Arles is a village famous for it’s Roman Amphitheatre dating back to the 1st century BC. It looks like time stood still here, with it’s quaint square & intricate doorways. It’s charming to walk through and lined with little shops that you feel like stopping at.  Marseilles was very different, the port town, hub of the region and full of life. The walk to the BBoats at CassisasilCalanques at Cassisica of the Notre Dame on top of the hill took us through many of the little streets & houses, a throw-back to scenes from movies made in the 40s & 50s. The port itself is very busy & full of large boats. By this time we were also getting used to the fact that salt doesn’t find it’s way into the food much. Sitting in a cafe watching the world go by was one of our favourite activities. Cassis, which we would not have gone to, had it not been for Julien’s recommendation, was beautiful. The quintessential rich coastal town with mansions overlooking the ocean, majestic boats and fast cars. It’s known for the Calanques – limestone cliffs in stark contrast to the aqua blue waters. They were created around 12,000 years ago & actually surrounding valleys, but the ocean levels rose after the ice age. Going to Cassis & doing the walk up the Calanques is highly recommended. It provides spectacular views of the coastline.

Nice & Eze

After spending a week in Aix & around, we said goodbye to T, J & R and moved to Nice. Since we were visiting in March, it happened to rain on the days that we were there, so we go to see a different side of it. It’s sunny 300 days of the year, we were told… I guess just not when we were there. Nice has lots to see & many parts of it look just like they are out of a movie set, which isn’t surprising given how perfectly co-ordinated everything is. Place Massena, the large square is the hub of plenty of activity including live performances on the street. We saw one by Native Americans & even bought their CDs. The antiques market in Cours Saleya was the most memorable part of the Nice, with curios, art, prints, clothes, furniture. I bought an Art Deco cup & saucer & a few other pieces here, browsing was just as much fun. Nice in the old quarter is full of tiny cobbled streets & old style lanterns but also houses pubs and restaurants, most of which have an open air section. Lou managed to get locked in the loo (ironic, eh?) this time round! We had some delicious salad with goat cheese & also the local specialty

From Nice, we also went to Eze, a charming medieval village through which you can spend atleast half a day walking around. It was covered in mist & we felt like we were in a fairytale. The old structures are intact and homes and shops are all there, housed in stone covered walls. From the Jardin Exotique (Exotic Garden), you can see Nice & the Cote D’Azur (The Azure Coast) – there is nothing like it! If there was one place that left it’s mark on us, it was Eze. Dreamland personified (Not the Inception kind).

EzeFrom Nice we flew to Rome, which will be the subject of another post, with much drama at the Nice airport when we almost missed our flight because we were sitting the wrong section. We would have in fact missed it were it not delayed by 40 minutes, a fact we learnt only after much panic stricken running through Nice airport.

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Top 20 Travel Quotes

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Been reading many of these off & on, and wanted to compile them into one place! Hope you like them & do share your quotes too!

  1. “Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” ~ Jack Kerouac in On The Road
  2. “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.” ~ Dagobert D. Runes
  3. “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” ~ Freya Stark
  4. “Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travelers don’t know where they’re going.” ~ Paul Theroux
  5. “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” ~ Lao Tzu
  6. “When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money.”  ~ Susan Heller
  7. “Travelers never think that they are the foreigners.”  ~ Mason Cooley
  8. “I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them.”  ~ Mark Twain
  9. “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.”  ~ George Bernard Shaw
  10. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” ~ Mark Twain
  11. “The road is long, and in the end, the journey is the destination.” ~ from One Tree Hill
  12. “Half the fun of the travel is the aesthetic of lostness.” ~ Ray Bradbury
  13. “Two roads diverged in a wood,  and I
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference.”
    ~ Robert Frost in The Road Not Taken
  14. “I should like to spend the whole of my in life travelling abroad, if I could anywhere borrow another life to spend afterwards at home.”~ William Hazlitt
  15. “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
  16. “Strange travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” ~ Kurt Vonnegut in Cat’s Cradle
  17. “I never called it a “bad trip.” Sometimes other people would call it that when I told them what had happened. “Bad trip” didn’t really describe it. It wasn’t saying enough. It was saying too much. If you had a bad trip it was because you were a bad person. If you weren’t a bad person, then at the very least having a bad trip indicated that work was needed on this or that part of your head; a lack of wisdom or something like it was at the root of your bad trip.” ~ Mark Vonnegut in The Eden Express: A Memoir of Schizophrenia
  18. “If it’s Tuesday, it must be Belgium”  ~ Movie Title
  19. “The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences.” ~ Chris McCandless (Into The Wild)
  20. “There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
    There is rapture on the lonely shore,
    There is society where none intrudes,
    By the deep sea and the music in its roar
    I love not man the less,but Nature more.”
    ~ Lord Byron from Childe Harold, Canto iv, Verse 178

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