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From Queen of Hills to Queen of Hearts

There is no other credential about me that makes people ‘Wow’, than the fact that I hail from Shimla.

Most people reading this post, if from India would have understood the above statement. If you dont know whats so great about Shimla, you may want to use Google Images to get a first hand feel. Or cruise thru this post as well.

Shimla is a small beautiful scenic hill town and the the capital city of Himachal Pradesh, a state in Northern India which cradles in the backdrop of the mighty Himalayas. Its cool summers and snowy winters made the Britishers feel at home making it as the ‘Summer Capital’ of colonial India in 1864. The era of the British ‘Raj’ gave this town a European facial with Victorian buildings, parks, town hall, hospitals, markets and even a railway line which is today protected by UNESCO.

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As if it hangs in mid air. The beautiful landscape of a busy town today, Shimla!

There are millions of sites and blogs which would tell you what to see and do in Shimla. Its so damn touristy. Its probably also the Honeymoon Capital of India. Since I have my entire family there, I generally dont do the touristy trips. However 2 months back, i did take a walk with my camera to capture some shots of places i liked the most

Mall Road : Heritage Walk

Very obvious place as its the center of the town. An arterial road flanked by shops, eateries, hotels and many old buildings. You can start walking from whichever end is nearest to you. A km walk from the Mall road will bring you to the opulent Heritage Hotel Oberoi Clarkes

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Hotel Oberoi Clarkes: The beautiful heritage building dates back to 1898. It boasts of Victorian era furniture, mantelpieces and heirlooms.

The Mall Road is local at the same time elite. It has some great views of the city thats now getting congested with concrete. However the misty mountains continue give it the young gal look.

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Queen of Hills, Shimla. Gentle valleys, sloping mountains and the red roofs, very European indeed.

As you walk ahead on the mall, there are some notable and beautiful Architecture to admire. Some of them are now government offices, some are hotels or bookstores.

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The Christ Church : You cannot ignore this incredibly beautiful Church at the Ridge. Clicked from the Mall Road

As we walk further ahead on the Mall, you come across Gaitey Theater. Dates back to 1877, this Victorian Theater has hosted illustrious British statesmen, Indian Cinema glitterati and needless to say abundant tourists. Much of this structure was destroyed in a fire few years back. The Theater has undergone a restoration and then reopened to public. On the other side of the same building is a Police Control Room

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The beautiful Victorian building housing the Gaitey Theater 

A stone’s throw from the Gaitey Theater is the majestic building of the Municipal Corporation of Shimla. This was the Town Hall of Shimla as established by the Britishers, which is now the local Municipal office. I was reminded of many Town Halls I have visited in Britain, indeed this is a clear reflection of the Victorian architecture.

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Dating back to 1851, The splendid building of Municipal Corporation. The police band plays here sometimes on Sundays in their uniform, its nothing less than a much awaited musical performance for both locals and tourists

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A local policeman dressed smartly yet bit dramatically

Probably the last stop on the Mall as you move towards the end of the bifurcation to the Ridge, next to the Scandal Point is the General Post office. This is a Heritage Building, dating back to 1883, it has appeared on Postal Stamps as well. This is my favorite. Iam told the colors of white and red are contemporary as per a government direction.

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General Post Office of Shimla. A well restored Victorian building. Love the white and red color combination

Right outside the Post Office are these filigree benches that you can even see all over in the UK. People sitting basking in sun. Conversations, gossips and some knitting.

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Shimla has a typical laid back hill resort kind of ambiance. People are not rushing, jostling or hurrying for something. Its relaxed; its like living.

And Britishers did leave their stamp behind till today.

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The Red Letter Box!

My last stop on the Heritage Walk on the Mall road is the Ridge. Its another road a level above or higher than the Mall Road which gives way to some amazing views of the other side of the city. On the Ridge are two iconic Heritage landmarks. The Christ Church that we earlier clicked from the Mall is now in front of us with the State Library onto the Left. I have fooled many folks showing this pic to guess this place and 9/10 guessed a place in Europe.

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This place is full of selfie lovers. There are many films shot in this area. One of recent ones was 3 Idiots.

Shimla is a total unwind place. Coming from a stressed worklife and a fast paced daily routine, I feel totally relaxed here. More because Iam not a tourist here, its Home for me. You can explore the markets and hike nearby places on foot. The peak winters can be harsh and experience heavy snowfall, however the summers are yummy. Bright sunny days and cold nights.

While Shimla still retains the charm of the era of ‘Raj’ it will be always preferred by tourists worldwide as a scenic spot giving access to the majestic Himalayas. Though I have been to Shimla a countless number of times, my favorite part of my stay every time has been to admire the wilderness, the dramatic skies, the misty mountains and cuddle in my quilt.

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This is one of the clicks when i was waiting for my parents to come out of a government office, as me and sis had nothing else to do, we kept firing our shots.

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This was literally a crisp morning…you can actually feel that crunch. Sun kissed valley, thick green forests, I feel blessed to be breathing these views right from my balcony.

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And this is not sunrise…the sunset on a very dark cloudy day.

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If there is anything that stole my heart in this place, its the flirtatious skies, they tease you every minute with different moods and you just cant get enough of it. 

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The most interesting time of the day; sunset on the valley; this is the best photo out of around 75 photos of the same sky at the same time

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When you are bored of the looking at the same mountains every day, there are enough interesting avenues to entertain you…Like staring back at these new fellas…And you dont have to go to a particular place to find them. From Mall Road to offices to terraces, they are omnipresent.

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Or eavesdrop at their deep conversations

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Or get envious at that back rub

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Oh no…dont think it that way…Its not doggy style at all….Its Platonic Langur play…

Vital Stats

  • Shimla really doesnt have a functional airport. I understand it would take sometime for it to be completely operational for civilian flights. So the best option to reach there would be by road. You would likely come from New Delhi. Take a bus (around 10 hours) or hire a cab (around 8-10 hours) or take a train to Chandigarh and a bus or cab from Chandigarh (around 4-4.5 hours) or take a train from Delhi to Kalka and take the toy train and experience the UNESCO Heritage railway track on narrow gauge cruising through mountains and a 100 tunnels. Its a lifetime experience so if you have plenty of time and fancy to go slow, this is the option you must take(around 6 hours)
  • Eat like a local. Step down from the Mall Road to the Lower Bazaar. Its where you get the real street food. Jalebis, Chaat, Pakoras to get the local flavours. And if you want to dine for a heavy meal, Shere Punjab or any other joint which has a place to sit is good. It will be essentially a north indian punjabi meal, chole (chickpeas), kadi, rajma, mixed veg, potato in everything, for a change you will love all of it
  • Stay at any hotel or guest house or B&B, there are a whole lot of new ones that have cropped up. For great views you may want to step a bit outside the city like Mushrobhra. There are three and five star like Oberoi Clarks, Wildflower Hall, Holiday Home etc who have good service and accommodation.

And for more tips or any suggestions, feel free to write to me.

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Categories: capital city, castle, cathedral, Christ Church, church, churches, europe, Gaitery Theater, Heritage Walk, hill resort, hill station, himachal, himachal pradesh, himalayas, honeymoon trip, incredible india, india, love, lower bazaar, Mall road, mountains, North India, old town, Queen of Hills, ridge, Scandal Point, shimla, solo travel, streets, Summer Capital, travel, travel blog, UNESCO, visit india, visithimachal, visitmyhometown, weekend trip | Leave a comment

Danube Bend : Exploring Hungarian Towns

In my short three days trip to Hungary, I chose one day to step out of the glitz of Budapest. As this was a last minute planned trip, I couldn’t do much of my usual research on where to go. So I browsed and chose a small group tour for a day, Danube Bend which would take me to few towns on the banks of the River Danube.

So here started my Day 2 in Hungary. A small matador picked me and few other travelers from the Chain Bridge in Budapest. As I introduced myself to the group of people from Japan, Spain, Argentina and Belgium, I found that other than the guide only I could speak English fluently. Amusing!

What is Danube Bend?

Danube is the lifeline river which flows from Slovakia into Hungary(Magyarorszag). The Danube Bend is a curve where Danube bends near the town of Visegrad to flow into Budapest. This map below which I clicked explains it all.

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The blue line is the depiction of River Danube’s route with a clear bend which is the theme of this tour

Our guide was a Hungarian-Spanish who was explaining in both English and Spanish. After a short 45 min drive from Budapest, we were on a bridge and voila, he announced we are in Slovakia. Were we being abducted?? Hell no! Slovakia and Hungary share borders alongside Danube. As a small treat to us, we had our first stop-over in Slovakia; so well we can technically say we have visited Slovakia though for a short 20 minutes.

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My first photo of the day from Slovakia of Hungary. While I was standing in Slovakia I clicked this beautiful site of Eztergom Basilica in Hungary across the Danube which would be our next stop

After grabbing a quick bite, we headed back to Hungary to explore our first town.

Esztergom

Esztergom is one of the oldest towns of Hungary and former capital city. It is the seat of the Catholic Church in Hungary. It proudly houses the Esztergom Basilica, the largest in Hungary and third largest church in Europe.

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Esztergom Basilica. Its massive structure is truly impressive.

The vast pillars of the Basilica is quite an intimidating site.

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Pillars of Basilica

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The interiors of the Basilica are equally impressive.

After a short visit inside the Basilica, we explored its backyard which gave way to some stunning views back of Slovakia from where we had come across to Esztergom

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The bridge on Danube that connects Hungary and Slovakia

There is this huge statue of the coronation of St Stephen which is equally massive.

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The white statue against the Blue sky

That was Estergom known for its Basilica and Catholic faith. The Basilica appears on currency notes of Hungary as well. We started back on our journey in the company of Danube to the next town.

Visegrad

A quaint town on the Right Bank of Danube. Famous for the remains of Royal Palace of King Charles I.

It is more significant as near this town is where the Danube bends. We stopped at a viewing point from where we could see the famous curve of the Danube as it bends and makes it way into Budapest.

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Danube Bend

After clicking some photos of this picturesque sight, we made our way to grab lunch in the town of Visegrad. the streets were isolated and it did give a village feel.

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A small village ‘mall’ which had some cute handmade knick knack shops. There was a lot of wooden furniture and handicrafts as well

After our lunch we headed to our last destination. A short ride and I took a nap behind my sunglasses and woke up when our matador halted.

Szentendre

Finally we came to a town which looked very touristy. Szentendre is a charming town on banks of Danube close to Budapest. It has every element of a quaint European town. Cobbled streets, quaint interesting antique shops, baroque churches and a small town square.

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Szentendre town

We were given one and a half hour to explore the town. Its just one long cobbled street with many narrow offshoot streets. Most of the time I spent was stepping inside each shop. What I bought? Well the most well known Hungarian Paprika for my sister and some wooden Hungarian dolls. And since it was horribly hot and sultry weather, in the short time, I gobbled two large ice creams.

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There was something very quirky about this whole town. Jazzy shops, cars, bling.

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A beautiful street with lemony colored umbrellas and antique shops

And some interesting alleys…

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An alley with some graffiti.

With aching heels, I was exhausted walking around. And it was time for us to head back. Interestingly our journey back to Budapest was not in our rustic Matador but in a big boat. Our guide met us and bid goodbye handing the boat tickets to us.

A beautiful day was coming to an end. It was almost an hour journey cruising through the beautiful Danube and taking last morsels of its enchanting sights. I would remember this peaceful cruise back as I sat and thanked my stars above for these lovely blessings.

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Starting our cruise on the banks of Danube

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And my last click from the boat as the skies turn crimson

 

Some help?

Booking a Danube Bend Tour is easy. Book through any credible operator online. I booked through the City Discovery Tour which costed £36.

http://www.city-discovery.com/budapest/tour.php?id=699

 

 

Categories: capital city, castle, cathedral, cathedrals of europe, churches, europe, hungary, river cruise, travel, travel blog, travel europe, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An evening in the charming Krakow, Poland

I stayed in Krakow for a night and was in this charming city for two days. Of course work kept me occupied and confined to a hotel during the day, but its the end of April, crisp spring weather and long days of sunlight; it did make me lucky to go around the town and explore after work. Thanks to my lovely Polish colleague and friend who was my local guide and so patient as I stopped now and then to click pictures.

Krakow is Poland’s second largest city and supposed to be a financial and IT hub. The city dates back to 7th century. After Poland was invaded by Germans during World War II, Krakow was the headquarters of the German occupied Poland. Unlike Warsaw, this city was not heavily plundered and still retains most of its old historic buildings and monuments.

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One of the first view of the old monuments as I started my walking tour to explore the city.

Irrespective of the time you are here, its fairly easy to understand the town and navigate. My short and working knowledge of the town which should assist anyone who wants to wander around in the least bit of time and enjoy Krakow. The new part of Krakow is quite swanky and has many state of the art Business Parks. Multinational conglomerates have made a beeline to this city owing its multilingual workforce, good infrastructure and strategic location with a proximity to Germany, Czek Republic, Austria.

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Krakow is located well to connect major cities in all neighboring countries and Poland as well

The UNESCO listed old town of Krakow is the one to visit to enjoy the old world charm. Like many other European towns, it is also straight from a sketchbook. Criss-crossed with cobbled streets, towering church spires, outlined with quaint restaurants, its large town square, called Grand Square or Main Market Square, locally Rynek Glowny is probably one of the largest and most beautiful in Europe.

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Grand Square at the Old Town Krakow

While you stroll around the Grand Square, there is a lot to see and observe. The most obvious monument to catch your eyes undoubtedly would be the Town Hall Tower with the ceremonious clock glaring with its hands spread out.

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Town Hall Tower

Next overlooking the Square is the grand pair of towers of St Mary’s Basilica. Yes like you I had the same question in my mind, why this Basilica has two towers? I have always seen one dome or pulpit; well there is a fable around it, of two brothers building each one and one of them dying to leave it unfinished, hence its the shorter cousin.

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The grand towers of St Mary’s Basilica or Bazylika Mariacka

Up from the taller tower, goes the daily ‘bugle call’ called ‘hejnal mariacki’. It is believed this was used as a watchtower and a trumpeter was sounding off alert to the people of the town of approaching Mongolian army when he was shot in his neck. To keep the tradition alive and honour him, today every hour the bugle sounds off and abruptly breaks off mid-melody. Do not miss it!

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Close up of the Twin Towers of St Mary’s Basilica

The Basilica is open for prayer but for a visit you have to pay 10 Zloty. I wasn’t expecting this at all, when I entered , the interiors blew me off completely. Sheer opulence and richness drips from every corner of the Basilica. The ceiling is an interesting starry sequenced with a striking blue background. The altar is the highlight with its large altar piece which is supposed to be the largest Gothic one in the world. Golden gilded figures, elaborate carvings and lavish interiors, you wouldn’t be able to get over it. Honestly I didn’t know when to stop looking at this sight and exit. Its like you cant get enough of it.

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Photography is not permitted inside. This one was clicked by phone camera as I wasnt aware. The only one photo I clicked.

Supposed to be the World’s oldest shopping mall, The Krakow Cloth Hall dates back to the 16th century, is right in the middle of the Main Square. A beautiful piece of architecture houses neatly lined shops inside, most of them sell handmade artifacts. A must visit!

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Krakow Cloth Hall

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The other beautiful view of the cloth hall market

Huddled in the corner of the Market Square is this bundle of domes, the 11th century Church of St Adalbert. More than 1000 years old, this is one of the oldest stone churches. Of course you cannot miss this one as well, as its right there though a little intimidated by St Mary’s Basilica’s flamboyance.

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Very interesting architecture of St Aldalbert Church

Next to the St Aldalbert Church is something that caught my eye. A quaint cart of souvenirs and knick knacks. While the masses were busy in clicking selfies in the Market Square, this small treasure trove certainly finds a place on my blog.

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The cute Cart of lovely Krakow souvenirs

All these monuments are packed in this large square, so the best way of course is to walk around. However you can also try these chariots driven by some lovely Polish women. Take a relaxed tour of the whole town in some charming company.

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White Chariots. Prices are unknown as we chose to walk around the town

If you are venturing a bit outside the town or traveling into the Old town from another part, the Trams are a great bet. Cant say much about the fares or timing as I didn’t get a chance to use them, but surely clicked a picture.

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Beautiful trams on cobbled streets

After having a good walk and clicking lots of pictures, we moved to another part of the town, towards the castle. Easiest way is to walk through the Grodzka Street from the Old Town. Apparently this is also called the ‘Royal Route or Royal Road’ as it is flanked by monuments. As you walk through this street, you will actually feel like one of the Royals as you cross various historic buildings, churches, giant statues.

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Cobbled Street upto Wavel Castle

As we keep walking, we cross another beautiful and very famous Church, The Church of Saints Peter and Paul, first Baroque Church of Poland.

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Church of Saints Peter and Paul

The most striking feature is the raised platform with statues of the Apostles. The interiors are beautiful and opulent too.

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The statues of the Apostles in front of the Church

As we left the Old Town Square behind us, we reach the Wavel Castle situated on the Wavel Hill. The evening views of the Castle were fantastic. Perched high this fortress has treasures inside it which we reserved to explore the next day. I will also write a separate post on the beautiful Wavel Castle.

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The Wavel Castle on Wavel Hill top

The setting sun glistening the Castle Walls with many stories hidden behind its high walls.

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One of the views of the Wavel Castle

Our walk for last few hours was one of the most amazing ones I have had in Europe. Truly felt transported back a few centuries and walking the beautiful streets amidst the timeless historical giants looking down at us. The river Vistula adds an extra charm to this idyllic town. As we called it a day and proceed ahead to the Jewish part of the town called Kazimierz to celebrate my belated birthday, we stopped for a while to admire the sunset on the horizon of this beautiful river town; And I would say my best click of the day.

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Sunset on River Vistula

Note to Travelers:How to Travel : Its really easy to travel to Krakow. It has an international airport and has good connections. You can also travel by train from major stations in Poland. I traveled to Krakow from London Gatwick and the flight was close to 2 hours. On my return I took a train from Krakow to Warsaw which is about 3 hours and costs 150 Zloty. In Krakow, wear your walking shoes and enjoy the city on foot. Alternately Trams are there as well. – Where to Stay : Preferably stay in the Old Town as its easy to explore it by walking. I stayed in Best Western Hotel which was a little on the higher side, around 400 Zloty a night. However lots of hostels and budget hotels are available in Old Town. – What to Eat : Eat at local joints. Try Pierogi which are meat or cheese dumplings, Zapiekanka which is like a crunchy long baguette with Pizza kind of toppings. Very filling and cheap. In the old town try some nice ice cream.

Categories: basilica, castle, castles of europe, cathedral, cathedrals of europe, church, churches, crakow, eastern europe, europe, grand square, krakow, old town, poland, polish, royal route, solo travel, travel, visit krakow, visit poland, wavel castle | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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