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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Stuttgart : Not Just The Home Of Mercedes Benz And Porsche

Schlossplaz, Stuttgart

Ok, so it’s a fact that Stuttgart is a home to Mercedes Benz and also to Porsche. Stuttgart is the capital of the German state of Baden-Württenberg, and large German auto companies like Mercedes Benz, Porsche, Bosch etc have their headquarters here. It is for this reason most people associate this city with industry and … Read more Stuttgart : Not Just The Home Of Mercedes Benz And Porsche

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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A Brief Visit to Lucerne and Safenwil : Part II : Safenwil

It’s not often that one gets to visit a typical village in a different country, so while visiting Lucerne when a friend invited to his village of Safenwil, we were more than delighted. A tiny village/town, the first settlement here was in the Roman era. This village has old rock carvings, The Eberkopf (Boar’s head), … Read more A Brief Visit to Lucerne and Safenwil : Part II : Safenwil

A Brief Visit To Lucerne and Safenwil, Switzerland

Waking up one morning from deep sleep we saw an amber glow in the skies. Looking out of the window, we were blown by the magnificent painting like sky of Lucerne. We had our first ‘Why is Switzerland Called So Picture-Postcard Beautiful’ moment. On a brief trip to Paris, we had taken out two days … Read more A Brief Visit To Lucerne and Safenwil, Switzerland

Narrow Gauge Inn : Where To Stay In Yosemite

Perhaps one of the world’s best known Parks, Yosemite National Park is part of the beautiful Sierra Nevada Range in California. A visit to this natural preserve is highly recommended. And like any other travel, where you accomodation is crucial. So here is our little guide on where to stay while visiting Yosemite National Park.

The best place to stay, if you want to experience the Park from up-close, morning till next morning, is of course inside the park. Inside Yosemite are 13 campgrounds, some are reservable in advance, some available on a first come first served basis.

For a premium luxury stay, try The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, built in a building from the 1920s. Then there is the Yosemite Valley Lodge (near Yosemite Falls), The Big Tree Lodge sporting authentic Victorian architecture with charming verandahs and lush environs, White Wolf Lodge which is a rustic central lodge along with canvas tents set in a wildlfower field but 30 miles from Yosemite Valley, the canvas tent cabins at Half Dome Village, Housekeeping Camp (three sided concrete walls, canvas roof and privacy curtain), Glacier Point Ski Huts, Tuolumne Meadows tent cabins, High Sierra Camps, and 13 other sites with campgrounds and RV parking. These can all be accessed via the National Park Service website. Be sure to check weather reports before travelling and book well in advance to avoid disappointment.

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Visiting Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Thanks to the screening of our film ‘Bachelor Girls’ in San Francisco and Oakland, we were traveling in California. And no trip to California is complete without visiting its fabulous outdoors with Yosemite National Park on top on our list. Yosemite National Park lies in the Western part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the … Read more Visiting Yosemite National Park