Oh ! Istanbul

Shopping lists and supermarkets are synonymous with the daily humdrum life of a woman. So when you go on a holiday would you want to spend unlimited time in a market…Yes, definitely ..if it’s as astonishing as the Grand Bazaar Of Istanbul. Once you enter you will be too overwhelmed by the opulence and enthralled (or lost …that’s also a serious possibility) to leave. Istanbul, a city where a truly extraordinary experience lies around every corner here!

Merchants greet you at Gate No 1 of this Kapali Carsi or covered bazaar which was built by the Ottomans for trade in the fifteenth century on the shores of the Bosphorus where East meets the West. It has stood the test of time through fires and earthquakes and today is a cavernous maze of 61 streets and 4000 shops.

 

Enter a magical market of colours, aromas and sounds to entice every sensation in your body. The dome shaped ceilings with intricate mosaic patterns are so remarkable here. Be enveloped in a kaleidoscope of colour as more mosaics and ceramic plates and lamps adorn the shops, tempting souvenirs for you to take back for sure.

Clothes in silk, turkish shawls, embroidered boots and handbags and all the local craft to admire and acquire await you. Do you fancy some luxurious carpets or gold and silver jewellry, you are in the right place to indulge yourself. The bazaar today houses both modern and traditional items for you to browse or buy.

Nibble a few turkish delights (but wait for the best baklava …thats in Taksim square) as you stroll though the labyrinthine market and rest your tired but happy feet to have an Apple tea…thats something you can’t leave the Grand Bazaar without. When we visit the Spice bazaar you could buy some of it to take back too along with other wonderful spices.

We have a sumptuous Ottoman lunch whilst we are still in the Ottoman heartland. Savour the food of the royalty with a strong Persian influence. A tram ride to Sultanahmet is an experience not to be missed and you could saunter around here looking at more shops. You must take home some unique copper Ottoman earrings sold here. But we also have to take you to marvel at the splendours of Islamic Architecture here namely the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace.

Coffee time in Taksim square in Beyoğlu which is the European part of Istanbul and tuck into Turkey’s famous dessert : the best baklava, every variety possible and other simply delicious sweetmeats as well at Hafiz Mustafa,1864.

We unwind in the evening at the fishing village of Ortakoy, watching the boats go by. Many trendy bars and cafes, here as the locals and tourists hang out to have a hookah and watch the sun set over the magnificent city that was formerly called Constantinople. Today Istanbul is a perfect harmonious blend of the old and the new, Asian and European cultures, vibrant yet generous people.

Rejoice in Reykyavik

The pursuit of the celestial fireworks is the bucket list experience that our travelers chose on an Iceland Tour in Winter. Yet you will make some cherishable memories on the days that we spend in Reykyavik, the northernmost capital city in the world.

Iceland

Sometimes the auroras can be so strong that they can be seen from the city. But for a more spectacular show we actually need to get away from city-light pollution for about 4km away to the Grótta lighthouse in Seltjarnarnes. Here you can by enthralled by the majestic northern lights in all their glory.

Iceland tours from Mumbai

We will spend the first half of the day exploring Reykjavik City and its attractions. Reykjavik is one of the smallest International cities in the world with a village feel to it. Its greatest landmark is the Hallgrímskirkja Church, the largest church in Iceland named after the Icelandic poet and clergyman Hallgrímur Pétursson. It took 38 years to build this unique architectural marvel designed to resemble the basalt lava flows of Iceland’s landscape.

Iceland tours Mumbai

The church houses a large pipe organ by the German organ builder Johannes Klais of Bonn. You can get some real stunning views from the observation tower of Reykjavík city and the surrounding mountains. The colourful houses do look like little Lego or Monopoly houses

Iceland tours

The city centre is very also very colourful and full of some quirky cafes, bars and trendy shops can be found on one major street —Laugavegur ( It actually means “Wash Road,” as it was the route to the hot springs in the olden days where many Icelanders took their clothes to launder!)

Iceland tour

Have a Kaffitár, the signature coffee made and served by coffee connoisseurs. The cafes are so popular that people come here just to hang out all day and nibble on the delicious bakery products too.

Iceland tours from Mumbai

There are many interesting museums here to see in the city but the most intriguing one is called the “Elf School” on Sidmuli Street in the east of the capital. The Icelanders strongly believe in their existence and can you believe it ….they have a curriculum of about the 13 types of elves in Iceland !! The school also studies Iceland’s fairies, trolls, dwarves, and gnomes.

If any of those interest you more you could take an optional tour of the hidden folk habitats with a five-hour class. Enjoy a coffee and pancakes with the school’s headmaster in the end. You will even get a diploma at the end of the class to prove you received accurate education in the affairs of elves. Now, thats  a degree to go home and gloat about! Expect the unexpected on our tours!

Iceland tours people

Back in the city we can also visit the Árbærjarsafn Open Air Museum which has more than 20 buildings which form a town square, a village and a farm. Most of these buildings have been relocated from central Reykjavik and it tries to give a sense of the architecture and lifestyles of the past in Reykjavik.

National Museum of Iceland has a permanent exhibition “Making of a Nation – Heritage and History in Iceland” and is intended to provide insight into the history of the Icelandic nation from the Settlement to the present day. The exhibition is conceived as a journey through time: it begins with the ship in which medieval settlers crossed the ocean to their new home, it ends in a modern airport, the Icelanders’ gateway to the world.

For the party animals, you might want to join the Reykjavik rúntur on weekends. Late in the night, after a few drinks at home, the Icelanders come out on the street, especially Laugavegur Street. Just follow the well-dressed and tipsy people and listen for the sounds of blasting club music. the party goes on untill the wee hours of morning and before heading back to your hotel dont forget the Icelandic hot dog – made of lamb and covered with onions, ketchup, mustard and a kind of gravy

 

 

 

Awesome Amsterdam on a bike

The best way to get to know this amazing city is truly on the bicycle, just the way the locals do it.With over the 400 km of bike paths in the city, its quite commonplace to see smartly dressed men and women off to work on a bike everywhere. So “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” surely applies to the tourists too. It really is a great way to explore the city, instead of the mundane coach tours and we will always chose such offbeat things to do.

A city of concentric canals with limited land area available, the slender houses in Amsterdam have been built literally sticking to each other.The tour begins in Dam Square and you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong for this one! You will ride in a small group with your guide at a nice easy pace, so don’t worry, this is great for beginners and there will be many stops to take photos and selfies along the way. Your guide is a fountain of knowledge as well as jokes and anecdotes. You will hear stories about the city, how it gained prominence and also some weird fables about Amsterdam culture, all this with a whole lot of fun.

The cycling tour takes you over the pretty the canals and idyllic cityscapes into the neighbourhood called the Jordaan. The energy is youthful here as it has the most beautiful houses and cosy cafes and restaurants.The Leidseplein is the next stop which is the main entertainment square and has cinemas, discos, theaters and a casino as well. Make a note in your diary to come back here later to both these places for a happening night out.

We take a pit stop at the Vondelpark,south of Leidseplein and watch the world go by with other locals and tourists basking in the sun.Its close to the famous Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum. There is actually a bicycle underpass at the Rijksmuseum which now allows you to ride your bike through a museum, the only place in the world you can probably do so.

After all that cycling around for the last few hours ….we think you deserve a special treat. So we end the bike tour in a beer garden Brouwerij ‘t IJ. This has 20 homemade beers with punny names and it also has the center’s only old-school windmill. For the beer lovers we recommend this fun option : The Heineken Experience. Its an amusing and interactive tour of the brewery with simulated rides that you will enjoy. A couple of glasses of the world famous beer thrown in makes it even more splendid !

In the evening we have a canal cruise lined up for you to enjoy the city through its multitudes of waterways. Feast your eyes on the elegant merchants’ houses dating from the Golden Age, the fabulous gables and churches. We pass the iconic Magere Brug over river Amstel (Skinny Bridge) shown in the James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever”. This peculiar wooden drawbridge was once so narrow that it was hard for two people to pass each other.

As twilight sets in, all the houses and arches of the canals light up and the reflections shimmer and shine in the waters below, promising the beginning of yet another wonderful soiree on a in this eclectic city for you and me.

I lost my heart in Barcelona!

Barcelona is definitely the best place to go for New Years Eve and nothing better than a slice of Spain for a great holiday ! You can’t help but immerse yourself in the artful lively vibe especially on Las Ramblas Our hotel was perfectly located right off this lively street.

We were most eager to explore the works of Gaudi that we had heard so much about and the very first place to go the next morning was unmistakably the Sagrada Familia.

The Basílica de la Sagrada Família is a dedication by Gaudi to The Holy Family. Antonio Gaudi knew he would not live to see it complete but his mission and spirit will find its fulfillment in 2026,exactly 100 yrs after his sad demise.

The Sagrada Familia covers 3 facades – the Nativity, the Passion and the Glorification.The Glorification is still very much in the making but I can’t find the right words to describe this magnificent creation enough.Definitely a must do when in Barcelona.

 

The Passion facade to the left features the events before and after the birth of Christ.Look closely on the left for “the flight to Egypt” and then for “the slaughter of the Innocents”. Such detailed carvings, look out for the already slain innocents at the foot of the soldiers .

We were awestruck by the beauty and the intricacy of all the carvings depicting Mary being escorted by Joseph on the donkey and the Angel to guide them, the Birth of Jesus,the Shepherds and the Three Kings.Gaudi always used nature to convey his thoughts.Can you appreciate the chameleon here, he meant  it to be there to represent ever changing life.

The Passion facade and The kiss of betrayal with the distinctive serpent….this place has such a mesmerizing effect on you …by we were now all charged to explore this city and discover more enchanting works of Gaudi and certainly the best of all is Casa Batllo.

What can one possibly say in words for this awesome creation? The strong influence of nature – Gaudis signature style is most evident here.The best time to go is towards the evening when you get the best of day and night sights.The “light show” in the evening was as you can see from my pictures just jaw dropping!
The devil is in the detail they say – well this one just proves it! A few uncanny designs to be seen here are skull-like balconies, the bone structures for pillars, mushroom shaped chimney…something no other architect ever conjured in his creations. You wonder what went on in this man’s mind as he envisioned and created a rippling ocean feel in the lights and ceiling. The interior of the Casa is a world of absolute delight. In a way there is consistency in his inconsistecy here I guess as from the rooms to the stairways to the roof, everything so well thought of and designed and executed with such undulating (you will note that there are no straight lines here ) passion !
 
Distinct mosaic patterns …and look at that chimney…who wants boring chimneys? Apparently there was no real plan, just a very rough one and Gaudí stood outside directing his team on a day to day basis like a maestro conductor conducts his orchestra to bring this masterpiece to fruition !
Park Guell 
How does one even conceptualize and construct a whole park seemingly made with just stones? Of all shapes and sizes and some very scientific architecture, beyond my understanding but definitely earned my fascination…..simply brilliant.
All that walking, especially in the crisp winter air got us hungry for some scrumptious paella and Catalan cream dessert thats a soft custard dish with a dark candy crust. So finger-licking good!!! The perfect local food to end a perfect day on our holiday in Barcelona.
Written by Kalpana Xavier