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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Travelogue: Tuscany (Day 10 -12)

From the city of water, we headed towards the historic center of Florence - the capital of Tuscany region. We set up our base at Florence and in the next 2 days visited Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa and Chianti in Tuscany, all of which are designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO (excluding Chianti which is a green land with vineyards)

Florence (a.k.a Firenze)
The captial city of Tuscany is one of the most important artistic centers, rich in history & culture and is popularly known as the art capital of Italy. Though for me, all cities we visited in Italy looked very similar...the buildings, roads, architecture etc seemed very ancient but nothing different! We stayed just a few meters away from the train station, within the city and it proved to be very convenient. It's a good idea to do that especially if you want to travel in and around florence.
Florence has lots and lots of piazzas (elegant squares), renaissance palaces (palazzis), churches, museums, gardens and art galleries. However, the must see is the David statue by Michaelangelo. We went to Piazza Santa Maria Novella a few times as it was close to where we stayed....it looks absolutely beautiful during sunset. The remaining time was spent visiting the restaurants and walking around the city....



Siena
We reserved one full day for a day trip to Siena, San Gimignano and Chianti. The guided tour was a lot of fun but tiring at the same time. Our guide spoke 5 languages and was extremely patient, cheerful and knowledgeable..which made the trip more interesting. Siena is declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and it is well known for art, architecture & medieval cityscape. The cathedral of Siena (shown in the image below) is stunning and is a good example of the romanesque architecture. Another architectural treasure is the Piazza del Campo, the town square, which is famous for hosting the Palio horse race. We saw a lot more monuments, churches and walked through the small lanes and road of Siena for about 3 hours. You can see a strong influence of medieval culture and architecture everywhere around and it is definitely worth a visit!


San Gimignano
San Gimignano is another famous small medieval hill town famous for its medieval architecture, culture and especially the towers, which can be seen from several kilometers outside the town. It is said that, at one point in time, there were supposed to be hundreds of them! Most of them were brought down during wars, catastrophes and urban renewal with just a few left for people to admire. We climbed one such tower and I was absolutely thrilled to reach the top, given my fear of heights!! :)


Chianti
Chianti is famous for its wine and vineyards, especially the red wine which is one of the best wines available there. We reached Chianti in the early evening and the greenery all around was a treat to the eye! We visited the "Casanova SantaAgnese" winery and their vineyard. The owner took us around the farm and to the cellar where he had stored barrels of wine and balsamic vinegar. The next couple of hours were spent understanding his process of wine making and also tasting varieties of red, white and dessert wines, balsamic vinegar and cheese. This was my first visit to a vineyard and I loved every bit of it!

If you are in Florence, then a wine tasting tour is something you wouldn't want to miss and if you are a wine lover, then it is a must do!!


Pisa
You cannot go to Italy and miss the leaning tower of Pisa! So on the second day, we headed towards the town of Pisa, which is about an hour's journey by train from Florence. Pisa is a small city, with the architecture quite similar to rest of the parts of Italy. The walk from the train station to the Leaning Tower was quite long and tedious! We had a slot reserved in advance, so once we reached the tower, we didn't have to wait for long. The climb up the Pisa tower was quite an adventure! The steps are worn out, with space just enough for one person to walk at a time and you actually feel like you are going to fall 'coz of the leaning tower :) The view from the top was truly amazing!




P.S: The images displayed here are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without due credits or my consent.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Travelogue: Venice (Day 8 - 10)

After spending 5 days in the land of beautiful lakes & mountains we started our journey towards Italy, Venice (or Venicia) being the first destination. This time we managed to get the fast train (Eurostar Italia) and reached Venice from Luzern in just about 6.5hrs via Milan...


Venice is also called the city of love, romance, water, architecture and more! I had no idea what to expect there and I was completely taken aback seeing the entire city surrounded by water, water and more water everywhere!!! It has a group of islands around such as Lido, Murano etc, all of which are part of Venice. We landed at the train station and looked for a taxi to the hotel but figured that the only mode of transport there are boats! hmmm...it was really interesting, especially the street lights in water :) It took us 45 mins or more to reach Lido island... I kinda got bored in a day travelling back n forth on the boats to the city. Everyone there has his/her own private boats instead of cars/bikes and you can see them all out on the sea during weekends....

The next day morning we set out to explore the small city. We went to St.Mark's Square where we checked out St.Mark's Basilica. The weather was perfect, though it got too sunny towards noon. We checked out the surrounding places, the shops, markets and went for lunch. Our stint with the pastas and pizzas started here and we ate just that and ONLY that for the next 10 days!!!!!


We then went to the famous Rialto Bridge and took the Gondola ride from there which lasted about 30 mins. We also saw the Grand Canal and various small canals through the gondola ride which was a lovely experience and completely worth it! Though expensive, gondola ride is something that you should not miss if you visit Venice.


We went back to the Lido island and visited the beach in the late evening. The sun sets around 9.30pm during summer so the days are long and sunny and hardly any night life in this city. We had planned 2 full days and nights in Venice but figured that there is nothing much to do in the city! So we cut short the trip and headed towards Florence the next day....

Final thoughts .... Whenever I visit a city I usually end up thinking if I can see myself living there at some point in life. Paris, Interlaken, Luzern are places which I surely wouldn't mind going back to...Venice is definitely a gorgeous city, ancient, with lot of history, beautiful churches, buildings etc and very different but I definitely wouldn't want to go back, forget living there! I'll get depressed seeing water all around the place, day in day out! But it surely is one city you would want to see in your lifetime 'coz it's different ;-)


P.S: The images displayed here are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without due credits or my consent

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Inception

Ah! What an awesome movie it was! Truly one of its kind! My brain cells did get chewed up trying to understand the intricate and mentally taxing plot but it was totally worth it. It's one of the most complex movies and very intellectually stimulating... reminded me of The Matrix and Memento... definitely a must watch!


Director Christopher Nolan's brilliant plot & precise screenplay have been expertly executed. The visual effects are outstanding and a treat for the eye. It definitely scores points for trying to convey a difficult & complex theme and actually succeding in doing it so well.


Cobb (Leonardo di Caprio) is a thief (of a different kind) who steals ideas from people's subsconscious mind by accessing the mind when someone is asleep. He is an "extractor" who stalks people in pursuit of their deepest secrets. He is under the charge of an unspecified crime which prevents him from returning home to his children. He is given an opportunity to clear his name and return to his children however that requires him to do an almost impossible task of 'planting an idea' into someone's subconscious rather than steal it. He accepts this impossible task and the movie unfolds..



Most of the movie takes place in various people's subconscious and what a spectacle it is! The plot gets into multi layered dreams woven into each other and getting so complex that sometimes you struggle to understand which one is reality. Story telling is absolutely brilliant with Nolan introducing new ideas and twists constantly throughout the movie. So paying close attention is very much necessary and a single viewing is probably not enough to process it all! So I am all set to watch it for the second time :)


Well, this is just about the movie on the surface. It is difficult to write more without giving away the spoilers. To me, this is undoubtedly the most intelligent and visually stunning movie of this year!


Verdict: 5/5

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Travelogue: Luzern, Switzerland (Day 6 - 8)

Switzerland has postcard-like views everywhere! It's a land of crystal clear lakes and snowy mountains.The route from Interlaken to Luzern (known as the Golden Pass route) is supposed to be the most scenic of all panoramic routes...extremely picturesque, there is no doubt about it!

The city of Luzern (or Lucerne) gets its name from the lake Luzern, to the edge of which the city lies. We reached there in the early evening, took a stroll to the lakeside and I was awed by the crystal clear brilliance of it. Staying within the city had its advantages. The public transport system (buses) is extremely efficient and easily accessible. So travelling within the city was very hassle free. The city is rich in culture, people are way too friendly and it has a pristine atmosphere...It became my favorite destination in the Euro trip. There is a lot to do at Luzern for people seeking adventure (venture to Mount Pilatus & Titlis) and an equally good spot for relaxation...

Mount Pilatus (7000ft)
The next day we took the Golden Round Trip to Mount Pilatus which includes a boat ride from Luzern to Alpnachstad - cogwheel train from Alpnachstad to top of Pilatus - aerial cable car from Pilatus to Frankmuntegg- gondola cableway to Krienseregg and back to Luzern by bus. The whole thing takes an entire day and is quite strenuous but worth it! The cogwheel train taken to the top of Mt Pilatus is supposed to be the world's steepest train and the views are breathtaking though very scary...

Once you reach the Pilatus Kulm peak, there are a lot of restaurants to eat and chill out. The food is nothing great, but who cares, coz you will never forget the views! There are different hiking routes to the peaks at Pilatus which are quite easy and short. You get stunning views of miles and miles of swiss alps in the crisp air in addition to the panoramic views of the lakes of Central Switzerland.


The adventure park of Frakmuntegg offers a lot of adventure sports like tight rope walking, sledging, toboggan runs etc during summer and snow sledging during winter. So if you are looking for a bit of adrenaline pump, stop over at this town on the way down from the mountain top.





With stunning lakes and mountains, adventure sports, soothing atmosphere, lovely buildings & art, easy to navigate streets & friendly people, Luzerne is one place that every traveller needs to add to his list!

P.S: The images posted here are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without due credits or my consent