Saturday, June 30, 2018

TRIP TO BRUGES. CHRISTMAS IN THE HIDDEN TREASURE OF EUROPE.

Welcome Back ! After a while, there is some action on the Blog! All the more. since I relocated to Luxembourg, Europe. 

So the wait ends. And what a way to end the hiatus, I'm too excited to cover the treasure hunt of one of the most beautiful cities of Europe, Bruges !

Bruges (or Brugge) has a distinct charm

There is a sense of a heavenly charm that you witness as the horse-carts move in their rhythm on the cobbled streets. With Christmas bells floating in the air, the Chocolate in your hand could not taste any better. Welcome to Bruges that is also known as Brugges, which made my Christmas even more special.

Christmas decorations at Bruges

Decorated Christmas Tree

Exquisite lighting of the main square

When I was in Bruges, the air of festivity resonated with the church bells in the festive mood. While Bruges is definitely a place worth visiting across all seasons. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit during fall. The festive mood, traditionally decorated Christmas markets


But let me list down why should Bruges be on Must visit list in Europe. The tips are covered in the later half as well.

WHY BRUGES MUST DEFINITELY FIGURE ON YOUR EUROPE ITINERARY:

  1. Bruges is Unique: Flanders as a region in Belgium has a unique culture, and Bruges belonging to its sub-region, Flemish seems to have been hidden somewhere from the tyrants in the history (and tourists recently). The number of tourists certainly don't do the justice with the potential of Bruges charm.
  2. Bruges is Medieval: For all its modern infrastructure, Bruges takes pride in retaining its medieval charm and trust me it has done astonishingly well. Be it the romantic horse carts taking you across the city, the architecture or the beautiful and immaculately neat cobbled streets, you are sure going to feel transformed.
  3. Locals in Bruges are friendly, welcoming: The locals in Bruges are really warm and welcoming towards tourists. People for sure, would go out of their way to help you. In fact, most Brugians thank tourists for helping their economy and their city be on the tourist map of the world. There are no concerns for hostile stares for encroaching in the locals' private space.
  4. Bruges is NOT similar to Venice: Often people would refer Bruges as the Venice of the North. Or in some way or the other bring a comparison. From my trip to Venice and this time to Bruges, trust me the cities are very different from each other. While there are beautiful canals and water bodies in both the places, in all other senses they are different. (Another post to follow on the subject extensively.) 
  5. English is widely spoken:  Unlike some of the other Belgian cities, there is a wider acceptance to English. Its proximity to UK and the substantial flows of the tourists would make you feel at ease.
  6. Compactness of places of interest: Most of the places to be seen in Bruges are concentrated in the Old city. The locals call the part of the city that is within the walls ! This makes an ideal case to decide and prioritize the places that you want to see without much of stress on the commutation time.
ITINERARY AND PLACES TO VISIT IN BRUGES

Start the trip by exploring Bruges at the night. Dip in the reflections of the falling lights in the Canal water while you decide the places that you want to see the next morning. The calmness and the peace of the night beyond the hustle and bustle of the tourists are accentuated by the incredibly beautifully lit monuments which takes you to another feeling all together.
Well lit canal at night - Bruges


Surreal beauty of the monuments

Luminous monuments with few tourists
'Lake of Love' makes the ideal early morning start on the next day. Several playful ducks and the old world bridges make the setting more than ideal for your wonderful day. One of the bridges on the canal would take you to the Old city. As you pass by several beautifully kept old houses, you can would reach Beguinage.
Early start to our trip

Across the canal in the early morning

Take that !

Lake of Love - Aptly so !

Playful ducks in the Lake of Love

Playful ducks in the Lake of Love

Once you reach, 'Church of the Our Lady' through Memling Museum building, you have the choice to visiting either/all of the three museums viz. Groeninge, Brangwyn or Gruuthuse or reach the core of the Old city attractions, wherein the City Hall, Basilica of the Holy Blood and Old Recorders House are pretty close by. These places call for adequate time you spend in Bruges. Pretty closeby is the Guildhouse of the tanners which is also quite interesting.

Horse cart on the cobbled street - Transformation


Where Horses Drink !

And Horses Feed !

Bruges is Beautiful !

Ducks - Adding romanticism


Meanwhile retour from your trip to the statue of the Simon Stevin and visit the famous attraction Belfry.

Bruges - The best kept secret of Europe
In addition, there are 2 main shopping streets that houses several chocolate shops and a supermarket. You may visit on your way back from the train station. Interestingly, the small streets called 'Meersen' are worth visiting. Away from the tourists, they can really surprise you with their earthenness.
The small streets of Bruges are equally beautiful

Somewhere near the Museum

Earthen charm of  Bruges





Bruges is definitely different from Venice

City Hall of Bruges

City Hall of Bruges !

View from the City Hall
Apart from these attractions, there are few other side visits also possible.
Flags of Bruges - Flying High

Colourful building at the City Hall



Christmas decorations at Bruges

TIPS FOR VISITING BRUGES
  1. Please stay overnight at Bruges. Its morning charm is simply too good to be missed.
  2. Bruges can be easily reached from Brussels. You may check the belgian railways for the connections and their frequency.
  3. While in Bruges, the following side/day trips can be considered from Ghent, Ostend, Antwerp Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Lille (France). 
  4. As the connections among the Belgian cities is very good, even Brussels can be covered as a day trip. However, a day to Brussels would be injustice to things on offer there.
  5. Cycling within the city is often overrated. The cobbled streets on offer are not ideal for the bicycles.
  6. You simply should not miss the Belgian chocolates !
  7. Watch out for the horse carts, there are many of them on the road. Stay careful.
  8. A day trip during spring could be a ride to Zeebrugge beach on bicycle. It is good for Surfing.
  9. Accommodation, in general in the Old city is expensive. In fact I found Airbnb within the old city was also expensive. There are some Hotels and other properties across the canal, and yet quite close to the old city. These are cheaper are quite effective. PS: I stayed in a Hostel and found it quite easy to commute to the old city on feet.
  10. Shopping: Lace works was supposedly a popular artform. You find them everywhere are very highly priced.
  11. Public Transport: The old city is compact so there is no need for the Public transport as such. Most of the attractions are friendly for differently abled as is the case in most European cities.
  12. Food: Expensive at restaurants. But there are several options which are inexpensive and quite good. These includes the famous French fries (which are authentic Belgian!) and waffles. Some good vegan options are De Plaats and Reliva.
SOME USEFUL RESOURCES:
  1. Belgian railways:  http://www.belgianrail.be/en/ 
  2. A nice travel Guide : http://bruges.use-it.travel/ 
Near Bruges Train Station

Sunday, September 18, 2016

ACROSS THE SKIES : MOUNTAIN FLIGHT TO THE EVEREST

Few things in life can enthrall as much as the thought of mountain flight to the highest peak of the world. During my maiden visit to Kathmandu in March 2016, I had the opportunity to board this 50 minutes odd flight to the top of the world. An overwhelming experience to say the least. The breathtaking panorama was spiced with a chance to visit the cockpit and a Window seat to soak in the majestic heights.

It for sure feels like ticking off an item from your bucket list and to put it straight in three words,

A lifetime experience !

Mountain Flight to Mount Everest
Mountain Flight to Mount Everest - A lifetime experience


Sun Kissed Himalayan Range
Sun Kissed Himalayan Range - Simply Amazing
Off and On Again !

But before that, let me share how the journey was off and on in matter of just two days.

As it happened I had to miss early morning flight to Mt. Everest as it was cancelled.

The Culprit - Weather. Fog to be precise.

But hoping against the hopes, I tried my luck, the very next day despite similar weather conditions as I woke in the morning. The glimmer of hope led to eventuality, as the rays of the sun criss-crossed the skies almost suddenly. The golden hue of the slanting rays covered the mountains, and there I was.

The visibility was just enough for the flight to take off after 3 hours of delay from the scheduled departure. There were last minute jitters as the airline staff were hooked to their transmitters and travellers to the sky for the final nod to go ahead.

And there it was, announcements that led to stamping of the Boarding Pass(held till this date as a souvenir) and we were even more excited to be :

On the way and above the Everest !!

Mountain Trip to Mount Everest
Happy Souvenir - Boarding Pass for the Mountain Flight

Weather Report for Mountain Flight
Weather Report on the Announcement Screen - Nervous Wait

Golden Rays on the Everest
Golden Rays on the Everest - A Sight to Behold


Eclectic Airport :

The mountain flights operate from the domestic airport of Kathmandu, viz. the domestic terminal of Tribhuvan International Airport. The early morning sights of this airport is more of a flux of over-energetic foreign nationals and contrasting calm locals. There is some method to the madness here. One, the foreign nationals were either like me, the people taking one of the mountain flights or they were on their way to Lukla, the nearest airport to the Everest base camp. The locals were heading to Pokhara. That somehow explained the reason for the contrast.

The Airlines :

Several airlines operate mountain flights for Everest. I had taken a Buddha Air Mountain flight for this trip and indeed it was every bit worth it. Their customer handling, quality of information off and on air, and the views of the panorama during the flight were wonderful. (Every seat being a window seat in the 24 seater carrier.) However, the views were better from the seats at back because of the wings mid-way. Their safety records are also quite good, if not the best in the league. The refunds in case of cancellation are prompt and without hassle.

In the nutshell, I'd recommend the airline. 

Mountain Flight to Everest
Wings of Panorama

The Experience  : Journey is HEIGHT of Specialty:



Golden Sight of Himalayas
Golden Array of Himalayan Cousins
The mountain flight goes around Everest and as close to it, as the weather permits.

  1. The mountain flights passes through several of the top 15 mountain peaks (eight thousanders as they say) of the world. 
  2. Apart from that, there are several glaciers and  landscapes that is sure to transport to a fairy tale dream like world.
  3. There is an opportunity to visit the Cockpit from a distance, which is an amazing experience in itself.
  4. Travel hostess was friendly and introduced us to the peaks that were passing by.
  5. At the end of the flight, the travelers are given a certificate of completion. As a memoir, it was a nice idea.
Visit to Cockpit - Mountain Flight
Cockpit Adventure

Tips for YOUR Mountain flight:
  1. Safety First: Generally all the carriers adhere to the basic safety norms. However, the reputed carriers have better aircraft and maintenance.
  2. Weather the Weather. Yes, the weather is the most important factor beside the safety. The best season to travel is from September - December. Next Best: March - May (Generally post local 'Dushera' festival). The reason being the rains. With clear skies, as in the above seasons, the views would be the best. Remember how I ended up missing my flight.
  3. Time it. The best views are on the offer in the first flight of the day. More to do with the dispersion of the sun rays. So the first morning flight is highly recommended. Check in Early to ensure that the first flight is not overbooked.
  4. Have ample juice in the camera batteries: The views in the mountain flight are simply amazing. So make sure you have spare batteries to support videos. PS: The views are even better through the cockpit.
  5. Air pressure all the way is well regulated, but it's always better to take general precautions.
  6. Note: In case of poor visibility, domestic flights are given preference.
  7. It's better to schedule taking mountain flights in the middle of your Kathmandu itinerary to allow cushion for some bad weather days (or rather not so good weather days). Many people miss it because of their last day attempt not having enough blessings from the weather gods.
  8. The flight is priced in USD, and it generally varies from season to season. There are many booking counters across Kathmandu, particularly near the city center.
  9. The best way  to book is through the counter on the airport, for efficient refunds, if need be.
  10. Mountain flights are also available from Pokhara but to a different mountain range.
Views from the Mountain Flight
Sun and the Peaks - Great Symbiosis

The Bottomline: 

The mountain flight was truly highlight for my Nepal trip and I'd recommend it without hesitation. There aren't many mountain flights that I've heard of, globally. So although some people may find the pricing a bit steep, the experience is every bit worth it.

Views from the Mountain Flight
Panoramic Views of Himalayas



Views from the Mountain Flight
Panoramic Views of Himalayas


Disclosure - The mountain trip to Everest for the author was hosted by Buddha Air.   As usual, views above are bonafide, impartial and author's own.

Monday, June 6, 2016

AN EVENING ACROSS BEGNAS LAKE - POKHARA, NEPAL

Beautiful Lake at Lekhnath
Picture Perfect

The expectations had been laid on the Prithvi Highway. At Lekhnath, the notches were set even higher.

While the earlier journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara seemed to be a destination in itself, Lekhnath was truly a bliss in itself.

Calm water of the lake. Himalayan ranges on the backdrop, A slow and content local life. Small farms just on the other side the lake. Sky full of birds. Array of colorfully placed boats.

Almost everything about the place seemed like a surreal, and set in different time.



Mountains and Lakes
Harmony - Evenness of the Farm and Wilderness of the Mountains

At one point, even the evenness of the farms on the ground harmonized with the wilderness of the mountains and eclectic melancholy of birds. The lush green mountains paved way for the mightier grandiose of the snow capped Himalayas.

At one point, it appeared as if the reflection of the dancing tree leaves had created waves in water!

Lake and the Mountains
Ridge demarcates the lake and the farm. 

A ridge across the lake demarcates the farms from the water. This ridge is also perfectly suited to take a fulfilling walk across the lake to immerse in the exquisite surroundings as also to catch a glimpse of the setting sun and the chirping birds.

Ridge across the Lake
Ridge - That takes you to the mountain across the lake

Ridge across the Lake
Another View of the Ridge

The quaint picturesque setting is amplified with the restive boats lined up across the shore. The visitors can undertake boating in the lake which is highly suggested.

The twirling curl of the lake across the mountain is going to catch your attention.

Restive Boats in the Lake
Restive boats that amplifies the beauty of the place

As one heads towards the lake, a few rock formations are also to be witnessed. These structures definitely add to the beauty of the landscape.


Rocks across the Lake
Rugged Landscape - Rocks with their scaling

A picture is worth a thousand words. And landscapes like these, worth a million pictures !


Great Views at Lekhnath Lake
Now that was breathtaking !



Your's Truly
Practical Tips:
  • Pokhara is famed for 7 lakes around the city.
  • The Lake at Lekhnath and Phewa lake are different and therefore they may be included in the itinerary.
  • The place is good for relaxing and watching the nature at best.
  • Boating may be done in Phewa, if that is already your itinerary.
  • There is a provision of a municipal parking available around the lake.
  • There aren't many options for quickbites/snacks around, so pack your bags accordingly.
  • The best time of the day to visit the place would be evenings.