A Travellerspoint blog

Paris in spring

C'est Magnifique!

overcast 4 °C

There’s nothing quite like Paris on a day in spring. As I walked down cobbled streets looking at beautiful buildings dotted with a terrace here - a balcony there sporting beautiful flowers in bloom, I found myself falling in love with what is arguably called the most beautiful city in the world.

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As I sat on park benches and in cafes in the warm sunlight still attempting to pierce through the last remnants of winter, watching the parade of Parisian life go by, I realised that the only way to truly discover this city is to walk. I made it a point everyday to stroll over the bridges that cut through the Seine at dusk, just as the wrought-iron lamps flickered and lit the streets with a golden glow and every single time I have gone for a walk back home after this holiday, the joy I felt walking on the cobblestone streets keeps coming back to me in waves. It never ceased to amaze me that everywhere you turn in gay Paree, there are two things in abundance - ART and BEAUTY. It is said that it will take several lifetimes to unravel all the things this city has to offer. I'm taking a shot by compiling some of the most famous places I visited during my stay at the City of Lights and the most beautiful sights I saw.

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Louvre Museum

Standing in the courtyard you already get a sense of what to expect inside.

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If anyone ever wanted to understand the meaning of the term "a wealth of history", they need to just step into the Musee de Louvre. There are 3 wings at the Louvre - Richelieu , Denon and Sully. Denon (where the most expensive and famous residents are housed is easily the most visited). All the portraits description are only written in French so the Nintendo audio guide in English was very helpful. I'm sure there are works of art and artefacts in this museum to keep any historian happy for years.

Most people have a tendency to make a bee-line to visit the Louvre's most famous resident - THE SMILING LADY, but there are so many other works of art displayed within the same walls which are breathtaking, especially in the French wing and the Italian Renaissance wing. Throughout my childhood I've been obsessed with Greek mythology and still remember reading about "Nike" and realising that its not only a famous shoe brand it also is the name of the Greek Goddess of Victory. So the day I laid eyes on “The Winged Victory” was almost a moment that brought me a full circle.

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Before we move forward, let me describe my visit to the smiling lady's chamber. The Mona Lisa is tucked away in a distant corner of the Denon wing past the Da Vinci paintings and the Renaissance wing. My first reaction upon seeing her for the first time was how small the painting is (atleast in comparison to all the works of art housed at the Louvre). The section is also partially coroned off and it is housed behind enforced bullet proof glass.
A small piece of information - Mona Lisa will always be crowded regardless of whatever time you choose to visit and you will definitely be pushed around.

Arc de triomphe

When you see this magnificent monument up close, you can only then fully appreciate its beauty and why it has a significant place in French history. Its ornate carvings are quite something for they adorn the walls and ceilings and makes one wonder at the depths of the artists talents who created this monument. It takes 284 steps to get to the top but I’ve heard that views over Paris are breathtaking from the top. It also forms the perfect setting for the most exclusive shopping destination in the world - Champs Elysées. Oh one walk through this entire street is enough to make you feel that there is not enough money in the world to buy everything that you little heart might desire.

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Notre-Dame

I finally found the peace to immerse myself in prayer at this 800 year old chapel. No matter what religion you follow, I'm sure at this cathedral you will experience something special. The architecture of this cathedral is truly marvellous and the stained glassed windows are absolutely beautiful. Sitting in the courtyard listening to the church bells was an experience like no other which I will carry in my heart for the rest of my days. We wanted to go up the tower to visit the famous gargoyles, but were told that its only allowed at certain times before 4 PM.

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Eiffel Tower

What can I say that’s not been said before about the Eiffel tower? It is afterall Paris's signature monument :) . I would highly recommend going here in the evening when there is still sunlight and have a small picnic on the lawns of the Eiffel tower and make pretty pictures. If you stay long enough, you get to see the lights come on "twinkling" and light up this beautiful monument.

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À tout à l'heure Paree!!! Looking forward to be back meandering around your cobblestone streets along the Seine to sit on the lawns of the Eiffel, laying in the grass, sharing a kiss, sipping some wine and reading a book. Hopefully to stay and explore whatever you have to offer for a full year :)

Posted by Ceej 14:28 Archived in France Tagged paris eiffel spring notre lamps cobblestone paree Comments (0)

Santorini

....... the perfect setting for a nautical adventure

sunny 10 °C

Summer hadn't quite arrived when we did late April and it wasn't 'high season' so not everything was available or open on the island. As it turned out, it was just PERFECT for us. We stayed at Imerovigli as against choosing Oia or Fira. Imerovigli is rightfully called “The Balcony to Santorini” for wherever you are on this part of the island, there is no escaping that view. The entire island is dotted with houses that have whitewashed walls and beautiful blue doors that overlook the Aegean sea and everytime you open your eyes and look out over the Caldera it always brings on a smile.

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You know you are living a dream when the door to your suite opens up to one of the most breathtaking natural views in the world - a flipping volcano outside your front door smack in the middle of the Mediterranean for goodness sake! I've not come to terms with that memory yet. During sunset its a common ritual for people to gather on their balconies or terraces all over the island with a glass of wine to take in one of the most magnificent sunsets in the entire world.

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When you are not lazing around and drinking in the endless view I recommend you try and explore the island a bit. We particularly enjoyed the cliff top walk to Fira one morning, which took us approximately 2 hours. Fira is a port town, where all the cruise ships come in gets very busy when they do. In my opinion - Fira, although interesting, and fun to visit, felt more touristy, teeming with a lot more hustle and bustle and way too many people to squeeze past in the busy shopping streets. I guess it all depends on what each person is seeking in a holiday. Fira is a great place to explore with loads of pedestrianised alleys, lots of nice shops and taverns. I met an Australian artist who lives and paints in Santorini for 300 days in a year and goes back to Australia to exhibit her work.

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NOTE OF INTEREST : Wear a pair of good walking shoes or sandals, the paths are often cobbled and very uneven with lots of steps and gradients. Santorini is not a good destination for anyone with mobility issues.

Spend a day on a boat trip which will take you the volcano and the hotsprings. A visit to the excavations at Akrotiri is a must as so is a visit to the beach at Perissa . You can even scuba dive off the cliffs and most hotels can set you up with diving instructors.

As I turned my head around to breathe in the view one last time during my trip, I remember thinking that this is definitely not my last trip to Santorni. I would return here in a heartbeat and recommend that if you get the chance, you should do so too :)

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Catch the wind in your sails :)
- Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 12:32 Archived in Greece Tagged sunset santorini fira caldera imerovigli Comments (0)

A Greek Escape

A highlight of the few days I spent in Athens before we got to the islands....

semi-overcast 9 °C

Monastiraki

An amazingly vibrant and old neighbourhood still in action after a few thousand years! Everywhere you turn from the square, there are great items of every kind to find, to buy, to eat and savour. Spent almost an entire evening walking around this neighbourhood, tasting authentic Greek cuisine and shopping for trinkets and souvenirs. Spending an evening here gave me an insight into the life of a modern day Athens resident which seems to combine a heady mixture of the modern and the traditional with the ever present backdrop of the ancient. Literally!! (The Acropolis looms in the background of this old town).

I attended the evening service at a Greek Orthodox church at the entrance of the Monastiraki square which incidentally seems to be where the name of the town is derived from. It makes you feel like you are in a timeless oasis within the hustle of Athens.

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Acropolis - Athens

THE BIRTH PLACE OF MODERN DEMOCRACY - There are quite a few stairs to get to the top of the hill where the Acropolis is built but, the view once you reach the top is truly humbling. There’s nothing that prepares you for the feeling that comes with the realisation as to how much history lies beneath your feet and all around you. It is a definite journey back in time and is quite a surreal experience imagining that something of this magnitude was built by hand nearly 5000 years ago.

Visiting the Acropolis took me back to the time when I studied Greek Mythology in school and like me if you are interested in Greek history, Greek gods and goddesses, then this is bound to be a surreal experience. There is a lot of restoration going on at the site and I like the fact that the Greeks are doing everything they can to preserve and restore the buildings on the Acropolis.

The Parthenon that stands proud even in its ruins and seems to tell stories as to how it shaped up to be the seat of modern day democracy. It must have been an unbelievable sight all those years ago when the structures were still in its original form. Even like it is today, it is an impressive sight. The carefully calculated spaces between columns, the overall symmetry of these huge marble structures built all those years ago just goes to show how advanced the ancient Greeks were.

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The Porch of Maidens was another sight that was just a treat to the eyes. The statues of 6 women are used as structural pillars. I heard the guide say that the ones on the site are replicas and that 5 of the maidens are housed at the Acropolis Museum and one of them is at the British Museum in London.

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I now know for a fact that no matter how familiar with the sight of the Acropolis you are and how much familiarity you may credit your knowledge owing to your school work, nothing prepares you the astonishing scale of such a structure built so long ago. I strongly advise you make the effort and hike up that hill.

NOTE : Its extremely windy atop the Acropolis. The best time to visit would be in the morning or evening. Wear sensible shoes as the path winds and is uneven.

Safe Travels
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 12:12 Archived in Greece Tagged athens parthenon acropolis monastiraki porch_of_maidens Comments (0)

Malaysia

Truly Asia - (hmmmm …. Still thinking if this is an apt description )

all seasons in one day 28 °C

TOUCHDOWN KL - Watched the most beautiful sunrise from the plane :) And these Malaysian Airlines people know how to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. Now don’t get me wrong, it might just have been the pilot for the day who was so eloquent (which means his gesture was note-worthy) - the reason being, as we were descending to Kualalampur , the pilot informed “Ladies and Gentlemen, its sunrise over beautiful Malaysia. If you are visiting us then we welcome to our country and if you are Malaysian - THEN WELCOME HOME !!!! “(I had tears in my eyes when I heard that). I cannot imagine the times when I have returned back to my homeland and nobody has bother telling us that. Nice touch don’t you think ??
Good Morning malaysia

Good Morning malaysia

:)

We caught our transportation and were swiftly driven towards KL (Trivia: The airport is 60 kilometers away from the city )

Now for everyone who pictures Malaysia in their head, Kuala Lampur in particular, the first thing that pops into the mind are the Patronas Towers and YES, the towers dominate the city skyline, but does not mean you get to see it from everyplace in KL. We were lucky to get a room with one of the most beautiful views of the Patronas Towers and the Minara - wowieeeeee!!!
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Now the fun part of my trip lasted 4 days ,so will bifurcate it the same way

Day 1:
First Stop: FOOD and we decided CHINATOWN was the destination to start off our gastronomic adventure. We did something very local, we hopped onto a bus, bought tickets for 1Malaysian Ringgit (RM) and got dropped off at Chinatown. Our stomach’s were collectively shouting their displeasure, so we decided to pay heed and put their complaints to rest…. AND HOW!!!
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Note to self - ALWAYS CHOOSE FOOD ON STICKS. Now they come at varying prices, the duck was 2.5RM, Chicken 2RM, OCTOPUS - 5RM. It is served two ways - Barbecued or Steamed. We chose to get them barbequed. We loved it and went back for another round of "food on toothpicks" (as I conveniently chose to call it ) ….Tried Claypot Rice and proclaimed that I could have gone to heaven that instant - Love love loved it!

Now that the stomach was put to rest , we kicked of the next important to-do-item on the itenary - SHOP. Now I’ve seen imitation wallets, bags, satchels in Thailand, but the quality of stuff in Malaysia is far superior
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Found the coolest hoard of T-shirts ever, including stores that sell vintage T-shirts. Cash is the only accepted mode of payment and HAGGLING is the only way the game can be played :D - So guess what, we haggled our collective hearts out. Imitation designer shoes, watches, bags, jewellery, belts and trendy clothes, Oh so much to buy and so little money :(

DAY 2:

Destination : GENTING HIGHLANDS ….
Its about an hour and a half drive from Kuala Lampur.The change in terrain, climate and skyline is drastic. You can reach the place by either of 2 ways - Cable Cars or by Winding Roads. We decided to get to the Genting Highlands by Cable cars. I am scared of heights so it goes without saying that I was freaking out quite a bit when 6 of us piled into the cable car, but then I saw that the view that immediately put all my fears to rest. The sight of the natural valleys and high hills shrouded in mist and as you go higher up and the rain forest beneath your feet, is truly BREATHTAKING.

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We stayed at the World’s Largest Hotel - First World with 6118 rooms. The waiting area has more than 50 counters to help you check in, but be warned, this is a tedious part and it takes anywhere between 2 to 4 hours to get you checked in. The hotel management is quite intelligent and has arranged for live entertainment at the waiting area Clowns, Street dancers etc.

The rooms are not impressive and in the effort to pack as many rooms as possible ended up in making them minuscule. They do not even offer complimentary WATER !!! The 8th floor of the hotel connects to the mall and what a mall it is. Toy Trains, shopping mall , karaoke Bars , Ripleys Believe it or not museum , haunted houses - everything packed into the mall :D
and before I forget - CASINOS TOO. The guys wanted to hit the slots immediately, but we girls went shopping 
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We went back, left our loot in the room and went to the Ripleys Museum and it qualifies as one of the more interesting hours I have ever spent.

Next stop : CASINOS.
It was the first time I ever entered a casino and I think I finally understand the draw that gambling holds. We decided to try the casinos at the other hotel too …We had to take a shuttle to that hotel that runs every half hour between the hotels ..

The food scene in Genting is terrible to say the least. (Trivia : Alcohol is extremely expensive in Malaysia .. A 650ml bottle of Carlsberg costs 20RM.. almost 3 times its original price, so we bought alcohol at duty free shops at the airport and kept it with us through the duration of the trip…. ) If you wake up early enough to watch the sunrise (or in our case, you could stay up late enough to see the sun rise) - The sight is unbelievable. large_IMG-20120407-00383.jpg

DAY 3:
Theme Park in the facility
I've been to Disney so I'll not compare. But its quite nice.

We drove back to KL almost feeling like we were KL natives who had gone to Genting on vacation. Already felt like KL was growing on us.

We got back to KL and had the most lovely Indian dinner at the Grand Seasons. There’s a lovely Indian restaurant at the hotel.

Day 4:

EASTER. We knew we had to go see the Patronas Towers atleast on this day.
But first we had to do one last bit of shopping. Anna our lovely Malaysian friend took us to the Central Mall and we girls shopped to our hearts content, brooches, clips, chinese fans, oh soo much lovely stuf :D. Interesting fact - This market has been in existence since 1888 - WOW!

Chinatown closes by 3PM on Sundays and we didn't have a clue about that. Our transport arrived and we went to the Minara Tower which has the observation deck built to see the Patronas towers ,the observation deck is at a height of 286 meters and the 360 degree views of Kuala Lampur and beautiful. This is truly a beautiful city.
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In the midst of all this, we never did one thing that we all had wanted to do all along - Visit the Patronas Towers … With only 5 hours left to take-off, we had to leave for the airport.

I’ve been a life long fan of graffiti, so when Abhay saw a wall full of graffiti at an open car park we stopped the van and jumped out to make pictures ….. and guess what we saw to our left as we were sprinting towards the graffiti filled wall

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THE PATRONAS TOWERS!!! It was a coincidence like no other and so we did get to take pictures with the towers after all.

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Ofcourse we took pictures with the the backdrop of those grafitti filled walls. What fun, everyone was captured in various stages of flight.

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We were toooo excited even after we boarded …. Marel and me watched a movie …..while the boys downed 5 whiskeys each …. We spent the remaining flight walking to each others seats and having an unusually mad time. Will never forget A reminding J to check if the parachute was where it was supposed to be and repeating the Oxygen mask instructions to him :D

We landed in India and I held my breath as the captain started announcing the descent AND NO …….. Our pilot never said anything remotely sounding like “Welcome Home” :(

Till I get another stamping on my passport … C ya :)

Posted by Ceej 07:24 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Shopped till i dropped

...... THAILAND

sunny 30 °C

First and foremost I was shocked to see how infra structurally sound Thailand is as soon as I landed at the Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok.
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I just fell in love with the various coloured taxis which in a way have become a hallmark in Thailand, they look like car shaped m&m's have been strewn all over the streets. Every one who visits this country seems find the colourful taxis worth a mention.
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Time and again I've been told by enough number of people that I am an idiot to have missed the Chatuchak Weekend Market, especially when I was in Bangkok over the weekend, but I did make up for it at the various Night Bazaar's. Personally I am not someone who is terribly fond of the sun, so shopping at nights when the temperature is not soaring suited me best :)

Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Bangkok : I found clean, well-light shops that are laid out in strips, which covered the sidewalks. All the old favourites are here: Lovely dresses, silk scarves, T-shirts, pillow cases, toys, silver jewellery and coloured gems.

There are also packaging services and bigger and more fragile products (as I discovered) such as ceramics, furniture, carvings, and lamps (don't forget to take some home - THEY ARE GORGEOUS ). Just because items in Suan Lum are more likely to be tagged doesn't mean that's the last price. There are fabulous imitations of high-end brands available, you might just strike an unbelievable bargain if you buy 2 things instead of one especially, on products such as watches, sunglasses and bags (if that's something you would like. I cannot bring myself to buy imitation watches but I'm all for the sunnies)
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There was this place that sells music too. The shops sells these awesome covers of mainstream songs all the way to jazz/acoustics :) As in all open markets, try to bargain. I know they don't speak English , but they all have calculators with which they convey the price, in Bahts (Thai currency)
Walk around the market before deciding to make a purchase, because you might get a better price at another shop. (Disclaimer : unless you are terribly good with directions you might just end up not finding the first shop you visited, as what happened in my case ) :( :( . I guarantee one thing "You will end up buying interesting things that you had not expected to buy before!!! " :)

I went there on a Friday night , and it was open till 3 AM. I paid a visit again on a Monday and realized that the place is more active on Weekends (might be a no-brainer for the ones reading this but I was surprised at how empty it looked). The place closed before midnight. On our way back...our cab driver said something about the Suan Lum Night Bazaar being closed permanently so that the government can build some fancy hotel there :(. Personally, I hope not. I loved being here.

PATTAYA : We'll get to my views about the Walking Street in a bit, I am going to start off with an account of what Pattaya has to offer during daylight hours because I got here in the morning and got see a bit of the town. During the day you have to visit the beach. There are multiple water sports that you can engage in including jet skiing , para sailing and I think I saw an ad for scuba diving. You can also find excellent bargains on flip-flops and the likes and some good eateries too. My favourite thing was to get a foot massage sitting under the shade of umbrellas watching the waves. One of my friends with whom I travelled ended up in getting a tattoo done by a tattoo artist who has a studio on the beach and after much requesting, the artist agreed to do the entire tattoo on the beach (it took all of 4 hours to complete the work)

I was extremely curious to go to Walking Street in the night . The place does take on a completely different vibe after dark. It is always very busy with hordes of all spectrum of worldly tourists in all manner of states at the night time recording everything on video. We are all well aware that this is the place most males to go 'meet' young Thai girls who spend their evenings enticing any visitor in to partake in drinking, eating and dancing. It is a brightly lit neon street with noises of music, shouting and laughing to be heard from all corners. I just chilled with some friends at a open air pub, smoking from a hookah listening to amazing live music and over-looking a bar with Russian girls at the window. I had fun in this strange place, alight with neon lights.

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If this is not your scene and you find it difficult to digest the sight, it is best you avoid this place at night as it is definitely not for the feint hearted - for sure. However, I will say this, from the point of view of a girl you feel quite safe. I saw several police officers and most clubs have medics on hand to deal with all the nightly excesses.

Back in Bangkok, I paid a visit to Panthip Plaza : If you are looking for anything electronic - this place is a must visit. You can even buy the best computer games and TV shows - on a pen drive. You can even buy the pen drive at the store and select the content you want transferred on to the drive.

I would like to visit Thailnad again and explore what Ko Samui and Phuket have to offer. I think I will not visit Pattaya again.

Till next time

Khapunkhaap

Posted by Ceej 21:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged shopping thailand bangkok Comments (0)

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