Beautiful Prague

After checking in the hotel at 12:00, we started the day by taking the free city tour by Sandemans @ http://www.newpraguetours.com/daily-tours/new-prague-free-tour.html . This was a 3 hour tour. We had a really good guide who seemed quite thorough with his knowledge of city’s history. He was great at theatrics so the whole story telling experience was quite refreshing with his inputs. He covered all the major attractions of the old and new town area. The weather was good, the city was bubbling with energy, and the Wenceslas Square was active with blaring music and fun games. The town square also had traditional and cultural performances every other hour.

After a brief capitulation of the history of Prague near the Town Hall (bombarded in WWII, the part that remains is more an art form than a war relic), we headed towards the oldest Astronomical Clock Tower, on its adjacent side, which is still functioning and chimes at the strike of the hour. It is quite popular for its display of the animated procession of the Twelve Apostles which lasts only about a couple of minutes. Slightly disappointing as the duration doesn’t do justice to the sizable crowd that gathers there in anticipation of a grander performance and much in advance to get a prime spot for a good view and photography. It’s over before you realise it! Even though, “How disappointing!” is what my husband exclaimed after the show was over; I do recommend to be present there as it’s one of a kind! The tour continued with an external visit to the Estates theater – an annex of the National theatre of Prague. It is the oldest theatre still running where Mozart performed twice.  His music composition for the very popular opera Don Giovanni was premiered there.

Then we headed into the Jewish Quarter of Prague where we saw Europe’s oldest original and functional synagogue called the Old New Synagogue which had an interesting fable relating to a character named Golem. Close by was the Spanish Synagogue, now a museum, which was revived in Moorish architectural style, the only existing Moorish Synagogue in Austria. Then came the Old Jewish Cemetery which has a whopping 12 layers of dead Jews buried in some 72000 tombs with hundreds of thousands of bodies. Did you know that Hitler did not destroy Prague because he had plans of settling down in this city later in life? And that Americans mistakenly bombed Prague towards the end of the WWII?

The centre of Prague and the old and new town are all at walkable distance to each other. Prague has cobbled lanes, walled streets with church spires dotted all across the sky and bridges connecting the two banks of the river at various points. The most popular, Charles Bridge, which once had horse carts, trams and busses ply on it, now transforms into a mini open-air market with kiosks, artists, traders and street performers crowding it during the day.  By night it is an amazing spot to enjoy the silence of the city, observe the river filled with swans gradually wading through waters, to watch couples walking hand in hand, to revel in the distant music coming from the boats and relish the night view of the castle and the breathless view of the city along the banks of the Vltava river. But the same Charles Bridge becomes a lover’s paradise on a rainy night. A stroll across the bridge on this night when you observe couples sharing an umbrella even though they have two, when the rain drops glisten like pearls in the light of the lamps and one look in the eye of your companion makes you want the moment last forever. This is a treat of nature that cannot be captured except for the personal experience of being present on the Charles Bridge on such a night! 

The Prague Castle is the largest Medieval Castle in the world which is currently the seat of the President of Czech Republic. At night, it has a magnificent view from the banks of the Vltava River. During the day, it’s a great vantage point from where one can enjoy breath-taking views of the city. The Dancing house is built where a house once existed and was bombed during the war. It’s a slight misfit in terms of architectural style which is quite evident as one walks down the street towards it. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth a visit.

TIPS:

It’s an ancient and beautiful city. Summer is definitely the best time to travel unless one prefers rain or snow. If the sun is shone brightly, good weather makes for nice snaps. Also, if there are showers in the night while you are there, make sure to walk on the Charles bridge. It may be as romantic as can get on a night and in a city like this!!

Stay:
Ideal to stay in or around The Old Town. It would be advantageous to find an accommodation midway between old town square area and Charles Bridge. Eg: Location of Hotel Four seasons. Hotels Ibis is good and the nearby Century Old Town Heritage is highly recommended. These make a nice walk to the Old town area.

Travel & Transport:
Transportation cost can be reduced if one is not planning to travel very far away from the city (not more than a radius of about 2-3km with Town Square as centre). It’s a small city which can be explored enjoyably and effectively mostly on foot. On a good day with decent weather, one may walk all along from the Town Square to The Prague Castle. If that is stretching your limits then a walk uphill from the Charles Bridge may sound better. If neither of these routes suit you well, then you always have the option of reaching the Castle by tram 22. You can enjoy a nice walk downhill. Visiting the Dancing House and the Petrin Hill may also require use of public transport.

Personal experience: The visit to the castle premises is free for all. Ticket is required only at the entry of 11 different buildings. St. Vitus Cathedral can be entered without the ticket up to a certain distance which for me was quite sufficient, having seen better interiors of European cathedrals. On the outside, the church is a marvel and can be conveniently admired from all sides absolutely free of cost. For those inclined towards art, history, artifacts, the development of the Castle and its grounds, visiting the Castle on the inside may be worth the while. Otherwise, the Castle, to my mind doesn’t have much to offer.

Indulge:
Beer Spa @ http://www.pivnilaznebernard.cz/en.
Find an interesting beer tour or pub hopping tour to get a feel of the night life of the city.

Food:
We tried Mexican food at Las Adelitas Restaurante & Tequila Bar (delicious margaritas) and Italian in Don Giovani restaurant. Good places, good food and good service. Bagels was a great place for breakfast, desserts and a close by small Mexican place had option for take away. The Starbucks in the Prague Castle premises is quite suitably located with great views of the city. Take time to relax after the Castle visit.

Currency exchange:
The currency in Prague is Czech Krone. Payment can be made in Euro as well in some places. In case you are wondering where to get the currency exchanged especially while traveling from one Schengen country to another, Prague old town area definitely has a large number of places where this can be done without commission. Though there’s one exchange bureau close to the Cathedral which is highly recommended.  http://www.pragueexperience.com/places.asp?PlaceID=894

Visited:  August 2013
A few glimpses for you to enjoy.

The Astronomical Clock in action!

The Astronomical Clock in action!

Hoards gather hourly to view the show

Hoards gather hourly to view the show

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Side facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

Side facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

Night view of the Castle

Night view of the Castle

View of Prague from the Castle

View of Prague from the Castle

View of the Castle from the Charles Bridge

View of the Castle from the Charles Bridge

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The Dancing House

The Dancing House

Entry facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

Entry facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

Performance on the Charles Bridge

Performance on the Charles Bridge

The lively Charles Bridge

The lively Charles Bridge

Night view of the city

Night view of the city

The Beer Spa

The Beer Spa

The Chhunga Lake, Gangtok Sikkim

Frozen

The Tsongmo Lake.
​Frozen. ​
The​ snow clad mountain was visible from afar but only like a small range with a mottled snow peak behind a couple of huge green snow-less ones. We were ascending the meandering road only to go tobogganing on this White Mountain an hour later. What fun! ​

snow peak spotted !

snow peak spotted !

So the journey began at 9 in the morning. As we, a couple of friends and me, drove ahead, the landscape, flora, fauna and the people​ changed quite evidently from the city that we were now leaving behind. Round and round we went along the mountain side on rugged  and sinuous roads passing small settlements with  pink cheeked and small almond eyed kids in the front yard, bathing, playing , taking cattle for grazing and waving rigorously towards the passers-by. On we went, the road spotted with army habitats, check posts and various tourist cafes for refreshments. By the time we had completely taken in this new landscape and settled back in our seats, we saw traces of snow on a mountain at a distance melting away gradually. Little did we know that we’ll soon be climbing that very hill? The first touch was not that of velvet snow from the mountain but the icicles-the stalactites, hanging from the road side hill rocks and gradually dripping away. Our driver was kind enough to not only stop for us to capture the nature’s beauty on camera but also to climb down and unhook one of the many inverted ice cones for us to hold.

The approach road uphill

The approach road uphill

The Stalactites - beautiful nature!!

The Stalactites – beautiful nature!!

After about 2 hours of driving through the broken and bumpy road filled with landslide sites, we reached our destination. Not just yet though. We were there and still not there. We’d stopped about 200 m before to get our gear- jackets, gloves, boots, and caps. Yes, you get it all up there for hire!

The guide map

The guide map

The small settlement  across the lake.

The small settlement across the lake.

Once we were refreshed by the hot tea and some snacks, we were all geared to embark on our final climb, which by the way was going to be on Yaks. On we mounted and gradually walked towards the mountain across the lake. Interestingly, unlike in Finland we did not trudge on the frozen lake but took a small bridge with prayer wheels on its side. We were told that the yaks are finely trained to walk on similar terrain from a very young age. Reaching somewhere midway in a relatively flat piece of land on the mountain, we disembarked from our beasts of burden. We had finally arrived in the midst of it all. The feeling was incredible!

Then began the tobogganing but not with the traditional wood toboggan. What we used, to slide downhill didn’t even remotely resemble a hands me down child toboggan. It was just a shabby looking blue polystyrene piece roughly 1ft X 2.5ft. Thankfully, we were amongst the early arrivers so initially had the entire hill to ourselves. We climbed the hill on the soft area parallel to the naturally carved, slightly sunken track, the snow being packed close. It bore marks of continuous usage from the earlier visitors. Off we slid downhill, one at a time, on our improvised version of the sledge screaming on top of our lungs like we were on a rollercoaster. The difference being that this time, we were headed towards the frozen lake on a device that was non-mechanical and was difficult to break speed with, manually. Had it not been for the landing on which we had disembarked earlier, I’m quite sure we were headed for the frozen waters. Photographs, videos, pelting each other with snowballs, and more downhill sliding followed. Suddenly, from behind the hill, materialised a few monks in white walking purposefully in our direction. As they drew nearer, we grabbed the opportunity to get a few memorable pictures clicked. Almost two years since then, viewing the snapshots definitely brought a smile to my face.

With the monks

With the monks

Serene

Serene

The hour that we spent up in the hill flew by quite quickly. Downhill on the yaks was another intriguing experiencing especially while descending the stairs. Just one slip of the foot and boom. Gone. On our way back, one of the owners of the yak offered to take our snap. We happily agreed! What followed was totally unexpected. One of them held on to the camera while the others literally abandoned the three of us on yak backs at the edge of the icy path leading straight to the lake surface. They justified by pointing to us where the view was! The Chhunga Lake also the Tsongmo Lake is an antediluvian naturally occurring water body. It has many stories attached to its sanctity. The first one I heard, while sitting on the wall of the lake after the yak journey, was from our cab driver. He recalled how about 40-50 years ago efforts were made to convert the lake into a tourist hotspot en route to the Natu La pass. The local people brought boats from Gangtok all the way up there. They started the activity when on a fine day a couple of boats got stuck in water for a long time. They just couldn’t move in any direction, stranded in the middle of it all without any evident reason. That’s when the place was first considered to be governed by mystical powers. The boats were immediately removed. There was a pooja (prayer service) held and a temple constructed for peace and tranquillity, he continued.  Also, no fishing is allowed in the lake. The fish spotted there, therefore, weigh anything between 10-15 kg. He mentioned that people who did stealthily do so didn’t survive the meal!

In the Shadows

In the Shadows

Unending expanse of ice

Unending expanse of ice

Norway-east to west

Helsinki Time Out

It was 11:45 in the night and I had just returned from an extremely popular event of the Helsinki festival (currently underway until 1st September) “Night of the Arts”. Helsinki celebrated it for the 25th year this time with over 200 events spanning the length and breadth of the city, while some were free, others were not. It showcased a phenomenal variety in the real sense of the term ‘art’ starting from painting exhibitions in the galleries and restaurants, to street art, théâtre and opera concerts , music and dance performances in the parks on the streets and on the roadside, the modern circus(as is mentioned on the website) performed mostly in various city squares, impromptu poetry recitals, music bands playing in pubs and restaurants,  advertising boards telecasting live opera and of course free entry to certain art museums as well!

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Family time :)

All I dreamt last night was about the streets of Helsinki in all their natural and cultural splendour, the air infused with music and conversations and words splashed here and there in Finnish language (which I am currently learning)! It was indeed quite close to reality.

Surely it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the past year.

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Vappu @Kaivopuisto

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Tall Ships Race

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To begin with, it’s only on rare occasions that one gets to see so many people of all age groups on the streets of the city. Vappu was one such day but more of a day affair than an evening or night thing. Another time could be one or two odd days in peak summer when music bands are playing in every other pub, restaurant and bar. I can recall one more occasion where innumerable people had gathered at the Hietalahti bay in July this year for Tall Ships Race. I’m guessing many were tourists in the crowd.

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Musical Instrument making for children

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Let’s have some fun!!

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Designer music !

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming back, the city was teeming with motley hoards of people. At Eiraranta, the ‘Soitinpuisto’ hosted a display of musical instruments which would play when the wind blew. Near Cafe Carousel, there was provision for making your own musical instrument as well; it seemed though that the activity was meant mainly to engage children. ( :( as I too was interested to try it out!!! . Never mind, next time. )

  Where children were spaced out on the seaside , the erudite could be found around the art galleries  on Uudenmaakatu and its vicinity in the city centre. By this time my Japanese friend (with whom I visited the Soitinpuisto) and I had met our Finnish language group outside one of the galleries. We visited a couple of art galleries of relatively famous Finn artists one of whom happened to be a close friend of our teacher and had invited us for the evening.  Then we headed to the Design Museum. The entry was free and we received a guided tour in Finnish. (Each such guided tour turns out to be a language learning exercise for us. Nevertheless, it is worth it.) In the backyard of the museum was  more activity and colour as can be seen in the pic. Can you spot the drummer sitting on the roof top??

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Design Museum tags

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‘Paint me blue purple red!!’

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It’s my style !  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From there we headed to Lasipalatsi to watch the Don Giovani Opera. The sight of the route was akin to festivity season in India. There was live music in the Vanha(meaning old) Café Square where free roses were being happily  distributed to all. We all grabbed ours , spent a few minutes enjoying the multicultural music band and moved on.Lasipalatsi was devoid of any happening except a couple of people showcasing circus tricks with a  long arrow head, the kind used in battle fields earlier. Then there was a set of people in another square across the road which exhibited bike stunts. Moving on, the Kansalaistori had a huge musical gathering. On the way, we also came across a group of relatively old men who performed on the road side. Finally, we reached the Kansallis or the National Museum. A walk which would ideally take 5 -7 mins actually took about 20-25. But it was all good fun. The museum offered an amalgamation of African and Finnish cultural in terms of live performance and small street market located indoors.

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At the end of this visit , when everyone had parted ways at around 9:45 p.m. , I realised my phone  was out of battery.  Intending to return home I walked towards Kamppi . On reaching there, I saw the Nokia Van parked in the square. I approached the attendant for assistance who took my phone and put it to charge. While I waited the huge advertising screen on the Kamppi wall burst into the Opera ‘cry’. Don Giovani was being telecast live by the Nokia who had made provision for people to sit as well. It was an open air théâtre view. So while I waited for the phone to charge, I did manage to watch the denouement of the much popular (and expensive) Opera Don Giovani.

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The African Beat

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Indoor street market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Open air Opera

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Art from the rags

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Had a splendid evening, experienced a different Helsinki and will wait for the next year’s art event .For now, the Helsinki festival has another week to go.

Unfortunately, I am traveling  so looking forward to the First IndiaWeek in Helsinki in September.

FYI: http://indiaweek.info/what-is-indiaweek/

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Restaurant Day in Helsinki.

18th August, 2013 was relished by most people in Finland as the Restaurant Day.
For those unknown to this concept, it’s mainly about celebration of food. It’s a food festival where anyone and everyone can put up a stall in a garden or a park, on the beach or on the popular streets, in a market square or just offer food out of the comfort of their own home! It’s an unforgettable experience of tasting international delicacies and authentic recipes straight from the home and more importantly it’s reasonably priced. J Unfortunately, it’s (only) a one day paradise for both, who love to feed and who love to eat!

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Ravintolapäivä in Finnish translated as Restaurant Day was started by 3 Finns in the summer of 2011 in Helsinki to ‘promote and celebrate food culture’. This offered a remarkable platform for getting a first-hand experience of different communities residing in this city. This mode of intermingling of various cultures is a great way of acknowledging and welcoming immigrants to Finland. (Even though it has been less than a year since I have been here, I think it is a city well worthy of exploring and living in. More about that later.)

Even though the day started on a lousier note with a cloudy sky and slight nip in the air, I guess the Rain God decided to give it a miss today, as the sun shone brightly in the blue sky just when the festivities kick started around 11:30 a.m.!  Stalls were put up in the Esplanade Park in central Helsinki where people thronged the space. Families with children and grandparents, friends, couples, tourists, all could be seen enjoying themselves. Today, on offer in Helsinki were Polish cakes and pies, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Chinese and Thai curries, spring rolls and noodles, momos , Indian snacks right from street food like gol gappa and aloo tikki  bhel puri to pakoras & dhokla and not to forget the delicious gulab jamuns ,made by a friend :) and bread pakoras bondha style. Then there were Lebanese snacks and desserts, chicken sauté, grilled wraps, sausages and chicken wings by some Finns, Mexican food and the ever popular Japanese sushi were being served as well. Curiosity driven people, some looked over the shoulders while the others ordered, some indulged fearlessly wanting to treat their palates and some stood, waited, watched and moved on to visit different kiosks in hope of finding something befitting their taste. In the background, someone sang in the local language, another played a guitar, while a group played xylophone in one of the streets nearby. The space was suffused with dynamism. One had to be there to experience the liveliness.

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Currently, the Restaurant Day is a quarterly event which is spread across approx. 40 countries worldwide. Surprisingly, India has not yet adopted this concept. Given the diversity in food and culture, and the desire for many individuals to be entrepreneurs especially in the food and beverage industry, I guess this would be a great starting point. Imagine Your own pop-up one day restaurant just outside the college on the street or in your community park. Talking about that, I’m definitely tempted to participate in the next Restaurant Day on 16th November. Hmmmm…being on the other side of the table sounds like fun.
Helsinki, here I come !!!

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