Art, Faith & Fashion Trip – Milan

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The second post in the series. Milan – the fashion capital of world.

Though the sky was overcast but it couldn’t dampen our spirits. Armed with maps and directions we set off towards our first stop for the day Castello Sforzesco (Sforza Castle). A castle built in 15th century by Francesco Sforza, Duke of Milan, on the remains of a 14th-century fortification. Later renovated and enlarged, in the 16th and 17th centuries it was one of the largest citadels in Europe. Largely remade by Luca Beltrami in 1891–1905, it now houses several of the city’s museums and art collections.

From ROVERETO metro station we took Line No M1 (towards RHO FIERA / BISCEGLIE) for 9 stops and got off at stop CAIROLI Castello. This metro station is right in front of the castle. Admission to the castle itself is free but there is an entry fee for the museums.

Street in front of Castle

Castle entrance

Gardens inside castle

Flower in garden

Castle wall from inside

Castle from the park

Lotus in the park

Some flowers from the park:


After strolling and clicking pictures around beautiful park/gardens we had light breakfast at snack stall in castle. Before heading to our next destination we shopped for souvenirs of Milan at a stall near the castle entrance.

We went back to CAIROLI Castello stop and took Line No M1 (towards RHO FIERA / BISCEGLIE) for 1 stop and got down at CADORNA. From there we changed to Line No M2 (towards ASSAGO FORUM/ ABBIATEGRASSO) for 1 stop and got off at stop S. AMBROGIO. From the metro station we walked to Sant’Ambrogio Church(an eleventh century church built on the site of a fourth century church). The church is really beautiful. A wedding was in progress when we reached there. We watched the proceedings for some time then we walked through beautiful streets of Milan towards our next destination.

Some pictures of Sant’Ambrogio Church:

Corridor of church

Inside Church

Church Courtyard

A Beautiful Balcony

One of the streets in Milan

Next destination San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore got into our itinerary mainly due to rave reviews at tripadvisor. In fact it is ranked #1 for attractions in Milan. Must say it was a wise decision due to its beautiful frescoes. Moreover there is no entry fee to see those magnificent paintings. Please read my review here.

A few pictures of frescoes inside the church:

After seeing some breathtaking frescoes we walked towards our next destination. On the way my friends shopped sunglasses at a store named Ottica Vigevano on Via Santa Maria Segreta, 6. I remained content with window shopping.

As we could not have proper breakfast in morning plus all that excitement and walking made us very hungry. We found one McDonalds right opposite Milan cathedral. Though had to struggle with a large crowd but ultimately found a cozy corner for a sumptuous American lunch.

After lunch we walked across to Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano). The largest in the Italian state territory and the fifth largest cathedral in the world and. A must see monument in Milan. Entry to the Cathedral itself is free albeit you need to dress appropriately (no bare shoulders, shorts etc.). The Duomo square was an awesome place with lots of people enjoying the warm summer sun and whiling away time clicking pictures of Duomo and its surroundings. Duomo square is flanked by Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II on one side. It’s one of the world’s oldest shopping malls. It was designed in 1861 and built by Giuseppe Mengoni between 1865 and 1877. Please do read my reviews for the Cathedral and Vittorio Emanuele II archade.

A few pictures from our collection!

Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano)

Inside the Cathedral

Crowded Duomo Square

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

After some more window shopping through the arcade we crossed to other side right in front of Piazza della scala which is opposite Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Theatre). It was around 3.30 pm and we had some time before we had to take a train to Rome. We sat on the benches in front of Leonardo Da Vinci’s statue tired and weary. My friends went out to explore the area but I stayed back. In the background a street musician couple were belting out melodious songs. It was a perfect setting for sitting silently and watching people from different parts of world with different languages, cultures and ethnicities going about their activities. In fact piazzas (squares) of Italy are considered best places for such people watching activities and spending time just doing nothing.

I want to re-live and share some of those magical moments through frames frozen in time.

Teatro alla Scala (La Scala Theatre)

Leonardo Da Vinci’s statue

A few roses from the garden beneath the feet of Leonardo’s statue.

After our tired legs regained some strength we headed towards Via Monte Napoleone. An exclusive shopping district home to some of the top names in fashion and design. Good place for window shopping. Walking around we reached Corso Vittorio Emanuele II which has more affordable stores. As evening was drawing close the place was getting crowded with lots of shoppers. The ambiance was perfect for spending the evening shopping but we had to catch a train so we headed towards Duomo metro station.

Corso Vittorio Emanuele II

Also on same street

From DUOMO we took Line No M3 towards COMASINA for 4 stops and got off at CENTRALE FS. From Milan central station we took 9553 FRECCIAROSSA to Rome. It was quite a thrilling experience to travel in a high speed train for first time in my life. The train reached speeds of 300 Kms/hr.

That was the end of an amazing trip to Milan. Given the time constraints we had to skip many places from our itinerary for the day. Actually to cover everything in Milan you need minimum two days. Before I finish here are some useful links.

Milan metro map:

Milan’s online journey planner using public transport (came in very handy):

Italy’s railway reservation site : &

For information on international trains from Italy:

Our Walking route map

Video of our visit to Milan, Italy on 28-Jun-14.

Art, Faith & Fashion Trip – Pisa

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This is the third post in the series. Pisa – the city with a legendary tower that leans.

We stayed at Camping Village Roma, Via Aurelia, 831, Rome, IT +39066623018 in Rome. It’s a very nice and cozy place bit far from the city center though. You can read my review here. You can learn more about the place here.

Our train for Pisa was from Roma Termini station at 9.57 AM. We had decided to leave hotel at 8.30 AM. To reach city center we had to take a bus for Cornelia station then from there take a metro for Roma Termini station. As luck would have had it we were late by couple of minutes and missed the bus. We were waiting for the next bus but as it was a Sunday the service was less frequent. The crowd at the bus stand was also building up. As minutes ticked we were getting worried. Since the camping village is in outskirts of the city it was difficult to get any other mode of transport.  It was already 9.15 and it seemed we would never make it to station in time. The whole day would be ruined.  One of my friends started racing up and down the bus stand. Just then I saw a taxi speeding by, without thinking anything else I hailed it. Luckily it was empty and the driver was more than willing to take us to the station. He told us that it would take about 30 minutes to reach station as traffic was comparatively less. We told him about our urgency. He was a nice man, took a few short cuts and dropped us at station within 20 minutes. We gave him some extra for his efforts. At that moment he was god sent for us as finding an empty taxi in Rome is very rare phenomenon. We rushed to the station and found the train to be waiting at the platform. We quickly grabbed some breakfast and settled down in our seats.

The train passes through some of the main cities in Tuscany region. This region has some of the most picturesque countryside in Italy. There were lush green hills on one side and the blue Mediterranean Sea on the other side. The sights out of the train window were a visual treat. We didn’t realize how quickly 3 hours went by. We reached Pisa by 1 pm. The leaning tower is walkable distance (about 2 kms) from the station. Though there are buses called RED LAM (LAM Rosso) which can be availed to reach the tower if you are in a hurry. We wanted to explore the city so we walked. While walking through the streets we did what most tourists do. Click pictures!! Below are a few pictures from that collection Smile Smile Smile.

Vittorio Emanuele II’s statute @ Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

Street vendor @ Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II.

A street of Pisa (Corso Italia).

While researching on the internet we learned about a superb Indian restaurant named ‘Namaste India Ristorante’. And the time was just right for lunch so we walked into the restaurant. You can read more about our experience in the restaurant here. Just have a look at the menu!

Thanks to Mr. Velupandian Devar (owner of Namsate India) for his suggestions and help. We enjoyed the food very much. Actually we packed our dinner too.

After sumptuous lunch we were feeling sleepy but the main attraction the leaning tower was yet to be visited. So we started walking again. We crossed the River Arno. Along the way we came across couple of souvenir shops owned by Bangladeshis. It was while talking to one them we learnt that Pisa has a sizeable number of Bangladeshi immigrants.

Below are images from our walk over the bridge named Ponte Di Mezzo on River Arno.

Buildings on both sides of bridge named Ponte di Mezzo across River Arno.

And finally we reached the iconic tower. I was quite thrilled to actually stand in front of the legendary tower. Again cameras started clicking frantically and frames started getting frozen in time as a proof that we were there at that moment. We strolled around the lawns and other buildings in the complex. Then we entered the tower which was pre-booked by us. It is better to pre-book the entry tickets to skip the long queues at the ticket office. Inside they gave a small presentation about the tower . Then we took 300 odd steps to reach the summit. The view of the city from top will make you forget about the fatigue and efforts taken to reach there. You can read more about the experience in my review here.

Let me share some of those frozen moments with you.

View of the city from the top of tower.

View of Cathedral and other buildings from the top of tower.

People trying the ‘trick’ photos with the monument.

Sculpture of the fallen angel.

It was time to return and we walked back to the station through the way we came. On the way back we picked up souvenirs and clicked few more pictures.

Ice-creams (Gelato)!!! Yummy!.

Lungarno Galileo Galilei on Bank of River Arno.

Lungarnos are the streets of the city that pass beside the river Arno. They are well known in Pisa for wonderful buildings that go along with the river bank until they reach the river outlet in Marina di Pisa.

Finally the Pisa central station (Stazione Pisa Centrale).

If you look carefully at the picture above, you will notice the clock at the station showing 5 minutes to 5pm and our train for Rome was at 5.17 pm. So we had reached just in time. As we were waiting for the train I couldn’t help notice signs on platforms saying “Please do not cross railway tracks”. They reminded me of similar signs in India. Maybe some things remain same across the world. We took the 9777 FRECCIABIANCA to Rome. We reached our hotel tired and weary and crashed into our beds dreaming about the excellent trip we had so far.

Before I finish here are a few helpful links.

How to get from Pisa central station to leaning tower of Pisa:

Route map for getting from Pisa central station to Namaste India restaurant:

To book tour and entry tickets to the leaning tower in advance:

Don’t go anywhere yet. Stay tuned for trip of Rome next.

Our Walking route map

Video from our trip to Pisa, Italy on 29-Jun-2014

Pisa from Dhiman on Vimeo.

Art, Faith & Fashion Trip – Rome

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This is the fourth post of the series. Rome – the city which has existed for more than two-and-a-half millennia.

We were to cover as much as possible in a single day. After the debacle of the previous day which almost jeopardized the whole day’s plan we were extra cautious and set out early for Vatican City. We took the shuttle operated by Camping Village Roma to Vatican City. We reached Vatican City museum entrance well in time. We had booked guided tour named “Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica – Art & Faith (duration of the tour was 3 hours)”. Click here to know more about the tour also book tickets online. The tour follows an itinerary which includes: the Pio Clementino Museum (classical antiquity), Museo Chiaramonti, the Gallery of the Candelabras, the Gallery of the Tapestries and the Gallery of the Geographical Maps (Renaissance Art), the Raphael Rooms, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. For next three hours the guide fed us with a humungous amount of information. She sprinkled the tour with interesting anecdotes. Let me share those stories with you in form of images captured by us.

Our friendly tour guide setting expectation for the tour.

Bottom panel of Giotto di Bondone Stefaneschi Triptych

Painting by Raphael – Oddi Altarpiece

Painting by Raphael – Transfiguration

One of the beautiful tapestries from the hall of tapestries

Painting by Leonardo da Vinci – St. Jerome in Wilderness

Painting by Caravaggio titled Entombment

Photo of the Pine cone (Fontana della Pigna) at Vatican courtyard.

One of a pair of Lions of Nectanebo (Egyptian Lions)

On the way to Museo Pio Clementino

Apollo Belvedere


The famous Belvedere Torso

Head of Jupiter

The discus thrower

The Gallery of Maps

Map of Italy

The Holy Door @ St. Peter’s Basilica

This is the door that is only opened for holy years it’s called, appropriately, the Holy Door. They’re only opened in certain years “Jubilee years” and people who pass through them receive a plenary indulgence. We had entered the final phase of the tour that is we entered the St. Peter’s Basilica.

St. Peter’s Square from St. Peter’s Basilica entrance

Inside of St. Peter’s Basilica

Painting in stone inside St. Peter’s Basilica

St. Peter’s Basilica from St. Peter’s Square

With the tour of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica – Art & Faith Tour came to an end. We thanked our guide and exited St. Peter’s Square after taking pictures of course. All that walking and no breakfast had made us very hungry and we had decided that this was our only chance to have Italian in Italy. Till then we were mostly sticking to Indian or American. After scouting for decent nearby places we zeroed in on to Guily’s Café. It looked like a nice little place which served usual Italian fare like pastas, pizzas, omelette, bruschette, salads etc. We ordered Pizza and taste was nothing to write about but we devoured it as we were really very hungry.

After filling our stomach we headed for our next destination the Colosseum. To reach Colosseum from Vatican we took metro from stop Ottaviano-S. Pietro we got into line A (ANAGNINA) for 6 stops and got off at Termini and from Termini we took line B (LAURENTINA) to 2 stops and got off at Coloseo stop.

We had already booked tickets for entry into Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheatre). I would recommend to book entry tickets beforehand to avoid long queues. You can click here to book entry tickets online. Pictures of Colosseum would be a better way to talk about the monument.

The Arena

The raked areas that once held seating

Panoramic view of Colosseum with view of hypogeum

Outside view of Colosseum

Arch of Constantine

The Arch of Constantine is a triumphal arch situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill.

A view of Palantine Hill from Colosseum

The plan was to see Colosseum, Palantine Hill and Roman Forum then walk to Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps but we were running out of time and there were many more places to cover before we could call it a day. We decided to skip Palantine Hill, Roman Forum and Spanish Steps. And cover Piazza Navona, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain. The easiest way we found was to take the metro line B from Coloseo stop towards REBIBBIA for 2 stops got off at TERMINI and switched to metro line A towards BATITSTINI for 2 stops and got down at BARBERINI stop.

From BARBERINI station we walked to Trevi Fountain. But as luck would have had it was under renovation at that time. Please look for yourselves.

We were a bit disappointed but could not cry over it. We still had a number of places to cover before the day ended. We took the Trevi Fountain To Piazza Navona via The Pantheon walking route. The walk was basically through narrow alleys of cobbled stone streets following the directions for Pantheon.. As there was no traffic the walk was quite pleasant one.

The Pantheon and the Fontana del Pantheon was an amazing structure with fountain.

The Pantheon

The dome from inside

Interiors of Pantheon

From Pantheon we followed the directions and reached Piazza Navona. First we went inside the Sant’ Agnese in Agose, a church that faces the Piazza from west side. It’s a breath taking structure to which entry is free though photography is not allowed inside. I was quite tired by all the walking and running. Like Milan here too I found one nice bench and settled down there and did my favorite activity ‘people watching’. The Piazza was teeming with tourists from across the globe. Also there were many street artists selling their art, street performers doing their unique acts. As evening sun started setting we decided to grab a quick dinner and head towards our hotel. Below are few pictures from Piazza Navona.

Sant’Agnese in Agone

Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi (Fountain of the Four Rivers)

Restaurants & Market around Piazza Navona

A Street Theatre Artist @ Piazza Navona

Streets and Alleys of Rome

While walking back from Piazza Navona we strolled around the streets and ended up in front of the Altare della Patria (Altar of the Fatherland) also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II). It was a classic example of the belief that while travelling many times its things or places that are not in your itinerary give you most pleasure.

Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II (National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II)

As we were standing in front of Altare della Patria contemplating how did we miss this monument from our itinerary, an elderly couple from India asked us the directions to Trevi fountain. They were visibly dissappionted when we informed them that its closed for repairs. We suggested still they should visit the place once as they have come this far. After dinner at Mac Donalds we headed for Camping Village. Next day we had to take an early morning flight to Paris so while passing by a taxi stand next to BARBERINI metro stop we enquired with the taxi drivers and one of them gave us the number of a Radio Taxi operator. We called and booked ourselves a taxi for Ciampino Airport. A useful article which mentions how to take a taxi in Rome without getting ripped off.

Finally after having refreshing swim at the pool inside the Camping Village we crashed into ours beds cherishing the memories of amazing day that had just concluded.

As the saying goes Rome was not built in a day.  So naturally a day to see everything in Rome is also not enough. Like most of this trip we crammed as many places to see as we could into this one day we had at Rome. Though we had to skip some places but we ended up getting to see some place not in our original itinerary making the trip bit more memorable.

Our Walking route map in medieval town.

Rome Part 1 from Dhiman on Vimeo.

This is the first part of the video of our trip to Rome on 30-Jun-14. This part basically covers the Vatican Museums and Saint Peter’s Basilica – Art & Faith tour.

Rome Part 2 from Dhiman on Vimeo.

This is the second part of videos of our trip to Rome on 30-Jun-2014. It covers the Colosseum.

Rome Part 3 from Dhiman on Vimeo.

This is the third and final part of our trip to Rome, Italy on 30-Jun-14. This video covers Pantheon, Piazza Navona etc.

Some useful links:

Information & maps related Rome metro :

Information about what to do in Rome :

Rome tourism’s official ‘Not to be missed’ Itinerary:

Overwhelming Stockholm- Part I


Before, I begin let me warn you, as I always do. This is the first of the four part series of long posts, about my trip to Stockholm, Sweden.

The beginning and the plan.

From the time we had come to Finland, we were planning a trip during the Easter weekend (long weekend). The names that came up was Lapland (Northern Finland), Stockholm, Norway and Switzerland. But almost all of the trips got dropped as they were turning out to be way off budget. Then we got the news that one of our friends from Bangalore was in Stockholm. The fact that we did not require to pay for accommodation made the trip lucrative. Coupled with it was the prospect of travelling to Sweden by cruise ship made the trip irresistible. So, once the mode of transport was decided, I began searching for cruises to Stockholm from Finland and found that there were only two competing companies, who operate between these destinations. Looking at the pros and cons of both we decided to try both the companies. That is go by one return by the other.

My friend in Stockholm, requested me to chart a tour plan for the 3 days that we were supposed to spend there. While I was researching, the first fact that overwhelmed me was, Stockholm has more than 80 museums and places of attraction. This made my job extremely difficult (I think you can imagine). Let me tell you that, for visitors, there are a lot of tips, accurate and official information about Stockholm available online. This helped me in getting a meticulous plan in place. After all the parties agreed to the plan we were ‘ready to go’.

The journey to Stockholm.

We are in a city called Pori and nearest city from where we can get ships to Stockholm is Turku. And as per plan we were to take the Viking Line ship M/S Isabella to Stockholm. We reached Turku harbor about two and half hours earlier. After a quick check-in we were waiting at the terminal. As we were hanging around in the lobby I spotted a huge, humungous ship approaching the terminal slowly. As it came closer we spotted its name. It was Viking Line M/S Isabella, our ship for the night. As the ship docked we got ready for boarding. Thirty minutes later they started the boarding process. On the entrance to the ship a boy and girl were performing Caribbean dance. Oh! Did I forget to mention that Viking Line was celebrating Cuba festival in all their ships? Yes, they had given everything from food to entertainment a Caribbean touch. After we were inside our cabin, we freshened up a little bit and then headed for the dinner. We had booked buffet dinner, which was a grand affair, with a wide variety of fish, chicken, ham, game meat (reindeer), desserts, ice-cream etc. My long time wish for tasting deer meat was finally fulfilled.
After the sumptuous dinner we went around the ship to explore different sections like restaurants, tax-free shops, club, disco et al. Then we moved to the ‘sun deck’, it was dark and nothing much was visible outside. Yet the mild sound of ship’s engines, the view of the ship chipping through sea and the chilling winds created an out of the world experience. Though the night was still very young, actually it was just beginning, we decided to retire into our room. We were told that most of ship’s passengers would be youngsters looking to ‘have fun’ on the ship. I must admit it was quite correct. So, if you are travelling with your family it may be little disturbing at night.
Next morning we were up early and quite excited. So, we walked up to the ‘sun deck’, to greet the morning sun but to our dismay, the sky was overcast with light showers washing the deck. One gentleman, let out the last puff from his cigarette and said ‘It’s going to be like this the whole day’, shaking his head with disappointment. Yes, the weather looked really annoying. The ship was entering the harbor and all the passengers were requested to proceed to de-boarding area.

First Day in Stockholm.

After reaching the harbor, our friend instructed us to reach Slussen the nearest T-Bana (Metro) station. We had to take a bus to city center (a service run for the benefit of passengers using Viking Line) that went via Slussen. He said he would come and pick us up from Slussen. After waiting for a while, our friend came and we went to his house.


Stockholm’s T-Bana (Metro)

The original plan for the day was to take some rest and have breakfast at my friend’s place. Then go to Stockholm tourist center for the Stockholm Card and other queries related to various places of attraction. From there, we were to take the 3-hr Archipelago tour conducted by Stromma. Like, I mentioned earlier the weather that day was really dampening. So we had to drop the plan of the Archipelago tour and reserved the day for shopping and going around in general.

As per the revised plan, we had brunch and set-off for the tourist center. Now let me mention here, the tourist center is near T-Centralen(Central Metro station, it’s here all the metro lines cross each other). It’s little difficult to find the place, as there are no signs or markers for tourist center in T-Centralen. But, if you ask around, the friendly staff and stall owners in that area would guide you. So, after asking around we reached the tourist center and got quite good amount of information. And let me mention that alongwith Stockholm card, you get a map, a book of information about the various attractions and list  with opening hours for all the places of interest.
Rest of the day was spent going around different places for shopping. Like Kista (on blue line metro towards Akalla) a store named Kista Grossen for Asian/Indian grocery, then largest IKEA store at Skärholmen for furnishing items etc. After shopping bags full, finally we end the day by returning to my friend’s apartment.

Few words of advice:
If you are having more time, like 2-3 days in Stockholm then getting a Stockholm card would be a very good deal. It gives free access to all major museums and attractions, free access to public transport and much more. Otherwise you can take hop-on hop-off-combi bus tour conducted by Stromma.
As I mentioned earlier you can plan your tour around Stockholm with precision thanks to the website of SL, the public transit system of Stockholm.

Some useful website links:
Stockholm tourism related information
Stockholm tourist map
Stockholm metro map
Viking Line
Tallink Silja Line

Additionally you can click on the hyperlinks in the post to learn more.
This is certainly not the end of the series; please wait for more in following posts….

Overwhelming Stockholm- Part II

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After a dull and damp day, weather gods showed some mercy and let sun smile brightly on our second day. We had a number of places to cover as we had lost a day. So, quite naturally the day was packed. The plan was to first visit Gamla Stan(the old town) and visit the Royal Palace and witness the changing of guards. Then have lunch at Govindas (a pure vegetarian restaurant run by Hare Krishna Society of Stockholm) and finally view the entire Stockholm city from top of Sky view.

Gamla Stan, Royal Palace and Changing of Gaurds.

As per plan, the first stop of the day was Gamla Stan. So, we reached Gamla Stan via metro (All the green and red lines cross Gamla Stan) by 11.30 AM. The changing of the guards generally begins at 12.15. As we had time, we started strolling along the narrow streets of the old town (one of its kind medieval city center where the city was founded in 13th century) looking for Storkyrkan (Stockholm Cathedral), Nobel museum etc. Walking through those alleys with warm sun peeping through the building we were transported to the 13th Century. Would you believe if I say I spotted a real Viking? But he was gone before my friend could take a picture, so…. Anyway, the architecture of the old buildings was breathtaking and picturesque. My vocabulary is not good enough for describing the beauty of the place. Let me allow some of the pictures to do the talking instead…

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

The oldest thoroughfares of Gamla Stan

Gamla Stan

View from the harbour of Skeppsbron, the eastern waterfront of Gamla Stan

We reached the outer courtyard of the Royal Palace around 12 noon and the authorities were preparing the place for the changing of guards. Just in time so that we could grab the front row seats (I mean literally, as there is no real seat, you need to stand and watch). At around 12.15 the spectacle began with music of marching band and a marching column of soldiers. In next 45 minutes we witnessed one of the best changing of guards’ ceremony.  Again I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Royal Palace outer courtyard

Royal Palace outer courtyard

Changing Of Gaurd

Changing Of Gaurds

Changing Of Gaurds

Changing Of Gaurds

Changing Of Gaurds

Changing of Guards @ the Royal Palace


After the ceremony we were quite hungry and it was time for lunch. So we proceeded to Fridhemsplan (from Gamla Stan you can take any of the green lines towards Alvik/Åkeshov/Hässelby Strand) for Govindas. But when we reached the restaurant we found a notice on the gate which said the place was closed for entire Easter weekend. My friends looked at me for a back-up plan which to their utter dismay I didn’t have. We began a frantic search for a place to eat. I remembered having read about some Indian place at Rådhuset which was one stop away on blue line towards Akalla/Hjulsta.
After reaching Rådhuset we asked at the ticket counter for directions and realized that I had got name and address wrong. We were directed to another far away station on another line. Then lady at the counter told that us there was another Indian restaurant just outside the metro station which we may try if we like. We may try? I almost rushed out of the station and found a place named Indian Khusboo. The food, ambiance, prices were quite nice.

Sky View

After a delicious and filling meal we headed for our next and final destination of the day, Sky view, which is at Globen on green line towards Hagsätra. In the words of their website “SkyView is one of the most remarkable attractions in Sweden, and an experience far above the ordinary. A gondola made of glass takes you up along the outside of the Ericsson Globe – the largest spherical building in the world”.
But when we reached the ticket counter we were told tickets for that day were sold out and we could only book for the next day. It was the second disappointment of the day. Nevertheless, we booked the tickets for the next day. With that we called it a day and returned to my friend’s place tired yet contended.
Again this is not the end of the story, I have got more….

Overwhelming Stockholm- Part III

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After the previous day’s running around some of our friends were worn out and decided to rest for a day but we could not afford it so we started the day early.  The plan for the day was first visit the City Hall of Stockholm. Then visit Drottningholm Palace, from there go to Djurgården where Vasa Museum, Skansa, Nordiksa Museum et cetera are located.

The City Hall of Stockholm

We set out for City Hall which can be reached from metro station Rådhuset on blue line towards Akalla/Hjulsta. You have to walk approx. 500 meters to Hantverkargatan 1 to reach City Hall. According to their website “City Hall of Stockholm is one of Sweden’s most fascinating and impressive buildings! You can visit the City Hall on a guided tour all year round. Since the venues can only be visited together with a guide, there are no general opening hours.”
We reached City Hall just before one of the guided tours began. So were taken around the inside of the city hall with a lot of information about the building, its heritage, architect etc. It was truly amazing experience to be standing at the ‘blue hall’ where Nobel banquets are held every year. Then walk through the chambers where city council meets or the ‘golden hall’ which is made of gold. Well, some pictures again…

City Hall

City Hall from Hantverkargatan side

Blue Hall

The legendary ‘blue’ hall

Golden Hall

The ‘golden’ hall

City Hall outer courtyard

Outer courtyard of the City Hall

Street outside City Hall

Street near T-Bana Rådhuset

After breath taking views outside the City Hall and other overwhelming information it was time to move towards our next destination, Drottningholm Palace.

Drottningholm Palace

We took blue line towards Akalla/Hjulsta and alighted at Fridhemsplan. Then took green line towards Åkeshov/Hässelby Strand and alighted at Brommaplan. From Brommaplan you can take bus 176 towards Stenhamra or bus 177 towards Ekerö, Skärvik and alight at Drottningholm.
As per the official website “The Drottningholm Palace is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. It is the most well-preserved royal castle built in the 1600s in Sweden and at the same time is representative of all European architecture for the period.”
When we reached the visitor center we were told that we had missed the guided tour and the next tour was scheduled about 2 hours later. Since we had the Stockholm card we could go around the palace and its garden. The royal garden is called Chinese pavilion which is open during summers but we could go around it. In summer and autumn, place seemed to be a very nice spot for day long excursion with loved ones. Well, it’s time for some more pictures…

Drottingholm Palace

Drottingholm Palace

Drottingholm Palace

Drottingholm Palace another view

Drottingholm Palace

A view from Chinese pavilion

Swan at Drottingholm Palace

A swan @ Drottingholm Palace lake

The place was so beautiful that eyes and heart wanted to soak it for some more time but the brain pushed us into a bus that was leaving. At Brommaplan we spotted a McDonalds’ and decided to have an American lunch.
After lunch we took the green line towards Skarpnäck/Farsta strand/Hagsätra and alighted at T-Centralen to go to our next destination Djurgården.

Djurgården, Vasa Museum, Skansa, Nordiksa Museum.
We needed to take bus 69 from Sergels torg to Vasa Museum but we lost our way at City center (it’s really confusing for new visitors). After asking around we reached Nybroplan and took tram number 7 towards Waldemarsudde. The tram ride was an experience in itself.
Once we reached Vasa museum stoppage we found the surrounding area of Djurgården was quite picturesque. Vasa museum according to their website is “the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world, and a unique art treasure. More than 95 percent of the ship is original, and it is decorated with hundreds of carved sculptures.” The ship looked amazing with its masts, high decks, sculptures etc. and for a moment it felt that Captain Jack Sparrow will holler from the upper deck. Also, the technology with which the ship was salvaged is too overwhelming. Well enough of talking, it’s time for pictures …

Vasa Museum

Vasa (front view)

Vasa Museum

Vasa (rear view)

Nordiksa Museum

Nordiksa Museum




Views from the Djurgården Bridge

Sky View revisited

We returned from Djurgården to Sergels Torg by bus 69. Then took green line from T-Centralen towards Hagsätra and alighted at Globen for Sky view. We had about an hour before we go could go up the Ericsson Globe. So, we hung around Globen shopping mall, which is next to Sky view. The Sky view adventure (that’s what they call it) started with a short ten minute movie explaining what it is, its history, the challenges, technical details etc. Then they take you to the glass gondola. What happens next, when you go up, is something that needs to be experienced to express it. Fortunately, it was a very clear and bright day so we could see the entire Stockholm city’s skyline. It was quite amusing to look at the buildings which looked exactly like the cardboard models we build for our school projects. Ok, time for pictures…

Sky View

The gondolas view from the bottom of the globe

Stockholm skyline atop Sky view

Stockholm skyline from the Sky view gondola

After the spectacular experience it was time to return to base (friends’ apartment). The three days seemed to have gone by in a snip.

Northern lights – god’s bonus.
As we were looking back and contemplating at the eventful and exciting trip, I noticed a pink aura in northern sky. When I showed my friend , he said that one of our Finnish friends had texted that there was a forecast of Northern lights in this region. You can read about northern lights from internet if you already do not know about it. We were looking for a chance to ‘see’ Northern lights from the time we were in Finland. Well, this wish too got fulfilled.

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

With the Northern lights as icing to the trip it was the end of our stay in Stockholm but certainly not the end of the story, so wait for the return journey.

Overwhelming Stockholm- Part IV

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We had to wake up quiet early the next day as we had an early morning ship. We were returning by Silja line ship Silja Europa. Our friend’s apartment was very close to the Silja terminal (actually couple of blocks away) so we just walked into the terminal. As we entered the waiting hall we found the ship berthed. It was huge and grand.  Large trucks and other vehicles were going in, it looked amazing.

Silja Europa

Silja Europa

Grand Finale
The return journey was a grand finale to the marvelous tour. The interiors of Europa were grandiose. After check-in to our cabin, we went for a breakfast, which was no less than a four course meal. After stomachs full we headed to the ‘sun deck’, which was much larger space with much better ‘view’. We were passing through the Archipelagos and I felt that the skipping of the Archipelago tour earlier was not quite a loss.
As Europa was surging ahead through the calm waters of the Baltic Sea, a couple tried to emulate the famous scene of Jack and Rose from James Cameroon’ movie Titanic. Whereas, I tried to spot the dolphins like the ones that were swimming ahead of Titanic.
Then we lodged ourselves into ‘seaside café’ with a cold coffee and warm sun. As I was sipping through the coffee, I looked out of window for some of best sceneries of my life. Then we went to our cabin for some rest. I switched on the TV and found a channel was playing the movie ‘Troy’, though I had watched it umpteen times, I watched it again, only difference this time, I was on a ship.
After movie, it was time for some lunch and we headed for the restaurant. The lady at counter assigned us a table which was just below the bridge. That is, we could see Europa’s nose navigating through waters and it was an amazing view. The lunch was lavish and delicious. With our stomach busting literally, we walked into the ‘shopping area’. After browsing through the shops, we purchased some exotic chocolates and goodies. Rest of afternoon I lazed out in our cabin. Ok, enough of words, now it’s Showtime (pictures I mean).




Archipelagos of Sweden


Helipad on Europa



Europa leaves trail

small boat

small boat

Other 'Small boats'

Sun deck

sun deck

The 'sun' deck


Inner lobby of the ship

As, Europa was entering Turku harbor, I spotted a few excited kids on shore running up to the edge of the sea and waving frantically, just as children do to a passing train in India. Though the trip had come to an end but memories of lifetime remained as an after taste. Like, my friend had remarked that this trip has left us asking for more, Stockholm is calling us again. As they say ‘Yeh Dil maange more’…

Finally, before I finish this marathon series, would like to share a thought. While I was researching about Stockholm, I found, besides the talk about beauty of the city, there was lot of debate about Swedish women. That is, how beautiful they are? I would just like to say that in these 3 days, I have seen some really pretty blondes, walking on streets, commuting in public transport or manning the counters. On that note, I am signing off.

PS: I must thank my friend in Stockholm, PB,  for making this awesome trip happen and my friend MS for those spectacular pictures that I have used throughout this series.

Me and the ski

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Yes, today I am going to talk about ski. If you think it’s a very odd topic for me to post after ages of silence then let me give you some background. It so happened that I had to travel to Pori, a nice little town in Finland on an office assignment. While reading / learning about Finland one thing that caught my eye was that Skiing was a very popular sport in winter (which is the season now). So, it was a distant wish that if I could….

Likewise, when I reached here and got acclimatized to the climate (hit -24 C on the day I landed). One thing that struck me was the warmth of people here. I mean almost immediately I felt at home. At a Kahvi (coffee) break discussion I was informed that colleagues in office are organizing a Ski class and we were invited too. Was I excited? You bet …. I mean I am not Aladdin with little genie. Yet ….

I have already said how nice people here are. They arranged ski shoes and skiing gear for me and my friend. Let me skip the story about shoe sizes debacle. So, we reached the skiing venue. Quickly we were huddled into a cabin where the instructors started giving demo on how how to maintain and wax the skis for better performance. Though the instructions were in Finnish I could understand the context (a skill to figure out things without knowing the language is something I have acquired in last five years by living away from home state). After the session and brief summary in English by our colleagues, it was time for putting on or rather fitting the skis onto the shoes, which was done with a little help from the friendly instructors. With skis on and ski sticks in hand what next? Well you ski like the rest. But hey wait wasn’t this suppose to be a class? Well yes it was a class but you need to move to the training area first then you would be taught. Again my helpful colleagues from Finland came to the rescue with basic instruction about how to move and ski. I was able to slide and ski. And one of my Finnish friends was guiding me and asking other expert skiers coming from the opposite to give way as if some champion was on move. Along with that came the applause with exclamations like ‘very good’, ‘you don’t look like you are skiing for first time’, ‘excellent’. All these boosted my confidence to the seventh heaven. And then slush… swish… bang…before I knew anything I was on ground deeply entrenched in snow. My Finnish friend, all the while kept encouraging ‘come on get up’, “it’s fine, you came so far… that’s great” etc. etc, which enabled me to be back on my legs. Somehow, I reached the area where all other colleagues and instructors were waiting for us. Now the instructors said throw away your ski sticks and try to ski without them. They gave us the demo and asked us to try it. So, one by one everybody tried. When my turn came I was sort of looking away. It was like ‘you got to be kidding, balance without the sticks?’ but again words of encouragement from my friends did the trick. I was able to balance without the sticks. Then, we moved to the next lesson on how to do it right with sticks. The new confident me started cruising on snow and then slush… swish… bang… another slip and fall. The instructors were showing everything right from how to hold the sticks and how to push and how gain speed etc. Clearly it was class for people who already knew how to ski and want to improve their techniques but since they had begun right from the beginner level it was fine for me. The next 2 hours of the evening I tried few techniques and fell once more but had great fun slipping, sliding and swaying cautiously on snow. We could not get any pictures because it was dark (you know winter nights are quite dark in Finland).

So, it was an awesome experience and I want to thank all my friends in Finland, who made it possible. It was truly a rare opportunity. Kiitos! 🙂

Trip to the city of lost symbol, museums and memorials – Part -2

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After a very hectic day we crashed into our beds to relax before we begin the evening tour which looked very promising.

We were picked up by the tour bus at 7 PM and it took us to other pickup points and their main office opposite the Old Post office building. There our tour guide for the evening Andrew aka Andy got into the bus and started cracking jokes. He showed us a few card tricks and magic as well to entertain us. It was fun and exciting when he said that all along the tour he will unravel some of the mysteries and symbols that lay strewn across the entire city.

The first stop of the evening was the Capitol Hill. There he showed us the map in front of the Capitol Hill ground. The map resembles an owl, a very powerful symbol of the ancient secret societies. Andy said there are many such symbols that lie in front of everybody’s eyes but people seldom recognize them.
He said how the Capitol Hill was built and told us the story that during War of 1812, how British had set fire to the entire city but strangely enough it rained very heavily that night which put out most of the fire. This event gave Americans a lot of hope and they believed that it was some kind of divine intervention and they regrouped and fought back against the British.
He also talked about the grass which according to him symbolizes life. Also grass can grow anywhere and it actually grows back again after winters. He also spoke about the three symbols The Capitol Hill, The White house and the Washington monument (which signifies freedom) make three corners of a perfect triangle. As Andrew was overwhelming us with information my friend got busy in taking pictures of the spectacular view of the Capitol Hill under lights.

The Capitol Hill @ night

After the spectacular view of the Capitol Hill, the next stop was World War-II memorial. It was a very beautiful place. Andy showed us the two walls leading towards memorial. The two walls signify the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, across which America had fought the war. There were many sculptures embedded in the walls depicting the hard work and toil of the people of America during the war. Andy actually provided us with a whole bunch of information about the memorial. Like, the ‘Freedom Wall’ with 4048 golden stars each of which represented 100 American soldiers who died in war with a message in front of the wall that read “Here we mark the price of freedom”.

National World War-II memorial

The Washington Monument @ night

After World War-II memorial next stop was Thomas Jefferson memorial. Before entering the monument Andy our guide showed us a trick with a fork, which he said, was the Thanksgiving treat which he had promised earlier. The Jefferson memorial has the references to the Roman Pantheon and Jefferson’s own design for the Rotunda at the University of Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson Memorial

After Thomas Jefferson memorial the next stop was Korean War memorial. Which is a memorial dedicated to the memory of the veterans who fought the Korean War. The next stop was Vietnam War memorial. The memorial has three different parts namely the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The wall had several things (photos, wreaths etc) that were laid at its bottom as a mark of respect for the fallen soldiers by their families and loved ones. I noticed one man breaking down to tears on finding a name on the wall. Andy gave lot information about the memorial and one striking thing was the black marble stones used for the walls were polished at namma Bangalore. At the end of the tour when we were back in the bus, Andy asked us about the thoughts for the Vietnam War Memorial, everyone was quiet. It was very solemn moment. Only thing that was going on in my mind at that moment was “well Bangalore doesn’t export only software engineers to US but also contributed for something very significant to that country’s history”. Of course I did not speak out those words.

After a very solemn and somber mood at the previous monuments, next stop was Lincoln Memorial. The monument looked spectacular at night. The view of the Washington Monument with its reflection in the pool was simply mind-blowing.

Lincoln Memorial under lights

Lincoln Memorial under lights

Abraham Lincoln’s statue

Washington Memorial with its reflection on the reflecting pool (an idea inspired from our own Taj Mahal)

After some spectacular views at Lincoln Memorial we were headed across the Potomac River over the Memorial Bridge to the Marine Corps Memorial or the Iwo Jima Memorial. The memorial depicts one of the most enduring images of World War II, Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer prize winning photograph in which he snapped five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the American Flag on top of Mount Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima. Andy showed us a mystic of the memorial, he said us to keep our eyes fixed at the flag post as the bus drove very slowly around the monument. It seemed that the flag is being hoisted and finally the flag pole gets erected.

Iwo Jima Memorial (Marine Corps Memorial)

After the Iwo Jima memorial the next and final destination of the evening was the much awaited White House. The immaculate ‘White House’ with bright lights and the lawns looked like a dream come true vision. Only regret was could not see Mr. President or first family.

The White House

With visit to the White house our tour for the evening came to a grand ending. The night tour was worth every cent. It was not only a visual spectacle but Andy our guide also made it special with his humorous and informative narration.

Finally, I would recommend the DC by night tour as a ‘must-see’ for anybody visiting Washington DC.

This certainly is not the end of the story I have more so stay tuned……

Trip to the city of lost symbol, museums and memorials – Part -1


Did the title of the post ring any bells in your minds? No! I knew it would not, well I am no Dan Brown you see. Anyway let’s get on with the post. Now before I even begin its my duty to warn you about the fact that this is a series of 3 very long posts.

I am bad at writing mystery so without wasting any extra words let me get straight to the point. The point is this post is about my trip to Washington DC, the capital city of United states. Does the title and the opening lines of the post make any sense now?

Before I get on with the trip let me give a little background of things. You may skip this portion if you are in a hurry to finish this post.

So the background is I am currently in a city called Greenville in the state of South Carolina for an official assignment. And we were approaching Thanks Giving holidays, you must know that Thanks Giving means four days of holidays in other words a very long weekend. I did not want sit at home for these holidays so I prodded my friend for a trip somewhere and we started looking for New York City but the trip was looking really expensive, to such an extent that we felt dropping the idea of a trip and felt that sitting at home would be a better option. But then it was some of our American friends who suggested that we can take a train to New York or Washington DC. So the trip planning began around the train and we found that a trip to Washington was more feasible as it was closer to Greenville which meant lesser time to travel and less expensive too. We worked out the tentative costs and figured that it would be a doable trip and within our budget. Hence we planned our trip to Washington DC on Amtrak (the railways of America).

The journey from Greenville to Washington DC was 11 hrs approximately.  Let me tell you something about the idea of taking a train in America, you see when we declared our plans of traveling by train many American colleagues said its going to be interesting and that they have never been on a train all their life. But we are middle-class Indians, traveling by trains run in our blood I mean almost. So taking an 11 hr night train was never an issue for us. Now the first impediment crossed our path and we were getting tickets only for a two day trip and not four days as originally thought. Actually we were told that we would need atleast four days to see the Washington properly and it is true in Washington DC there’s a lot to be done.

Let’s leave the background and get on with the trip. We reached the railway station well ahead of the train’s departure time. Now let me tell you when we say Railway station it means something which has platforms etc, but here we were at a place which had a track and a very small building with a counter and few seats for passenger waiting. The place looked like the waiting halls of some of the private bus operators in Kalasipalyam Bus stand in Bangalore. Anyway the train arrived at right time we boarded and set-off to Washington DC.

Next morning we reached Washington Union station a little before its scheduled time. We then took a metro to reach our hotel. We enquired at the Concierge of the hotel for suggestions as to what was the best way to go around Washington DC in two days so we get to see the maximum number of places. The guy at the counter gave us some brochures and told about the various tours available and suggested that we decide and let him know, so that he can setup the tours for us. We quickly freshened up and looked at the brochures and decided that we can take a tour on the Hop-on/Hop-off Open Top Double decker bus a service run by the Greyline, a river cruise and a night tour of the city. The Concierge guy told us that river cruise was not available at that time of the year. But he could get us the Open Top Double Decker tour and the night tour. The tickets for the double decker bus were valid for 2 days and the night tour was for the Thanksgiving day (25th Nov).

Equipped with a map, brochures and the tickets we headed to the nearest stop of the bus. The plan was to take the entire tour for about 2.5 hrs and then decide on the places where we would like get down and explore further. The bus arrived within 10 mins and we went to the upstairs. The view from there was awesome but it was pretty cold and the chilling winds were literally stinging us. Anyway I pulled on the hood of my jacket and tied it tightly so it doesn’t blow away. There was a running commentary with little details about places passing by like the National museum for Women in Arts, the FBI building, China town , Smithsonian American Art museum ,famous Ford theatre (where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated), the International Spy museum etc. The number places and its details were little overwhelming but we were enjoying ourselves.

The bus took us around the White house, we didn’t hop-off as we were out just planning out our detailed tours remember! Moreover we knew it would be covered by the night tour. Then it went by Dupont Circle and as we were approaching the Woodley park stop my friend spotted an Indian restaurant, well it was lunch time and we were hungry so we got down. Actually there were two Indian restaurants we decided we will try at the place named “Rajaji Indian Cuisine”. The food was nice and also with that my record of eating Indian food in every city/town I visited in US remained intact. With stomachs full we were waiting for the next bus which was taking a while and it was really cold and none of the stores were open so that we get in and stay warm.  Anyway a bus finally arrived and we stayed downstairs this time as cold had really beaten us down and we needed to warm up.

The bus took us around the Washington National Cathedral (it’s the sixth largest cathedral in the world) it was quite impressive and we took our first pictures of the day.

The bus went around many places including the Embassy Row(where we spotted our Indian embassy), GermanTown shopping area etc.

The memorial bridge with Lincoln memorial at far end and Washington monument at right hand corner.

Then it went past the Lincoln memorial, the next stop was the Arlington National Cemetery which was across the river and we crossed the memorial bridge(picture above). We decided to get down there as that place would not be covered by night tour and also we were recommended that we could try and see the ‘Changing of guards’ at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier. Which happens at a specific interval of time.


The Arlington National cemetery

We saw the burial ground of the Kennedy family and my friend was tired and wanted to go back but I insisted that lets try for the ‘Changing of guards’ as I spotted the signs for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. As I was following the signs I spotted huge building and just then I heard a bell ringing and many people actually started running and I knew if I too ran we may have the luck to see the ‘Changing of guard’. I was right, when I reached the spot panting and wheezing the spectacle was just beginning. I have never seen anything like that live it was a great experience and my friend started clicking pictures and video. It was amazing.


The changing of guards @ Tomb of Unknown Soldier

After seeing it we headed back towards the bus. The bus then took us past the Franklin Roosevelt memorial, Washington Monument, Smithsonian, L’Enfant Plaza, National Air and Space museum and stopped in front of Capitol Hill on the National Mall for photographs. We did take a few pictures but since it was cloudy and in low light pictures did not come out well. Finally the bus dropped us at union station and we got into the next bus for our return to hotel. We reached hotel around 5 pm and we were still having another 2 hrs for the night tour bus to pick us up. It was a tiring day.

One thing we figured out from whole day was that Washington DC has a lot to do and most of it can be done by walking around but on better weather conditions. Also you can have great pictures of the National Mall during the fall season. Now a little bit about the National Mall( I know you can google it but still), this is long stretch about 3 kms approx, a large open-area park with Capitol Hill on one side and Lincoln memorial on the other with the Washington monument in the center. And many of the Smithsonian museums are located on the either side of the strip.  This is the place where you can spend days covering everything.

Well this not the end of the story I have more so stay tuned……

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