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Monday, August 31, 2015

Liberty House: Serenity at Poyilkkavu Beach, Kerala

Have you heard of Poyilkkavu beach? I chanced upon this serene stretch of beach on my recent motorcycle ride through Kerala. This beach lies a bit north of Kappad beach, one of the famous and pretty beaches north of Kozhikode. In simple terms, the Poyilkkavu is a fisherman’s beach and that is its charm. It is untouched by travelers and even domestic tourists and yet offers everything that Kerala stands for, be it greenery, coconut palms, delicious food and gorgeous beaches. This is a kind of place you would like to spend to detox yourself from your normal fast paced routine. And I did precisely that when I stayed at the Liberty House, the only homestay or should I say accommodation on this entire village and beach stretch.

Remote stretch of Kappad Beach, Kozhikode, Kerala

Be it fishing during changing tides, going for lazy walks on the beach, visiting village temples, interacting with authentic Kerala countryside people or simply putting your feet up on your room balcony and reading a book while listening to the sound of lapping waves, this place offers this and more. If you are a good walker, you can walk to the neighbouring Kappad beach and attempt to walk all of its length or you could explore the village plantations and paddy fields, which also run for a good distance.

Liberty House Homestay, Kappad Beach, Kozhikode

If you wish, you could opt for day trips to Kozhikode and nearby tourist spots, but if you are like me, you will stay put in this village and soak in the rich countryside and remote beach atmosphere. The rooms here are simple and so is the food, but that was perfect for me as I did not want anything fancy. I just wanted a sensational place to blow my mind, tasty and simple Kerala food to fill my stomach and a comfortable room to sleep in. I got more than I wanted through a balcony with a view, great hospitality shown by the homestay owner and total value for money.

If you want to know more details about this place, its location, its room rates and activities that you could indulge in here, you can look up the Liberty House website.

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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Keremane Homestay: Solitude in the Western Ghats

In today’s era of technology, I hardly find places where I am not connected and hence I was super surprised when I landed at a homestay that had absolutely no kind of connectivity. No internet, no TV and not even simple cell phone connectivity, which we have gotten used to these days. Located about 4 kilometres from Sringeri on the Sringeri-Chickmagalur road lies 36 acres of green gardens and plantations surrounded by the dense green mountains of the Western Ghats. This place, run by a local family offers total solitude in true Malnad style and amidst beautiful nature.

Paddy being sown near Sringeri

The accommodation is simple. It comes with twin beds and an attached bathroom in each room. There is hot water facility available, but you can find no more materialistic luxuries. Instead, you will enjoy other luxuries that have long been forgotten in our fast paced lives, like their organic home grown food, their home cows, lush green surroundings, total solitude and living a life without any material distractions. The wife of the homestay owner cooks some top quality lip smacking Malnad Food. Just thinking about her home cooked organic banana halwa, home made pickles, jack fruit papad, her curries and even her coffee makes my mouth water. In their gardens, you can spot beautiful birds and butterflies and sometimes like I did, a green vine snake, a non venomous and extremely pretty reptile. Their homestay consists of 36 acres of beautiful plantations that can be explored and also the rustic countryside around it. Sringeri town and the Sharadamba temple and Sringeru Mutt are just 4 kilometers away. Sirimane falls is about 22 kilometers away and the rainforest of Agumbe is about 30 kms away. Next to their property are beautifully green paddy fields and a mountain stream that one can explore as a leisurely walk from the homestay. There are no villages close by. Instead, there are houses that are self sufficient and spread across this area. Chickmagalur is also just about 90 kms away. Basically, what I am trying to say is that if you are itchy to do something aside from relaxing, you have quite a few interesting options at hand.

Keremane Homestay, Sringeri 

If you want total solitude during your weekend or long holiday, I would recommend this place. If you want to taste some delicious organic food, I would recommend this place. If you are looking for a relaxing place to stay while exploring Sringeri and Agumbe, I would recommend this place. I like this place so much that I would definitely return here. I have also recommended it to all my friends and family. If you wish to find more details about this place, the cost of their rooms and their contact details for making bookings, look up the Keremane Homestay website.

Do note that this place only accepts to host families. They don’t accept bachelors or people who wish to eat meat or drink in their premises. If you love to try out their vegetarian food during your stay and stay away from your alcohol during your stay, you should not have any problems.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Gramam Homestay: Blissful Kerala Backwater Paradise near Kochi

Every now and then, I end up staying at properties which I do not wish to leave and pray that I can return there soon. Recently, when I did a 3 week monsoon motorcycle ride across Kerala and Karnataka, I was lucky to come across quite a few of these gems. One such property is an authentic Kerala backwater retreat about 15 kms from Kochi, one of the most happening destinations of Kerala. This property called the Gramam Homestay (which literally means village homestay) is run a local couple and is located right on the backwaters of Kumbalangi village.

Gramam Homestay, Kochi, Kerala, India 

This place enjoys remote location, you have you own garden, your own private sunset spot over the backwater, oodles of nature and calm atmosphere. This homestay offers 2 types of accommodation. One, a private backwater cottage and second, a room in the main house. While the private backwater cottage offers tons of space, 4 beds, a kitchen and an open to air shower, the rooms are smaller (but still comfortable for a couple) and offer 2 beds with a balcony and attached bathroom. The couple running the homestay stay in the main house and they offer organic grown, home-cooked Kerala food to their guests at breakfast and dinner. Breakfast is included in the room tariff, while dinner needs to be ordered in advance. They do not serve lunch. Dinner costs INR 400 per person.

The couple running this place are kind, helpful with directions and also arrange local activities if you are interested. During the off season, the room costs 2000 rupees while the cottage costs 4000 rupees. And during peak season, the room costs 3500 rupees and the backwater cottage costs 6000 rupees. The place doesn’t have a TV, which is what I prefer, but if you wish to stay connected, they offer free wi-fi and phone connectivity is pretty good here.

The homestay is close to small local shops and restaurants in case you are planning a longer stay and for anything special, the city of Kochi is just a 20 minute drive away. One of the specialties of this Kumbalangi village is its Chinese fishing nets, which you can see at close range all through the day and night. Since, there are hardly any tourists here, you can spend quality time here watching the fishermen at work without being asked many questions like near Fort Kochi.

It is best to have your own transport (self or rented cars, motorbikes or cycles), if you wish to plan to explore Kochi and around. You can also take the public buses, but you might have poor connectivity at stretches and it will be slower.

Kochi backwaters as seen from Gramam Homestay, Kerala 

Since the homestay’s backwater side faces west, do not miss the opportunity to watch the sun go down from either your backwater cottage or any of the many benches built by the water on the homestay property. While I was staying here, I always ensured that I caught the sunset. If you wish, you can also arrange for a local backwater tour by boat during the sunrise and sunset hours and get closer to the fishing nets.

If you wish for a relaxed getaway near Kochi where you can enjoy home food, read your books by the backwater, enjoy a beautiful garden and be close to Kochi, but still stay away from the traffic, this place has to be a fabulous choice for you. I would definitely want to return here and would recommend this homestay and the couple running it.

For more information about the location, the property, the tariff, the activities, the facilities and much more, look up the Kerala Gramam website. All contact information can also be found on their website.

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Prague: Stag Capital of the World

If you are a stag and looking for some serious action (drinking, classic action, entertainment), I am sure your holiday options would be Bangkok, Las Vegas, Tokyo, Seoul, London or Istanbul. While these are iconic stag destinations in their own right, the current stag capital of the world is Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. It offers everything that a stag looks for; from pub crawls to guns, from race and adrenaline to babes and drinks and from crazy game action to stunningly beautiful women, Prague has it all. Below are some of the top reasons and activities that substantiate why Prague is the destination to go to for your next Stag holiday. An Eastern Europe destination, international culture and a sensational cultural atmosphere are just icing on the cake.

Kalashnikov Shooting, Tank Drive and S.W.A.T Training

Sport Shooting in Prague

Most of us men might not own a gun or have served in the military, but there is no denying the fact that we are extremely attracted to the weapons of war. Prague is one of those places where you can get your hands on your favorite guns, load it with bullets and shoot it to your heart’s content in a secure environment. These could be Kalashnikovs, M-16s, AK-47s, Revolvers, Shotguns or Uzi. And all of this takes place in a cool and professional gun club where you celebrate afterwards with rounds of chilled beer.

If you wish to take it to the next level, you could join a SWAT training session where you are taught sniper tactics, weapon instructions, fighting strategies, fitness training and defence techniques. And then you take part in training attacks with real scenarios under the guidance of a real special forces instructor.

If this is not enough, you can drive your own military tank. Yes, you heard me right. Prague is one of those crazy places where you can drive a real army tank. Now, how cool is it to have that in your itinerary for a Prague stag do!

Action Games

We men always crave action. The more physical it is, the more it appeals to us. In Prague, you will find some crazy and unique action games that you can indulge in and then if you end up victorious, you can celebrate it over drinks or party at a night club.

Bubble Football – This bubble-wrapped physical game is like a game of football in a giant zorb. Technically, you are supposed to play football, but usually it ends in a rugby like physical situation with lots of fun.

Hovercrafts – This highly futuristic game allows you to drive and bump these big cushions of air with each other. Controlling these machines is a nightmare, but that is the fun of this high action game.

Quad Biking – A similar action sport, but on wheels, Quad Bikes allow you to explore an off-road trail of Prague and with some serious sound and horse power. This is a game to opt for if you are not into mindless bumping.

Paintballing – One of my favorite games, Paintballing is super fun to play with your buddies. It is like a game of hide and seek with guns. It allows you to test your stealth moves while plastering your buddies with a painful shot of paint.

Bobsledding – If you seek action on ice, the game of Bobsledding has to be it.  Rolling down on a thin sheet of ice is mighty fun and a great test of your manoeuvrability skills.

White Water Rafting – This seasonal game is a lot of fun on a warm day. Jumping over rapids downstream is a special adrenaline rush.

Go Karting – With one of the best race tracks in Eastern Europe, Go Karting is a craze in Prague. Packed with tight turns and a long circuit, this is the place to test your driving skills with your friends.

Prague Bar Crawl and Nightclubs

Prague Bar Crawls

Prague, along with Serbia’s Belgrade has possibly some of the best nightlife in the world. And hence it is a no-brainer that it is insanely popular with both stags and hens. Pub crawls, bar crawls and endless partying and dancing are in a league of its own. If you wish to get totally pissed with some class, this is the city to be in. Lap dancing clubs, mud wrestling and stag dinners are special attractions to indulge in during your Prague bar crawl and night out.

Private Parties

Stag Boat Parties of Prague

Men like guns. Men like action. Men like games. Men love to drink. Men also love women! If you are a stag, you definitely want to take part in those private parties of Prague that will give you and your friends a special experience and that it total value for money. Depending on your budget and interest, you could indulge in a Strip Party Bus, a Stag Strip Boat, a Strip Limo or a Strip Hummer. And then there are special shows and clubs for you to dig yourself deeper.

Note: The images in this article have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons License. Each image has been linked to the respective page on wikipedia.org.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Top 6 Seychelles National Parks

Seychelles, a jewel of the Indian Ocean is one of the top beach holiday destinations of the world. This East African archipelago is synonymous with romantic holidays, honeymoons and luxury beach retreats. While the white sandy beaches and lagoons are top class, these islands are also home to some legendary coral and marine life. From the giant land tortoise to the whale sharks and from tiger sharks to manta rays, this coral paradise of the Indian Ocean offers many opportunities to see such exotic plant and marine life. Here are the top 6 national parks of Seychelles that you can add into your itinerary for your next visit to this African archipelago nation.

Aldabra Atoll

Aldabra Giant Land Tortoise

The world’s largest coral atoll, the Aldabra is the original home of the giant land tortoise. Tiger sharks and manta rays are also seen commonly here. This granitic atoll is home to some 25 endemic plant species and is home of some of the largest seabird colonies in the world, especially on its outer islands. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a classic coral atoll that has built itself up from the seabed. It is the least disturbed large island in the Indian Ocean due to its remote location and hence is home to some flora and fauna where you can sense evolution in action.

Vallee de Mai

Coco-de-Mer seeds

An UNESCO World Heritage Site and once believed to the original site of the Garden of Eden, this forest is home to the rare Coco-de-mer trees, considered to be the botanical wonders of the world. The coco-de-mer trees are special as they host the world’s largest seed. This national park is home to six endemic palm species as well as many other indigenous species of trees in addition to the Coco-de-mer. It is also the only place to spot the endangered Black Parrot, the national bird of Seychelles. This heritage site is always a definite part of itineraries in five-star holidays to the Seychelles.

Aride Island Nature Reserve

Aride Island Nature Reserve

This is the place to go to if you are a big birdwatcher. Home to many millions of seabirds, the Aride Island Nature Reserve has the world’s largest colony of lesser noddy and is regularly frequented by green turtles and hawksbill turtles. Dubbed as one of the finest jewels of Seychelles, Aride Island is one of the world’s most important nature reserves. It is home to endemic birds such as Magpie Robins, Fodies, Brush Warblers and Blue Pigeon, endemic plants like wrights Gardenia and Turtle beaches and rich marine life.

Curieuse Marine National Park

Laraie_Bay_on_Curieuse_Seychelles

This small granitic island known for its red coloured soil, is home to Coco de Mer palms, mangrove swamps, giant takamaka trees, large humphead parrotfish, hawksbills turtle rookery, the Seychelles Black Parrot and many other bird and plant species. This national park is home to more than 300 giant land tortoises that have been relocated here from the Aldabra atoll. Even till date many sea turtles come here to lay their eggs. This marine park is also an extremely popular site for scuba diving and snorkelling.

Ile Cocos Marine National Park

The beach of Anse Source d'Argent

These islands surrounded by shallow turquoise sea is one of the main reasons for people visiting Seychelles as it is these photos that are shown in many Seychelles promotional collateral. The coral reefs here offer a rich snorkelling experience.

Silhouette National Park

An island with many green mountains, the Silhouette National Park is famous for being one of the richest biodiversity hotspots in the Western Indian Ocean. Its dramatic mountain peaks and its surrounding forest is home to many endemic  and threatened plant and animal species. This island is popular both for its hiking trails that offer scintillating views and for its coral rich marine national park.

Note: The images in this article have been borrowed from wikipedia.org under the Creative Commons license and each image has been linked to the respective page on wikipedia. 

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Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Very Own Travel Video: Courtesy Discover America

I already consider myself privileged and lucky to be able to travel the way I have been and see the world from a different perspective. But, when someone sends a professional video team with you and make a cool travel video with you as the center piece, you are totally blown away. I have to say that I feel insanely proud and happy to be the lead model/anchor/actor in this short travel video. I hope this is the start of many to come and hopefully, one day, you will see me on the TV and/or on other media.
 


On this trip, I traveled by rail from Los Angeles to Washington DC visiting Los Angeles, Santa Monica, San Antonio, Austin, New Orleans, Baltimore and finally finishing the trip at Washington DC. It was a 12 day train journey from the West to the East Coast of the United States of America. I hope you get a whirlwind tour of this coast to coast journey through this short journey.

I am yet to write the detailed story about this trip on the blog, but you can follow all my USA posts here as I have written quite a few on the blog.

Or you can follow #DiscoverAmerica #MTPTrain #RoadTripUSA for more details.

Thank you Brand USA and Discover America team for making this video on me!! You have been a great group to work with.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Gavi Gangadhareshwara: One of the Oldest Temples of Bangalore

It is tough to imagine a 9th century historic temple in the middle of traffic congested Bangalore. And that too a temple that is famous for a special celestial event. Situated between Hanumanthanagar and Basavanagudi and at a 10 minute walk from my house is the Gavi Gangadhareshwara temple, a protected monument under the Karnataka ancient and historical monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1961.

This cave temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva and built in Indian-rock cut architecture is believed to have a Chola origin, though it burst into prominence during Kempegowda’s (Founder of Bangalore) reign. A fairly small temple, this place of Hindu worship is home to many special attributes, some of which are seen nowhere else in South India. For example, it is home to an extremely rare idol of Agni, the god of fire. This idol of Lord Agni has two heads, seven hands and three legs. It also houses an idol of Shakti Ganapati with 12 hands and four monolith pillars that symbolize Dhamaru, Thrishula and two fans, the tools of Lord Shiva.

Ganesha at Gavipuram Gangadeeshwara Temple, Bangalore 

It’s most special attribute is the fact that on Jan 14 and/or 15, the day of Makar Sankranti, the rays of the setting sun finds its way into the dark cave for an hour or so and illuminate the Shiva Linga. This architectural and astronomical wonder ensures that on the day of Makar Sankaranti, the rays of the setting sun pass through the horns of Nandi, the vehicle of Lord Shiva and then light the feet of the Shiva Linga before illuminating the body of Lord Shiva for a brief moment. Lakhs of devotees come to see this live event in person. As the temple is too small to accommodate so many people, they show the live event through television sets at the entrance of the temple. Personally, I have never seen this celestial event as I don’t do that well with crowds, but I like the simple cave like aura of this temple where you have to crouch everywhere inside the temple, especially to see the Sannadhi of Goddess Parvathi.

Nandi in front of Gavi Gangadeeswara Sannadhi 

Photography is not allowed inside the temple and hence I can only show the pictures of the temple courtyard here. But, if you wish to see more, just drop by this ancient temple of Bangalore. It is located in a nice quiet part of South Bangalore and may be, you could join a visit to this temple with a visit to the Bull Temple, Vidyarthi Bhavan restaurant, Brahmin’s cafe, Gandhi Bazaar, the original MTR, Lalbagh, VV Puram’s Thindi Beedi and other iconic places of South Bangalore. This super green lung space of Bangalore is home to many beautiful temples and lip smacking restaurants.

The top of Gavipuram Gangadeeswara Temple, Bangalore 

Temple Location: Gavipuram (near Basavanagudi Bull Temple Road), South Bangalore

Temple Timings: 7:30 AM to 12:00 noon and 5 PM to 8:30 PM

Important Days for Temple: Makar Sankranti, Maha Shivaratri, Pradosham

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Pristine Gangtok city in the Monsoons

This is a guest photologue by Ar Soumyajit Mishra, one of my blog followers and a travel lover. This article is his recent personal experience of visiting Sikkim’s Gangtok this monsoon. All the pictures in this post are copyright of Ar Soumyajit Mishra. If you wish, you can also share your story here on ‘be on the road’.

Hill stations in the monsoons have their own magic. Lush green terrain, clean and clear roads, contrasting horizons are really awesome during the monsoons. This also gives an opportunity to the visitor or tourist to explore the places with little crowd and with lower travel costs.

Sikkim in the Monsoons

I was looking for a small break from my regular schedule. Few places are highly exquisite during the monsoons with splendid flora and fauna. Goa, Kerala, Sikkim and the Western Ghats lead the list. This time Gangtok was on the top of the list for me.

Teesta-Gangtok Road

As per schedule, we landed at Bagdogra airport on the afternoon of 17th July. Bagdogra airport is well connected to Kolkata, New Delhi and has a very good user friendly prepaid taxi system managed by the city police. One way taxi trip to Gangtok will cost around Rs 2200 in off season (mainly during the monsoon and winter months). It took us more than an hour to cross Siliguri city because of horrible traffic congestion. 

Cleaning work by BRO in Sikkim

Gradually, we touched the beautiful NH 31 road, which guided us through Sevoke and the Mahananda sanctuary area. It was awesome to be welcomed by a light drizzle and the drive through the dense forest area with slow instrumental music was surreal. We were informed about the probable landslide at few identified areas. Local people and BRO (Border road organization) advised us to be cautious and alert while climbing up the mountain.

  Landslide area in Sikkim

The road was affected due to continuous landslides and few stretches were controlled by BRO to avoid any accident. BRO has a tremendous presence throughout the stretch. The hard work is really appreciated. Gradually, we crossed Teesta river, Ranpool and reached Gangtok at 10 pm. Normally, the duration to Gangtok from Bagdogra is 3.5 hrs, but it took us 6 hours due to heavy rain on the way. You should never be in a hurry while driving in hill area. I had pre-booked my accommodation at Tashi Thendup hotel which is in Nam nang area and just 5 minutes walk from the famous MG road.

Welcome to Sikkim MG Road, Gangtok

Next day morning, I wanted to take a stroll on MG road . The lifestyle is very simple and lively here. The market opens early in the morning and plenty of breakfast options will welcome you. Gangtok is a nice and clean city. You hardly can find any used packet or waste items on the street. Spitting or smoking in public places is a punishable crime in Gangtok . I really liked the way people obey the rule.Cops are young, smart and stylish. You will enjoy talking to them. Few of them follow soccer very much and keep good knowledge about the football clubs.

Gangtok MG Road Sikkim Thakurbadi, Gangtok

18th was Rathyatra (Jagannath). There was a small gathering at thakurbadi area with a small chariot for Lord Jagannath, Balbhadra and his sister Suvadra. It was an awesome feeling to pull the chariots. We spent the whole day visiting the development area, Legislative assembly and strolling on MG road. Few buildings are designed well with hill architecture. We tried momo, rolls and Chinese items. Roll house serves mouth watering momos and a must try.

Street life GangtokStreet Food of Gangtok

Next day, we carried out a case study about the health care system, hospitals, traffic management as a professional part of our trip. The city hospital is good and caters a good catchment area. Subsequently, we hired a taxi for a half day local sight seeing.

Lush green Sikkim Landscape in the monsoons

Hanuman tok, Ganesh tok, Rungtek monastery are beautiful places and must be included in your itinerary. Rumtek monatsry is one of the biggest in its class. The city view is awesome from the monastery and was one of the highlights of my day trip.

Rumtek Monastery, Gangtok

Our evening in Gangtok was enjoyable with live concert of few bands in pubs. Few local bands will entertain you with their magical touch. You would love it. Gangtok is little bit crowded and is a base station for visitors who would like to visit Nathula pass, Changu lake. But, I feel Gangtok itself has a lot of things to offer. Specially the cable car which gives panoramic view of the beautiful hills and town. One should not miss this.


Cable Car, Gangtok 
 
We enjoyed the short trip and the monsoons in this hill station. Gangtok should be visited at least once in a life time during the monsoon season to feel the eternal beauty. You will enjoy it.

Few good hotels
: Tashi Thendup, May fair resorts, Sai kripa hotel, Doma residency

Few food joints
: Roll house, Pub 25, Downtown, Agarwal snacks , khan chacha

Streets of Gangtok

Few must visit places in town
: MG road, Secretariat, Lal bazaar market, Dengzong cinema area, Deorali area, Sikkim legislative assembly, Sikkim manipal institute.

Do not try in public place
: smoking, spitting, abusive language, road side urination

Sikkimese would love you because of your
: politeness, friendly gesture, behavior

Gangtok green landscapes

What will make you happy
: Clean roads, nice people, beautiful dressing sense of police, fire officials, tax free wine, affordable taxi services.

What you may not like
: Internet connectivity, Mobile network, connecting steps in bad condition and rapid construction disturbing the landscape.

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Doors Open - Exploring Culture in Madrid

Boasting a total of fifteen cities graded as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and third in total number of national properties behind only Italy and China, the depth and breadth of Spain’s cultural wealth is astonishing. And across the country you’ll find over forty-four separate cultural, natural or “mixed” properties inscribed on UNESCO’s list.

So whether you’re into architecture, history or art, the issue is not where to find it all but where to start on your city breaks. Madrid, Spain’s majestic capital, is a treasure trove of cultural wonders.

Modern art
Madrid art

There’s nowhere better to start than a visit to one of Spain’s most famous works of art. Guernica, at the Museo de Arte Reina Sofia, takes its name from the Basque Country town in northern Spain bombed during the Spanish Civil War at the behest of Franco’s nationalists by Italian and German forces. It is Pablo Picasso’s best known canvas and is not only a potent reminder of the destruction of war — its vast size, at 3.5 meters high and almost 8 meters wide, forms only a part of its striking impression — but it’s also an insightful window into the psyche of modern-day Spain.

Renaissance architecture
Just a short hop north of the city is Madrid’s best known UNESCO World Heritage site, the El Escorial complex. Commissioned by King Philip IIand built in the 1500s, it comprises a royal palace, library, church, monastery, college and royal burial site, and is perhaps the single most important treasure of Spanish Renaissance architecture and construction.

Medieval to 19th century treasures

Within the city centre itself, and in striking distance of Atocha station, you’ll find the Museo Nacional del Prado. The museum has a world-beating collection of 12 to 19thcentury European art, including important works by Goya, Velazquez and Bosch.

Medieval architecture and modern literature
The neo-classical Puerta De Alcalá represents a gateway to the city and sits at the start of the old path from the city center to the largely medieval town of Alcalá de Henares, another UNESCO World Heritage site and birthplace of Spain’s most famous writer, Miguel de Cervantes. It hosts the annual award of the Cervantes Prize, the most important, prestigious and valuable gong for Spanish language literature. The list of previous winners reads like a Who’s Whoof world literature and includes luminaries such as Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, Spain’s own Miguel Delibes and Argentine poet and essayist Jorge Luis Borges.

Green tranquil space at the end of the day
Culture holiday in Madrid Spain

Just a step away from the Puerta de Alcalá you’ll discover the tranquil formal gardens of the Buen Retiro park. There you can enjoy some much-needed time to digest this cultural wealth. You’ll need it, but don’t linger for long — your next treasure is only just around the corner. 

Images by jazzlah and miamism, used under Creative Commons license

About the Author: Janey Berry is an art aficionado and cultural traveller. Her favourite artist is Rembrandt.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Top 10 places to visit in the Netherlands

The Netherlands - also called Holland - is known for its treadmills, tulips and legal drug and prostitution policy. However, the country is so much more than this. You don’t see everyone in a treadmill, smoking weed while holding some tulips. One thing is true, you’ll see every Dutch person on a bike! The most popular city is Amsterdam, but there are many beautiful places in Holland. Fortunately, the country is not that big so traveling doesn’t take too much time. This way you can see the whole country in a couple of weeks. Here are ten of the best places you can visit in the Netherlands.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands. It’s famous for its many (legal) coffee shops and the Red Light District where the prostitutes sell themselves behind glass. However, the city has much more to it. There’s a lot to do, popular sights include the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Begijnhof. While walking through the city, you’ll see the most beautiful canals and bridges. Just watch out for the cyclists! 

Maastricht

Travel all the way to the south of Holland, where you’ll find beautiful Maastricht. The atmosphere and people are very different. You’ll probably think you’re not in Holland anymore, it’s unexplainable. In the city you’ll find magnificent churches, basilica and museums. After a long day of exploring, get a drink at one of the cosy bars or cafes on the Vrijthof - the square of the inner city. Don’t miss out on the famous “Flan” (Dutch: vlaai), a delicious pie consisting of pastry and filling. So good! 

The Hague
The Hague is also known as the government city of Holland. The city has many monuments and beautiful districts. Plus, it’s located near the coastline of the North Sea. So when you’re visiting on warm days, you can take a dive in the ocean. Other things you can do and see in The Hague are The Peace Palace, Palace Noordeinde, shopping, visiting Madurodam - a miniature version of Holland -, Sealife in the nearby Scheveningen or the Omniversum. The last three are especially fun for children. 

Rotterdam

Thanks to the impressive architecture, Rotterdam might just be one of the most attractive cities in our top 10. Among the modern high rise there are lots of fun places to discover. If you tired from walking, take a cruise or water taxi and see the metropolis in a different light. Rotterdam is perfect if you want something else than your regular city trip. 

Utrecht

In the center of the country you’ll find Utrecht. It’s Holland’s crucial point when it comes to the railroads, high-end waterways. Utrecht’s history goes way back, which can be seen in the buildings and the city center. Popular sights here are the Domtoren and associated church, museum Catherijneconvent (medieval religious art), Rietveld-Schröderhouse and the castle (De Haar). In the evening you can get a drink at one of the bars near the canal for a perfect view. 

Groningen

For Groningen you need to go all the way up to the North. It’s not that far in comparison with traveling in other countries, though Dutch people might disagree. They are not used to travel for more than an hour within their own country. Unfortunately - depending on where you’re coming from - a trip to Groningen can take up to 4 hours. Groningen is known for the many students that reside here. They bring a little extra spark to the city with their events and enthusiastic lifestyle. This city is definitely worth a visit. 

Haarlem

Amsterdam may be the capital of the city, but Haarlem is the capital of the province North Holland. This historic city is known to have one of the most beautiful stations. Thanks to the combination of historical buildings, waterside views, windmills - windmill De Adriaan can be found in central Haarlem - and many options to grab a drink, it’s a unique city which is sometimes overlooked. 

‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch)

Den Bosch has two main sights: the St. Jan Church and the Jheronimus Bosch museum. Furthermore the city also has some unique canals. Are you visiting Den Bosch in February? Chances are you’ll find a crowded city packed with dressed up people who are celebrating a festival called Carnaval. This festival is also celebrated at the same time in the rest of the province (Breda) and in the whole province of Limburg (Maastricht). 

Nijmegen

Nijmegen is known as the oldest city of the Netherlands. It was already here as a part of the Roman Empire and during this time the Roman soldiers of the tenth legion were settled here. On the Waal’s hill you can still find a big fort they built in that time. What not to miss in Nijmegen? The historic parcs, the Valkhof Museum, restaurants and bars at the Waalkade and open air festivals. Are you visiting in July? Every year the greatest walking event in the world takes place in Nijmegen. Next years marks the 100th edition of the The Four Days Marches. Thousands of people walk 30, 40 or 50 km a day. And if you don’t like walking, you can party for a week long during the Four Days Festival. 

Breda

Breda is a combination of a historic and modern city. Many medieval buildings are still intact, such as the Castle of Breda or the church, but you’ll see many modern touches to the city. In the center you’ll find most of the bars and pubs and while strolling through the city center, especially the historic feeling is tangible. Take a look for yourself! Fun fact: famous DJ Tiësto is born in Breda.

Tip: when you are traveling a lot, it could be wise to take a (cheap) prepaid phone with you. This way you are in control of your expenses. You can easily top up your prepaid credit online at Recharge.com.

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Sunday, August 09, 2015

BOGO Cards: Redefining the way you travel

I always like interesting inventions in the travel world that aim to either make your holidays more comfortable or cheaper or both. One such product that I recently came across during my search for interesting travel product/services is BOGO Cards, a prepaid travel card offered by Trip Factory. These travel cards take away two of the biggest headaches of holiday planning, one dates and the second costs.

BOGO Cards is quite a handy travel product that offers you a holiday with flight tickets and 3 star hotel booking to many destinations both domestic and international. Once you buy it, you can use it anytime you want in the next 365 days (with the exception of some peak tourist seasons). What this means is that irrespective of whether the flight or hotels become more expensive, your cost is fixed. All you have to do is choose your holiday dates at least 14 days before and that’s it, you can enjoy your holiday at the seriously low price that you had bought your bogo card at and not at the current prices.

Your flights are taken care for you. Your hotel bookings are taken care for you. Even your breakfast is taken care of. All you have to do is arrange last mile commute and decide which attraction or restaurant you want to visit or which activity you want to indulge in and you have your own special holiday all planned out.

BOGO Cards - prepaid holiday travel cards

Sounds interesting right? Let me explain this in detail with an example:

Let’s assume that you are based out of Delhi or even if you are not, you are planning to travel from Delhi. Bogo cards allows you to choose from a variety of destinations both domestic and international. Under domestic trips, you can choose from Jammu, Lucknow, Bangalore, Kolkata, Mumbai, Srinagar, Goa or Kochi and under international, you can choose from Bangkok, Dubai or Singapore. These are the options that are available today and I am sure they will change with time.

Bogo Cards – What is it?

Now, say for example, you are interested in a short holiday to Goa, but don’t know when you want to go. All you have to do is select the Goa holiday Bogo card to see if it can interest you.

You find out that this card is valid for 4 days and 3 nights in Goa. In the card, they mention that you would be flying either with Jet Airways or Go Air, who happen to be their airline partners for this holiday. There are 3 hotels where you might be put up. Right now, the options are 2 star or 3 star. You can see the hotel names, tripadvisor ratings, pictures, location and other details. The cost is INR 10,999 per person if you opt for twin sharing or INR 11,999 per person for single sharing. You can see the available dates (this is important to check as some dates might be holidays or already sold out). You can also see possible upgrade options for hotels in case you wish to upgrade yourself to a 4 star or 5 star hotel. However, you do have to pay the difference in cost, if you opt to upgrade.

Bogo Card - Goa holiday

Now, let’s assume that you like what this Bogo card offers and you end up buying it at the current price point. You will get a unique card number that you can redeem whenever you plan on taking your holiday.

If there are 2 of you traveling, you should buy 2 cards on twin sharing or if you are traveling alone, you buy one card on single sharing.

BOGO Cards – How do I redeem it for my holiday?

Time has gone by after you purchased your Bogo card, but now, you wish to use it to book your holiday to Goa. All you would to have to do now is redeem your Bogo card by choosing your location of departure and the destination you wish to visit. Once you do that, you will get to select your hotel. For certain 2 or 3 star hotels, you will not need to pay more, but if you wish to upgrade yourself to a 5 star hotel to make your holiday luxurious, you just have to pay the difference. At this juncture, you can see the hotel details, date availability, photos of the room and the property, What’s included and more.

Goa holiday - Redeeming Bogo cards

The next step is for you to choose your dates, add additional nights, check your flight details (make changes to it if necessary), check the final price, pay the difference and get ready to pack your bags for your holiday to Goa.

Advantages of BOGO cards
Now that you understand this sensational travel product at depth, let me summarize its advantages:

1) Ability to lock your holidays at low prices. This includes flights and hotels.

2) Flexibility to travel any time of the year (provided dates are available) with just a 14 day lead time.

3) Ability to upgrade to a hotel of superior class for an additional cost.

4) Ability to extend holiday duration over and above the duration mentioned on your Bogo card for an additional cost.

5) Ability to transfer the card to any person (friend or family).

6) Easy cancellation options. One small cancellation fee against multiple cancellation fees of flights, hotels, etc.

7) Single sharing option is a handy feature for solo travelers.

8) Transparency in names of flight and hotel partners. Pre-approved branded hotel chains and better airlines are a bonus.

If after reading this post, you think this might be a worthy product for you to look into, head to the Trip Factory website, grab a decent look and see if you want to agree with me on why this product might redefine the way we travel.

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Picking L.A. Hotels Starts with Your Ride

It has been said many times before in song and prose: Los Angeles is a state of mind. It's a mecca for creativity, glamour, the avant-garde, diversity and entertainment, drawing visitors from all over the country and the world. These ideas reveal themselves in the many cities and towns that make up the sprawling metropolis. Your favorite attractions may be miles away from each other: Universal Studios is at least 35 miles from Disneyland and the Rose Bowl is 27 miles from the Venice Beach Boardwalk. So finding hotels in Los Angeles demands that you figure out what you want to visit and then what ride you're going to rely on to get there.

Metro Rail Rapid Transit System
Nobody walks in L.A. but you can ride a fast urban rail system to get around. Starting with the Blue Line in 1990, Metro Rail now consists of six lines (Blue, Expo, Gold, Green, Purple and Red) that carry over 348,000 passengers on an average weekday. You have to wait no more than four to eight minutes to catch a car during peak hours or 10 to 20 minutes during off-peak times to travel over 87.7 miles of system length.

Depending on how long your vacation is, you can save money over the inexpensive one-ride rate by buying a 7-day or 30-day pass. These passes also let you ride Metro buses.

If you intend on doing the rails, find a hotel next to a station and you can get to any other sites that are by the Metro system, including Universal Studios Hollywood, TCL Chinese Theater, Norton Simon Museum, Olvera Street, USC and the Aquarium of the Pacific. Many hotel booking sites, such as Hipmunk, have a map, so you can see the hotels available in an area. Click on the hotel shown on the map to reveal such details as rates, amenities and address.

Take down the address and then enter it into Google Maps. That site can then show you if any Metro Rail stations are within walking distance of your chosen hotel. If you're not finding any, repeat the process until you find accommodations that work for you.

Rental Cars
If you rent a car, your options in hotel rental are literally unlimited. You can find a hotel based on price, amenities and immediate surroundings because your vehicle lets you drive anywhere else. To save money, look for a hotel with free parking. Just remember that the locals navigate using L.A.'s extensive freeway system: they use highway numbers, such as the 5 or the 10, and exits as main streets and sign posts. If you have a choice of locations, pick accommodations that are closer to a freeway entrance so you can reach your destination more quickly.

If you're arriving into the city by plane, you'll save money if you rent your car through an off-airport location. (If available, a shuttle can take you directly to your hotel, from which many rental companies can pick you up.) The airport adds surcharges to every transaction that are absent from off-site rentals. To get to your destination faster, travel outside of the morning and evening rush hours. You can also use the carpool lane, which only requires two people in a vehicle for use.

This article was contributed by Fiona Moriarty of Hipmunk, a complete travel platform that allows you to do everything from comparing charter flights and train rides, to finding the best resort hotels and Airbnb rentals.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2015

How to Upgrade Yourself for Free in Indian Railways

All of us love to indulge in a bit of luxury without it making a dent in our pockets. After all, who doesn’t like free upgrades or free goodies.

Well, our beloved Indian Railways offers that very luxury and it was something that I never knew happened. Technically, I knew that an upgrade facility exists and that there is a checkbox to select it while booking my ticket on IRCTC. Apparently, we can ask for that facility at the in-person ticket counter too. Recently, when I traveled from Bangalore to Tirunelveli, I got upgraded from 3rd Tier AC to 2nd Tier AC at absolutely no additional cost. This was the first time I experienced this and my excitement knew no bounds. When I shared this piece of information with my dad (a regular user of Indian Railways), he said that he has been upgraded a couple of times himself. So basically, this system works.

I was very curious how this works so when the ticket collector came to check my ticket, I asked him this question on how this free upgrade works. he says that generally, Indian Railways has higher waiting list in lower classes and in order to make additional revenue, they upgrade people to a higher class on a first come first serve basis. What this means is that you get upgraded to 1st AC from 2nd AC, to 2nd AC from 3rd AC and to 3rd AC from the sleeper class provided there are seats available in the higher class.

It is a pretty neat way for Indian Railways to make some additional revenue. Whoever recommended it in the Rail Budget deserves praise. Not only do they make more money, us citizens get some free luxury perks.
Get upgraded in Indian Railways

If you wish to get this free upgrade on Indian Railways try some of these tricks (based on personal family experiences and some analysis):

1) Book as early as possible. As the upgrade is based on a first come, first serve basis, it is always better to book early.

2) Book on days which are not weekends or holidays, thereby fewer people will be traveling.

3) Book on special trains. Most frequent travelers prefer regular trains.

4) Book a higher class. Your chances improve with increasing class.

5) It is difficult to find a not so popular train route in India as we have so many people, but for whatever its worth, your chances improve with such low traffic routes.

I hope you too get a lucky upgrade with Indian Railways.

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Monday, August 03, 2015

Interviewed on Eco Tourism in India

Did you know that India ranks number one in a study that describes consumer behavior towards environmentally sustainable consumption worldwide? In spite of all our population and pollution issues, it looks like some of us are still doing something right! Even though, our cities are turning into concrete jungles, a lot many tourism initiatives in the country are geared towards eco tourism.

What saddens me a lot is the fact that a lot of pristine holiday destinations that I visited a decade back has turned into a concrete dump filled with garbage and ill-planned architecture. And that is where sustainable travel or what we call eco tourism comes in! It is not just the destination or hotel properties that play a role in sustainable tourism, but us travelers too play a pivotal role in ensuring these holiday destinations survive for our future generations to enjoy. And it all starts with plastic water bottles and other trash that we generate. I love to travel, but am also aware of the damage that a huge travel population can do to the eco system. And that is why I am a bit believer in sustainable travel and eco tourism. I follow it in my own simple way! Do you?

Interview on sustainable travel in India

Recently, Green Pearls, a sustainable tourism company interviewed me and hotelier Goerge Dominic on Sustainable Tourism in India and how Eco Tourism is blossoming in our country. In this interview, we talk about the role sustainable tourism is currently playing in India, why sustainable tourism is essential, why we should as travelers think sustainable travel, my dreams in sustainable travel, three great eco friendly hotels in India, our cultural responsibility and much more. You can read the full interview here. Hopefully, you can join the sustainable travel bandwagon, if not already.

About Green Pearls Green Pearls is a portfolio of handpicked, sustainable and unique places worldwide. Their goal is simple – protect the environment and commit to social engagement. It is the first holding company worldwide that combines hotels, destinations and restaurants in a global data source. All their properties believe and work towards sustainable travel and giving back to the environment and community.

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Win a Free Trip to the Leeds Festival

Will you be in the UK this month? Are music festivals and entertainment events your thing? If you answered ‘Yes’, you might be interested in taking part in this competition. From the 28th to the 30th of this month, the finest musicians, DJs, comedians and other celebrities are coming together in the heart of Yorkshire. That event is the Leeds Festival where the Libertines, Mumford & Sons, Metallica, Bastille, The Maccabees, Jamie T, Limp Bizkit, Lethal Bizzle and many more come to enthrall the audience.

The awesome news is that Wellington boots and outwear specialists Hunter have teamed up with Mainline Menswear to give you a chance to win 2 tickets to the festival. All you have to do go to this competition page, leave your name, email and phone number and pray to your lucky stars as one lucky winner selected at random will get the opportunity to win goods over 700 pounds along with 2 tickets to the Leeds festival. It is as simple as that and if you end up winning, you will get a fully paid for weekend to the amazing Leeds festival that will be full of great music, entertainment and of course premium wellington boot goodies.

All you have to do is take part in the competition. I hope you get lucky!

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