Thursday, December 26, 2013

Trip to Naples. Discover a Treasure.

Our friends shared a lot of apprehensions when we told them that Naples was on our itinerary. Mafia, uncleanliness were some of the cons that people shared. Naples turned out to be exactly different. It indeed is a treasure.

Our journey from Rome to Naples incidentally happened to be our first train journey in Europe. We hopped on TrenItalia. The landscape that passed us ranged from eclectic open grasslands, to clinically linear farms to snow crowned mountains. The exquisite scenery simply vignetted at 300 Kph. The trains are a tourist attraction in themselves, we were quick to realize. Coach was absolutely neat, people astonishingly quiet, and space that was utilized functionally perfectly. There was an adequate occupancy, and was  far from being overcrowded. People were busy within themselves and their work. The suspensions were so perfect, that the coffee in our cups, bought from the pantry in the car, didn't even for a moment suggest of spilling. We had boarded a morning train and thankfully there was brilliant sunshine in both the cities.

Day 1

The first thing you would notice about Naples is that it's far less touristy than the other northern Italian cities like Rome, Florence, Venice or Milan, and relatively less affluent and prosperous also. Our hotel was few steps away from the train station, Napoli Centrali and the moment we stepped out from the station complex, we could find Hotel Ideal spot on. The Hotel rooms were on the smaller side but yes were functionally adequate. There was a dearth of (badly missed) lift, but the facility of bell boy more than made up for the deficit, atleast for the luggage. The reception was very helpful and tried to make up for the lack of infrastructure to the extent possible. We settled in our rooms and tied our shoestrings for a quick lunch (Pizza foe sure !!). Southern Italian state of Campania is the birth place of Pizza and Naples being its capital, you would find divine pizzas here. For many, trust me, tasting divine Pizzas (without exaggeration) can be reason enough to visit Naples.
Pizza at Naples
Experience Divine Pizzas at Naples

Lots of migrants from African origin can be seen selling the odd things on the streets. There is also a significant group of Sri Lankan origined people, displaced due to the civil war in their country.

Naples can be easily termed as the most affordable Italian city for shopping. Almost everything is significantly cheaper than the northern Italian cities. With the annual sale season around, there are some excellent deals for the grabs. After spending some time in the market, we headed to the old Town of Naples. This part is also known as the historical town of Naples. We witnessed major infrastructure projects taking place around the station. The old city, thus, was a welcome discovery. In all senses, it was a world different from its world. It was a bustling place and the architecture, as across almost all of Italy, breathtaking. We chose to walk our way through to visit Naples and that also turned out to be the best way. Witnessing high energy levels, we realized that we were quite close to the University area. We then spent our afternoon and evening across bustling markets, Castle Nuovo, Piazza del Plebiscito, to finally reach Castle Dell'ovo at Porto Santa Lucia.
Castle Nuovo, Naples
Castle Nuovo

The city view from Castle Dell'ovo was fabulous. Steps of light (the city being across hill) garland the littoral water across Bay of Naples and truly, the resilient fort stood guard to the city. Several boats drifted quietly in their dictated domains. The castle currently houses Museum of Prehistory, and at time of our visit, was playing host to a painting exhibition. Across the other side of sea, there is a battery of high budget restaurants. However, there is no point spending money here, as neither the food, nor the price you end up paying for the food is worth it. After spending some really good time, we headed to taste the BEST food ever in our sojourn. It was Pizzeria Sorbillo. The food was a culinary feast and nothing short of divine. The prices are appropriate with a lot of vegetarian choices also available. You can expect a waiting period of around 45-60 minutes in evening though. Without a second thought, Go for it !

We walked our way through to our Hotel and perhaps for the first time in our Italian tour, it was a little unsafe for the time of night. We reached safely and were gleefully smiling like school kids to discover our treasure, Naples!
European Souk

The next day, we went to visit Sorrento. Can't wait writing my post !

Shop What
Naples is one of the cheapest of Italian cities. Some Shopping ideas may include:
  • Jackets
  • Designer Hats
  • Kids wear
The suburban towns around Naples are even cheaper.
Visit Italy during annual season sale that generally takes place in January.

Bottom Line

  • Best Time to travel is during the sale season.
  • It isn't that cold as  northern Italian cities like Rome, Florence etc.
  • The public transport passes are quite cheap. There are seperate prices for weekends.
  • Food is absolutely deligthful.
  • Be careful. One of the most unsafe cities in Italy.
  • Historical town can surprise you with its beauty.
  • Castles are unique and a must visit.

Travel Facts
  • Stayed : 1and 1/2 days.
  • Stayed at : Hotel Ideal - No, not recommended.
  • Travelled with my better half and the journey could be easily divided in three phases. 
  • Travelled in TrenItalia from Rome in January 2013.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Trip to Vatican. Things to do in the City State.

The Channel created by the tall walls around Vatican amplified the chill in the wind. It's a great feeling to visit a city country with a geographical area of just 44 hectares and a permanent population of just 840! That's less than the number of people that travel in a morning Mumbai local. Phew. The chill disappeared rather quickly as the sun made its way strongly through the clouds. Life was back!
Vatican City
Vatican City - Clouds overhead

Vatican City is quite within Rome itself. So it's better to stay in Rome, and then come around to visit the place. The magnificent St. Peter's Square will make its way to the pious Basilica. St. Peter's square is a fairly large square that is not only a home to several seminaries, but also as a tourist place worth spending few hours. Be it the famed Christmas tree or Obelisk(originally brought from Egypt), its grandeur may leave you speechless. There are a few fountains where the birds chirp effortlessly as people soak in the beauty of the place. The colourful Swiss guards, for sure, will catch your attention.

Basilica, few steps ahead, has a breath taking architecture. Its frescoes, lighting perhaps everything that is in it makes it extraordinary. Heavily guarded, there are a lot of volunteers to help and guide around the place. There are functional amenities in the complex. 
St. Peter's Square

The Vatican museums, quite near to the place are spectacular with Michael Angelo's frescoes and their unique design.
St Peter's Square
Excellent Architecture - Inside the Basilica

After spending close to 6 hours in the Vatican, we went back to the country we came from, Italy. Albeit it was only quite close. We again took the Hop-on Hop-Off bus.

Shop What:
  • Buy Vatican City's stamps at the Local Post office
  • Basic Souvenirs
Bottom Line:
  • It's a beautiful place and feeling of being in the tiniest country should not be missed.
  • Do visit it at night time also. It's brilliant.
Travel Facts:
  • Stayed : Few Hours.
  • Travelled with my better half. 
  • Travelled from Rome in Bus(Hop-on Hop-Off).
  • Stayed at Hotel Milan, Rome

Monday, December 23, 2013

10 Reasons To Travel Across The World

Came across this on a Travel channel (now more of a food channel) that continues to stay in my memory.

For the Monday Blues. 
For the Weather.
For the Sweet Tooth. 
For the Sour Wait. 
For the Memories and 
To Forget. 
For the Sale. 
For the Soul. 
For too many reasons. 
Sometimes for None. 

We Travel. Hop on!

travel for soul
Why we Travel ?

Trip to Rome. Eternal Rome.

Stretches of green midst clinically linear architecture settlements. The air-view above few feet in the sky offered spectacular view of Rome. Nature and architecture at its resonating best, Rome was the first European city we visited, and it surely did build high expectations for others to follow. For its architecture and more importantly the care with which it has been preserved, Rome is a benchmark for tourist cities in the world. 

A cradle for civilization with an architecture that is worth sustaining entire city's economy tourism on its own, some say Rome is Eternal because of its culture and architecture. Undoubtedly, it survived anciently, it excels today, and for sure shows path to other cities of future. Our trip in mid-January 2013 was primarily because we chose Italy for the weather it offered in that time of the year and its delicious food, and vegetarian options compared to its northern European siblings.

Day 1 - Post Noon

International airport at Rome is efficient and modern. Checking out is easy and hassle free. The drizzle and nip in the air welcomed us outside the airport. The local metro/train station is just on the opposite side of the airport and there is a very good public transportation system overall in Rome. The train to Rome city costed around 13 Euros pp . However, priced almost the same, the shared mini bus (also outside the airport) was more fun and we went ahead with our front seats. It wasn't sunny, yet the outskirts of Rome set the tone for our two days odd trip to Rome. Windmills and carefully mowed gardens accentuated the beautiful landscape. The bus dropped us just outside the Roma Termini, the main train station for the city. Hotel Milan, where we stayed was quite near to termini, and it simply is a blessing to stay close to the transport hubs. It gels well, the way we wanted to explore the city saving precious time and fatigue.
Rome Airport
Just outside Rome Airport

A suggestion here: If travelling for less than 3 days in any city, stay as close to station, as possible. More so applicable for the Italian cities.You'd save a LOT of time.Trust me.

After laying down for a while, we felt rejuvenated enough to grab some slices of pizza around the neighbourhood restaurant. It was fresh, crisp and appropriately spiced. Neat and effective. Similar to food throughout our stay in Italy. As  dusk was approaching us with some vigor with clouds playing peek-a-boo with the sunshine, we had to have our plans in order, rather quickly. The reception in the hotel had functional travel maps which were useful for us to begin our journey. From Termini we took a red line metro to Barberini and walked our way post that to Fontana-De-Trivi. It was dark by the time we reached at fountain. It was amazing to see several people enjoying  and refreshing their senses around the place, both locals and tourists alike. Shops selling branded products were close by.
Fontana De Trivi
Fontana De Trivi: Refreshing and Vibrant

Relaxed, we next headed towards Palazzo Montecitorio and then to Piazza Navone, exploring the amazing city through its streets. The part of the city is quite up-market and products are expensive. (Btw: The squares in Italian cities are referred as Piazza and street names begin with Via.) Some steep steps above and  the view holds you to a marvelous architecture. It was around eight, and the shops as if suddenly closed with only exceptions being the bars and the coffee shops.

We walked our way through to Via del Corso (it was indeed expensive) to reach back Barberini and subsequently to Termini. We had not taken any pass for public transport for this day. Termini has some really good shops in its complex, which offered handsome discounts too, and more importantly were open. We had our dinner after shopping a bit and then headed few steps to reach our hotel around 10. The amazing city held its charm so much so that we decided to hit the Roman streets. Rome is a pretty safe city. A cup of cappuccino and some magical and authentic pizza slices down the throat gives you that amazing feeling.

Conversation at Reception
Once back, the receptionist at the hotel and I picked up the conversation, primarily as I sought some information for our travel next day. While shopping through the windows that evening, I just wondered if everyone could afford the super expensive Armanis and others. It was heartening :) to know that not many locals shopped in the city and actually went to company outlets once a month or so. One could feel the general restlessness about the extant recession and the death of the Italian Lira. 'Euro has ruined our life', he shared wryly also emphasizing that taking credit from institutions and repaying was getting difficult day by day. The talk with the men on street is worth a 100 books, and this bit of conversation re-affirmed that. We retired after a fabulous day. Chao.

Day 2

Few meters away from our Hotel was 'Piazza della Repubblica'. We took off for our early morning walk and it was a wonderful feeling to make the ideal start to the day. The morning freshness could still be felt  around, while birds flogged their way to create peace through their noise. The place was superb. The feeling even better!

We then paid visit to a local market, that sold dry fruits, winter-wear (jackets, mufflers etc.),vegetables and meat. Prices were fairly low, in fact you find the prices to be lowest in Rome. (It's downtown though!.). Complimenting our last day's exploration on feet, 'Hop-on, Hop-Off' bus was our choice for today. It's highly recommended that you take this mode to discover Rome at your leisurely pace. We took Green bus and should say we were fairly happy with its service (there are other services too). You can hold your breath with the Roma views and with a price tag of 13 Euros pp, it's simply worth it. The pamphlets of major bus services can be fund in the hotels while tickets can be bought in the bus or around the emanating station. The process is simple and there are multi lingual audio guides available on the bus. And yes, the deck seats are better any day! There are scheduled bus stops around the major attractions and one has to buy ticket only once for the day. The periodicity of the repeat in around half an hour. It is highly advisable to take a day tour followed by the night journey to view Rome(without alighting from the bus) in the last shuttle that runs around 7 pm from Termini.

Taking our first bus at 11am we had sufficient time to see the major attractions of the day. You can start earlier too. Colosseum, major art museums and also to Vatican. (The Vatican post would follow this.) In between, we grabbed our bites of pizza and several life(chill) saving cappuccino at one of the coffee shop  in the afternoon .  Our Indian snacks helped too. The night view that Hop-on and Hop-off offered us was astonishing! The monuments are lit meticulously and the do make your way for the night trip, something that is highly recommended.

We would love to go back to Rome several times. Rome still bequeaths with its glory and the more so, the way that glory has been preserved. We left for Naples around 10 in the morning through Tren Italia from Roma Termini, next day.

Blue skies making way for the Colosseum

Shop What
Rome is very expensive. Some Shopping ideas may include:
  • Shopping at Segue 
  • Kids wear 
  • Winter Jackets
The suburban towns around Rome have company outlets that are far cheaper than main city.
Visit Italy during annual season sale that generally takes place in January.

Bottom Line

Best Time to travel is during the sale season.
Be equipped with appropriate winter wear, the chill can surprise you.
The public transport passes may not be needed if you are using Hop on and Hop off.
You'll find a lot of vegetarian options, especially with pizza and the chefs won't surprise you with their expression hearing 'vegetarian'.

Travel Facts
  • Stayed : 2 days.
  • Stayed at : Hotel Milan - Yes, recommended.
  • Travelled with my better half and the journey could be easily divided in three phases. 
  • Travelled in Egypt Air from Cairo in January 2013.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Day Trip To Cairo. Shukraan.

I tried associating my trip to Cairo more as a gateway to Europe. But soon realized that it was special in its own right. (Travel to Europe is some thing I'll write in the due course.) For now, first things first. Kahira.

Beautiful Sahara desert leading to grand pyramids and people that were really really lively. Cairo with its charm can stay with you forever. With early January chill making its way to clear blue skies and warmth of its ever hospitable people, we stepped to see the wonder world.

Day 1- Pre Noon

Bright Smiles and 'Shukraan' showered liberally everywhere. For something special, Egyptians are a happy lot. Karnak Tours, the official tour agency of Egypt Tourism approached us for a guided tour to the city at the time of check out on the airport. By what we had heard about Cairo, we accepted then and there. We were travelling to Rome from Mumbai, and with a complete day at our disposition and a beautiful city to explore, there was not an iota of a second thought. Karnak offered us the tour and the facility to drop us back to our hotel. The arrangement couldn't had been better.

Pyramids and a tour to local souk was included int he tour, that was also shared by two Nigerian nationals.(And they added to the journey in their own way by their restlessness) A comfortable Nissan above a great highway that ran beneath, we reached the desert miracle Pyramids in almost no time. River Nile passed by our side but we didn't have time by our side to soak in its beauty.
Excellent road connecting the airport and Giza complex

Sabr, our travel guide joined us half way in city of Cairo. Tall, a no non-sense man, he definitely 'belonged' to that place. After the routine security check before the pyramids, we headed to the 'wonder'. Along the dunes, there was a sight of sudden rise, the spectacular pyramids stood before us with its open arms with a message through its grandeur that in all ways it indeed was a 'Miracle'.

Day 1 - Post Noon 

Exlporing the Pyramids was a great experience. The Local Camel riders come close to you in their traditional wear with encouraging words 'free photo'. And there you go, you'll end up paying them post that. Same old story folks. Same Trap. Some Egyptian pounds. So Beware.

Majestic, they were, but they were certainly in need of better upkeep. We witnessed Picnic by locals on the stones of one of the wonders. Yes. It is an unfortunate realization to witness the appalling difference in the upkeep of monuments between the developed and developing nations. And Egypt stands as no exception.
Pyramids at Giza
The Pyramids
Several Pyramids

Of the several pyramids that resides in the 'complex' of Giza, the ones that stand out for their size and architecture are the Pyramid of Menkaure, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Great Pyramid of Khufu .The guide told us that a few of the Pyramids were originally in a smooth surface, which later subject to theft became in step-like surface. (Later found on the web that there were multiple theories for the step like structure though).

The select vehicles are allowed only up to a point and when on the road in the Giza complex, the distance from the monument is quite healthy. The dunes, the clear sun and the pyramids made a unravelled combination. Sabr, our travel guide was informative and gave us all adequate time to be on our own too.
Pyramids at Giza
Horse-riding: A great way to conserve ecosystem around Pyramids

The tomb inside the Pyramids can for sure be given a miss. It's not worth it.(The money for the ticket and time you invest)

We then headed towards 'The Great Sphinx of Giza', which is quite close to the pyramids complex. Its amazing architecture can take your breath away. Local artifacts, including duplicates of look alikes of authentic papyrus paintings, are sold by locals outside sphinx. You should (if you can :)) bargain and in turn can get a great deal too. Inexpensive mementos can also be seen around , but I preferred and suggest you not to buy them, primarily because of the quality.

We then headed to one of the shopping places to pick authentic perfumes made out of flowers and natural sources. The products were way too expensive and as souvenirs are a definitely not recommended. Although the shopkeepers in the beginning said that, there would not be any bargaining, they kept on slashing prices big time on their own! We decided to give it a miss. And Yes, I should add that this place reminded me of the Palika Bazaar in Delhi.

Tired, we were, as our tour operator dropped us to our hotel, (arranged by Egypt Air as the transit period was more than 8 hours with a night before our next flight). The hotel was ok, but the food there more than made up the deficit. Multiple cuisines and some really good food. My wife and I are strict vegetarians and yet could find a LOT to eat. The salads, breads, yoghurts and desserts among others...!! Hmmmmmm ... can't forget that meal in my lifetime!!!

We thought of taking a walk post our meal, but then almost  immediately decided against it, as soon as we stepped out of hotel. It was really really cold.

Night had fell, but the feeling of witnessing few of greatest architecture marvels was yet to sink in. To say much about the two architectures would be an understatement. 

This could perhaps sum up the glory of the Pyramids and Sphinx.
Pyramids at Giza
What a beauty !

Day 2 - Pre Noon

Chilled Morning greeted us for our delicious breakfast. The food was great, as usual, as we chose the continental part, and headed for our bus that took us to the airport. One could feel the freshness in the morning air as date palms led our way while sunshine smiling above us brightly en route to Al Kahira International airport.
Date Palms
Date Palms dotting fresh morning and brilliant sunshine

The Check-out in the transit Visa portion is swift and efficient.

Duty Free on the Airport

A big NO. All the products sold on the airport's duty free section are far more expensive than the ones in the main city. If you are looking for gifts or price is a no issue, then you could buy certain crystal based artifacts. Offers on chocolates/liquor may also turn out to be a good idea. There isn't much of a variety either on the choice of products that are available for shopping.

Shop What?
  • Crystal Artifacts
  • Papyrus paintings
 (Both the products to be shopped in the city as you also find some bargaining.)
  • Natural Perfumes (Search a lot to find the right price, we couldn't.)
Bottom Line

Civilizations converge to make more firm identities. People are lost to discover themselves. Cairo redefines that more than any other city. A primitive civilization of its own, with a strong influence of African, Arabic and even European culture has made Egyptian identity even more unique. Geographically epitomized by the confluence of the resilience of the Sahara Desert and the beautiful and virile river, Nile.

Karnak offers some really good and 'value for money' tours and the offers and facilities by Egypt Air are also excellent, especially if you are flying to southern Europe.

Yes Kahira is a lively place, made so by its inhabitants. I so wish there was more time by our side in Cairo.

Travel Facts: 
  • Stayed : 1 and 1/2 days.
  • Travelled with my better half and the journey could be easily divided in three phases. 
  • Travelled in Egypt Air in January 2013.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Travel for Soul

My friends and family were kind of excited (and sometimes aghast too) by my umpteen travel narratives. So I finally decided to address a 'larger' audience.  And here I go.

The Blog.

My encounters and my perceptions with different cities and their culture that makes them special in a way they are! I LIKE travelling and more so travelling in a way I like. Whether it has been with friends, family or sometime alone. Most of the times it has been on a shoe string, some times for that 'value of money' . To save enough for the next journey.

Yes, for sure, the memories have been special, but more so, have been the journeys that made them so.

Travel For Soul. Simply Travel.