Day 11-Florence and Pisa

We started from Venice at 9am and the destination for that day was Pisa and then Perugia -half way to Rome. We reached the city of Florence at 12noon where we were just shown that ther old town of florence was situated beyond the river but we had no time to go there,sadly. Later we got to know that Florence actually is a beautiful city. Anyway, we stopped for the only famous sculpture of Florence – Michelangelo’s David – a huge nude statue situated on a cliff overlooking the old city of Florence. Just a photos stop and ofcourse I bought a mini replica from there, and we started to Pisa.

We reached Pisa only by 2.30pm and we were all really hungry by then. It was hot and we were asked to walk about 2kms since the only local tourist bus was broken down :-(. No other buses are allowed within those limits because apparently the pollution is causing the marble on the church and Pisa tower is blackening.So, there are electric buses from the tourist bus bay to the tower. All of us walked until the Indian Restaurant and ate heartily.Then, with some renewed energy we walked another km to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa. ACtually, this tower is what attracts the tourists to the city of Pisa-there is nothing else of anyimportance in the city.It is just an industrial town.

Seeing the leaning tower and taking some trick photos, we walked along the shops there, bought a replica of the Leaning tower and walked back. Colourful hand fans caught my attention and the hubby too liked it so bought one in black with flowers on it.An additional buy that was not pre decided. We walked back to the restaurant and just sat under the shade
away from the blazing sun while the tour manager got us ice creams – again courtesy tour operator. Most of us had 2 ice creams and then started to the bus as we had a further journey of nearly 2.5hrs to the hotel in Perugia, that way covering half the distance to Rome,making it an easier journey for the next day.

I realise there isnt much to write about this day as we only did more of travelling and the Leaning Tower also wasnt worth it.

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Some art and Some show-off

So, my cousin’s wedding is coming up in November and I had this craving to do something creative. Especially since I saw RM,Seema,SnS with kids work and ofcourse Artsy-Craftsy mom!  Didnt really have the guts to do anything big time and I needed a push. Combining the two – I decided to make some money envelopes as the family (all Mom’s brothers and sisters)- would be giving the bride, money. And once I started-I wanted to make more than the initial 5 I had in number.I had the hand made paper booklet as a gift from Women’s Web which was too good to waste by writing anything on it 🙂 Last weekend I picked up some of the ready made flowers from Itsy-Bitsy – a shop that caters to all arty-crafty stuff and the Ganeshas and Peacocks and the kalash – I drew them with coloured glitter glue.

Let me just stop the preamble ramble and show you what I did today afternoon 🙂 Since the little fellow was asleep for an hour and half, I utilized that time and did these: (Please excuse the photo quality-Im not too good with it at all!)

10 Money Envelopes

So, what do you think? Is it good enough to give the bride?

Day 10-Venice

The morning in Innsbruck was c.o.l.d – especially since I had dressed in skirt and sleeveless top for the afternoon in Venice and so were most others and so after a real quick breakfast we started to Venice. A long long drive while we all sang (I sang O Saathi Re and hubby and I both sang ‘Pehela Nasha’).We also played Housie where I won the full house!
We saw the scenery change from Snow covered mountains to smaller mountains and sun flower farms and bales of hay.By then all signs of clouds and winds and cold had vanished to be replaced by HOT sun. We took 1 stop in Italy (remember the driver has to stop after every 2-2.5hrs?) and then went to lunch in main city of Venice. We then drove to the dock yard and took a pre booked cruise to the Old Island of Venice which today just remains as a tourist
attraction and not many people actually live there.

We saw the ST.Mark’s Square (pigeon square),the zodiac clock and the bell tower of the church, the Bridge of Sighs
(saaaiiiiiggghhhhs as the tour guide put it) and then we were rushed to the Murano glass factory-actually Murano is another island town but for the sake of tourists they had shifted the factory to the island of Venice itself. They showed us how they heat the glass and make models out of them which actually wasnt very impressive – I have seen them in India too and they do a much better job of showing how it is done here. I remember buying one such delicate pair of glass ear-rings from Mahabalipuram. And then they just let you loose and start selling jewellery stuff. Somehow though I wanted to buy glass mosaic ear-rings,nothing appealed to me that day-either the way they were showcasing or the crowd and limited time, or the thought that ‘These are so expensive and its just glass at the end of the day, I would rather spend my money somewhere else’.So despite looking and looking, I didnt buy a thing.

We walked out from there and then we were taken for the Gondola ride. 7 gondolas were exclusively booked for us-5/6 in each. So it was a lot of fun, looking at the smart italian gondola men (drivers is the wrong word for them, no?) and just looking at the gondolas as we got into them.

[Warning! For those who ever want to go to Venice and have Romantic expectations of the ride- skip the coming sentences and go directly to the next paragraph] I had huge expectations of romance of the Gondola ride but unfortunately the stark reality quite brought me back to earth 😦 The place where we get into the Gondola smells of
stagnant water. Through out the ride, the canals are just about 6/8 feet wide and we can see the plaster coming out of the buildings, green moss,red exposed bruiks of the old buildings and drainage system coming out of the buildings right into the water you are riding in. Still, you look up,you see some bright flower balconies,cloth boutiques on the water
front,pretty houses.They have these huge concave mirrors at every blind corner for the Gondola riders to know if any other gondola is coming from that direction – can you imagine a gondola traffic jam? 🙂 It was a good 45 mins ride and they just take us a short distance on the Grand Canal which is actually quite wide but mostly its in the narrow canals that the ride is. We even saw one colourful flower Gondola with a couple having lunch/champagne with a live musician. Now THAT might have been romantic! 😉

Once done with that ride,we had about an hour’s time until 6.20pm to meet the rest of the crowd. So we went souvenir shopping-bought glass beaded jewellery for MIL (She loves such beads and artificial jewellery) for her Bday in her fave color of green.And then walked around searching for a good Ceramic Venetian Mask which was a must buy from there. We ambled along so many shops which had beautiful stuff but all way above our range of budget. And I was not at all ready to buy a plastic mask – ceramic/paper mache it HAD to be – because that was authentic and hand made. So we found a shop where the girl explained very well and we got a discount of 5 euros (im not sure if it was an eye-wash, but still) She even gave us an authentic ‘made in italy’ card for it :-).I actually had 1 male and 1 female mask in mind but we werent getting even a single one for 20euros so I compromised on 1 good mask. She  explained Purple was for prosperity and blue for calmness etc etc; we liked one in Red and Gold with bells hung on the top – small but very nice which we thought would even suit our brown wall as a partner to the South African mask we already have 😀 And she was so happy with out choice! She said most people went for Blue or Green or Purple because it looked grander but Red depicted Love and Gold for Peace and the Bells for Good luck and we have made a good choice – that also please us and we happily bought it from there 😀 Then I also had to buy a gondola model from there – so we also bought a paper mache’ gondola for 5 euros (the 5 that we thought we had saved) spending 30 euros at the shop. It was 6.10 by then and
we just rushed to the meeting spot only to find nobody there. While waiting for everyone, I saw another small street side shop who had these chotu masks as magnets and I also wanted one Italy magnet-so bought them both spending another 7/8 euros there. And still there was no sign of anyone! Then the thought struck us that the others might have already gone ahead and it was just the 5 of us who were waiting here and we started walking towards the pier from where we were supposed to take the boat back to main land. Then we saw the tour guide coming towards us and he informed us that they all were already in the boat since 6.20 and waiting for us-they all had nothing to shop there… Back to the main land and to the bus for an hour’s drive to Padova where we halted for the night.

Oh! Before signing off this day, I must mention this-the clothes people wore in Italy. We were so much clothed! girls in
low hanging 4 inch long shorts with their G-strings showing, transparent or barely there T- shirts and men in colourful loose shirts and printed shorts. I immediately made up my mind that I would buy something like those printed shirts and shorts for Chuktu 🙂 who had begun to torture me with his thoughts all the time by then. I was ready to go home…

Day 9-Austria-Innsbruck

Continuing from Day-8 – Jungfraujoch…

Sigh! With Swiss behind us and a long journey ahead, it was kind of already sinking in that that trip was coming to an end. Another 6hrs journey to Innsbruck and on the way we stopped at another small country between the borders of Swiss and Austria – Leichenstien and the capital Vaduz. We had a tram ride of 45mins taking us around the small town and then dropping us back to the central bus bay. The tour guide gave us an hour to just roam around and buy stuff if we wanted and so we just walked around 1 main street looking at shops and taking pictures of the sculptures on the main street.We just bought a magnet from there as a souvenir as everything else was again very expensive and nothing unique.

Started from there at about 12 and after driving through a 15km tunnel which is very famous we stopped for lunch at a big indian hotel Ingwer just as we entered the Austrian border.Yummy food later, we drove some more to the Swarovski Factory and outlet. Though I wasnt much impressed (maybe I had huge expectations) there was some stuff that was really good and all we did was take pictures there. And then the 14 room museum leads directly into the shop before exit (Very strategic, I must say) and we just looked at all those stuff goggle eyed and literally ‘sir ghoomne laga’ looking at the prices. Hubby and I had a major arguement because he wanted me to buy something for myself – it was OK to spend a 100 euros while I had a budget of nothing more than 30euros for something for the house – I had never considered buying anything for myself,my arguement being that I could buy Swarovski in Blore itself! So, after looking around and simultaneously argueing, hubby just put his foot down and said that we were buying stuff for the house from everywhere and we would be buying in Austria too,so could I please just shut-up and buy something-even if it didnt cost a 100 euros. Then we started looking with renewed interest and after looking at plenty of them, I decided to buy a simple bracelet for 51 euros-something that I could wear occassionally and on sarees to office without it looking too ‘jing-chack’ and nothing too expensive (a pair of Swan ear-rings-swan being symbol of Swarovski) cost 95euros!! And THEN we looked around the rest of the group going ga-ga over the stuff and swiping credit cards to buy those sets as gifts!! :-O We then went and grabbed the coffee at the coffee shop attached which again was courtesy-tour operator.We then spoke to hubby’s cousin who lives in Vienna who was disappointed that we didnt plan better so we couldnt visit her. About 20mins of conversation later we decided we would go to Austria again 😀 with Chutku some time in the distant future.

We were then taken to Innsbruck where we saw the palace of the Hoffburg family where we saw the golden roof, the old buildings constructed way back in 16th,17th century and the church of Jacob (Dom Jacob). We were then asked to roam around and pick up the souvenirs and assemble back at the bus bay by 6.30pm. We roamed around and bought the famous Austrian Beer Stein and a magnet (ofcourse) Savs also bought a warm woollen sweater for her mom or MIL-Im not sure! We then drove about 45mins to the Hotel Olympia which is so beautifully located – it has mountains all around it and its apparently ‘The’ place to be in during the ski-ing season.It has even hosted the Ski Olympics. Very very scenic and we could see the ski lifts and imagine the place covered with snow. Though the day was quite warm by night in the hotel it got real cold and we were wondering how it would be when it has snowed!

Dinner at the hotel and they have a seperate discotheque – so it was our group hindi music disco night that night and we made sure everyone shook a leg 🙂 and were in bed by 10.30 – preparing for another long journey to Italy the next day.

European Dream-Day 5- 3 meals in 3 different countries

[ETA: Oho! I had completely forgotten to publish the day 5! And Thanks to my SIL who pointed it out to me! -so this one’s in her name 🙂 ]

This was one super day-Breakfast in Belgium, Lunch in Netherlands (Amsterdam), Dinner in Germany (Cologne). Even the most seasoned travellers would probably not lay claim to something like this 😀

As we started post breakfast at 9am it was drizzling and we realised that it has rained all night long.Everyone was in a very good mood and we all sang songs. Hubby and I even sang a duet song which was much appreciated.Even more surprising was the generally shy and reluctant hubby chose amazing Rafi songs to sing and he was in quite demand through the trip. Especially to sing ‘Aap ki aankhon mein’ and ‘Abhi na jao choD kar’. A journey of 2.5 hours and we reached the cheese and Clog factory where they demonstrated making of cheese and making of clog (wooden) shoes. The 2 men who showed us these were very smart and flirted around with the ladies around putting everyone in a good mood though it was raining outside. The veggie smoked cheese was sooo yummy that I kept hovering around that and eating bits of it though we didnt buy it-nobody at home loves it so much to finish a kg of cheese 😦 we then bought souvenir clog shoes and ceramic windmills and magnet and left the place before we got tempted by anything else. We then took a photostop at an authentic old wooden windmill in the rain (we have a picture where hubby and I are huddled together trying to fight the chill!) and then rushed for lunch in the city of Amsterdam. Unfortunately, it was not the season for the tulips else it would have been a memorable visit to the tulip gardens too. Lunch of burgers at McD and then to Amsterdam canal cruise for an hour.Thankfully by this time (3pm I think) it had stopped raining and the entire cruise was ours. We did something stupid like standing on the seats on the deck while the cruise captain came and asked us to get down – quite embarassing that was, though half the bus was doing just that. 1hour cruise taking us through the old town and the new, with old bridges that some sisters built, new botique kind of shops, old monuments and new science buildings (nero) A good one hour spent relaxing and looking around. We also saw old cruise boats converted to stagnant house boats where people lived – with colourful flowers on the deck. An hour later when we got off the boat we apologised to the Captain and he apologised in return telling us that there was cause of accident if our head hit the underside of any low bridge. It was only then we realised how stupid our action of climbing on those wooden seats were!

From there we had a couple of hours drive to Cologne (Germany) where we saw the HUGE Cologne Cathedral (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral) – beautiful,beautiful place and so huge. We werent actually expecting anything like this so we were quite impressed. There was a choir practise in session and hubby and I just sat there,soaked inthe feeling listening to the choir,I prayed,took some pictures and in 20 mins started from there.They have this huge Organ (musical instrument) which is played only when the Pope visits.

By the time we reached the hotel, it was past 9.30pm again and it had been a long day of travel. We were told that the next day would be a longer journey keeping in mind the traffic – Germany to Switzerland…

Day 8-Jungfraujoch – The Top of Europe

Started only by 9am that morning and on the way to Jungfraujoch We had to cross Interlaken city. A couple of photo stops later and ooh-ing and aah-ing over the scenic beauty we reached Trummelbach falls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trummelbach). Since we were to reach the Lauterbrunnen station to take the 12.07pm train to Jungfrau the tour guide gave us just about 45 mins to rush through and get back. I was initially not very interested since he said there were about 300 steps to climb but the when we reached closer realised what an engineering marvel this place is! Melting water from 10 glaciers have carved a path through the interiors of a mountain and flow/fall completely inside the mountain – you can never see a thing from outside (atleast we didnt)-only listen to the roaring sound until you get into a lift and they take you up to a level from where you can sight the falls for the first time. From there its quite a climb to the top from where the water first carves into the mountain – the lift and the stairs are so well made (ofcourse due to lack of sunlight and spray from the waterfalls make the stairs wet) that I was really impressed. We wondered why they cant advertise and better the places in our own country – there is definitely no lack of such wonderful places…

Rushing back down, we reached the Lauterbrunnen at 11.55 and immediately got into the train to Kleine Scheidegg. Looked up to the cloud covered Alps, down at the green coniferous trees and a stream or two, looked out at the green/brown grass with little wild flowers and the trekking groups-envying them that they could afford to spend much time in these surroundings. In about 30mins we reached Kleine Scheidegg and we had to change trains to Jungfrau. This was a much steeper climb (we could feel it) and completely inside a long tunnel. A journey of nearly an hour and there were a couple ofstops inside the tunnel itself with huge windows as view points from where we could look out into the blinding vastness of snow. While the hubby dozed, I just relaxed,spoke to the others in the group and got down to see from the view points. Nearly an hour and 15mins drive later we got off at Jungfrau at 1.45 and rushed to the ‘Bollywood’ hotel where lunch was waiting for us. Again an Indian lunch with posters of the bollywood stars hung on walls and huge windows overlooking the ice and snow. Post lunch we were told what all to see – The Sphinx Tower, Ice Palace, Playing area and to meet back at the coffee counter at 4.15 – have coffee (again courtesy Tour operator) and start back by the 4.40 train. And it was about 2.30pm at the time. We reached the Sphinx tower and took pictures and saw the play area from the top. We just rushed to that place,and oh! I never mentioned this-it was a bright and sunny day! 😀 So we did some tubing again- a longer and more curvy path this time with little N too going in the tube with her mom and enjoying. Tried making a snowman and slipped and hit each other with snow and before we knew it, it was already 3.50pm.We literally rushed as fast as we could through the rest of the stuff,sliding and skaing through the Ice Palace (Which is way better than the one on Mt.Titlis by the way) and reached the coffee counter right on time. Had HOT Coffee (which was much needed with freezing fingers and toes and nose) and got the train back to Lauterbrunnen via Kleine Scheidegg and a good night’s sleep before starting to Austira the next day.Little N was sleepy and bored and to keep her occupied hubby and I taught her the game of ‘Hangman’ and played with her-making her recollect all the cities/towns and places we had visited until then.

On the way back we were ruminating the fact that half the trip was over and the most sought after Swiss was also over and the dream is soon coming to an end.And suddenly hubby and BIL started planning a trip to Scotland and Ireland since our UK Tourist VISA is valid until December!! :-O Hehehe. The others in the group who were with us must be wondering how rich we must be to do 2 foreign trips in 6 months! And from there we dream planned a full cousins trip to Australia and New Zealand/ The Kenyan Masai Mara safari trip/ Spain and Greece and Turkey…All dream destinations to see…But first to start saving up for them again…

Day 7-Mt.Titlis and Lucerne Lake

The next day began with rain again. No amount of humming ‘Rain Rain Go Away’ helped 😦 When we reached the base of Mt.Titlis it had stopped raining so we thought we might get to see some sunshine by the time we get to the top. The ride itself is an experience-first a Cable Car ride of 6 people each.Quite a steep ascent and again because of the height, I was a little scared. Then a rectangle big box like cable car up to the Rotair. The Rotair is a cylinder whose base rotates 360 degrees to give the people inside a complete view of the mountains. All through the journey it kept drizzling and we were hoping that the activities would still be open. We reached the top of Mt. Titlis and walked out to… SNOW!! It was snowing and cloudy with only about 10 feet visibility. Most of the people decided to just stay back inside the building while we decided we wanted to still check out if the tubing was open. We were told to take the Ice-Flyer (Another open cable car with all 5 people sitting in a line).The tour guide pointed in a general direction and asked us to take the Ice-Flyer from there-we couldnt see a thing. As we bagan walking we saw an orange/yellow flag and some shadow of what looked like a construction! Once there, we saw the Ice-Flyer which is in constant motion-it never stops. Once it reaches the platform, it moves slowly while we need to hop-sit in the 5 bucket seats available pull down the security bar and it begins to move… I never got scared, because there was hardly any visiblity – we couldnt see down nor ahead-so we didnt know where we were going!! It was funnn! and Brrrrr….. COLD even with thermals and coats and topis and woollen socks…We reached the tubing stop covered in snow and freezing nose. The little niece was scared of the poor visiblity and cold and began to cry that she didnt want to do the tubing. So, I covered her nose and face with my muffler and we first asked the men to do the tubing-because we couldnt see where it would end! 😀 So the brave men went first and we could hazily make out where the slope ended. And then S and I couldnt wait for them to come back up so we could go and then men took forever to come up. By then it had even begun to hail and we couldnt even make out if the men had even started the ascent back on the travellator -Yes, there are travellators even on that snow for people to put the tubes and get back up instead of pulling it up and walking – such a good idea na? After what seemed like an eternity and the poor girl shivering in cold and crying, the men came back and we just hopped into the tubes and awayyyyyyy we went. Wheeeeeeeeeeee….What fun that was and it felt like such a short distance! Not satisfied with doing it just once, we did it once more while the men generously offered to stand and wait for us with litlt N. Once done, we walked back – slipping and skating on ice to the ice-flyer and were back up within minutes. BIL struggled hard to get a picture of us on the ice-flyer but it was so slippery and snowing and the flyers constantly moving that we didnt want him to be left behind and just hurried him to jump in before it moved away. And we requested the helper there to cover our flyer with the glass partition (we didnt even know it was there until we saw another set of people covering themselves) so that we wouldnt get chilled to the bones (If only we knew during the descent) .By then anyway our socks were wet, and I could hardly feel my toes and fingers inside the gloves and neither could I feel my nose. The BIL family took a traditional photograph of Swiss once inside while we backed off-we felt we were not a complete family-no Chuktu-so we didnt want the picture. Had a free Movenpic icecream (courtesy tour operator) and took a walk around the ice museum. Got into the Rotair and were back to Titisee where hot lunch with Pav Bhaji and Carrot Halwa were waiting for us. By the time we finished lunch at 3pm the clouds had cleared and we had better visibity-we were amazed by the sheer drops and heights through which we had just come down on the Rotair and I was secretly glad that we didnt see that then!! We were back on ground by 3.30 and after having another hot tea at Gourm India at the base of the Mountain we started to Lucerne lake.

We were taken to the Lion monument (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion_Monument) and the Lucerne lake-wooden bridge, then left free until 5.45pm to do what we wanted. We walked over the bridge taking pictures, just talking about the adventures of the day and saw lots of people sitting all along the lake on the pavement under canopies having drinks/snacks and we wanted to do the same. Savs more than the rest of us-she had mentioned it even before we started on the trip. Also, by then the sun was out and I was feeling stuffy and hot wearing thermals that I wanted to get rid of and was desperately searching for restrooms. We were told that the restrooms were only inside the shops and only if you buy something there, you could use the restrooms. So, we walked along, found a Starbucks and while the others were deciding what to buy I rushed to the restroom to get rid of the thermals. By the time I came out they had decided to buy 1 drink – Savs had selected Berry Hibiscus Tea and share – everything was very expensive. And then for the little N who had answered a tough question that her Dad had asked (Which city did we visit that is called the place of canals,bridges and cycles – answer: Amsterdam) was rewarded with a yummy round choclate coin. Since we had taken a drink we got a place to sit under the canopy for 1/2 hr and relaxed and chatted until 5.30. We then walked along the empty streets – even running around near an empty foutain square playing running race with little N and bought souvenirs in a shop the tour guide had shown (Souvenirs in Swiss were the most expensive)-I bought a cow toothpick holder and magnet while they bought bell (I already have a bell thanks to the brother) and some other misc stuff.We saw families sitting around with little babies in the prams and having dinner by the lake – letting their dogs free – overlooking the swans in the water and the colourful flowers on the bridge.Ah! What a wonderful way of spending a relaxed evening…Can you just imagine?

We met the rest of the group at 6pm at the pre-decided spot and the tour guide took us to the cruise ship on which we were supposed to have our dinner. There was another Indian group and the 2 groups were merged that day-the entire cruise ship was filled with Indians 🙂 We had live Swiss music with Accordion and the swiss specific long pipe and some wooden small instruments to make the beats while we had wine and indian dinner at 7.30pm. The last half hour on the cruise we went to the deck and there was Indian movie music and we all danced with little N leading us all with her steps 🙂 I guess I had a little too much wine on an empty stomach and then ate sweet and I had a light buzz so I just watched. Done by about 8.30 and it still felt like about 6.30 in the evening, we headed back to the hotel all exhausted and happy – all talking about the day and discussing about the weather for the next day – keeping fingers crossed for the sunny weather to the Top of Europe-Jungfraujoch…

European Dream-Day 6-The land of Alps – Switzerland!!

The first long journey of 6hrs through the Black Forest region. It being saturday, we were told that most of Germany travels to Black forest for camps during the weekend and the Autobahn (highway) was jam packed with cars and buses bumper-to-bumper. Though we had started at 8am and were scheduled to reach the black forest region – Drubba-Cuckoo Clock Factory by 1pm, we were stuck in traffic jam, had to take an alternate route and reached the Cuckoo clock factory only by 3.30pm-for lunch!! We were again served burgers and the famous black forest cake which was so fresh with cream (yummmm….) – authentic…We were given time till 4.30 for shopping and we rushed through the lunch and went to look at the pretty cuckoo clocks. Such cute ones with girls coming out to dance, or couples dancing, couples kissing, colourful cuckoo clocks with a cost of more than 200 euros. Sigh! I had no plans for buying a cuckoo clock but then husband was so carried away by it he told me that if we find a cuckoo clock for 100 euros we will buy it. And we did find one-simple,small with just a cuckoo coming out to sing,no frills,no paintings,small one for 115 euros and on discount came to 97 euros. No amount of pestering worked against buying and the husband said-this is for me! and I had to relent-we bought an authentic cuckoo clock for 97 euros-so did the BIL family. Now it lays in the cupboard safely packed, until we figure out how to assemble it and where to hang it…
We clicked some pictures whiling away time, thinking the big cuckoo clock would strike for 5pm but the tour manager refused to wait. He said we needed to be at the Rhine falls before they close at 6pm else we would be missing the boat ride. So, we all hurried back into the bus a tad disappointed that we didnt actually see the huge clock ring. We reached teh Rhine falls at exactly 5.45pm and rushed to get into the boat. We were taken very close to the water falls with water spraying on us (reminded us of Niagara, though its not that huge). We were actually supposed to get off in the middle and take the stairs to the top of the narrow cliff but unfortunately the boat captain refused to let us get down there as it would take us atleast 1/2hr to get to the top,click pictures and come down-by which time it would be past 6.30pm-his closing time 😦 So we requested for another round close to the water spray and got back by 6.20. The Rhine water falls is broad and huge with a castle on the cliff adjacent to it-its a beautiful sight…
We had vada-pav and hot masala Chai in that cold wind at Gourm India outlet (courtesy-tour operator) and went to Zurich on the way to Lucerne. A quick photo stop at Zurich lake where my new colourful cap fell into the water and while I was just thinking I lost it even before I wore it, BIL held on to the water bund with his hands,lowered himself and picked it up with his feet! I was soo happy that I literally hopped and skipped back to the bus with a dripping wet hat! 😀 We took some silly photos and from there went to a place for Zug for the next 3 nights of stay in Switzerland – All excited for the Mt.Titlis and Cable Car ride the next day…

European Dream-Day 4 – Belgium

An early start to the day with the magic numbers being 6-7-8, 6am wake-up, 7am breakfast and 8am starting. A long journey to Belgium with a single stop for coffee/restroom. Oh! I HAVE to mention this. In Europe the driver has to take a 1/2 hour break after every 2.5hrs of driving he does and he should not be driving for more than 10hrs (8hrs?) a day.So a compulsory stop was made after 2.5hrs through out the 14day trip. The weather continued to be bad in France with cold winds and rain. We reached Atomium (Brussels) only by 12.15pm and after lunch at the mini-europe cafeteria-An Indian lunch again-baked samosas, rice,dal and eggless cake! we were given time until 2.30pm to see the mini-europe. Its again a very well designed place with all the major structures-palaces,windmills,eiffel tower,Arch De Triumph,castles of Germany are all modelled. Nice place to get kids actually. The niece even played with the miniature boats there and another game like we are the police and need to catch the thief who stole something from the Vatican museum – all miniature models and we need to hand peddle to get the thief and police man moving – a very good idea… 🙂

We started from there at around 3pm, reached Brussels. Places of interest-Grand Place Market,Mannekin Pis statue (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manneken_Pis) and we were left to shop around until 6pm.People bought Belgian chocolates while we bought Godiva and shared,bought hot waffles with strawberry,chocolate sauce and cream on top (droolicious) and shared – RM-Thought about you while I ate this 🙂 and we were also given compimentary ice creams – I chose 2 scoops of Rum and raisin cone icecreams as part of the tour :-D.Once done with all the eating, we did some souvenir shopping-Belgium being facmous for lace-bought a miniature lace umbrella,a model of the Mannekin Pis and magnet. Walking back towards the central square saw a shop dedicated to Tintin (Belgium is where Tintin originated from) and rushed in to buy something for the hubby who is a crazy Tintin fan. Unfortunately they had all big stuff and nothing noteworthy to buy-books and T-shirts and huge expensive mugs so we just dropped the idea and went back. We were then given dinner at 7pm in another indian restaurant (Urvashi) and then check-in to the Leonardo Da Vinci hotel at the town centre in Antwerp. Now this hotel is worth a mention – was not that good compared to the other hotels we stayed in during the trip but it was centrally located.We could see the city centre giant wheel, the tube station and the old post office building and our hotel building too looked like it was an old building converted to a hotel with flights of stairs to be climbed to reach the rooms even after taking the lift. Very narrow passages, not much light and stone walls made it more dinghy.What was amusing, was the bathroom was as big as the room itself and yet the shower cubicle was the same small 2×2 feet! We really felt that they didnt know optimum utilisation of space!!Hubby even tripped and fell trying to step around the suitcases-the room was *that* small. Since it was the first evening/night-what do you call it if its still light at 8.30pm? and since we were in the town centre, we decided to just explore the place a little. Walked around the square, at local Fritjes (French Fries) sitting out on the pavement at 9pm, checked out the other restaurants around and walked back to the hotel at 10pm as it began to drizzle.Not much of packing required, and a late wakeup call at 7am to Netherlands had us all a little relaxed.

European Dream-Day 3-Parisian Adventure – Have you ever got lost in Paris?

[NOTE: Extremely lengthy post-HAD to make it that way so I could put everything here-read at your own risk!]

This was the day of Disneyland Paris. While the rest of the crowd got ready to go to Disney we decided to roam Paris! After reading Da Vinci Code Louvre Museum was always on my must visit list and I didnt want to miss that at all. And then we didnt want to go to Disney as we had already seen it in LA and we want to do it with Chutku. Hubby was also quite keen on going to Louvre (though not as much as me) and wanted to just ‘get the feel’ of the most romantic city in the world!So we spoke to the guy at the reception desk the previous evening, took some brouchers to the room and scanned them and prepared ourselves.

Since it would be just the 2 of us that day, hubby suggested that instead of carrying my fat handbag just for the camera/passport/money and goggles why not just use 1 sling bag (his) and be relatively free enough to roam around.

After breakfast while the others started to Disney, we waited for the hotel-airport shuttle and got in. It was 9.30am. Hubby suddenly realised that we hadnt picked up the brouchers to carry with us and so assuming he would walk to the reception desk and pick up new ones I asked him to hurry. While he was gone the driver of the bus came back and said he couldnt wait – so I had to get off while the shuttlt bus drove away. As I got back into the hotel I see husband coming out of the lift – Our first argument of the day-dumbo! he had gone all the way back up to the room to pick up those brochers, while he could’ve just grabbed them in a few seconds at the reception! Since the next shuttle was another 1/2 hr later, we decided to take a taxi and asked the reception to call for one. By the time we reached Louvre it was 10.30am and a loong serpentine queue that went way behind the central courtyard of the entrance. It was thankfully not cloudy/rainy so we took some pictures and in about an hour’s time were inside the Louvre. While Hubby went to buy tickets, I picked up the information booklet and scanned through deciding what would be must-see. We were told that it would take 2-3days to tour the Louvre-so we decided to be extremely picky in the 2hrs (until 1.30) we had. My SIL had told me to definitely check out the sculptures even if I missed a few paintings-so we headed to the sculptures section first, then on to the paintings, spent nearly 10 mins in front of Mona Lisa painting to get a good picture (Its not all that great actually,looks faded and with the amount of jostling and security you can never enjoy it.I rather enjoyed the other more intricate,more detailed,bigger canvases better than this one) and then just generally roamed the paths looking at the paintings. A couple of this to note:
1. The sculptures – Undoubtedly beautiful-all 14-15th century stuff, marble carvings-wonder how they could chisel such delicate facial features (happiness,anguish,sorrow,anger – a total art dumbo like me could make them all out by just looking at the faces),long slender fingers,nails on the stones. But, mostly nude (hence not including them in the blog). Why nude? Need to google this answer…
2. The paintings – Mostly Gory,with depictions of war and death and blood. But the ones with babies and children in them – aww so realistic too… And then again, mostly nudes or semi nudes.Im no art critic and there might have been a strong reason for such portryal but imagine men wearing elaborate head gears with swords and spears in their hands and strappy sandals at their feet showing that they were at war with their private parts exposed! hehhe.I found it quite funny and quite unable to relate…
3. The best part of the museum – the ceilings. Wow! What carvings and what paintings. I was mostly walking with my head looking up and I did bang into quite a few people!

Finally, it was 1.20 and we decided we needed to stop-there was no end to this. But there was one part in the booklet that showed Napolean’s apartments and I really wanted to see that. So, we gave ourselves another 15mins and rushed to see the apartments-and it was sooo worth it. What luxury!Wah! The color schemes in rich reds,greens,dark blues, the chandeliers,the sofa,carpets,his throne,his bed (quite small actually) – everthing is so RICH.I cant think of a better word that describes that apartments yet I feel the word is so inadequate! Taking it all in we left Louvre thinking we could do justice to only about 40% of the place and then realised that our stomach was grumbling. Walking across to Rue De Rivoli which the guide had described as the ‘middle class shopping street’ we searched for a place to eat. Saw a McD but they didnt serve vegetarian, so walked across to the StarBucks Cafe’ opposite and ordered a fruit salad,veggie wrap and a latte’ for 12 Euros! Sat there while it rained for sometime and then decided to shop for soveniers. I wanted to check if I could buy some scarves. So walking along those streets we picked up 6 scarves for 10euros-gave 1 each (red and white) to my co-sis and the little 10 year old fashionista and kept the rest for myself (selfish-yes).And also picked up an Eiffel Tower replica at the same place. It was around 3.15 at the time.Thinking we had another hour atleast (we were supposed to go to the Paradis Latin-Cabaret show and dinner that night and the whole group was to start from the hotel at 7pm), we decided to just walk along that street and then take the metro back to the hotel – assuming that the metro ride would be for an hour we would still reach the hotel by 5.45 max giving us enough time to rest and get ready by 7pm…

Walking along, we came across a shop called ‘Mod Shop’ where the lady was selling silk scarf with famous paintings – like Monet’,Da Vinci,Van Gogh.We just walked in and were lured-especially hubby who bought this dark blue,black,yellow painting of Van Gogh’s ‘An evening in Paris’. The idea is to get it framed and put it up on the wall in the living room 🙂
And then we saw these miniature Parisian setting dolls made in ceramic-whole street/cafe/farmlands but when we enquired the tiniest of tiny model-say a musician/veggie cart pusher cost about 20-25 euros. With a sigh, I just left them all there and walked off towards the metro station.

Adventure 2: Getting lost: Once in the metro station,we asked at the information about how to get back to Orly airport and once he gave us the information and mentioned that it would cost us about 24euros to get back we decided to ditch the circuitous route and take a taxi instead and walked out of the Metro. We hunted for the taxi and meantime also peeked into the Touileres’ Gardens with its beautiful sculptures and fountains and little kids playing with their small boats in the water.After about 20mins of searching and not getting a taxi, we decided to get back to the Metro.The guy at the information bought the tickets for us from the kiosk (which was also in French-totally unfriendly) and told us how to get to the Orly Airport – Metropolitan station (where we were) – Chatelet-change train to Antonio-At Antonio take shuttle to Orly. We walked underground and saw trains coming from both directions.Not knowing which train to take,we saw a Chinese lady getting off from a train that had just stopped, and hubby asked her if that train went to Chatelet (God! My heartbeat is just increasing as I write this-reliving those minutes).The lady consulted a map and said-Yes this goes to Chatelet. On hearing that I hurried hubby and said “Come fast lets get in” – he was just half a step behind me while I hopped into the train. And before I could turn back-the doors had closed – him on the platform and me inside the train with nothing but my clothes on me! I totally panicked while a guy inside asked me to press some button. While I frantically began to press the button, the train picked up speed and the platform along with my husband-just got left behind. The others in the train just kept looking at me and then the the African-American guy who had asked me to press the button informed me that there was a similar button on the platform that IF hubby had pressed would’ve opened the door. Who knew?!!!! The kind man that he was, looking at me, offered help-told me that if I could give hubby’s number he would call him up.But me – I had nothing on me! And I hadnt even memorised our Matrix SIM card number – very stupidly,I told the guy “I dont know his European number”. Then the guy asked where we were going and showed me the train stations marked on the wall of the train (I frankly didnt see a thing-I was just so blank to react) and told me that he would also be getting off at Chatelet.I just told him that I would wait for my husband at Chatelet,which seemed the most logical,practical thing to do-what else could I do? I didnt even have the ticket with me to swipe and walk out of the station!! 3 stops later, I got off at Chatelet along with that guy-who told me where the exit was and asked me to wait right there-coz that would be the same place where my husband would also have to exit-the only solace I realised, was that there were no other exits from that platform…

Whew! There is a train every 2 mins and within 30seconds the platforms get empty-I am underground (how many levels, I didnt know at that time-2 apparently) on an empty platform with a shady looking beggar sitting in one corner and 2 police men doing rounds after every train leaves the station. I sat through the next 2 trains that passed by and by the time the 3rd came along I was almost sticking my face to the glass partition on the platform,praying with all my might that this train would have my husband. When he didnt come in that train either, I totally lost it-I knew that if I stayed there for another couple more trains the police would question me(they had already given me a once-over after the 2nd train left and I was still on the platform) and I would definitely be spending the night in the French lockup. Harrowing,scary and what not thoughts came to mind. When the 4th train came in, I just ran from one coupe’ to the next until the back trying to find hubby in the train and waving to him, letting him know I was in that station. And didnt find him. I turned back wondering what next – when I saw the familiar black and white jacket among the crowd of people near the exit, I just ran to him-afraid that he wouldnt find me and exit from there! Thankfully, he saw me too…and it was a very emotional re-union – never in my life have I been so relieved and happy to see this man I’ve been with for the past dozen years!! I just held onto him and tried to level out my breathing and stop my shaking legs, half crying-half laughing.We waited until the crowd emptied and then with hands held tightly together, we walked out of that platform. Whew! I shudder to think what a nightmare the evening would’ve turned out if we hadnt found each other there.

Now, you think the adventure is over- Naaahh!! We walked out of that platform, and seeing directions went further underground to take the next train to Antonio,thankfully uneventful 20mins while I regained my strength. At Antonio we were supposed to take the shuttle to Orly West Airport and so just exited out the station. We came out to bright sunshine,saw the time was 5.50pm and started searching for any board that indicated the shuttle service to the airport.Not finding any,we went into a shop and asked him – he says “Inside,station,inside” we thought he didnt understand our question in English and so asked him “Taxi”? (Thinking we can take a taxi from tehre atleast) and he says “Taxi,phone,si,si”. Total “Duh” moment-it was only then we realised that taxis were only call taxis and we couldnt just wave our hand and flag them down – THAT is why we didnt get any taxi near the metropolitan station. We then went back inside the station and asked the lady at the information,who said the ‘shuttle’ was at the next platform – which means it was another train-Another ‘duh’ moment-we kept assuming the shuttle would be a bus!! We then showed that lady the tickets who let us get into the station again without having to pay (God bless her!) and then we asked around for the Orly shuttle.This time too, another kind African-American man helped us to the right platform where the train was waiting. This time I ensured that the husband and I were holding hands again while we entered the train.We reached the Orly West Airport at 6pm and we thought we would safely reach hotel in time (all thoughts of ‘rest’ had vanished by then-we only wanted to reach the hotel on time to get ready for the Cabaret show). We asked again as to where the shuttle to the Mercure hotel would come and the lady at the airport told us to take Exit Gate G and platform 7. As we came out we saw a small tempo traveller kind of vehicle with the ‘Mercure’ board on it and immediately hopped in,relieved that we would finally reach the hotel.Little did we know that there were 2 Mercure hotels and 2 different shuttles!! The driver promptly took us to another Mercure which looked unfamiliar, we then showed him the address that we had and he only said in his little enlighs “Si,this no Mercure, sit,sit, I take” and we thought he would take us to ‘our’ Mercure.But that driver just dropped us back at the airport near another platform saying “This sit,beeg busss,”mercure,novotel,ibis” board,beeg busss,si si, sit platform” and left. We understood that we had to wait there for the right bus and sat there until 6.50 when we got a beeg bus with the board.Finally, by the time we reached the hotel it was sharp 7pm but thankfully the rest of the crowd was also getting ready…

With all that adventure behind us, we got ready in 10mins and started for the Cabaret show. By the time we got into the bus we saw that everyone else was also ready and dressed and waiting for us…We reached the venue in about 40mins and were wowed by the place. Dinner was indian – can you believe? An french cabaret where they served us roti and rice and dal! How much they do to lure the indian tourist! And most of the crowd was indian anyway.And with a free bottle of Champagne and wine! Lovely dinner until 9pm and then they cleared the tables and the show began. Lovely costumes, pretty girls and handsome men danced together – only thing was that the women were all topless. Initially it was a little discomforting, I must admit, but then they were so graceful and movements were so well orchestered that after some time, say 15mins, we just forgot that they were topless! there were jugglary acts in the middle while the settings changed,cancan dance,acrobatics which also got much applause and the whole event was for an hour and half until 11pm. Definitely an experience and definitely not in poor taste. Post that, some couples wanted to go to on a night tour of paris by paying extra, while some of us just wanted to see the Eiffel tower by night. Maybe we would’ve gone with the others if not for the day’s adventure, but we were truely exhausted and decided to get back to the hotel. We did ask if people were ready to see the eiffel tower by night but unfortunately nobody else was interested and we headed back to the hotel. Thats an experience we missed :-(. We also had an early day the next day with a wakeup call at 6am and it was past 12.45 while we packed up and slept…