Oh Berlin!

Perhaps one of the most culturally rich and significant cities of the world, Berlin has in many ways shaped a lot and gone through a lot as well. First documented in the 13th century, and founded at the crossing of two important trade routes, Berlin became the capital of the Margraviate of Brandenburg (1417-1701), Kingdom of Prussia (1701-1918), German Empire (1871-1918), Weimar Republic (1919-1933), and the Third Reich (1933-1945). It was bombed out in the World War II, split into two with a 96 mile long wall becoming a symbol of the Cold War, and then re-united, thereby symbolically ending the Cold War, and uniting a Germany split by Allied Powers after the World War II. It has now become the cultural (as well as political) capital of Germany, and perhaps an important one in the world as well, with its vibrant art, music, movies and startup scene.

When visiting Stuttgart, we were sure we wanted to visit Berlin as well. A big multicultural city, Berlin is also kind of artsy and hence a little bohemian. It is one of the largest startup capitals of Europe. There is a wide choice of food, music and party for every taste and budget.

What to do in Berlin?

We decided to stay in Berlin’s Mitte district in the hotel Lulu Guldsmeden located in a building made in 1850. The Mitte District is the first and oldest district of Berlin City. It encompasses the historic core of Berlin City and includes landmarks like the Museum Island, Reichstag, Potsdamer Platz, Alexander Platz, Berlin Hauptbanhof, Checkpoint Charlie (Berlin Wall), Brandenburg Gate, etc. Plus lots of nice cafes and restaurants. Because of its rich history and culture, we were sure this is where we wanted to stay.

What strikes you is the magnificent architecture and its sheer scale. The older buildings are like monuments, built carefully and with love. You cannot but help think of all that this wonderful city has gone through. During the second world war, the British dropped over 45,000 tonnes of bombs on Berlin, the Americans, around 25,000. A lot of the standing buildings were destroyed. At the end of the war, the city was split, the Berlin Wall built. But thankfully freedom and resilence shone through, the wall was brought down and Germany united once again!

Standing at the corner outside our hotel, our first views of Mitte in Berlin.

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Esslingen, Germany : A Gorgeous, Almost Fairy Town

During our visit to Stuttgart, some good friends suggested we take a day out to drive to Esslingen. Also located on the Neckar River, some only 14km from Stuttgart, Esslingen was first settled in the Neolithic Period. The city was first mentioned in 777AD when Franconian Abbot Fulrad of St. Denis near Paris mentioned it in his will. Around the 13th Century, the people of Esslingen built two bridges over the Neckar River thus making it an important trade route. Luckily during the World Wars, Esslingen wasn’t hit badly and that has preserved its medieval character.

It’s a beautiful city full of pretty houses, cafes, ice cream parlours and surrounded with nature. Definitely worth a visit. If you are here during the German summers, do carry an umbrella as it can get very hot.

Ours was a very brief visit to Esslingen!

Esslingen Church
Esslingen
Esslingen has the largest collection of old medieval half timbered houses in Germany.
Esslingen
These old half timbered houses in Esslingen were all built in the mid 1300s

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Two Days in Vienna, Austria

Vienna State Opera

When the waiting at the Berlin Airport for our connecting flight to Vienna became agonizingly long, we started panicking. Asking around we figured flights were getting delayed. There were some weather disturbances (this was end of July) which made it difficult for flights to land (it was raining, but the airlines folk know better). The delayed flights soon led to our flight being cancelled. We didn’t have a booking in Berlin and it was already getting late. Compounded with the fact that a lot of the staff was on holiday because of summers, there was a bit of confusion, before the airline finally managed to get us onboard a flight around 4 hours later.

In this process we landed in Vienna past midnight, starving, tired. Most of the eating places in the airport were shut already. The very reasonably priced metro that connected Vienna airport to the city center was way past its last flight. And we were here, only for two days in Vienna, Austria!

Meanwhile at the luggage belt, everyone from our flight had left except us and another family. Our luggage hadn’t arrived. We lodged a lost-luggage complaint with the airlines’ airport office, and took an expensive taxi to our hotel.

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Hola Mohalla : Anandpur Sahib

Not many people may have heard of this over 300 year old festival in Anandpur Sahib, called ‘Hola Mohalla’. Celebrated on the day after Holi, it’s a crazy grand festival of the Akali Nihangs, the original warrior Sikhs, considered the personal favorites of Guru Gobind Singh. It was Guru Gobind Singh himself who had established … Read more

Hampi : What To Do Apart From The Monuments

Tungabhadra River

Somewhere around the 14th Century AD, a major city arose on the banks of the Tungabhadra River in Karnataka. Pampa Kshetra, Kinshkinda Kshetra or Bhaskara Kshetra, this city is also known as Hampi. Spread over some 16 square miles, Hampi has some excellent ancient monuments, as we experienced. However, apart from the monuments, Hampi has … Read more

Hampi : The Third Day

Entering Vittala Temple

On the third day at Hampi, after having explored the heritage Vijayanagar Empire Hampi monuments here and some more amazing Hampi monuments, we went towards the Vitthala Temple. It is the largest of the Hampi monuments, but unclear who built it. Inscriptions has multiple male and female names. The large Ranga Mandapa of the Vitthala … Read more

Hampi : Exploring More Monuments

There is so much to see and absorb in Hampi, one definitely needs about 4 days here. Spread over a 16 square miles, this UNESCO World Heritage site has “forts, riverside features, royal and sacred complexes, temples, shrines, pillared halls, mandapas, memorial structures, water structures and others” (from Wikipedia), and is one of the largest … Read more

Hampi : Glory Of The Vijayayanagar Empire

Lakshmi Narasimha temple Hampi

I never thought there could be an archaeological site as vast and neat/clean as Hampi. From most of our travels, such sites are limited to tiny areas in congested villages or towns. Hampi is anything but that. The name Hampi comes from Pampa, another name for Goddess Parvati. Hampi is also known as Pampa Kshetra, … Read more

Paris! Paris!

Paris is the city that probably evokes feelings of attraction and romance the most. That’s the way the city is marketed and that’s the reason we visited this city, with a certain family elder who was determined to visit Paris and Switzerland, longing for the Bollywood nostalgia.

We found a wonderful place to stay via AirB&B (perhaps the only good AirB&B experience we have had) near the Gare Du Nord train station. First opened in 1846, it is one of the busiest train stations in the world. If we wanted to travel Paris in fast affordable ways, we would have to use the underground, and it was actually a fantastic experience.

But the best way to explore a city is to walk it, and we found it extremely rewarding. Here are some walks we could indulge in, considering we had limited time in Paris. If you are interested in museums, there are many in Paris, and this is a cool list.

Moulin Rouge : We wanted to see this iconic Cabaret (only from the outside). The Metro station nearest to it is called Blanche. Step out of the Metro and Moulin Rouge is right there. Do walk on the Boulevard de Clichy, an awesome walking area shaded with the canopy of trees. Look out for many adult themed shops and also some amazing food joints.
From Wikipedia: Moulin Rouge is best known as the birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance revue evolved into a form of entertainment of its own and led to the introduction of cabarets across Europe. Today, the Moulin Rouge is a tourist attraction, offering musical dance entertainment for visitors from around the world. The club’s decor still contains much of the romance of fin de siècle France. 

Canal Saint Martin: Walk along this canal, pass the hill side walks and the temple atop the hill. Walk past the Point Ephémére, the artsy bit to the hip Antoine Et Lili.

Montmartre : This rustic but now hip part of town has many a cafe, gallery and restaurant. This walk has always charmed artists, and you can find many painting live right here in its lanes. Walk the length upto the Basilica Of The Sacred Heart Of Paris, or the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. This is also the highest point in Paris and get a glorious view of this lovely city.

Rue De Rosiers : This fantastic part of town, also known as the Jewish Quarter, is full of history, excellent old architecture and great eateries and boutiques. Go for fallafels here and you will never forget the taste.

Saint Germain: (From Wikipedia): Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the four administrative quarters of the 6th arrondissement of Paris, France, located around the church of the former Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Its official borders are the River Seine on the north, the rue des Saints-Pères on the west, between the rue de Seine and rue Mazarine on the east, and the rue du Four on the south. Residents of the quarter are known as Germanopratins.

Walk along the lanes from Rue de Seine and Rue Jacob. Walk along Rue Bonaparte, and the Rue de l’Université. The entire block has many fabulous old buildings and context in history and culture: Ernest Hemingway had once stayed here, The Treaty Of Paris which gave the USA independence from Great Britain was signed in one of these buildings, Julia Child learnt to cook here. Walk into the Orsay Museum in the lanes of Saint Germain Des Pres. You need to give this part at least half a day.

There are many more amazing walks in Paris, but we had time only for these. Which walks would you recommend?

View from our Apartment near the Gar Du Nord.
View from our Apartment near the Gar Du Nord.
Architecture in Paris.
Waiting to find our bearings admiring the architecture.

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Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco : Still Vibrant, Still Mesmerising, Still Love

Haight – Ashbury was the epicenter of the 1967 Summer Of Love, a large movement in which more than 100,000 people, mostly young, sporting ‘hippie’ costumes and hairdos, converged here. Also known as Hashbury, this area became the centre of the alternative culture, where people rejected materialism, were suspicious of the government, did not support … Read more