Friday, June 28, 2019

Scotland (Edinburgh, Inverness, Loch Ness, Isle of Skye)


After reading rave reviews of Isle of Skye, Scotland kept jumping up on my travel list. Now that we were going to UK for the cricket world cup, I was all excited to go to Scotland for a few days before our England trip. So here we were. 
Our brief itinerary:
Day 0: Arrive in Manchester -> Train to Edinburgh
Day 1: Edinburgh
Day 2: Drive: Edinburgh -> Inverness -> Loch Ness
Day 3: Drive: Isle of Skye
Day 4: Drive: Portree -> Fort Williams -> Edinburgh
Day 5: Edinburgh -> London

When to go:


We got really lucky with the weather. There were no rains. Was cloudy and sunny mostly and we got a little bit of drizzle in Isle of Skye. From what I hear, you hit rains around 90% of the time, so we did well I believe. Even though it was summer, it wasn't hot. We had to use light jackets and full sleeves shirts to feel comfortable. It gets hotter in July-August though. And I am sure the winters here must be spectacular with all the snow covered landscapes, and bone-chilling too. 

Day 0


Getting to Edinburgh


We arrived in Manchester and after a brief rest stop at a hotel, we were headed to Manchester. We had pre booked our tickets to Edinburgh. Advance booking saves cost when I compared the prices. Also, you can book seats if you get tickets in advance. 
Our Edinburgh AirBnB
Train journey from Manchester to Edinburgh was about 3 hours and some change. But our train kept getting delayed. First due to a disruptive passenger. Then they didn't have functioning toilets, so they had to take a restroom break at another station. The train in-charge made an announcement that if anyone took a smoke break and took more than five minutes, she would leave, and boy, she meant business. Haha! Luckily we arrived only 25 minutes later than scheduled time. Had we been delayed by more than 30 minutes, we would have been entitled for 50% refund. Darn!
From the airport, our AirBnB was a twenty minute walk. Even while booking two months in advance, the availability of hotels and BnBs wasn't as great. Looks like the options are few and they fill up fast. Our BnB was located on Queen Street and we walked everywhere from here. So, anywhere close to Princess Street, or Old Town is a good place to stay. Our BnB was cozy and pretty. Such an English/Scottish feel to it. Lacy curtains, black and white pictures in old frames. Pastel wall paper in the room and a small balcony.

Hello Edinburgh!


Edinburgh Old Town
We were so jet lagged that we desperately needed a nap. Thankfully the sunset was at 9:40 pm, so even after we slept for a couple of hours, we had daylight for quite sometime. We went to Kamasutra Indian restaurant for dinner. Pretty decent food, and to my surprise, Edinburgh has quite a few Indian restaurants. If you are here on a weekend, it may make sense to make reservations for wherever you plan to have dinner at. The restaurants get crowded. 
After dinner, we walked to the Greyfriar's kirkyard, which is an old cemetery, but the main attraction for me was the statue of a dog outside the courtyard who dies waiting for his owner next to his grave, Greyfriar's Bobby. From here we just walked towards the High street. And walked along the Royal mile for sometime. The street is lined with souvenir shops and there are street artists performing in the evening. You will hear the sound of bagpipes at any given point in time. After a short stroll, we walked back home via Princess street. It is a cute little city where you can enjoy the local shops and cafe and just walk around and soak in the culture. Meanwhile, don't forget to stop by one of those many red telephone booths and get your standard UK touristy picture!

Day 1


Morning Run and Brunch:


Skilts everywhere
Thanks to jet lag, we were up bright eyed and bushy tailed at 7 am. So we decided to go for a run up to Calton Hill. It was a pleasant day with sun playing hide and seek with the clouds. The run included quite a few stairs to get to the top as well. Their is a loop around the hill to give you 360 degree views of the city. You get the views of the Holyrood Palce, the Princess Street and the sea. There are also a few old monuments and observatory at the top of the hill. 
After we got back, we were hungry, like really hungry. Luckily, yelp works in UK. And I discovered Dishoom. The one in other cities would have definitely had a long wait, so we decided this was our chance. On our way, we discovered that the St. Andrew's square, right where Dishoom is located had a fair and some bagpipers! It was armed forces day, so a lot of men and women in uniforms. At dishoom, we loved the ambience and the look of the place. Old style Irani cafes from Mumbai. We ordered chole-puri, vada pav and pav bhaji. All excellent. The flavors were amazing. I so wish we had a restaurant that served food of this quality in the bay area. 

The Royal Mile:


Up next was doing the standard Royal Mile walk. But first we walked along the Princess Street. Stopped by the iconic Scotts monument and got some good pictures and walked all the way till the end of the street. On our way was the Waterstone bookshop and cafe. I got in to use the restroom, but was pleasantly surprised by the views of the castle from their second floor cafeteria sit out. 
View from the Calton Hill
Continue walking and you are at the King's road. Its all uphill from here till you get to the castle entrance. If you have pre bought tickets, you get 2 pounds off each ticket and you avoid the long wait in the queues. We weren't too keen on going in, but wanted to hang around and take in some views. But our highlight was running into our friend Smita and her sister. We knew they were in UK to watch the world cup matches, but had no clue they would be in Edinburgh and we would just run into them on the streets. What are the odds!
St. Giles Cathedral
From here we started walking down the High street. We had walked a portion the previous day as well. But it being Saturday, it was crowded. Our next stop on this cobbled street was the St. Giles cathedral. Its very beautiful. The arches in the roof and the stained glass paintings are beautiful. There is a small room inside, I don't remember its name but it is used for granting the knighthood. The wooden engravings there are absolutely gorgeous. Its a small cathedral, compared to the ones you would see in Italy I guess, but is beautiful.
Moving on, we stopped for some street performers and then had to wade through small groups of pride parade. Then we took a break at one of the cafes for a quick bite and coffee.  There are narrow alleys that run all the way to the main street and give you the feel of old town. Plus, there are other spots to check out along the Royal Mile if you are interested. There is a museum of optical illusion, recommended by our friends, a dungeon (Mary King's close) and some galleries and museums on the parallel streets. 
Holyrood Palace
Holyrood palace will remind you some scenes from The Crown. The last entry is at 4:30 pm and of course we missed that. But were happy to get the view of the facade from the entrance. There is Scottish parliament right across the street. This is their new parliament house, functional since the last decade. The previous house was on the Royal Mile and is now closed. Apparently you can watch the parliament in action and see some live debates. The building is modern and the architecture so much in contrast to the Holyrood palce it stands across to. You can also listen to Rick Steeve's audio guided tour for the Royal Mile walk.

Arthur's Seat:


Arthur's Seat
Up next on our list was the hike up the Arthur's seat. It was a strenuous hike. About one mile each way with 1000 ft of elevation gain. It wasn't easy, but the views from the top are mind blowing. Do it if you have the stamina and the time. Gorgeous. Downhill didn't take much time and once back, we wanted dinner. We decided to meet with Smita and her sister at Mother's India Cafe. They serve small portions, so you can try multiple things and being four people we tried quite a few things on the menu. All were so good. This was our lucky day with some good Indian food at Dishoom and then here. I recommend panipuri and chaat for sure. Everything else was good too, so you won't go wrong with your order. I just loved how walkable this city was. There is uber too if you aren't too keen on walking. 

Day 2


Drive to Inverness:


Our plan for the day was to rent a car at the airport and drive. We ubered to the airport. Our Scottish driver was so chatty and so helpful. I loved our conversation for the fifteen minutes. He kept telling us basic road rules, how to get the gas at the station. And we passed by a beautiful school, which I assumed was an old palace or something, but I was wrong. It was built as a school for the deaf and the dumb and was not functional anymore. As you get out of old town, you start seeing newer construction and realize how big the city is. Anyhow, we rented our car and were off.
High Tea at Perth
Following directions wasn't hard at all. Scottish people love roundabouts and so do Chandigarh people. So we were home as far as navigating around the roundabouts was concerned. About an hour in, we decided to have brunch at Perth. Luckily, yelp showed this tea and breakfast place, Efiie's at Perth. I absolutely loved this place. The English setting and serving in fine bone china, was just too good of an experience. The food was okay and so was the tea, but I was wowed by the experience. Must go to a tea room if you are in UK. Must, must.
Driving further, we spotted Blair Castle. I had no intentions of going in. So, we skipped that part, but you could stop by and take some pictures of the castle. 
Inverness Castle
The views are pretty. Vast green highlands. A river at times next to the highway. Keep driving and you'll reach Inverness. A good place for lunch. We wanted to get our swim for the day, but their fancy athletic centre was closed for a swim meet that day. Hence, we ventured into the city. Very small old town area. You can walk the entire area in a 10-15 minutes. Got some good views of the Inverness castle from the Ness bridge. And next stop was a restaurant for lunch. While I got hangry looking for a restaurant, they started closing at 3pm. So I opted for whatever I saw next which happened to be an Italian place was pretty decent. 
Next we were driving along Loch Ness. 

Loch Ness:


Loch Ness
We drove straight to the Urquhart Castle. Very pretty castle, apparently at the deepest point in the lake. You have to buy tickets to go in and get some views. Its mostly in ruins, but thats the beauty of it. From here, keep driving to Fort Augustus. A small town to take a break and you could drive to the Suidhe viewpoint form here. We were tired and wanted to head back, so we didn't. This place has top views of the lake and the pictures are pretty, so might as well stop by if you can. You could follow this itinerary or viewpoints.
Urquhart Castle
Onwards, we arrived at our BnB place booked via AirBnB. It was a cottage at the end of narrow road in Dornie. Walkable distance from the Eilean-Donan castle. I'll write more about the castle on our way back to Fort Williams as that is when we visited the castle. The views from our room were amazing and once again we were served english breakfast in fine bone china by our host. Its Glennan House, and we recommend it, in case you are looking for options. The castle lights up at night and looks really pretty, but we both were tired and skipped it.

Day 3


Isle of Skye:


Today was the day for our highlight of the Scotland trip. The weather forecast showed mild showers all day, but it was a bit of drizzle in the morning and not at all disruptive. I am so thankful for the lovely weather that cooperated with us. Portree is definitely the town where you can get options to eat and drink. So we planned our trip around Portree. We started from Dornie and reached Portree in about an hour. We weren't as hungry, so decided to do the north out and back loop. 
Old Man of Storr
Drive is pretty and the first stop is Old Man of Storr. Its a rock formation that stands firm at the top along with other strangely shaped rocks. Its a hike from the car park. So, park the car and get your hiking bag out and start walking. It is a decent elevation gain to the gate from where you could either do a loop or go out and back. If you got a little up, you will get rewarded with beautiful views. Sumit hiked all the way up and I huffed and puffed till I saw him returning back. I realized I had hiked around a mile from the car park and the views were getting better and better. Also, the constant bleats of sheep and lambs were quite serene.
Kilt's viewpoint
Next stop was drive all the way upto flower cottage. Not a scenic viewpoint, but a hotel located at the scenic spot. We stopped, took pictures and started driving back. We stopped at the Kilt Rock viewpoint, which is a must stop. Offers the view of cliffs, a waterfall and the clear waters. Keep driving and their a waterfalls on the left. Its right along the roadside, so might as well stop. Now we were back in Portree and it was time for lunch before heading to the south loop. We got lunch at cafe Arriba. They had some decent vegetarian options, so no complaints. Also, we tried vegetarian haggis, which is a Scotland specialty. Umm, not that bad. I could get used to this taste.
Now, we drove to the Fairy Pools, Off the higway, it becomes a single narrow lane. And you must drive carefully. Pull into the passing lanes to let the traffic pass by. Fairy Pools are about twenty minute walk from the parking lot. Go and take some pictures, don't have to hike all the way up.
Neist Lighthouse
From here, it was a long drive to the Neist Point Lighthouse. My favorite attraction in the Isle of Skye. Find some car parking. Now you can either take the designated pathway all the way up to the lighthouse, or just go right from the cafe shop and walk ten minutes out to get the beautiful cliffs and the lighthouse in the view. We did the latter and oh boy, the views were amazing. I didn't think that hiking up to the lighthouse could give me the views of the cliffs and the lighthouse. So, we skipped it. Also, I was excited to get my cover picture. 
Up next, was the final stop of the evening, Dunveagon Castle. They close at 5 pm, so of course we were late. And I kept looking for some view points, which should be outside the castle, but didn't get any results. Later discovered that if you follow the road all the way till end you will be able to get views of the castle, but they are from a little farther away than you'd like. Now we were headed to our Airbnb, some five miles away from Portree. Nested in middle of the valley with such pretty views, these people get up to such view everyday! Again a decent experience with the AirBnB. 
We should have called it a day, but went for a swim to the Arainn Fhinn, the Fingal Centre in Portree. Excellent pool and some great facilities. You see, I try my best to get Sumit his training workouts even when we are on a vacation. We had dinner at Taste of India, which was pretty pretty bad. But some Indian food at 10 pm, is better than nothing I guess. 

Day 4


Bike Ride:


Biking the Isle of Skye
Plan was for Sumit to rent a bike at the Skye Bike Shack, close to Portree and go for a bike ride, while I spend time at various cafes and get this blog done. Portree is a cute little town and walking around was fun. I visited quite a few souvenir shops and also walked around the harbour.
Bike Route
Sumit completed this bike loop, about 40 miles from the bike rental place Skye Bike Shack. The owner was pretty helpful and a bike enthusiast himself. The roads are narrow, but the drivers are used to bike riders, so nothing to be really scared of but we mindful at all times. From here we were headed to Edinburgh, but not before making a few stops on our way back. Goal was to reach Edinburgh by midnight. 

Drive to Fort Williams:


Silgachen Bridge
Our first stop was Sligachan brigde on our drive back. It is a very old bridge and you get some great pictures of this bridge. Keep driving and admiring the views. 
Next stop was Eilean Donan Castle which we had skipped the day we stayed in Dornie. We went in the castle. It is a residential place and the inside is fully furnished. You get to see a few parts of the castle if you get the tickets. If you are interested in pictures, the best shots ate from outside. It is one of the most picturesque castles I have seen.
Viaduct view from Glenfinnan
Next up was drive to Fort Williams. We just drove straight to the town and headed to a restaurant we picked online. The restaurant food was okay, nothing great, but I was more excited to go to the Harry Potter bridge. It is 30 minutes from Fort Williams. The views of the viaduct however are not on the main road and you need to hike for about 20 minutes to get a to a good viewpoint. Its not difficult to find the viewpoint as you'll see a lot of people heading in that direction. It is located close to the Glenfinnan station. However, you must time your visit with the train times. There are regular trains passing the bridge, and also steam engine trains going a couple of times every day. Look up the timetable if you want to see a train on the bridge. Nevertheless, the views of just the bridge are spectacular too. You can also ride the train from Fort Williams to Mallaig and then then the ferry onwards.

Drive to Edinburgh: 


Next up was drive straight to Edinburgh. If you have time, you can stop by various viewpoints on the way, else drive straight to Edinburgh. I would suggest you stop by close to Loch Lomond for a day and enjoy the views and take pictures on your way back. We hadn't planned on visiting Loch Lomond, so we drove straight to Edinburgh If you have time, stop by to take in the views of Ben Nevis, Glencoe, three sisters and Brackfinn falls. We reached our rental center at 12:05 am, dropped off the car and hired an uber to our airbnb. Luckily, we had rented the same airbnb as before so we were familiar with the house and the owner had given us the keys to keep for our second stay. Worked out perfectly.

Day 5


Train to London:


Pre booking your train and making a seat reservation is always a smart things to do. We arrived at the station in the morning. Grabbed a couple of bagels and coffee and got on the train for our 4+ hour journey to London. Bye bye Scotland. We will be back again for some parts we missed, but our parents will be visiting next week on a pre booked tour.

Other pointers:

  • Must get a railcard if you plan to take multiple trips. Check out various options. The one that worked for us was "Two Together Railcard". It was easy to get and gave us deep discounts on tickets. We booked all our tickets from trainline.co.uk
  • Narrow single lane roads are everywhere, especially in the Isle of Skye. Follow the protocol and wait in the passing areas for other drivers.
  • Decided to skip Glasgow as it is "just another city"
  • Skipped Loch Lomond as we were short on time.
  • If going to Loch Lomond, might as well ride the jacobite train too.
  • Aberdeen is another popular city to visit.

Castles:

I personally don't like going inside the castles as much I like enjoying their setting and their facades. For me a castle nested in middle of mountains, on top of a hill are more picturesque than going inside these castles.  See below for the list of castles on this trip:

  • Edinburgh Castle - Set atop an extinct volcano, looks majestic from the city. Has exhibit of crown jewels and one of the oldest inhabited castles.
  • Blair Castle - Looks very pretty from the highway with green mountains in the background. Boasts of a good distillery closeby.
  • Inverness Castle - Smaller castle, but if you stop by in the city for lunch, take in the views from the bridge.
  • Urquhart Castle - Castle is in ruins. It is next to Loch Ness and you pay to go see. We totally enjoyed going in seein the ruins. Gives really good views of the Loch.
  • Eilean Donan Castle - Loved the setting of this castle. You take a footbridge to get to it. The better views of the castle and the bridge are from the parking lot. Fun fact: Kuch Kuch Hota Hai movie was shot here. See this link on youtube.
  • Dunvegon Castle - We missed this as we arrived late. It closes at 5 pm. But I anyway didn't intend to go in, but couldn't figure out where to get the views of this castle from. If you do, let me know and I will  add them here :)



Monday, July 16, 2018

Monaco (A day trip)


Monaco gets its special page because it is an independent country and I do not want to put it under the South France page! More about the South France itinerary is on its dedicated page. This page is about our day in Monaco.

Getting In:

Biking from Nice to Monaco
Conveniently connected by trains from nearby cities. It was a twenty minute ride from the Nice train station. Train tickets may not be available or the trains cancelled, so check early on the day off or the day before and get tickets.
While I took the train, Sumit was biking from Nice to Monaco. On his way, he stopped by a cute town Eze, a popular stop over for a hopping southern coast tour.
We both reached around the same time, but rendezvous was a nightmare. Here is what happened. Since Monaco is a different country, our phones that were working fine in France, didn't immediately start working in Monaco. I had a bad connection and no wi-fi at the train station, so I couldn't connect with him. We had initially planned to meet at the Oceanography museum, but I couldn't get a taxi. During the intermittent signal calls I got, we decided to meet at the famous pool located in middle of the city by the docks.
Getting to Nice
However, I had come up to the second floor exit of the station and figuring out how to get there was a nightmare. It was right in front of me, I could seeit , but when I stepped out, I couldn't find a road leading up to it. Thankfully I went back into the station and found a help desk. So, this city is vertical and horizontal! I was at the wrong floor. I had to exit on a different floor and just take the stairs all the way down and walk straight for 10 minutes to get to the pool, or the La Condamine area. but I spent an hour figuring this out and with no connectivity I was almost prompted to head back to Nice.
So when you get here, take a deep breath, ask someone and find the right exit and navigate correctly and not just rely on the google map as it doesn't have capability to navigate vertically!
Also, while you are the the tourist information office or the help desk, make sure to get a tourist map to help you navigate.

What to do:

The iconic pool - Next time, taking a dip!
Initially, I had planned on following this walking map I had created. After our fiasco, we met at the pool. First, we grabbed lunch at on of the many restaurants around the area. Sumit left his bike securely fastened to a lamp pole near the restaurant. Food was good.

Next up, we decided to follow our tourist map and go to the Prince's palace, many steps later we were outside the palace and got really good views of this tiny little city-country. Some souvenir shops are close by. There is also an oceanography museum and a view point located close by, but we ditched that and decided to head out straight to the Casino, Monte Carlo.
F1 tracks in the city!

We walked to the Casino Monte Carlo and what a sight! Luxury cars lined outside. I think there was an entry fees, but I don't remember now. the interiors are so royal and opulent, it was much more royal than I had expected. Of course you aren't allowed to go inside to all the game rooms as I guess they are reserved for some "A-list" people.

Casino Monte Carlo
We then walked back to the La Condamine area and settled in a restaurant to watch the France vs Belgium semi final at a restaurant. The atmosphere was electric and there were of course French supporters everywhere.
La Condamine area

After the match, we headed back to Nice via train. This time we had no issues going to the station and yes, we took the stairs and the elevators. Pretty convenient if you do that and follow the tourist information map. The city oozes luxury and clearly you see it would be the richest per capita country in the worls.

Friday, July 13, 2018

South France (Nice, Antibes, Cannes, Lyon, Grenoble)



For our Euro summer trip, there was one city I definitely wanted to visit and that was Grenoble, because of all the endless tales I had heard from Sumit about his internship. So, why not visit South France along with this city. We were going to be in Switzerland after our Germany roadtrip. So this was the plan for the last leg of our trip through South France. Its is a comparatively shorter trip, but you could spend more days in each of these beach towns.
Day 1: Arrive in Nice
Day 2: Bike to Monaco and spend the day in Monaco
Day 3: Train to Cannes ->Antibes -> Lyon
Day 4: Day in Lyon -> Drive to Grenoble
Day 5: Bike day in St. Michelle -> Drive to Lyon ->Train to Paris
Day 6: Fly out of Paris


When to go:

Crepes + Coffee = France
South France was hot when we visited. We were there end of June and it was scorching sun all through our trip. If you love that, this is the places for you, but carry buckets of sunscreen!  Else, you may want to give the shoulder season a try. Perhaps, May or September.

Where all to go:

Southern coast of France is popular for its beaches and the coastal drive. We didn't drive along the coast  but that is always an option. Here is a route that I had picked along the coast.
Nice, Monaco, Cannes are most popular, but there are smaller beach towns which also make for a good relaxed vacation, eg: Antibes, Saint Tropez.
Marseilles is a big city in the south with popular connections to take trains from or fly in to.

Getting around:

Europe is of course well connected with public transport, so you don't need any car unless you want to drive around. Our trip was a mix and match of both. Between cities which were more than 2-3 hours away, we preferred public transport, or else we rented a car.

Getting to Nice:

Nice beach
This was an adventurous day. We had our flights reserved from Geneva to Nice at about 6 pm. Around 3 pm we get a message from our airlines that our flight has been cancelled, and they won't reschedule us, but simply refund the money. We were both in Lausanne that time driving from Zurich to Geneva. We had no idea what to do now. There were no flights, or trains available for the next two days. Everything was completely booked as it was a weekend. One option was to skip the south France trip and just take the train to Grenoble after 3 days, which was the only available option. Or, option number two, which was to extend our car rental and drive to Nice. It was 6-7 hours drive, but we would be in Nice the same day we had planned and we wouldn't need to alter any other reservations.
So, of course, we picked option two. We had to pay a couple of hundred euros extra for returning the car in another country, but it would save us more in reservations and re bookings.
We drove through southern Switzerland, near Mont Blanc, and norther Italy, close to Turin. The drive and the tunnels are a beauty. Its amazing how the bridges have been built connecting mountains and tunnels have been built cutting right through these giant mountains. It was an adventure as it was unplanned, but good thing was, we made it. We were in Nice at midnight and driving through narrow streets and one-way alleys of Nice was a challenge we hadn't signed up for. Luckily we found street parking as we had to return the car the next day, we didn't have a hotel with car parking.
Haash! A long day, but we reached Nice!

Monaco

Plan was to bike to Monaco. Sumit had found a bike rental shop in Nice and he left early, around 8 or 9 am to return the car and rent a bike as soon as he could in the morning. He was planning to bike to Moncao and I had plans to meet him there and spend the day with him in Monaco.
More details about biking to Monaco and the city are here on the Monaco blog page.

Nice

Lamborghini by the dinner table
We returned in the evening and spent time in Nice. We were staying at de la Fontaine. Tiny rooms, but thats what we could manage with such late reservations. Location was good with respect to the train station, Gare du Nice Ville was only 15 minutes walk.
Walking along the beach in the cool evening breeze is definitely a memorable experience. Lot of food carts, caricature artists, crepieres along the beach. The city side of the street, Promenade du la Anglais has a lot of hotels and casinos and plenty of restaurants to pick from. You can spend a few days here easily, without getting bored. Its a crowded city, so don't rent a car and prefer Uber or walking around. We had dinner at a really good Lebanese restaurant, Ya Habibi.
True to its reputation of opulence, there was a Lamborghini parked right outside our restaurant and it was a picture-worthy moment to have dinner with a luxury car casually parked right behind you on the street.

Cannes

Plan for the day was to visit Cannes, spend some time in a beach town, and we chose Antibes and then head out to Lyon from Cannes in the evening.
Outside the red carpet
It is a 30 minute train ride from Nice. Given the town is popular due to Cannes Film Festival, it is crowded with tourists. We left our luggage at the luggage storage right outside the train station (very convenient!). Now we had our days packs and were ready for the day. This town has quite a few private beaches and also public beaches. We chose to first walk straight to the theatre with the red carpet to take our pictures there. The theatre is actually a convention centre, Palais des Festivals et des Congrès. The town is small and walkable. There is also a gallery next to it which has displays of movie stars who are regular a the film festival. After posing for pictures and feeling content, we headed to the beach right next to it. It was still quite sunny, so we thought of going to Rue D'Antibes for some shopping instead.
Pretty little walkable town with small cathedral somewhere in the middle. The shopping was fun and I went crazy at Mango store as we don't have many of those in US and they had an awesome 70% discount going on! Yayy! Grabbed a bite sometime in between all of this.

Antibes

Next up was Anitbes. It is 15 minutes ride from Cannes. A cute little beach town. But, while on our way to train station, we realized that Sumit had forgotten his biking jersey in the hotel room as it was drying in the bathroom! It was his IronMan Canada jersey, so we couldn't leave it behind. Hence, we went all the way back to Nice, got the jersey and came back to Cannes and then headed out to Antibes.
I always have stories from our trip, don't I?
Anyhow once we reached Antibes, we picked a beach to go to from many beaches listed online. We went to Plage LaGrauppe. We took an Uber from the station to get to the beach. Loads of activities at the beach and an Italian restaurant with private showers to offer. Its a lovely coastline here. I would advise you carry or rent an umbrella here as it gets super duper hot. There is a Picasso gallery here which we didn't have time to visit, but it did sound interesting.
A few hours and we were off to Cannes to get on our train to Lyon now. Train was super comfortable and so glad we chose to ride the train instead of driving. Fours hours just flew by. We reached Lyon and we staying at Ibis hotel close to the train station. Tiny rooms, but comfortable. Luckily we reached just in time to watch the FIFA semi final of Croatia vs Russia extended thirty minutes and the penalty shootout.

Lyon

Vieux Lyon
We had a full day in Lyon and I was ready to explore. First we got our rental car and drove to the old town area. We first headed out to Bellacur. After parking our cars, we just used Google maps to explore the city. We first took the funicular up to the church Fourviere. Beautiful church and it offered lovely views of the city from the hilltop. Must do. The ride, the church, the views, a perfect thing to do in Lyon. Next, we were roaming around Vieux Lyon (old town). Visit the Church Saint-Jean-Baptiste. Just roaming the streets was a lot of fun and we decided to stop by one of the shops to get some Onginon pies. It was pretty good. I had been quite skeptical about french cooking, but this was good. Next, I just had to try some crepes and coffee. I mean, I was in France after all!
Here is a link to the walking map that will help.
Church Fourviere












Our hotel in Grenoble





Grenoble

In the evening, we headed out to Grenoble. First up, we went to Inria. It was about time I got to see this place. What beautiful location. Surrounded by tall mountains. Being a weekend, we couldn't get in. But was totally worth the visit. We drove around the city first and then headed out to Fort Bastille, but the roads were so narrow that we ditched it. If you intend to go, must take the funicular/gondola. The town is super cute and a great place to spend a few laid back days. We ate at a really good Indian restaurant, Bombay. Then we drove around the old residence and then to the old town. We were staying at beautiful hotel, in the lovely old town area. Since we had to park, we had to drive around a few loops to find an overnight parking spot. The old town area had some good restaurants and a lively ambience.





Biking around Saint Michelle

Early morning we left for Sanit Michelle and headed straight to the bike rental shop, Velo rental. This is a village at the foothil of Alps and a good starting point for very interesting bike routes. Some of the bike routes around are also a part of Tour de France routes. At 9 am, we were at the shop and Sumit got his bike and was ready to head out.
6 hours to spare
Now who finished his ride!
I had to kill 6 hours ahead of me. I spent that time arguing with a waitress who wouldn't understand English or sign language, offering Swiss Francs to pay for food, and completely forgot I needed Euros in France, and also struggling with a public toilet that self cleaned every few minutes and if you were inside, it meant, you would get drenched, and yes I did. I kept myself fully entertained for those six hours while Sumit was burning calories and riding up Col du Galibier.

Col du Galibier

Back to Paris:

Around 4 pm we headed back to Lyon for our train to Paris at night. We were stuck in traffic first and then, had a tough time refueling our car beacuse it was a diesel and the nozzle type wasn't available at all gas stations. Luckily we made it in time at the station with full TEN minutes to spare before the train! Whew! it was an adventurous day for sure. But we got on our train back to Paris and on our flight back home.

Pointers:


  • Make reservations early to get good hotels in Nice.
  • Always prefer a train ride over flying. More reliable and super comfortable.
  • Indian vegetarian food may be tricky to find, but not hard.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Germany (Trier, Heidelberg, Romantic Road)




















Germany was always on our destination list. As a tourist, one can divide Germany into two parts, historic Berlin and other big cities. And the second part, smaller quaint towns with castles. Germany has two tourist routes, Romantic Strasse (with all the quaint towns) and Castle Strasse (with all the castles) with a decent enough overlap between the Romantic Road and the Castle Road. We chose Romantic Strasse for our road trip, which runs from Wurzburg to Fussen and we stopped by a couple of other towns on our way from Luxembourg.

Here is our itinerary:


Day 1: Trier -> Mainz -> Heidelberg
Day 2: Heidelberg -> Wurzburg -> Rotheburg ob der Tauber
Day 3: Rothernberg ob der Tauber -> Dinkelsbuhl ->Nordlingen
Day 4: Nordlingen -> Augusburg  -> Fussen/Schwangau
Day 5: Fussen -> Konstanz -> Zurich

Our road trip route

Getting Around


We rented a car in Trier and returned it in Konstanz, our last destination in Germany. Driving around was pretty simple and roads were not crowded. There are some online sites to help you get acquainted with the road signs. Also, our favorite store was ALDI to buy water, snacks or anything else we needed. Getting vegetarian food isn't difficult in Germany and most of the restaurants do offer a vegetarian variant of most of their dishes.


Day 1: Trier -> Mainz -> Heidelberg

Karl Marx's birthplace

We reached Trier from Luxembourg via train. We took the local bus to the Hertz rental where we rented a car and drove to the old town. We spent some time wandering about in the old town (Altstadt) area. All the major attractions are in this area. We grabbed some lunch here. Saw the old cathedral, Point Nigra and Karl Marx house. From here we drove to Mainz.  Mainz was a comparatively bigger city and all we did there was to have a burger at Hans im Gluck. Burgers were really good and so was their lemonade. I highly recommend them. I guess they are a chain so you can find another restaurant in some other city.
Trier
Heidelberg Citadel
Up next, we were headed to Heidelberg. The drive was through vast rolling hill pastures. We reached Heidelberg in the evening. Parking on street is hard to find, but there are enough parking garages in the city. Also, try making a reservation for your stay where parking is included. Once we found parking and checked in to our hotel, we decided to head out to Old town for getting some dinner. We walked along the Haupstrasse. Its a lovely pedestrian area with many local shops all around. We walked all the way up to the old bridge. Crossed the bridge and took picture. The views of the hilltop citadel are also great from here. There are many dining options in the old town area, and we decided to get some Thai food. Now was the time to head back to out hotel.

Day 2: Heidelberg -> Wurzburg -> Rotheburg ob der Tauber


Wurzburg Marketplatz
We had initially wanted to go to the citadel in the morning, but decided against it. You see, there are so many citadels in Germany, that they get repetitive after a while, so we decided to skip this one. Instead, we spent our morning going to a swimming pool (Thermalbad). Finding parking was not easy in the morning as there were no parking structures closeby and the directions for one way streets can get confusing. But after some struggle, we did manage to find a parking spot with an hour validity or something. After our swim session, we head a sumptuous brunch at Mindel Cafe. Another cafe I can recommend. Now we were off to Wurzburg.
We drove straight to the top of the Wurzburg fortress which overlooks the city. It was too hot and we were just looking for some shade. We walked around the fortress to get some views of the city. I remember there was a tiny little shop in the corner which had ice creams! Yay! Then we drove to the Old town area. There was a pretty old church as usual and lots of shops all around. We found parking in one of the garages and then just walked around the Marketplatz before settling in at a Bierhaus for the football match. It was a party!
Night Watchman Tour

Rothenberg ob der Tauber
After the match we drove to our next destination, Rothenberg ob der Tauber. Such a cute little town on a hilltop and my favorite town in the country. You can only enter from one side and it was hard to find where to drive in from. But once we figured, we were good. It felt as if we were transported in to a fairytale village. We were here in time for the popular "Night Watchman Tour". It was so much fun walking around this tiny little town and hearing the stories of this watchman in his costume. This is the best way to go around this town. It takes only about an hour or so. Later, walking around cobbled streets we got dinner at a local restaurant. Surprisingly enough, finding vegetarian food in Germany hasn't been tough at all. There are quite a few boutique hotels in this town and we stayed at Golden Rose. And do not forget to take the famous picture at the most photographed spot in the city.


Day 3: Rothernberg ob der Tauber -> Dinkelsbuhl ->Nordlingen


Romantic Road
We had initially thought of renting bicycles and biking around the town, but the bike shops were closed on Sundays, so we decided to go for a run instead. I think the whole loop around the city was less than 5 km! But what fun running around this city. This city has a lot of souvenir shops. We wanted to get a cuckoo clock and we found the one we liked and shipped it directly to our home in US. There are a lot of price ranges and options if you want to get one. We got ours safe and sound in the next few weeks and it works just fine. 
After brunch, we headed to another small town of Dinkelsbuhl which was like a miniature replica of Rothenberg ob der Tauber. We found parking right outside and went for a walk in the city. Got coffee at a local gelato and coffee shop. Wandered around aimlessly, perfect vacation!
From here, we drove to Nordlingen. After checking in to our hotel, we went to the cathedral. Here you can go up the tower for a minimal fees and get some views of this tiny little town. These towns are so small that you can walk around the entire town in a few hours and be familiar with the entire layout of the town. We rented bikes at the JUFA hotel for 24 hours. Plan as to go biking the following morning. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, Pablo Cantina. Again, the food was awesome. Then we got back to our hotel to watch Croatia vs. Denmark. 

Day 4: Nordlingen -> Augusburg -> Fussen/Schwangau


Biking countryside
We were up early, Bright eyed and bushy tailed! Ready to for a short 15-mile ride around the German countryside. We had to get back in time for the checkout. Sumit had already chalked out a route the night before, so we knew where to go. We had our water bottles and energy bars ready in Sumit's backpack. Be wary of the drivers around as these are not popular bike routes so it can get scary and risky when you cross roads. I am so glad we biked around, it was a very different way to experience the countryside. Totally loved  passing through fields with cottages, small towns and coffee shops.
Once we got back to our hotel, something interesting was waiting for us. A parking ticket! We had unknowingly parked overnight in a parking spot without displaying an appropriate parking sign. So now we started looking for the municipal office to pay our fine. After some sign language and broken English, we figured where the office was, of course everything is close by, the towns are so small! We went to the office and paid our fine.
Experiencing the German countryside
Augusburg
After getting some bad Italian food for lunch, we headed out to Augusburg. We drove past Donauworth as we didn't have much time on our hands. Augusburg was a big city. We parked in a garage. Walked around the old town (Altstadt), saw the fountain and the old church. The golden hall had closed by the time we reached. We spent some time walking around the marketplace and shopping. There was an Indian restaurant in the vicinity, Sangam, so we decided to get dinner here. We got some food to-go and headed out to Fussen, where we were staying overnight.
Drive to Fussen got prettier as you got closer to the Swiss border. As you get closer to the Swiss Alps, the scenery just keeps getting better. We reached a pretty little cottage in the Schwangau area and were all set to go see the Sleeping Beauty castle the next day.

Day 5: Fussen -> Konstanz -> Zurich

Carriage ride up to the Castle

So glad that we had made the reservations earlier for the Neuschwanstein castle. This place gets super crowded. We drove up to the visitor area and parked. Walked upto the ticket window to collect our physical tickets, but it was a long wait. Then to get on the horse carriage was another long queue and wait. Glad that we started the day early. Once at the castle, you are called in groups and have to stick to your group tour. From inside this is like any other castle. Lavish and bautiful. The real beauty of the castle is its location I believe. There is a short hike to the bride close to the castle where you get beautiful panoramic views of the castle. That is a MUST DO. This is where we got all our great pictures and lovely views. We spent good enough time around this area and then hiked all the way downhill to the visitor entrance.
View from the bridge
Next up was the drive to Konstanz where we had to return our car and take the train to Zurich. The views just kept getting prettier as we drove.After we returned our car in Konstanz, getting to the train station was a but of a struggle. Public transport wasn't as frequent and we had to walk quite a bit to get to a bus stop. Nevertheless we made it and reached Zurich pretty late in the night.Voila! That was a lovely German road trip.

Pointers:


  • Payments are accepted mostly in cash. Very few restaurants and shops accept credit cards
  • There are very pretty boutique hotels that you might want to stay at instead of hotels. So prefer AirBnBs.
  • German countryside, atleast the area we were in aren't as scenic. But as you get closer to the Swiss Alps, the scenery keeps getting better.
  • The towns are quite but very similar. Pick the towns you want to spend your time at. Pick a few citadels, castles you want to go see.