Salzburg in a day

Salzburg is like that often overlooked sibling of an illustrious personality — in its case, the city of Vienna. However, just as the cliché goes, while it is similar to Vienna in some respects, Salzburg has its own unique mix of exquisite art, music, culture and incredible scenery. The city is perhaps most well known for being the birthplace of Mozart and for being the location of the heartwarming movie The Sound of Music, but digging a bit deeper reveals so much more of this enchanting city, nestled in the Alps.

Salzburg was our first and last stop on our spring holiday this year. We used Salzburg as our home base to explore the alpine villages of Germany and Austria. It was centrally located giving us easy accessibility and assured us of lively bars and restaurants that we could unwind at after a long day of sight-seeing.

While we did explore a little bit of Salzburg every evening when we returned, we fully explored the city only on our last day there.

There’s a lot to do in Salzburg – stunning cathedrals, excellent museums, great beerhalls, cool fountains, beautiful parks and the list goes on. Here are some spots we think are definitely worth a visit.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Even if you are in Salzburg for just the day or a few hours, make time for this. The Hohensalzburg’s not only got some great exhibits on the inside but spectacular views of the city and the surrounding alps on the outside.

IMG_8630 (2)
The alpine view despite an incredibly cloudy day
IMG_8653 (4)
See the light snow on the rooftops?

It was mid April and the last snowfall was around early February but this year there was unexpected snow across Germany and Austria for a couple of days in April that took everyone by surprise. It definitely made our plan to see Salzburg that day mighty hard with slushy snow hitting us in bursts thru the day.

IMG_8621
A blast of sunshine, just before the snow storm

The Hohensalzburg Fortress is perched on a little hill, just above the old town area.

IMG_8104 (3)
A view of the Hohensalzburg castle towering high above

The fortress is easily accessible from the city centre via the FestungsBahn funicular (just around the corner from the KapitelPlatz). Once you step outside this little funicular, check out the panoramic terrace for outstanding views of the city and the alps.

There’s a whole bunch of things to do inside this 11th century fortress that includes several wings and courtyards. Some sections are converted into museums filled with interesting exhibits. The Fortress Museum in the Hoher Stock wing is quite fascinating with its large collection of weapons and ceramics. It gives a great background on the history of the fortress and everyday life in the castle.

6416817972593864261-account_id=1
It also features some painful-looking weapons of torture
IMG_8650 (3)
In there, you’ll also find this  unique display of armor and weapons held up by strings

The Rainer-Regiment Museum has a somewhat similar theme of exhibits including weapons, uniforms and a historical recount of the key role played by the Rainer Regiment in the First World War. They also have a few nicely done sets and it’s worth a quick stop.

IMG_8638 (1)

IMG_8640

The Marionette Museum is another little section in the fortress that has an intriguing set of puppets on exhibit from its very popular Marionette Theatre. The theatre itself is located in the heart of the city and has a variety of shows every day. We were unable to make any of these shows during our visit but it’s something we have on our list for a future visit. It seems like a fun show for children and adults alike and if you have the time, you should check it out.

As you walk thru the castle bastions, you’ll stumble into some of these (harmless) guys.

IMG_8627 (1)

The Royal Apartments is another delightful section in the fortress. It features a few different rooms of which the Golden Chamber is most remarkable. Wall to ceiling, this room is exquisitely decorated in lush colors and gothic style. The main showpiece in the chamber is the large Majolica oven that is lavishly decorated with colorful, intricate designs. The Golden Hall, just beside the Golden Chamber, is another grandly decorated room with similar gothic designs. For over 40 years, the hall has hosted some of Salzburg’s best Mozart concerts and it definitely seemed like the best place in the city to enjoy an evening of delightful music coupled with some striking views.

IMG_8636 (3)
The ornate Golden Chamber

Although it’ll take you a few good hours, the Hohensalzburg Fortress is a sight that shouldn’t be missed. On your way down to the city, you could do a quick stop at the Stiegl Brewery to get a refreshing pint of their lager or some local bites. The city views from their biergarten are quite lovely as well.

Another popular place in Salzburg for great city views is the Winkler Terrace, accessible via the Mönchsberg Lift. We couldn’t fit this into our day but it seems like a place that’s definitely worth the visit from the few pictures we’ve seen – stunning panoramas!

Salzburger Dom

Built in early 17th century, the Salzburg Cathedral is incredibly beautiful. On the outside, it seems somewhat ordinary, but when you step inside, you’re struck by its true splendor.

IMG_8573 (2)

IMG_8604 (1)
The central dome of the cathedral is awe-inspiring
IMG_8587 (4).JPG
The richly decorated ceiling of the central dome
IMG_8602 (1)
The ceilings throughout the cathedral are done up in admirable baroque art

Altstadt or Old Town area

Salzburg’s old town area is a great place to start your exploration of Salzburg. Most of the popular sights including the fortress and cathedral are centered in the old town or historical district. Just opposite the cathedral is the Residenzplatz with its splendid horse-fish fountain or Residenzbrunnen.

IMG_8562 (5)
Sculpted by an Italian guy, this baroque fountain is an interesting piece of art

The Residenz Square also includes a whole bunch of museums including the Dom Quartier and Salzburg Museum which we sadly couldn’t make time for in the one day we had in Salzburg. They looked pretty fascinating from their websites and if you are in Salzburg for more than a day, you should give it a go. Also, note that these museums are interconnected and seem to be covered in one pass.

Just next to the Residenzplatz is the Mozartplatz. Of course, the square is adorned by a statue of Salzburg’s most popular guy.

IMG_8553 (1)

If you fancy a horse carriage ride thru the old town area, you’ll find these guys hanging around the Mozart Square.

For more of Mozart, head over to Mozart’s Wohnhaus (residence) and Mozart’s Geburtshaus (place of birth). Both these houses have been converted into museums exhibiting paintings, musical instruments, documents and a great number of other collectibles that narrate the life story of the musical genius.

IMG_8677 (2)
Mozart’s birth place in Getreidegasse

Apart from being well-known for Mozart’s place of birth, the Getreidegasse is also popular for shopping in Salzburg. Even if you ain’t shopping, the street is a delight to walk thru. Every store has a uniquely designed sign above its door. Even McDonald’s is fancy in this street!

One thing you should shop for, in the whereabouts of this area, is the Mozart Kugeln. Launched for the first time in late 19th century, these little chocolate bonbons made of pistacchio, marzipan and nougat, are an Austrian specialty.

IMG_8675

Music fills the streets of Salzburg. The old town area is bustling with musicians playing delightful classical numbers. Do take time to stop for a gelato, sit in one of the beautiful old town squares and listen to these guys.

If you’d rather sit indoors and listen to some great jazz music, head over to Jazzit. They have some great musicians entertaining you every day of the week. The place is very popular so get there early and grab a seat by the bar that faces the stage and you’ll be all set for a wonderful evening of incredibly wonderful jazz. This was one of our best nights on our week-long road trip!

2862023080062825714-account_id=2

Mirabell Palace and Gardens

Schloss Mirabell and Mirabellgarten is less than a kilometre away from the  old town and it rose to fame when one of the popular scenes from the ‘Sound of Music’ was filmed here, right on these steps, that is the entrance to the garden.

IMG_8755 (1).JPG

It is a lovely garden to walk thru especially around spring time with gorgeous tulips and other spring flowers embellishing the vast garden.

IMG_8698 (1).JPG

IMG_8726.JPG
This was our favorite section in the Mirabell Gardens

The Dwarf Park is a lot of fun! There are some very cool looking dwarves throughout this little park. Here’s a couple of our favorites.

Take a stroll by the Salzach

Do take some time to walk the banks of the Salzach river that runs thru the city of Salzburg. It is not too far from the old town area and you can get some wonderful views of this charming little city.

IMG_8100 (1)

Visit one of the many outstanding breweries

Finally, unwind in a cozy little brewpub and indulge in some of Austria’s culinary delights and excellent brews. You are spoilt for choice with their remarkable selection of breweries. Here are some that we tried and liked.

Looking back on our last day in Salzburg, we actually managed to see quite a bit in one day. If you have more time, there’s a lot more you can do in and around the city.

We hope to return to Salzburg someday, to explore more of the unspoiled beauty and culture that fills every little corner of this city.

Hallstatt – where beauty meets adventure

On a cloudy Easter Sunday morning, we began our short drive to Hallstatt. As we drove out of Salzburg, we were met with pouring rain. The snow-speckled alpine mountains surrounding Salzburg were completely hidden from view and dark clouds hung low. Several minutes into our drive, we move off the expressway and pass thru pretty little villages nestled at the foot of lush green hills. We drive past these villages and on to windy roads with the hills on one side and the gushing stream on the other. The rain had slowed down to a drizzle, the clouds were receding and finally, some spring sunshine filters thru the sky as we arrive in Hallstatt.

Our first stop in Hallstatt was the Dachstein Ice Caves and 5 Fingers Lookout. Unfortunately, this was still closed due to the cold weather (Austria was still getting its last snowfall in April!) We were a bit disappointed as the views from the 5 Fingers looked stunning and the ice caves looked simply fascinating from the pictures we’d seen. But, we knew we were not going to be able to explore some of the sights as we were still traveling during the winter period and most of the attractions would reopen only around the end of April. We didn’t despair though as we had quite an exciting adventure waiting for us!

We pulled into the parking area at the Salzwelten Hallstatt and made our way to the funicular that would take us up to the Salzberg (Salt Mountain). It’s a short scenic ride offering beautiful views of the Hallstatt lake and the Alps.

IMG_8172 (4)

Once you are off the funicular, you have a few things to do on the Salzberg – head up to the Skywalk or World Heritage View – it’s a viewing platform 350 metres above the Hallstatt village. Take the lookout bridge towards the Rudolf Tower to get to the Skywalk. The views from here are just jaw-dropping. You can see the Hallstatt village right below you and the nearby Obertraun village as well. The Hallstattersee looks quite magnificient from this height. Although we visited on a cloudy day and the alps were mostly hidden from view, the moody clouds added a certain charm to the views.

IMG_8175 (2)

IMG_8178.JPG

And the main attraction on this Salt Mountain is the Salt Mine of course. If you’re feeling peckish before you head on over to the Salt Mine, you can grab a bite at the restaurant in the Rudolf Tower. They have a lovely patio which is right above the Skywalk deck so you can grab a pint and a bite while enjoying the beautiful views. Make sure you head on over to the salt mine in time for your tour. The walk to the Salt Mine is short but beautiful.

IMG_8241 (1)

IMG_8243 (2)
Look back and you can see the Rudolf Tower in the distance..

The Salt Mine tour was the highlight of our Hallstatt trip. This is hands down one of our best tours and most fascinating experiences ever. Not only was it well-organized with informative and friendly guides but it was filled with a lot of high-tech entertainment and adventure! Before we set off on our tour through the oldest salt mine in the world, we had to don a miner’s suit which was just the beginning of making this a very real experience. We then walked thru long tunnels that had been dug up by miners a few thousands of years ago to get to the salt mine.

IMG_8193 (1)

And, then, it was time to take a mindblowing ride down a very long, ancient wooden miner’s slide to go further down into the mine. As you can tell from the picture, I was a bit nervous as is usually the case with rides but Steve just loves them! You could take the flight of stairs next to the slide if you don’t feel up to it. But, you really should do the slide – it’s a lot of fun! It’s quite safe for the young and old (just don’t put your arms out and follow the directions given).

3719356572532557199-account_id=2 (1)
They also capture your embarassing but fun moment to take back as a prized souvenir

Once you’re further down in the mine, you’ll find lots of rock salt – on the ceiling, on the walls, everywhere… you can just pinch some off for a taste – it’s delicious!

IMG_8203 (1)

The tour guides are great – they give you excellent background on the salt mine and its significance. Here are some tidbits that we remember – Apparently, 250 million years ago, the entire salt mine area was covered by the ocean. The village of Hallstatt came into existence when the salt mine was discovered during the pre-historic times. And today, the Hallstatt salt mine produces 750,000 tonnes of salt per year. It is one of the first known salt mines in the world that helped uncover valuable information on the pre-historic era.

IMG_8204 (1)

In the salt mine, you’ll go thru several diferent sections – some like the one above where you’ll find salt blocks and some others where they display valuable finds from the pre-historic times. There’s also a little cinema room – appearing very rustic but built with advanced technology. The tour also includes a few short, interesting videos that take you deeper into the history of the salt mine and the remarkable discoveries that were made including the oldest wooden staircase in Europe and the Man in Salt (the body of a former miner was discovered in an astonishingly well-preserved condition due to all the salt he was buried under!)

IMG_8220 (2)
No, this isn’t him – this is just Sepp, a miner who tells the story of the Man in Salt

At the last level in the mine, you are 400 metres underground and there is a mysterious little lake that reflects an amazing light show – spectacular effects and very nicely done! The light show depicts pre-historic times and a day in the life of the miners.

And, finally, it’s time for the last ride through the mine… We hop on a miner’s railway and take another exhilirating ride thru the narrow tunnels of the mine.

IMG_8228 (2)

The Hallstatt Salt Mine is a sensational experience – filled with non-stop adventure from start to finish. We highy recommend a visit to the Salzberg / Salt Mountain – it takes about 3 hours to do the salt mine tour and the skywalk. If there’s only one thing you have time for in Hallstatt, do this. It’s an unforgettable, thrilling adventure! If you have more time to spare and love a hike, Salzberg offers a couple of lovely hiking options as well.

We had just a couple more hours to spare in Hallstatt and decided to ride the funicular back down and check out the little village.

IMG_8246 (1)

We took a stroll thru the village market place. (See how deserted it is? Definitely one of the greatest advantages of traveling off-season is to be able to explore a place without bumping shoulder to shoulder. It is just the kind of holiday we like.)

The Hallstatt village center is filled with colorful little buildings and the Evangelical Church dominates most of this little center.

IMG_8258 (1).JPG
It has an impressive spire
IMG_8284 (1)
This other church you see perched on the hill is Hallstatt’s catholic church – St. Michael’s Chapel

This 12th century church is most popular for its Charnel House (or Bone House). The Ossuary boasts a collection of over 600 skulls, all adorned with artistic designs. Unfortunately, we got there only to find that we’d arrived a few minutes too late. The place had just been closed!

We took a walk around the lovely little cemetery at the back of the church. Much like the rest of Austria, the graves are beautifully decorated with personal effects adorning the graves. The view from the top of the church is lovely.

IMG_8264 (1)

We then walked up to the classic village viewpoint at the Gosaumühlstraße. This is where you can get the famous postcard view of Hallstatt.

IMG_8293 (3)

Although it was about 7 PM, there was still plenty of daylight and we headed down to the lake for a stroll. The views of the Hallstätter See are just delightful. We grabbed a coupla beers, plonked down on one of the benches by the lake, and sat admiring the alpine wonder that surrounds this little Austrian village.

IMG_8272 (2)
Of course you could do a boat tour as well and get up close to these gorgeous mountains
IMG_8275. (1)JPG
It was nearing sundown and we were just content to sit there and watch the swans swim by..

There’s unbelievable beauty everywhere in this little village!

Although it can get quite crowded, just take a walk thru the village and its surounding area and you can find a cosy quiet little spot to admire the beauty that this small place packs in.

We spent a short day in Hallstatt. If you do choose to stay overnight, you could stay at the nearby, less touristy Gosau or Obertraun. They are just 10 minutes away from Hallstatt. We spent a short while in Obertraun – it’s a tiny village on the other side of this bridge.

IMG_8129 (2)IMG_8133 (3)

With it being Easter sunday, the locals were nowhere to be seen and the tourists were thronging little Hallstatt. We seemed to be the only souls in this sleepy village and it was lovely to walk through the quiet little lanes and sit by the lake.

IMG_8143 (2)

The beauty of Austria is in its little alpine villages – each one as breathtaking as the next. We had visited St. Gilgen and Mondsee the previous day and continued to be amazed by this incredibly beautiful country. The Salzkammergut region where all these little villages are has some of Austria’s prettiest lakes and most charming villages, all surrounded by the majestic Alps.

We plan on going back to Austria again, maybe in winter – we’d love to try some skiing and snowboarding!

IMG_8169 (1)
While we dream of that day and hope it comes sooner than later, here’s the ‘Salt Man’ wishing you Glück Auf or Good Luck for your Hallstatt trip!

ECP – Singapore’s Jewel in the Crown

The East Coast Park was a big part of our life in Singapore and is our most loved place in this wonderful little island country.

The ECP is a scenic coastline that stretches over 15 kilometres and is a great place to go to for a ride along the coastline or a lazy day at the beach.

IMG-20131215-WA0069 (2)

You can spend a few hours or an entire day at the ECP. There’s a whole bunch to do. And, it’s a beach you can go to anytime of the year. You may be aware that Singapore doesn’t really have seasons.. it is situated just above the equator and has a tropical climate.. it’s humid and sunny thru the year in this little island. And yes, it is known to rain quite often but it’s usually the kind of rain that comes pouring down with all its might but lasts just a short while. There’s plenty of gazebos around the ECP for you to take cover while the rain clouds pass over.

ECP is filled with a whole range of entertainment options. You can ride a bike along the coastline – a single, tandem or a full family seater! The view is spectacular and you’ve got a dedicated cycling path for your uniterrupted biking pleasure. Many an afternoon/evening was spent biking along the coastline while we lived in Singapore. They also have other options like rollerblading, kayaking, wind surfing, and other extreme sports for the adrenaline junkies. There’s also a paint ball and laser tag arcade in Parkland Green. Or if you’d like to just sit back and drink a pint or two while some fresh fish take the bait, you’ll find plenty of fishing spots along the ECP – the pier near Marine Parade is especially popular for this.

IMG-20140308-WA0027 (2)

DSC_0439

If you’d rather just hang out by the beach, get a beach blanket, some snacks, and a cooler filled with your favorite beers! You’ll find plenty of folks just lazing on the beach under the shade of a palm tree, having a jolly good picnic. At ECP, you can also camp by the beach, overnight as well if you’d like to. It is a very popular activity, so you’ve got to book ahead. We never got around to camping under the stars while we were in Singapore but would highly recommend this if you get a chance to. They provide for shower facilities as well if you’d like to wash off some of that salt and sand off your skin before you call it a night.

There are a ton of options all along the ECP for some lip-smacking food – you’ll find a whole bunch of hawker centers (Singapore’s quite famous for these). It’s basically street food that is cheap and delicious. We highly recommend the satays – they are just mind-blowing! You”ll find these stalls at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village. Just a little further away, you’ll find restaurants, beer bars, and cafes as well, if you fancy a quieter place. Many of these offer a great sea view too. We frequented the Parkland Green as it was closer to where we stayed. This section of ECP is newer and offers plenty of dining options. And, for the eager cooks, you can do your own barbecue in one of the many pits around ECP. Barbecuing at the beach is another very popular activity – make sure you book in advance!

The East Coast Park is part of the Singapore national parks and is interconnected to many of the other parks so you can indulge in some park hop too, by foot, by bike or simply skate your way through.

DSC_0441 (2)

The East Coast Park is definitely frequented more by the folks living in Singapore but it is a great place to unwind and soak in Singapore’s fantastic culture, and relish its variety of culinary delights during your short holiday to this little island.

If there’s one thing we miss the most about Singapore, it would have to be ECP. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. While there were beautiful cycle paths along the Donau in Germany and there’s sure a great variety of food and beautiful coastlines here in Ireland, having that all-in-one experience like the East Coast Park is something we crave for from time to time.

Some of our favorite moments in ECP were riding one of ’em big family cycles along the sea, building sand castles with two of our favorite little girls, enjoying a nice pint at sundown and watching the distant lights of the boats fade into the sea… priceless memories!

IMG-20151011-WA0049 (2)

The East Coast Park holds many a precious memory from our life in Singapore. It made our lives beautiful and complete. It will always be a special place!

Ehingen – a little gem in south Germany

When a city is a called a ‘beer culture’ city, it of course piques our interest.

We are always on the look-out for German craft beer and it’s not too common especially in the neck of the woods where we live, in south Germany (yes, where Munich, the land of great beer and Oktoberfest is). If you are a craft beer fanatic, you’ll know what it is to crave beyond the traditional German Pils and Weizen (which is your dominating beer of choice in the Oktoberfest by the way). Anyways, during one such hunt, we chanced upon this ‘beer culture’ city called Ehingen and were thrilled to see that one of their breweries had a great craft beer collection and the city was just a 30 minute drive from Ulm (where we live). Ecstatic, we made plans to visit the place.

It’s surprising how late-risers like us can rise and shine quite early when there’s a good pint of beer beckoning. It was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies and green fields. Spring is almost here; the temperatures are getting higher but the trees are still barren and we were pleasantly surprised to see the lush green meadows.

DSC_1762
A crisp and clear day

We had the most wonderful short drive to Ehingen – we passed by gorgeous little forests with the Danube river playing hide and seek every few kilometers. We saw a bunch of deer running (Steve didn’t believe me and said it must have been foxes and in just a few meters we saw a sign board indicating deer in the area. Ha!). It was unexpected as we usually find plenty of cows, sheep and horses grazing but never deer, not so close to the expressways. There was also a splendid Christmas tree farm along our route and it was fun to see the teeny weeny Christmas plants sprouting.

In no time, we were in Ehingen parking our car (we parked at the Tiefgaragen Lindenplatz Parkplatz 2 – very accessible to the town square and it’s free of charge on the weekends). We walked up to the Marktplatz (city center) in just a couple of minutes (it’s a small town). It was market day in the town square and they had little stalls selling a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, flowers, and some local beer and snacks too.

IMG_7134
Saturday (farmers) market in the town square

The market day happens every Saturday in every little to big German city – it is basically a farmers market. We still haven’t made it to the one in Ulm and it was good to finally see one of these.

The market square features a fountain with some interesting characters.

DSC_1780 (2)

DSC_1790
Some close-up shots
IMG_7161
Chicken anyone?
IMG_7152
He was getting ready to hose them all!
DSC_1784
Care for a drink from the frog prince’s crown?

On the other side of the marktplatz is the Rathaus (town hall).

IMG_7143
A more modern Rathaus than we expected

We then headed over to the Schwanen Brauerei, one of the 4 breweries in the city. The Berg brewery seems to be quite a reputed brewery especially in this region but if you’re into ales and craft beers, you should head over to the Schwanen brewery. These guys as well have a good collection of traditional brews but we were there just for their craft beer collection – the Schwanen guys don’t brew any craft beers themselves but have a great collection of kick-ass ales from some of the well-known German craft breweries. Our favorites include Camba, Braufactum and Riegele. We’d not had Braufactum before and we thoroughly enjoyed their hoppy pale ales. We had a mighty crate of beers hitching a ride back home with us!

DSC_1768 (2)

If you are a craft beer drinker and you find yourself in the Baden Wurttemburg state of south Germany, you should make your way over to this brew-pub. If you’d like to explore all 4 breweries in Ehingen, check out the historical sights of the city, and don’t mind a good hike, you could opt for their Bierwanderweg (beer culture trekking).  Or, if you’d rather hop on a large bike with friends or family for a short countryside tour enjoying your beer at the same time, you should check out the beer culture bike that Ehingen offers. The city is quite a popular stop for hiking and biking trips along the Danube river.

Our next stop was the St. Blasius Church. This small church is sheer beauty – the baroque style, the exceptional ceiling art, the unique paintings on its wall, the large courtyard – simply awe-inspiring. There are two other main churches (the Church of our lady and Sacred Heart church) and these three church spires dominate the Ehingen skyline.

17264775_1326685297396886_9067134747308941994_nIMG_7216IMG_7196IMG_7195

IMG_7172.JPG
St. Blasius also includes a lovely Grotto (cave-like shrine)

We spent the next hour exploring more of the sleepy little town. We passed by several half-timbered buildings which is a signature feature of small German towns.

IMG_7272
Ehingen Museum

You should visit the Stadtgarten which includes a little lake called Groggensee, a lovely play area for the kids, a large walking/cycling trail and some interesting art in the midst of all of this. What we loved the most is the little Schmiech river flowing through the park making the place magical.

IMG_7262

IMG_7267

Our last stop was the Schloss Mochental. It is a relatively new castle featuring modern works of art.

IMG_7290
At the castle entrance

It is 10 or so kilometers away from the Marktplaz so we got our car out and drove there. If you are traveling by public transport, note that you’ve got a bit of a hike to get to this place but we can assure you that it’s worth the trip. They have some extraordinary contemporary art works on display and a pretty rad Basen (broom) museum.

DSC_1811
Intriguing
DSC_1812
Seemed like a popular art form
DSC_1805
Tin man says hello
DSC_1809
This one would have taken some effort to make!
DSC_1821
This was just one section of the broom museum – they had tons of all types of brooms and even an ancient vacuum cleaner on display on the other side

The views from the castle rooms are quite lovely as well – all in all it was a wonderful visit to the castle.

It was time to make our way back home. We left the little town with a big stash of beautiful memories as everlasting souvenirs.

IMG_7233 (2)

It is sleepy little towns like Ehingen that make Germany the spectacular country that it is. Their half-timbered houses, their baroque churches, their old world charm, their fascinating culture, their little rivers and streams – this is where the magic of this beautiful country unfolds.

Belgium – there’s nothing like it

Belgium is possibly our most favorite country. It has so much history, culture, art and each city is so wonderfully different from the other. And, it has SO much good beer! It is the holy land of beers after all and the delicious Belgian brews was our primary motivation to go on our beer pilgrimage to Belgium over the Christmas holidays.

Even if you’re not a beer lover, you will find Belgium incredibly fascinating. The buildings, the walls, the people, the culture, the food – will fill you with unbelievable joy. The Belgians are a class apart – they are quirky, bold, friendly, fun, and artistic. You will find both contemporary and medieval art in the cities of Belgium.They have deep regard for their history and struggles and yet do not hesitate to experiment and keep up with modern times. Belgium has a unique mix of culture and culinary delights owing to its French and Dutch influences.

There is something for everyone in this wonderful country – whether it is admiring art, learning about the history of comics, taking a peaceful canal ride, climbing up the bell tower for gorgeous views, walking past medieval buildings, visiting beautiful churches, indulging in mouth-watering food, or just drinking a well-brewed ale – you simply cannot get enough of this fantastic country. And, if you are visiting Belgium during Christmas, it makes it all even more special.

We spent a short 7 days in Belgium visiting Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and Bruges. And, this made for the most remarkable, joyful holiday, and the perfect end to a great year filling us with lots of inspiration and energy to ring in the new year.

Take a look at our Belgian journey.

[Click the image or link below to see what these cities are like.]

dsc_1149
Brussels – where art and beer flow endlessly
img_5787
Antwerp – fashionable and artistic
6208601204309403147-account_id2
Ghent – rustic and charming

[Bruges – post coming soon!]

Prague – an old-world charm

Prague is this dreamy, old-ish, culturally-rich, architectural wonder of a city that you’d ache to go back to for more…

DSC_0044.JPG

We visited Prague during Easter and the city was beautifully decorated, especially the city centre or Old Town Square where they had the Easter markets. Majority of the stalls were filled with gorgeous Easter eggs (with unbelievably intricate designs) and other exceptionally handcrafted decorative items. Some stalls also sold some mouth-watering local delicacies. Traditional song and dance shows were also part of the festivities.

dsc_0098.jpg
Trdelnik – a local pastry – grilled and tossed in some cinnamon sugar
DSC_0205
The bustling Prague Old Town Square

The Old Town Square is the heart of Prague. The church you see in the background with its twin distinctive Gothic spires is the Church of Our Lady Before Týn. Prague is filled with churches and lovely, old buildings that are all adorned with some or the other piece of art.

DSC_0212 (3).JPG

You’ll see horse-drawn carriages and vintage cars lined up to take you around the city.

DSC_0036

The square is also filled with lovely restaurants serving local beer and food. Prague is known for its beer and you’ll find loads of good beer everywhere…

DSC_0051 (2)
Where are my hoppy ales!?

We craved for ales in a city known for its pils and lagers. But, like they say, ask and you shall receive.. we did some quick research and found a neat little place which was swarming with hopheads like us. The Prague Beer Museum has some really good ales and some very unique lagers. Prague made us very happy that evening. Through the Old Town, you will also find little cafes or bars playing live music – we especially enjoyed the blues scene the city had to offer. We visited Jazz Republic – a cosy live music club where the Alice Springs Blues Quartet was playing that evening. These guys put on a great show – this is one of our cherished moments from our trip.

The Square also features the renowned Astronomical Clock which is part of the Old Town Hall. Every hour, crowds gather to watch the clock in action. The four figures beside the clock represent Vanity (with the mirror), Greed (with his money bag), Death (the skeleton), and Pagan Invasion (represented by a Turk). On the hour, Death rings a bell and inverts his hourglass and the twelve apostles parade past the windows above the clock. It’s a pretty sight. Not as beautiful a parade put up by as the Munich Glockenspiel but still a good one to stop for.

IMG_3001 (2)

We spent a lot of the day just walking around the old town area exploring the hidden alleys which were filled with little treasures.

Prague pics
In a store window

DSC_0057.JPG

Another hugely famous landmark in Prague is the Charles Bridge – definitely worth a visit despite the insane crowds.

IMG_3124 (2)

If you are determined to see the full bridge in its true splendor instead of a crammed bridge with hundreds of people, you should muster the will to stay up thru the night or rise and shine in the wee hours to catch the breath-taking view at dawn. Well, laziness and sleep got the better of us and we went to see the bridge at dusk. It was packed with hundreds of visitors and locals just using the bridge to cross over from the Old Town to the Mala Strana. It was a beautiful sight nonetheless.

dsc_02371.jpg
The bridge was filled with caricature artists and folks selling junk jewellery

The views from both sides of the bridge are absolutely gorgeous! You get a wonderful view of the Prague Castle and the St. Vitus’ Cathedral which is the most popular side of the bridge while the other side presents a pretty picture of the city in the backdrop of the Vltava river.

IMG_3248
View of the Prague castle district from the Charles Bridge

The best way to experience the beauty of this charming city is to do a boat tour sipping on some delicious chilled beer.

The next day, we visited the St. Vitus Cathedral . The cathedral is in the Prague Castle area (or Pražský Hrad). It is magnificent, both on the inside and outside. The stained glass windows have wonderfully depicted scenes with a beautiful fusion of colors. The walls on the inside of the Cathedral as well showcase intricate paintings from a bygone era.

img_3062

img_3005-2

 The Prague Castle area also features the Golden Lane – a wonderful little street filled with modest, little houses that used to be inhabited by the workers at the castle – goldsmiths, blacksmiths etc. One of the houses has been converted into a little museum of sorts displaying ancient torture tools.

img_3052
The Rack – no escaping this mean machine
DSC_0491
If you can’t get them with a bullet, slice them.

One of the houses in the Golden Lane was briefly occupied by Franz Kafka, a well-known German writer born into a German-speaking Jewish family in Prague. The city views from all around the castle area are simply beautiful and it was a day well-spent and definitely worth the steep climb.

Prague pics
At the Jewish Quarter

Our next stop was the Prague Jewish Town. A visit to the Old Jewish Cemetery leaves you feeling melancholic especially when you see the graves of the little ones.

dsc_0151

The cemetery is piled with 12000 tombstones, most buried on top of one another due to the lack of space.

img_3191
The Spanish Synagogue

The Prague Jewish Quarter also has a bunch of beautiful synagogues – the notable ones are the Spanish Synagogue with a remarkable interior design and the Pinkas Synagogue which was turned into a memorial to the ~80,000 victims of the Shoah (or Holocaust). The names of all these victims are inscribed on the walls of the synagogue. The synagogue also has a permanent exhibition of pictures drawn by the children in the concentration camp. Some of these pictures will make you smile but some of these will also make you cry thinking of the shattered dreams and tortured lives of these young children.

Prague is an amazing city that is wondrously rich with history and culture – you simply cannot stop exploring all that the city has to offer. We left knowing that we will surely go back someday to soak in more of this incredible place.

Bali – a cultural wonder

Our trip to Bali was a memorable one. It reminds us of some fun times, great food, beautiful sights, and a rich cultural experience.

Bali is one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia and rightly so. In Bali, you’ll find a varied mix of areas – some like Ubud that are steeped in mythical traditions with beautiful temples, artisans displaying their meticulously crafted ware, and talented artists putting up great performances in mythical plays. And then some others like Seminyak (part of Kuta) where you’ll find the hip and happening beaches and bars. We stayed at Seminyak as we wanted to be close to the places playing live music and pouring out the good brews.

2-2
Gorgeous sit-outs by the beach at Seminyak

We started out by watching the Barong dance, a very popular Balinese dance. Barong is a lion-like creature who represents all things good and the dance features the battle between Barong and Rangda, a demon queen that represents all things evil.

The music and the depiction of these mythical characters in an enthralling dance was a great start to our journey into the rich cultural wonders of Bali.

img_0105-2
Meet Rangda, the white-haired evil queen

Our next stop was the Kopi Luwak Plantation. This was an interesting and somewhat amusing experience.  We witnessed the making of the world’s most expensive coffee (aka Kopi). The Luwak, this cat-like creature eats the coffee cherries and then of course poops it out. This poop is then collected, the coffee beans separated from the crap, cleansed and sun-dried, fried well, and hand pounded to produce the supposedly wonderful coffee. Sorry for the sarcasm here but well, I tried the coffee and while it was decent, it was in no way remarkable to pay the high price it demands. And, I am a coffee lover just like many of you out there but just didn’t understand what the fuss was about. This turned out to be an interesting experience nonetheless and was worth the visit.

The plantation is beautiful and you should definitely take a short walk through it to see the lovely coffee plants, cocoa trees and fruit trees. Oh, and the tea lovers needn’t despair, there’s also a wide variety of interesting teas to be tried as well, which incidentally I enjoyed more than the coffee!

1144334054172929053-account_id2
Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple

We then headed over to the Pura Ulun Danu Batur Temple located in Batur, Kintamani. This is one of the second most important temples to the Balinese people. It is a huge temple complex and in fact consists of nine different temples that includes ~300 shrines of gods and goddesses. One of these nine temples is actually a Chinese temple and I was a bit surprised to see it there but it was apparently built to pay homage to Ida Ratu Ayu Subandar, the patron saint of commerce and the ‘administrator’ of the gods. The story goes that, back in the days, the king used to appoint a harbor master, usually Chinese, who was responsible for the storage and protection of valuable objects.

Hinduism is the majority religion in Bali and being a Hindu (by birth but not by choice) and being aware of some of the Hindu customs and gods/goddesses – it was pretty amazing to see how similar Indian Hindu rituals was to that of the Balinese Hindu rituals. It was also amazing to note the differences in the way they represent the same gods and rituals. The architecture of this whole temple complex is just mind-blowing! We unfortunately went there on a misty day and there was lots of fog which made for a slightly blurry view… despite this, the temple was simply marvelous. By the way, in almost all Bali temples you will need to wear a sarong, both the male and female.. this is not that bad a deal really.. you can rent one or buy one.. but what’s bad is the locals ripping you off by charging as much as 50 USD just to rent one! This is not so bad in all temples and we were shocked when it happened to us in this Batur temple. It’s best to just buy one and use it for all the temples you plan to visit. It’s much cheaper and stress-free!

1
Mount Batur, Kintamani

Mount Batur is an active volcano visible from Kintamani. Its last eruption was in 2000. The mountain is surrounded by the crater lake, Danau Batur, Bali’s largest lake. As I mentioned, it was a misty day and we waited several hours for the view you see in this image. When we got there, there was nothing but thick mist making the entire mountain and its surrounding area altogether invisible. We sat in this little cafe sipping on some lovely coffee and munching on some delicious cakes and waited for the mist to lift. It was worth the wait.

2
Royal tombs at Gunung Kawi

We drove down through a different route and stopped over at the Gunung Kawi temple. The main attraction of the temple complex is the royal tombs. These tombs are dedicated to King Anak Wungsu of the Udayana dynasty and his favorite queens.. This image above features the tombs of the king, his ‘major’ queen and their three sons. On the other side of this are the tombs of the ‘minor’ queens.

It’s a beautiful walk through the temple complex with little streams flowing through and beautiful rice terraces along the way. Ubud is filled with these gorgeous rice terraces.

1
The rice terraces of Bali

This was the end of our Day 1 in Bali. Boy! we did see a lot and it was such a beautiful day! We then headed back to Seminyak to unwind with some chilled beers and listen to a fun, local rock band. The next day we just chilled out in our lovely villa and swam and drank lots more beers.

IMG_20150219_165039.jpg
A typical pils (nothing special) – seemed to be the most popular local beer

In the evening, we stepped out to see Tanah Lot, a temple built in a spectacular rock formation – this is one of the most photographed places in Bali. Just behind the temple, you can find a quiet little rock for yourself, away from the maddening crowd, and sit there mesmerized by the beauty and the power of the sea.

1-2
Tanah Lot, approaching dusk

On our last day, we visited Nusa Dua, part of the Kuta area in the south of Bali, that is well known for its water sports. We had a whole adventure-packed day and indulged in a variety of water sports from parasailing to sea walking to doing the flying fish. We immensely enjoyed them all.

img_0335
The blue parasail is me taking off

It was my first time parasailing and after much trepidation, I mustered the courage to do it and I was so thrilled when I did it. The insane rush of adrenaline as you take off, the child-like glee that surges within you as you soar high and admire the vast expanse of water, and finally, the urge to do it all over again as you descend to the shore — was simply wonderful. We also visited the Turtle Island which I don’t think is worth the time, money, and effort – it’s sad to see the turtles kept (trapped really) in such enclosed dirty conditions.

We wrapped up the day at the Pura Luhur UluWatu temple, which is perched at the edge of a steep cliff that is surrounded by the Indian ocean. The views from here are breath-taking! We also watched the fascinating Kecak dance here – the performance takes place every evening against the backdrop of the ocean.

img_0490
Kecak dance at Uluwatu temple

The music for this dance is produced by the performers you see in this image incessantly chanting ‘Cak’. The dance is a depiction of one of the primary plots in the Ramayana where Sita, the wife of Lord Rama is abducted by the demon king Ravana and then the performance goes on to show how Rama (with the help of the monkey god Hanuman) kills Ravana and brings back Sita safely. The entire performance is filled with unbelievable energy and is a brilliant one to watch – and the twilight views of the vast Indian ocean make it all the more special. We then headed off to grab a lovely dinner in a restaurant situated on the other side of the cliff. The food in Bali is delicious no matter where you go with a wide array of choices. Eating mouth-watering satays, listening to the local band play some lovely Balinese music, and looking out at the ocean – this is how we finished off our last day in Bali.

That’s what makes Bali so memorable for us – the amazing views, the scrumptious food, the rich culture, and the varied experiences you can get in this lovely little city. There’s something for everyone.