Travelling Ides of March | The travel journal of a lover
Amrita is a freelance travel writer and full-time travel blogger. She quit her corporate job to become a traveller. She has been contributing to some of the top publications in India. She propagates female solo travel and shares her experiences from off-beat, culture and adventure travel through her writing.
When you picture New Zealand, you likely imagine snow-capped mountains, sparkling glaciers, lush forests, and more sheep than you can count. These are accurate scenes from the South Island, which undoubtedly gets more attention than its northern counterpart. This isn’t to say that the North Island is any less exciting, however. With our recommendations, we think you might just want to make time in your itinerary to enjoy some of the unique experiences to the north, as well as those more commonly noted attractions of the South.
Although Queenstown on the South Island is known as an adventure capital of the world, you may want to save some of your taste for adventure for the North Island, where you’ll find plenty of excitement. For one thing, Lake Taupo might be one of the best places on the planet to go skydiving, offering fantastic views over a bright blue lake and the surrounding hills and fields of varying, spectacular shades of green. New Zealand is also known for its glow worm caves, and the North Island is a great place to explore them for some additional adventure. Meanwhile, an added benefit to activities like these is that with much of the attention devoted to the South Island, the North Island sees considerably fewer adventure tourists, and can thus be a little less crowded and, in a way, more accessible.
Lake Taupo. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, another great North Island option is to check out one of the sets where The Hobbit was filmed. The North Island set – Hobbiton itself – has been transformed into an interactive exhibit where you can explore the fantasy village built for the petite hobbit race. Even if you haven’t followed this beloved fictional saga, the set is still filled with beautiful scenery, set in the middle of farm country with rolling hills and stunning views for kilometres in every direction. And when you’ve finished touring the place, you can also grab a drink at the cozy pub from the film itself!
If you’re looking for more of a city travel experience, Auckland on the North Island is the largest urban centre in all of New Zealand. It’s particularly famous for its unmissable harbour area, which is filled with excellent shops and restaurants. You can spend some time exploring on foot, or even get out on the water, and take in the stunning skyline, abroad a harbour cruise. Meanwhile, if you want to experience parts of that skyline itself, the centrepiece is undoubtedly SkyCity, the towering skyscraper complete with its own live casino. Even though New Zealand offers a range of free pokie play and other casino games online, getting dressed up for a night out at this entertainment complex is still a popular and highly recommended activity for your time in town. In part this is because even if you aren’t interested in the casino’s games, the luxurious restaurants, bars, and amenities of the complex can make for a terrific night out.
A final recommendation unique to the North Island is to visit one of the geothermal parks. Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland is one of our favourites, home to neon-green sulfur springs and bubbling mud pools, among many other attractions. If you don’t want to pay the entry ticket for this park, however, you can still enjoy some of these natural wonders in local public parks throughout the North Island. Some of the thermal pools are even used by locals as public hot tubs, so if you’re interested, bring a towel and change of clothes and find a place to hop in!
Pokhara is probably Nepal’s most touristy town, after the capital city, Kathmandu. It serves as a base to the Annapurna basecamp trek, among others. Pokhara’s bohemian vibe particularly appealed to me. The main shopping street, aromatic cafes and bars with live music just a few factors that complemented the vibe.
This wasn’t my first time in Pokhara. Most of the experiences, however, were a first.
Things to do (my recommendations)
One morning, we checked-in to Pokhara Airport to take a different type of flight. The Pokhara Ultralight is a lightweight aircraft with two passengers on board. With winds on our side, two from our group prepared with security briefings into two ultralights.
In the 15-minute flight my pilot, Neeraj, and I soared up to 9000 metres to get a bird’s eye view of the city. I felt the winds chisel my face at certain turns but didn’t pull the visor down. Sometimes Neeraj lowered the motor speed. My body stiffened with fear. Soon he patted my knees and gestured a thumbs up to pose for the camera. After the first three minutes, I was meditating on the views below me. I noticed the famous World Peace Pagoda (or Shanti Stupa), the concrete town surrounded by green agricultural fields and a glistening Phewa Lake.
Landing was smoother than take off. And I immediately wished that the experience wouldn’t end. The thrills of ultralight are addictive.
The other ultralight over the lake.
With Neeraj, my ultralight pilot.
One of the four facets of World Peace Pagoda.
Gupteshwar Mahadev Temple
On Siddhartha Rajmarg, the famous Devi’s Falls and Gupteshwar Mahadev Temple stand opposite to each other. Guru was our guide for the day and he perhaps saw my apprehension of going inside the latter—a cave temple. Daylight diminished as I walked down the spiral stairs into the cave. In darkness, I clambered on flights of stairs to a Shiva Lingam, formed by stalagmite.
After this shrine, all I saw was darkness and refused to proceed. Guru walked a few steps back to persuade me and I reluctantly agreed. After a few narrow limestone passages, I saw scaffoldings and heard water dripping. An iron staircase led me to the natural wonder that Guru so persistently pursued. A stream of water gushed through the steep boulders, darting through the darkness. And above it, the creek opened up just right to light the gushing water. This was a continuity to Devi’s Waterfalls.
At wee hours of the morning, we walked a tedious flight of stairs to Sarangkot viewing point. This is a popular spot for crisp and magnificent views of the Himalayas at sunrise.
I rubbed my sleepy eyes for the n-th time to see a patch of clouds move away. Set against a very faint blue backdrop, the tip of Annapurna I turned a light golden. And in a matter of seconds, the entire range appeared—from Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre (or fishtail) at the centre and peaks of the Annapurna range. I wish the clouds at the backdrop lifted to give the contours of the majestic Himalayas more definition.
Walking into Gupteshwar Mahadev.
That sunrise from Sarangkot.
Phew Lake at dusk.
Things to do (popular)
World Peace Pagoda on Anadu Hill and the adjoining Phewa Lake panorama. Devi’s Falls, also called Davi’s Waterfalls. One of the many stories (and perhaps the most believable) is that of a Swiss couple swimming in the pools above the falls, in July 1961. The woman quite unfortunately was washed off by a gush of water. And hence the name, Davi.
A walk by Phewa Lake in the evening. Or go on a boat ride.
Visit Jangchub Choeling Tibetan Monastery to see exquisite Thangka art and Buddhist murals.
Experience a cultural night in Hotel Barahi on Lakeside.
The other side of Devi’s Falls, as seen from Gupteshwar Mahadev.
Aarti at Phewa Lake.
Where to stay
Rita from the front office welcomed me to Hotel Barahi with the customary Nepali scarf. That was just the beginning of their hospitality. In my two-night stay there, Hotel Barahi excelled in their service. Guru deserves a special mention who guided us around town and shared his extensive knowledge.
I walked pass by the long swimming pool to my room. Distressed interiors, excellent sleep quality and all basics covered, I wish I had more time in my room. Also for the Spicy Pool Bar which had scribbles all over, giving it an interesting and unique feel.
My room in Hotel Barahi.
Spicy Pool Bar in non-operational hours.
Lakeside Road full of shops.
Where and what to eat & drink
I highly recommend Byanjan on Lakeside Road, which serves simple continental food and elaborate Nepali thalis. Their Nepali dishes, like sukuti, is as authentic as it can be. I also liked their sit-outs overlooking Phewa Lake.
Barista Kazu on the way to World Peace Stupa has excellent affogato, along with other coffee and a sufficient menu of bakery bites.
Another cafe to worth trying is Himalayan Java Coffee on Lakeside. (They have a couple more in town.)
Try local beer like Gorkha and Everest, Khukri rum, Old Durbar whisky and local liquor which is rice wine called ‘Rakssi’. These are available in most restaurants and bars. Pokhara has many licensed beer and wine shops where tourists can buy their favourite tipple too.
A continental meal at Byanjan.
Nepali meal at Byanjan (left), my cup of Mocha at Barista Kazu (right).
Affogato at Himalayan Java Coffee.
-Photography of Shiva Linga in Gupteshwar Mahadev Temple is not permitted.
-Sarangkot has an entry of 50 NPR for foreigners.
-All activities can be booked from Hotel Barahi’s travel desk.
-Hotel Barahi has two dining options: Pokhara Flavour and Spicy Pool Bar. The former has Nepali cultural performances every evening from 1900hrs to 2100hrs.
-Lakeside Road is the main shopping street in the city.
-Pokhara Ultralight costs about $130 for a 15-minute experience.
“In Denmark you can’t be in people’s company unless you’re drinking beer.” With those words, Jonathan Schlichtkrull, my guide, summed up the importance of beer in the Danish capital.
I am on an exploratory trail across Copenhagen, trying to understand their love for the Danish pilsner and how it might have trickled down through generations in history.
It is believed that beer has been a part of the Danish society since 2800 BC. Hvidtøl or ‘white beer’ was dominantly consumed until 1838. Somewhere around the 1830s the quality of beer had deteriorated so much that king held a speech where he declared the beer to be like dirt. Thereafter he commissioned J. C. Jacobsen, who introduced the pale lager from Bavaria, to brew high quality beer. He made the golden pilsner a favourite in the country.
My first pilsner that day at Studenterhuset.
The taps at Studenterhuset.
Our first stop is the Studenterhuset (The Student House) on Købmagergade, near Round Tower. The Student House is where members (or students) get discounts on food and beer by presenting their student card.
I study the tap sincerely to see five varieties of pilsner. Tuborg may be their bestseller, but I decide on the Torvehal pale ale, which is brewed in Bornholm. It is refreshing and just perfect as a first beer of the day, on a hot morning like today. But I secretly wish it had more texture.
For texture we continue walking towards Mikkeller Bar, but not before peeping into Jernbanecafeen (or The Railway Cafe) on Reventlowsgade. The vibrant green of the pub complemented the kitsch interiors. Every corner of this typical Danish bar is busy with small decorations, giving it a cosy feel. Turning towards the bar, I see seven beers on the tap and numerous bottled in the fridge. Most of their beers come from Thisted Bryghus, which is in north of Denmark.
Even though Jernbanecafeen has only started its day, I notice that smoking is allowed indoors. ‘Can this be called a traditional bodega?’ I ask Schlichtkrull as we step out. He nods in affirmation.
Bodegas are authentic beer pubs in Copenhagen which serve local brews, may have live music, keep only smørrebrød (Danish open sandwiches) and have an old world charm. Usually frequented by older customers, bodegas are also becoming increasingly popular with the younger generation.
A traditional bodega, Jernbanecafeen.
Our glasses of Ørbæk Bryggeri’s Fynsk Forår and Thisted Bryghus.
A few metres ahead I read ‘Øl & Brød’—which as I have just learnt literally means ‘beer and bread’—on Victoriagade. I am standing in front of Mikkeller Øl & Brød but we walk into the Mikkeller Bar, a few steps ahead.
Mikkeller dates back to 2006 when Mikkel Borg Bjergsø decided to introduce the world to the brews from his kitchen in Copenhagen. Today Mikkeller exports beers to 40 countries across the world.
A colourfully written blackboard hangs above sleek draught taps. It has twenty names on it. Mikkeller Vesterbro catches my eye with its 5.6% alcohol by volume. Like all Danish pilsners, this one has hoppy aftertaste but has a lingering sweetness.
As the noon sun rises, we decide to rent a cycle and pedal towards Vesterbro. In this neighbourhood, a place called Absalon serves the pilsner differently, than the other regular bars.
Absalon, a community space on Sønder Boulevard, is painted in bright blue, pink, green and red. They position themselves as a space where everyone is welcomed for food, drinks, games and various activities like table tennis and movies. The idea is to socialise and connect with all kinds of people.
At Mikkeller Bar.
Mikkeller Bar’s chalkboard menu.
Schlichtkrull and I walk towards the food and beverages counter which is tucked away on the left of the vibrant community hall. By now I am feeling confident of my understanding of Danish beers. I get myself a glass of Thisted Bryghus’s Thy Pilsner and Schlichtkrull gets a Ørbæk Bryggeri’s Fynsk Forår for himself. Cheerfully, we clink our glasses and exclaim ‘skål’ in chorus. I immediately notice how my beer was just a cloudier version of his, while he quickly reminds me of a beer tradition I had learnt a few minutes ago.
The first sip remains sacred for the Danes. After the mandatory ‘skål’ (Danish equivalent to the universal toast ‘cheers’), they believe that the first sip should be a proper, wholesome one—which brings down the level of beer in the glass beyond the label. While I pursued it unsuccessfully, Schlichtkrull sipped it like a true Dane.
After a true community beer-drinking experience, we head out to the home of the renowned Danish beer—Carlsberg.
The entrance to Absalon.
The colourful community setting of Absalon.
J. C. Jacobsen started the Gamle (Old) Carlsberg brewery in 1847. However, in 1901 the Ny (New) Carlsberg Brewhouse was completed and was owned by his son, Carl Jacobsen. Since father and son had a clash of ideologies, the latter decided to start his own brewery. However, after the death of his father, Carl Jacobsen decided to merge and work as an employee in the Carlsberg Group.
Carlsberg, which begun on the outskirts of Copenhagen, is an international favourite today.
We walk through an exhibition of the largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world (22619 as of June 22, 2018), into the 35-minute beer tasting session. Irvin leads the tasting and introduces me to their locally brewed (and exclusively available) Jacobsen beers. Overlooking the Jacobsen Saaz Blonde and the Jacobsen Extra Pilsner, I form an immediate infatuation for the Jacobsen Original Dark Lager. My fellow beer-tasters, a local Danish couple, however, prefer the extra pilsner, stating that they are ‘more suited’ to this one.
It occurs to me that in Copenhagen (and perhaps Denmark) drinking beer is not about the taste, or even about the beer in itself. It is the familiarity that comes with it. A warm summer afternoon with friends by the canal. A cosy evening with a loved one at home. An occasional community dinner with strangers in a rooftop organic farm. Beer manifests into the many memories that then become a part of our lives.
Horse-drawn carriage tour in Carlsberg.
The largest collection of unopened beer bottles in the world.
My beer taster and guide at Carlsberg, Irvin.
Accompany your pilsner with these local Danish food:
-A classic herring smørrebrød (Denmark’s open-faced sandwich) at Told & Snaps on Toldbodgade, or at Øl & Brød on Viktoriagade.
-A traditional and organic hot dog from the Den Økologiske Pølsemand hot dog stand at Round Tower.
-The innovative tastes of New Nordic food at the Michelin-starred, 108 on Strandgade. Their menu changes seasonally and has specials like Brown Beech mushrooms with smoked egg yolk sauce.
-The grill-and-meats food kiosks at Reffen street food market at Refshaleøen.
Our visit to Ayodhya seemed to get longer by the hour. After an exhausting journey from Prayagraj to Lucknow during the Kumbh Mela, we lost our way in Faizabad town. Ayodhya is a short three-hour or 130-kilometre journey from the Uttar Pradesh capital. We had to add an additional hour and half to travel time since traffic in and out of Ayodhya was high (a day after Mauni Amavasya) and our driver lost the way.
Once we did reach the town, we walked from Ayodhya Gate to Kanak Bhawan. Strict traffic rules and high influx of pilgrims made me draw parallels between Kumbh at Prayagraj and this controversial Hindu town. Believed to be the birthplace of Ram, the Babri Masjid which stood on this site was demolished in 1992. A visit to this site is at least a two-hour affair through many rounds of security. It was hence pulled out from our itinerary.
Kanak Bhawan was first on our itinerary. This temple was Kaikeyi’s gift to her son, Ram, and Sita. The main shrine has three pairs of idols of Ram and Sita, in different sizes.
After a visit to Kanak Bhawan, through Hanuman Garhi Mandir, we returned to our cars to be driven to Raj Durbar and Ram ki Paidi. Ram ki Paidi is by the banks of River Saryu, which I thought was struggling to exist. This ghat is flanked by 12000 temples, most of them dedicated to Lord Ram.
We spent about six hours in this town and returned to the capital, away from the chaos. I found myself lightly infatuated with Ayodhya after the visit. Its striking similarity to Varanasi with its many characters and hues coloured my opinion of it.
Meeting Tilak Ram on our way to Ayodhya.
Prayag Milk Bar near Ayodhya Gate.
Colours of Ayodhya, which are reinforced in every corner.
Somewhere in the by-lanes.
Adding to the saturation in town.
The queue to Hanuman Garhi.
Through the crowds of Hanuman Garhi.
Doors and engravings of Ayodhya.
Vermillion and offerings.
Souvenirs for pilgrims.
Around Hunuman Garhi.
Besan laddu after every few steps.
Photographing dilapidated houses by Ram ki Paidi.
More dilapidated houses.
They just stood to pose for me at Kanak Bhawan!
Leaving Kanak Bhawan.
A few temples on Ram ki Paidi.
Houses of Ram ki Paidi.
Vendor at Ram ki Paidi.
He had one of the few friendly smiles in town.
-Ayodhya is chaotic and conservative. Please dress accordingly.
-If you wish to visit Ram Janmabhoomi, allot at least 4 hours. Be prepared for high security checks.
-Photography in the main sanctum of Kanak Bhawan is not permitted.
-Guides in Ayodhya misinform. Even though Kunal Rakshit of Experience Varanasi is not from the area, he did a commendable job in guiding us.
We arrived at midnight in Lucknow after an exhaustive 14-hour road journey from Kumbh Mela. This only meant that I belatedly discovered the many modern elements of Hyatt Regency Lucknow which blended in beautifully with Awadhi charms.
Within the Hyatt premises
One evening my friends and I took the elevator to the Penthouse, or their rooftop Chivas bar. It overlooks the city’s Gomti Nagar locality and has an elaborate bar counter. Sudam, bar manager, handed me a list of 14 cocktails inspired by Uttar Pradesh. My first choice was easy: NRL Ginras. This gin and tonic concoction was accompanied by flavours of betel leaf. Next I tried the Nawabi Swag. The gin in my cocktail was mixed with jasmine tea and pounded cucumber.
Sweet dreams are made of jalebis and good chai.
Shivam making our drinks at the Chivas Bar.
Hyatt Regency excels in its food. The night we arrived at cinderella hour, the hotel laid down an exquisite Awadhi buffet. From melt-in-the-mouth galawati, to the likes of Awadhi murgh korma, gosht dum nihari and Wajid Ali Shah ke baghare baingan, and finally shahi tudka and kheer in desserts, this meal was a perfect spread for the uninitiated to Awadhi food. Midnight meals don’t form a part of my routine though I did hog on the kheer.
The following morning at breakfast, I gorged on crisp jalebis from their live cooking counter. Of course they had an elaborate spread of Continental and Asian essentials. I remained loyal to masala chai and jalebis so much that the waitstaff brought them for me the following mornings, even before I asked them.
The outdoor pool.
And the adjoining gym.
Stitching heritage in the old city
On our last day, we decided to explore the famous Lucknowi Chikankari, on suggestion from the hotel. At Chowk, Mamta Varma of Bhairvi’s Chikan welcomed us. Varma has been in the business for 33 years and has about nine centres where approximately five to 15 women work for her. She walked us through the entire process of Chikan, a woman dominated craft. Men are involved in the washing and printing, where necessary. Varma told us about the struggles of encouraging these women to work and earn a salary of this traditional craft. It is they who are skilled and yet, don’t realise the onus and significance of the craft.
At Bhairvi’s Chikan.
Ladies of Bhairvi’s Chikan.
Just a few things available at Hyatt’s Market, in the lobby.
-Hyatt Regency’s rooms are modern and stylish—electronic access cards, twin beds with sleek headboards, a sectional with contrasting rust-coloured cushions, flat screen television and a closet attached to the bathroom. They add in traditional elements like Nihari masala as a gift in the room.
-Hyatt Regency Lucknow has three F&B outlets. Rocca is their all-day dining restaurant, which serves Indian and Italian. LukJin serves Asian food, particularly Thai and Chinese. And my favourite, UP’s is the lounge-bar where their signature cocktails are available.
-I stayed in a twin-bedded room. Tariff for this category starts at ₹5500++ per night. I got it at a discounted rate of ₹4700++ per night, with breakfast. They have multiple offers through the year. Check their website to know more.
-Their Siddha Spa has traditional Ayurvedic treatments. It adjoins to an outdoor swimming pool and a fully functional indoor gym.
-What stood out for me at Hyatt Regency Lucknow was their outstanding service. Shivam from the bar and Shubham at breakfast deserve a special mention here.
In the Danish capital, 62 percent of Copenhagers cycle around to work, study or play. There are bike rental docks and repair shops every few metres. Copenhagen has 375 kilometres of cycle tracks and nine out of ten Danes own a bike.
It would be criminal not to explore a city so well-designed for cyclists on two wheels.
Route 1: Pedalling through Danish art and history
Start unravelling Denmark’s history with Glyptoteket on Dantes Plads. This museum was founded in 1888 by Carl Jacobsen, the son of J. C. Jacobsen who started the famous Carlsberg brewery. Glyptoteket is divided into two sections: Department of Antiquities (comprising artefacts from Roman, Egyptian and Greek history) and Modern Department (which has displays of 19th and 20th centuries French and Danish collections). They are both connected by the magical Winter Garden.
Pedal a few metres onwards to Rigsdagsgården with Børsen (the Old Stock Exchange) and Christiansborg Palace on either sides. Four dragon tails twist to form the spire of Børsen, which has three crowns at the top—one each demarcating the Scandinavian empire—Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It is believed that because of this dragon-tailed spire the imposing Børsen has not been burnt by the many fires in the city.
Christiansborg Palace is where the Danish Parliament, the Ministry of State and the Supreme Court all come together. Park your bike here and set on foot to explore the dominating space around it. Within the palace, explore the Great Hall (with Queen’s Tapestries), Throne Room, the Ruins under the palace, Royal Stables and Royal Chapel.
From here take a slight detour to glance at the charming square of Gråbrødretorv. Here you may need to walk with your cycle for less than 100 metres around the square, which has colourful houses and a fountain designed by Søren Georg Jensen, famous Danish sculptor, adorn it. It also connects to Strøget, the pedestrian shopping street of Copenhagen.
Glyptotek’s Winter Garden.
On your two wheels, ride onward to Vingårdstræde and then Kongens Nytorv until you reach the grand Amalienborg Palace. The palace along with Frederik’s Church dominate the skyline of Copenhagen. The castle, however, is known for its royal guards. Every day at 12 noon, the changing of guards takes place in which visitors are welcomed.
SMK-Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) is worth a detour for an insight to Danish art, before the therapeutic Kongens Have (King’s Garden). Also called the Rosenborg Garden, this park is frequented by locals and tourists alike. Take a break from cycling by walking around the Hercules Pavilion and the famous statue of Hans Christian Andersen here. It also adjoins to Rosenborg Castle, which was built by Christian IV in the early 17th century.
Pedal onwards to the gorgeous Dronning Louises Bro (Queen Louise’s Bridge) towards a different district of Copenhagen. The bridge was built in 1887 and connects the inner city to the trendy neighbourhood of Nørrebro. It is this locale that houses the scenic Assistens Cemetery. The burial ground has gravestones of Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. The digteren’s(the poet’s) tombstone reads ‘the soul will last forever’ and rests alone, while the Danish philosopher is buried alongside his entire family.
Total distance: 9.4 kilometres
Refreshment stops en route: Den Økologiske Pølsemand hot dog stand on Købmagergade; Restaurant Klubben on Enghavevej; Torvehallerne food market on Frederiksborggade; Andersen & Maillard Cafe on Nørrebrogade.
Assistens Cemetery, Nørrebro.
Søren Kierkegaad’s grave in Assistens Cemetery.
Route 2: Pedalling across the harbour and bold designs
Start at the very vibrant neighbourhood of Vesterbro, known for its varied cultural experiences. On Sønder Boulevard, Absalon is a church-turned-community space which encapsulates the ethos of Vesterbro. Start your bike trail here with a cup of coffee with strangers, who socialise over a game of table tennis, movies and other activities.
Ride onwards to new Kalvebod Brygge waterfront which has the unique Kalvebod Bølge—a slide rising above the promenade like a wave. This urban space is designed for people to relax with various water sports like kayaking and swimming.
Continue pedalling along main harbour to make a quick stop at Søren Kierkegaards Plads, in front of the Royal Library. From here begins Copenhagen’s modern and edgy architecture. The Royal Library (also called the Black Diamond) stands against the delicate Circle Bridge (only for pedestrians and cyclists). The pathway leads to Skuespilhuset (Royal Danish Playhouse) and the striking Copenhagen Opera House on the other side—which can be seen just before turning inward for Nyhavn.
Cycling across Sønder Boulevard.
Cycling towards the main harbour.
Park your bicycle and walk a few metres ahead to Nyhavn (New Harbour)—quintessential Copenhagen. The harbour is flanked with colourful houses, numerous restaurants and teems with tourists who photograph the port endlessly.
Make your way back to your bike and ride onto Inderhavnsbroen (Inner Harbour Bridge). Inderhavnsbroen was built in 2016 and connects city centre to Christianshavn. It is colloquially called the Kissing Bridge since it opens up in a gradual, diagonal move than the usual vertical lift, to allow ships to pass through.
Pedal onwards across to Refshaleøen island, which was once an industrial hub. The quiet space is now used as an activity and recreational space (like yoga, dancing events and music festivals), and has cool bars and Michelin-starred restaurants.
The Circle Bridge.
The floating student residence called Urban Rigger.
After a few turns, Copenhagen’s largest street food market, Reffen, opens up along the Copenhagen harbour. Reffen has 50 food stalls (across world cuisines), all of which have to comply by the ‘Reduce and Reuse’ philosophy. This means that they have to sort their food waste for reusing, apart from using local ingredients and biodegradable disposables. Replenish yourself here with the variety of food and drinks available, in the outdoors.
Total distance: 8.5 kilometres
Refreshment stops en route: Absalon on Sønder Boulevard; Told & Snaps on Toldbodgade; 108 on Strandgade; La Banchina on Refshalevej; Mikkeller Baghaven on Refshalevej.
Exploring Reffen’s spaces.
People cycling in Holmen.
Cycling Copenhagen’s vintage bikes.
-A number of bike rental companies and apps like Bycyklen, Copenhagen Bicycles, Wecycle Copenhagen and Donkey Republic.
-Some companies, like Bycyklen, require user accounts for rentals.
-Vesterbro Food Tour and Urban Tour by Cycling Copenhagen are highly recommended.
-Wecycle Copenhagen on Bremerholm upcycles old bikes to make new ones. They also have a cafe.
-Most hotels, like Hotel Danmark, rent out cycles at an extra cost.
-Cycling is not allowed in parks in central Copenhagen.
-Familiarise yourself with the traffic rules before your start your cycling.
In December last year, Qatar Airways launched direct flights from Doha (Qatar’s hub) to Gothenburg in Sweden. I was a part of their inaugural flight, along with other bloggers, vloggers and media delegates from Asia, Middle East and United Kingdom.
I have flown Qatar several times previously, however, this was a special experience. Not only was it the exclusivity of being on an inaugural international sector flight, but also the privilege of flying Business Class.
Onward journey: CCU-DOH-GOT
Duration: 5.5 hours + 6.5 hours
I have to admit the best thing about flying Business is the seamless check-in. My check-in at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Kolkata International Airport was less than three minutes. Qatar’s ground staff ritualistically handed-out the lounge pass along with my boarding pass. Even though Kolkata’s Travel Club Lounge is not grand, I wouldn’t have missed a chance to visit it.
I’ll go directly to my inflight experience from Hamad International Airport, Doha to Göteborg-Landvetter Airport.
The 22-seater Business Class of Boeing 787 Dreamliner boasts of regulated cabin pressure with better air circulation, 17-inch touchscreen control unit, 80-inch flat beds, award-winning inflight entertainment system Oryx One (which can be previewed here) and amenity kits designed by BRIC’S and Nappa Dori. In the Economy, this aircraft has spacious 232 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration. As I widened my eyes to that piece of information, my flight attendant, Alexia, informed me, “This is still a baby for us”, cheerfully.
Getting settled in CCU.
Tried the Pink Gin between CCU-DOH.
And salmon with asparagus for appetisers.
The service was excellent. (I always recall Qatar for its excellent service.) Since this was an inaugural flight, I suppose they had their A-listers at our service.
Breakfast was elaborate three courses. I skipped the juices and opted for Greek yogurt with toasted granola with nuts. My main course was a delicious portion of scrambled eggs with grilled chicken skewers, accompanied with several helpings of karak chai and one hot chocolate. On my way to Gothenburg, I wasn’t too well. They constantly checked on me, without disturbing my snooze time.
Landing in Gothenburg was eventful. We were welcomed with water cannons and most airport officials were there to greet the first direct flight from Doha.
My seat in the 787 Dreamliner.
Getting ready to board my flight to Gothenburg.
Al Mourjan Business Lounge at Doha International
Unfortunately I had a short 1.5-hour layover in Doha. In the early hours, I hardly found any time to explore the Al Mourjan Business Lounge at the airport. However, I made up for it on my way back from Gothenburg, when I had a 2.5-hour layover.
Qatar’s Al Mourjan Lounge covers a sprawling 10000 square metres—the high ceilings further magnify space. There are many reclining couches and private workstations, showers, family rooms and play areas for children and even a garden area. The restaurant in the mezzanine floor has an elaborate buffet around a bar. They also have a separate dessert counter.
On my return journey from Gothenburg, I downed a couple of G&Ts alongside quick bites. I also got some work done, though the wifi wasn’t the best.
The Al Mourjan Lounge in Hamad International Airport.
Alexia was kind enough to pose for me.
Return Journey: GOT-DOH-CCU
Duration: 6 hours + 5 hours
Qatar Airways made departing from Sweden tolerable. We flew out off Gothenburg early in the day and as expected, check-in was seamless. Again we were handed out our lounge passes. However, Gothenburg airport has immigration clearance just before the departure gate. As a result, I did not get a chance to stop by their lounge for a cup of tea.
No sooner onboard, Mushtaq, my flight attendant, introduced himself and served me a refreshing cup of lemon tea with cookies—even before we took off! The award-winning airlines has dine-on-demand for their Business Class passengers. I slept off for two hours and requested Mushtaq to bring me my main course (chicken curry with flavoured rice) once I was awake. Needless to say, the service was impeccable and the food was wholesome and delicious.
That breakfast spread with inflight entertainment.
Dinner onboard from Doha to Kolkata was even more flavourful. I chose the tabouleh and hummus platter for appetisers, followed by chicken biryani. It felt good to fly back home to Indian flavours.
I was impressed by how the crew knew I was on the inaugural flight. Even more surprisingly, they remembered my food preferences and that I was unwell on my way to Sweden. That kind of attention to detail is very humbling.
Perspective: Qatar Airways’ Business Class is flawless. By definition, ‘business class’ is an exclusive experience and Qatar exceeds all expectations. However, I can vouch for Qatar’s Economy Class with the same confidence. As mentioned, I have flown their Economy many times and they excel in all areas there as well.
The lemon tea that revived me.
And a fulfilling meal after a long nap.
Making my way back home with Indian food.
Other parameters and information:
-Baggage allowance: 40k (no limitation on number of bags. One bag can be a maximum 23k.)
-Punctuality: On time
-The lounge in Göteborg-Landvetter Airport departure terminal is BEFORE immigration clearance.
-The Al Mourjan Business Lounge is located on Level 3 at Hamad International Airport.
-Qatar’s 787 Dreamliner Business Class has a social ledge where passengers can help themselves with champagne, crisps and fruits.
-Qatar Airways flies to Gothenburg five times a week.
-Deservingly, Qatar Airways was awarded World’s Best Business Class by the 2018 World Airline Awards, managed by international air transport rating organisation Skytrax, among many other awards.
How has your experience been with Qatar Airways?
Note: I was invited by Qatar Airways on their inaugural flight to Gothenburg, Sweden.
Accredited by Guinness Book of World Record in 2013 as the ‘largest ever gathering of human beings for a single purpose’, the Maha Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj is without a doubt an overwhelming experience. It is not only the number of people that contribute to this feeling, but the purpose of their visit. Over millions of pilgrims walk for days to take a dip at the Triveni Sangam—the confluence of rivers Ganga, Yamuna and mythical Saraswati. This is their motivation, objective and faith.
Mythologically, the fight between gods and demons for the Kumbha (sacred pitcher) of Amrit (nectar of immortality) marked the beginning for this event. It is believed that Lord Vishnu disguised himself and whisked the Kumbha away from the demons, taking it onward to heaven, while spilling drops of nectar in Prayagraj in Uttar Pradesh, Haridwar in Uttarakhand, Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh and Nashik in Maharashtra—the four locations of the mega event. It took 12 days to retrieve this sacred Kumbha, corresponding to 12 years of human life—denoting the occurrence of the event every 12 years.
The morning of Mauni Amavasya.
I visited the Ardh Kumbh Mela 2010 in Haridwar, however, the Ardh Kumbh gathering in Prayagraj this year is more sacred for Hindus, owing to the presence of Sangam. I was invited by Uttar Pradesh Tourism and Lonely Planet Magazine India to attend the Kumbh Travel Writers’ Conclave which was held a day before the shahi snaan (royal bath) on the occasion of Mauni Amavasya (February 4). There are six auspicious dates for taking a holy dip in Sangam: Makar Sankranti (January 15), Paush Purnima (January 21), Mauni Amavasya (February 4), Basant Panchami (February 10), Maghi Purnima (February 19) and Mahashivratri (March 4)—where Makar Sankranti and Mahashivratri respectively mark the beginning and end of the Kumbh Mela.
Pontoon bridge #19, which was closed early a morning ahead of Mauni Amavasya.
People waiting for the bridge to open, a day ahead of Mauni Amavasya.
What to do
Needless to say taking a holy dip in the Sangam (sector 3) is the primary objective of the pilgrims. Apart from that, the Kumbh Mela comprises all elements of a typical mela (fair).
Visit Kalagram in sector 19, on the Arail side of Prayagraj. This art and craft fair has 13 pavilions each with unique look and design. There are many more exhibitions by academies and galleries from the country.
(Kalagram will be closed from February 17 to 19, 2019.)
During the Kumbh Mela, cultural events like numerous musical and folk dance performances are organised at various stages. Stage 1 and 2 are in sector 19, on the Arail side of Prayagraj which have performances by Sangeet Natak Academy (SNA) and SPIC MACAY, amongst others, through the course of the mela. On the other hand, Stage 3 in Ashok Nagar of Prayagraj have more than hundred stalls with beautiful craft items by the artisans from all over the country.
(Cultural events will not take place from February 17 to 19, 2019.)
The government of Uttar Pradesh has also organised a couple of tourist walks. Sangam Walk explores a short trail around the Sangam Nose or sector 3, including the Allahabad Fort, Patalpuri Temple and Ram Ghat, amongst others. Prayagraj Walk, on the other hand, explores the heart of the city with popular attractions like Allahabad Museum, Chandra Shekhar Azad Park and the Central Library dotting its path.
I would recommend taking walks around sectors 1, 16 and 17 to get a feel the grand fair. Sector 1 has the amusement park with many rides including the Well of Death. Sectors 16 and 17 is where the Akharas (organisations of various religious sects) and entertainment kiosks are lined up, respectively.
Ganga aarti at Arail.
Walking around sector 18.
Where to stay
Accommodation options across budgets are available in the mela. From public spaces scattered in many sectors (can be booked directly at nominal tariff of ₹100 or ₹200 on special days), multiple B&Bs, dharmashala and hotels for pilgrims across the city to the luxury tents, there is something for everyone.
I stayed in Indraprastham Tent City in sector 20. The ‘luxury’ tents were spacious, they lacked basic facilities and hygiene. Also, the dining hall or restaurant, as they called it, definitely needed to be organised with better management.
Getting there and away
Trying to get into Prayagraj a day before, after or during the bathing dates is futile. We were stuck in traffic in Jhusi, about eight kilometres ahead of Shastri Bridge, for three hours, a day before Mauni Amavasya. Pilgrims who walked it were definitely better prepared. On our way out of the city, we took a 160-kilometre detour through Mirzapur, owing to the crores of pilgrims visiting Sangam on Mauni Amavasya and traffic restrictions. It is advisable to get in at least two days before and get out one day after an auspicious day.
To get around within the mela grounds, there are e-rickshaws available for long distances (commute through sectors). However, pontoon bridges and certain sectors are only accessible on foot. Police personnels are very helpful and polite. It makes sense to clarify with them, in case of doubt or confusion.
Bathing ghats of sector 18.
Those are thousands of people taking a dip at Sangam before sunrise.
-Plan much in advance for accommodation and transport, especially around Bathing Dates.
-Inland Waterways Authority of India has established four floating terminals at Quila Ghat, Old Naini Bridge, Saraswati Ghat and Sujawan Ghat for pilgrims who wish to ferry and use motorised boats to the region.
-If travelling in a group, stay close to all and take care of all your belongings
-There are authorised bathing areas. Use those only.
-There are numerous toilets and urinals at varying distances. Do not defecate in the open and maintain the cleanliness of the toilets.
-Do not litter. Use the dustbins available every few metres.
-UP Police and organising departments have done an incredible work to manage crowds. They are polite, organised and have everyone’s best interest in mind. Please cooperate with them and seek their help when needed.
-Expect delays in traffic or crowds. Plan accordingly.
-Do not photograph people in the bathing areas.
-Do not pollute the river with offerings or bathing cosmetics.
-Refrain from using plastic anywhere.
-Be polite and friendly to everyone you meet.
-Expect to pay sadhus before photographing them.
Pontoon bridge #18 allowing pilgrims to return from Sangam.
In only 15 seconds my sight shifted from turquoise gradients of the Indian Ocean to deep green forests of Cirque de Mafate. I was taking a helicopter ride above Réunion Island, a 2520 square kilometres French overseas department, and was in disbelief of the beauty it unfolded in front of me.
Sandwiched between Madagascar and Mauritius, apart from being breathtakingly beautiful, Réunion has a significant history and diverse cultural amalgamation. Dating back to 17th century, French colonists were the first settlers who called the island Bourbon, after the royal family of France. Africans and Indians (locally called Malabar) were brought in later for work. However, it was only in 1848 when the name Réunion was declared.
This underrated destination is an idyllic getaway for an average Indian traveller. For enthusiastic young adults, Réunion is buzzing with adventure and nightlife throughout the year. For couples and family with children—leisurely beach experiences, outdoor picnic spots, culinary trails and unique theme parks are all a part of the island. For overworked professionals, the scope of rejuvenating with outdoor therapy and doing nothing is limitless. And for senior and disabled travellers, there is not a path that is not friendly enough for them.
Cilaos as seen from La Roche Merveilleuse viewpoint.
Sweet potato pie sold in one of the local markets.
That beautiful afternoon at Trou d’eau by Saline Beach.
About three million years ago, volcanic eruptions resulted in the birth of Réunion. The now extinct Piton des Neiges (3071 metres high) left behind the calderas or cirques of Mafate, Salazie and Cilaos. These cirques add an element of mystic to the already fascinating geography.
Cirque de Cilaos and Salazie are accessible by road though Cirque de Mafate, spoilt with gorgeously untamed ravines and ridges, is only accessible on foot (and thus a major hub for adventurers.) Together, these three form the heart of the island.
The mountain town of Cilaos challenges its visitors with a sweeping 400 turns through basins and tunnels en route. Once we did arrive at this toy town, I photographed it incessantly. We walked down Rue du Pere Boiteau, where I met intricate Broderie de Cilaos or embroidery of Cilaos. This craft is done on white cotton fabric and geometric patterns of flowers, butterflies, snails and tortoises are stitched on it.
On the extreme east of Réunion is Le Volcan or Piton de la Fournaise (Peak of the Furnace). This active volcano has erupted several times in history and when it does, the lava flow takes the eastern route to meet the ocean. RN2 or Lava Road, between Sainte-Rosa and Saint-Phillipe, was the trail 2007 eruption’s spews of lava took. My guide, Vincent, helped me spot their age. The dark, solid wrinkles with slim shrubs growing on them were from the older 2001 eruption whereas the woolly, rubbled textured ones from the 2007 eruption.
Dried lava on RN2 or Lava Road.
Luciane Técher, the talented embroiderer in her shop on Rue du Pere Boiteau.
The yummy varieties of pickles of Réunion.
Réunion’s capital, Saint-Denis in the north, resembles any other capital city. It is where most professionals go to work, where traffic blocks Route du Littoral (Coast Road) and it is the centre of all official work.
As we drove southwest from Saint-Denis, the visuals changed. Saint-Paul, only 28 kilometres away, is where the weekly local market is held every Friday and Saturday. Traffic was overwhelming but I remained focussed on what the beach-facing stalls offered. From comestibles like spices, vanilla pods, vegetables and fruits, to clothes, local crafts and basketwork, everything locally produced finds its way here.
About 60 kilometres southwards, Saint-Pierre has a vibe like no other city on the island. This southernmost city is dotted with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops on one side; snack bars, boutique hotels, a sizeable pier and the coastline on the other—its pulsating energy is attractive. I wasted no time and explored it on the very first evening.
A walk on Boulevard Hubert Delisle introduced me to famous snack bars of Réunion. These food kiosks are available within every few steps and sell their favourite snack, samoussa, among others. Like Indian samosas, these fried nibbles are stuffed with various ingredients though smaller in size. I enthusiastically tried tuna, chicken, crab and cheese samoussas.
Samoussas for snack.
The town of Saint-Pierre.
Souvenir shopping in Saint-Pierre’s covered market.
There is no dearth of bars in this bustling neighbourhood. I decided to sample a couple of locally made drinks over my dinner at La Pierre in Villa Delisle. White rum (distilled from sugarcane) is the island’s local produce. Charrette, the brand I saw at everywhere, is a clear potent spirit with no distinct flavours. It adds character to its non-alcoholic counterpart or punch. Pineapple punch is perhaps the most favoured, though I did try a currant flavoured alcoholic punch.
Rum is also infused with local ingredients and fruits like jackfruit, ginger mango, dried edible flowers and leaves, combava (local citrus) and others, in large glass tumblers for a period of three months. This infusion reduces the alcohol percentage and blends in flavour of the soaked ingredient. It is consumed as a digestif. Between Isautier’s vanilla cafe and lemon ginger infusions, I have been unable to pick a favourite.
Bourbon breweries in the northern part of the island brews Réunion’s favourite Dodo beer. With the extinct bird as its logo, this golden, slightly cloudy lager is a perfect choice for most months of the year. They have seasonal pints like rousse (red) and radler (lemon), which are available in local bars and supermarkets.
This French department prides its wine produce. Cilaos is the primary wine-growing region and its sweet Isabelle is perhaps the most sought-after wine. Réunionese experiment with their wine—producing varieties with pineapples, peaches—apart regular rosé, white and red.
A leisurely stroll on the beach by sunset at St Pierre.
Broderie de Cilaos.
Infused rum in a restaurant.
I initially presumed that nature’s greenery was limited to forests of Mafate. But as we drove into the commune of Salazie, similar hues filled my frame constantly.
First it was the 1000-metre Voile de la Mariée (Veil of the Bride) waterfalls which emerged from thick forests, forming a long lattice like a bride’s veil.
Then it was a quiet walk to Mare à Poule d’Eau (pond of water chicken) which was flanked by bamboo and tropical trees. Surrounded by lush green hills, it is an ideal site to spot the rare Réunionese heron.
Breaking away from nature colours, we drove to the green-hued Creole house in Hell-Bourg. Maison Folio is a Creole-styled villa, built in 19th century. Romantic pavilion with flourishing gardens at the entrance, white cornice crowning the roof of the main house, wood with cane furniture and two outhouses are all traditional architectural elements.
On another day, about 35 kilometres northwards from Salazie, the plains of Sainte-Suzzane unravelled extensive fields of vanilla cultivation. The sprawling La Vanilleraie plantation is in one of the oldest agricultural estates of the island, Grand Hazier. However, it was only in 2009 when it became a vanilla processing unit and now hosts visitors who trace the journey of green vanilla beans to rich aromatic pods.
Le voile de la mariée or the Bride’s Veil waterfall.
Exploring Mare à Poule d’Eau.
Jacky holding a sweet potato pie.
And when I expected to find stark palm trees by the beach, I was surprised once again. A few metres above the high tide’s waterline, beach grass and vines grew till the tarmac road. By the road, in one of the breezy beach huts, we met chef Jacky of Far Far Kréol, who conducts culinary workshops. Our scheduled picnic at Trou d’eau by Saline Beach introduced me to the soul-warming Creole cuisine.
Our picnic begun with lentil fritters and chicken samoussas. Soon followed a traditional salad, where Jacky mixed palm hearts (local delicacy) with vinaigrette.
The chef lined pans of varying sizes in main course. Zambrocal, yellow rice, is a mix of beans, potato and turmeric. Turmeric is widely used as ‘massale’, which is a blend of cumin, fenugreek, coriander and mustard—not very different from the Indian masala.
Accompanying the rice was a fiery red curry. Rougail, a thick sauce made of onion, garlic, chilli and tomatoes, is usually cooked with pork sausages but we sampled one with chicken sausages. It was flavoursome without overpowering tastes of chilli. And Réunion’s favourite, sweet potato cake was for dessert.
After a long satisfying meal with conversations and exchange of cultures, I walked towards the glistening Indian Ocean. On a Wednesday early evening, there were many adventurers kitesurfing, rowing and children learning to sail. And beyond, crystal blue waters met the saturated azure skies.
Again, I stood in disbelief of this paradise.
Vanilla pods at La Vanilleraie.
My room in Villa Delisle.
–Getting there: Air Austral flies twice a week (Wednesday and Saturday) from Chennai International Airport to Roland Garros Airport in Réunion. Flight time is six hours.
–Getting around: Local transport is unreliable and hiring a taxi (and a guide) is the best way to see around.
–Where to stay: Villa Delisle, Hotel and Spa in Saint-Pierre (hotel-villadelisle.com; +262262707708; firstname.lastname@example.org) is a boutique mid-range hotel in the south.
LUX* in Saint-Gilles (luxresorts.com/en/hotel-reunion/luxsaintgilles; +262262700000) is an upscale hotel with a private beach on the east coast.
-Réunion is visa-on-arrival for Indians. Go here for details.
-French is widely spoken, with a very small percentage of people speaking English.
-Euro is the official currency.
-Vegetarians are spoilt for choice on the island.
-Food souvenirs like vanilla extracts, pickles or a bottle of Charrette are most recommended. Embroidered cloths, woven baskets or jewellery handmade of volcanic stone come a close second.
When I started sketching the itinerary of my travel to Germany’s eastern most state, Saxony, I was overwhelmed with the experiences it encapsulated. Needless to say that capturing the glory of Christmas was my focus, but accommodating all my wishes in a week’s visit was rather hasty.
Oldest Christmas market in Germany
Striezelmarkt in the heart of Saxony’s capital city, Dresden, is known for being the most traditional and oldest Christmas market in the country. When I first walked around the market in Altmarkt or Old Market square, I felt overcommitted to cover each of the numerous stalls. From piping hot bratwursts, dense Dresdner Stollen, spiced glühwein (or mulled wine), wooden handicrafts, delicate ornaments and votive offerings, the market exhibited the finest creations from Saxony.
I felt the magic of Christmas grow manifold amongst music and shenanigans. Children enjoyed plays and musical performances on stage. Youngsters cupped their hands around their warm drinks and conversed animatedly. Couples walked hand-in-hand exploring different elements for their homes. Everyone came together rejoicing, under the fervent of Christmas.
Striezelmarkt in the heart of Dresden’s Old Market Square at sunset.
Local culinary delights and beverages
Winter gives Saxony a pedestal to showcase its local food and drinks. In Leipzig I tried the delicious Braised Salmon Fillet with vegetables and red wine onions along with the locally brewed dark beer in the atmospheric restaurant of Auerbachs Keller in Mädlerpassage on Grimmaische Strasse. This restaurant was founded in 1525 and is divided into two sections–the Grosser Keller (big cellar) and the Historische Weinstuben (historic wine bars). I walked into the former which serves traditional Saxon dishes, whereas the latter is a fine-dining German gastronomy experience.
Dresden surprised me with its vegetarian fare. I tried the Quinoa with winterly vegetables at a themed cafe, Sophienkeller in Taschenbergpalsis building, near the Zwinger. Warm and flavoursome my main course beautifully concluded with a sharp and potent local digestif, Original Dresdner Trichtertrinken Hausmarke Coselträne, a green coloured herb liqueur which finds its origin to the reign of King August of Saxony.
Braised Salmon Fillet with vegetables and red wine onions in Leipzig.
My two-hour long dinner in the snow town of Seiffen was kept warm by three local liqueurs–Vogelbeerschnaps, Kräuterweib and Lauterbacher Tropfen. Each are typical to the geography and are made from rowanberry and different herbs, respectively. Erzgebirgischer Sauerbraten was an elaborate main course, which consisted braised beef on vinegar and almonds and raisins sauce. It was served with red cabbage and potato dumplings and was a classic meat preparation from the region. I concluded the meal with a large serving of Sächsisches Tiramisu, or a version of Saxony tiramisu with sour cream mousse on a bed of blackberry and marinated pumpernickel.
Christmas markets of Dresden, Leipzig and Seiffen were abundant in local German fast food like bratwurst (German pork sausage) or currywurst (fried pork sausage topped in ketchup) and larger portions like Wiener Schnitzel or Goulash (spiced curry) of various meat. Glühwein, hot chocolate, hot chocolate with alcoholic infusions and alcohol-free punch were available in copious varieties, every few steps. The chill of the weather was beautifully softened by the warmth of Saxon traditions.
Dinner at Buntes Haus with German schnapps.
German arts and crafts
Ore Mountains was the home to the first silver mine in Germany, as early as the 11th century. This Silver Road paved the way to the rich industrial history of the country and very creative wooden toy-makers. Today the towns along the Germany-Czech Republic border are known for the traditional wooden craft and have numerous workshops illustrating the details of the craft. Before Christmas, the procession of miners is a special event in the region, which welcomes visitors from various parts of Germany.
However, the extensive and very impressive collection of porcelain in the Zwinger in Dresden fascinated me. These artefacts were a part of the king of Saxony and Poland, King August’s palace. He was highly influenced and interested in Asian art, which resulted in the famous Meissen porcelain, flourishing from the city of Meissen, about 25 kilometres from Dresden.
Woman negotiating with customer while selling Herrnhut stars.
Only a few metres away from the Zwinger, New Green Vault in the Dresden Palace has a spectacular collection of treasures from the King’s property. This supersedes the beauty and delicacy of the Meissen porcelain display. Perhaps the most brilliant artefact in this museum is the Throne of the Grand Mogul Aurangzeb. This is an enactment of the ruler’s courtyard where he can be seen seated in the centre. It was designed by Johann Melchior Dinglinger and bought by August the Strong to grace his court. The miniatures are said to be made of 3-5 grams of gold and entirely from the designer’s imagination.
For those who take interest in Germany’s industrial engineering, Dresden is home to Gläserne Manufaktur or Transparent Factory of Volkswagen. This factory has built the Phaeton and visitors are welcomed to a virtual tour and test drive VW electric cars.
Displaying more aspects of German engineering in Leipzig is the Porsche Centre, which has made the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW 3-Series.
A typical arched, wooden candleholder or Schwibbogen.
Charming towns and snow magic
No sooner the train pulled over at Olbernhau-Grünthal (the last stop to Ore mountains), I saw fresh snowflakes settle on my jacket. The 15-minute drive to Seiffen was accompanied by magical landscapes.
At dusk, white of the snow glistened on the tall trees. And once the car entered the main town of Seiffen, golden lights lined the length of charming cottages and the silhouette of toy-street lamps flanked my way. Later that night, I saw the spruce trees lit at every alternate home, the large bell sounded from the church and a few remaining shops placed the wooden shutters to make their way back home. I walked around the deserted town’s Hauptstrasse, photographing the charms of this German town, layered in snow. Seiffen’s winter beauty has mesmerised me for a lifetime.
The town of Seiffen covered in snow.
Which is your favourite winter destination?
I travelled to Saxony, Germany on assignment for Outlook Traveller India in December 2017. You can read the edited story here.