A Travellerspoint blog


makes for a perfect post in pictures

sunny 4 °C

6:45 AM : Outside the Vatican walls.

The Vatican Museum entrance.

First view of the Vatican.

Tapestry Gallery

Resurrection of Christ at the tapestry gallery of the Vatican museums

The Gallery of Maps. The Ceiling of this entire gallery is covered in absolutely marvellous works of art.

Marble statutes

A hastily and sneakily taken grainy picture of Michelangelo's ceiling in the Sistine Chapel. Photography is not permitted within the confines of the Sistine chapel and there are guards stationed all over who yell (quite loudly) if they see you whipping out a camera to take a picture of the famed ceiling.

Seeing the exit of the Sistine Chapel when it was completely void of tourists!!!

Entrance of St. Peters Basilica

Inside St. Peters Basilica


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The Pieta by Michelangelo and the domed ceiling. A brilliant sculpture that is a representation of Mary holding Jesus's body once it was brought down from the cross post the crucification.

Vatican Square

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The famed Pontiffical Swiss Guards who have been guarding the Pope for more than five centuries.

Until next time,

Posted by Ceej 08:51 Archived in Vatican City Comments (0)


sunny 5 °C

A 2 hour train ride aboard the Eurorail from Paris brings you to the small but incredibly picturesque country called Luxembourg City. Luxembourg City shares the title of 'Capital of Europe' with Brussels and Strasbourg. The population is incredible diverse with the foreigner population making up 70%.

A must visit part of this small city/country is the Grund. A 15 minute walk from the Centrale and a swift 65 meters elevator ride down, brings you to an area that is quieter, beautiful and much more charming than the city. The Grund offers breathtaking views of picturesque stone cottages, a small church, a peaceful little river bordered by the outer fortifications of the castle and loads of eye-catching patches of green. A local in fact told me "Dont worry dearie, you're never going to get lost here. Just follow the Azlette".


The best way to explore the OLD TOWN was by the Wenzel Walk, which leads you around a walking trail through the oldest foundations of Luxembourg-City and encompassing almost all the best sights in the Old Town. The tour covers approximately 5 kilometers weaving up and down through different levels of the city. The Old Town exhibits the perfect example of military architecture and there are layers of walls built for defense of the city. Each level according to the guide was built by a different empire and at different times in Luxembourg’s history. As a result, the levels of fortification are not an even level but it makes for brilliant views from different vantage points. The casemates which are passageways carved into the mountainside are quite eerie to walk through especially if you are alone. I even saw part of the old aqueduct.

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The City Centre of Luxembourg is a shoppers delight considering it is in fact, it is the richest country in Europe! With shopping streets filled with upscale designers, charming boutiques and street side cafes.



Once you're done seeing the sights, a nice place to spend time is the PLACE d’ARMES. A pretty tree-lined and music-filled square at the edge of the Old Town bordered with open air restaurants and space for exhibitions and concerts. During my visit on the eve of Easter, the place was filled with Easter markets and chocolatiers.
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The Luxembourg Centrale which is the central train station is an architectural treat by itself. You can for a price of 4 Euros buy a day ticket that allows you to navigate through the length and breadth of this small charming country making use of its extensive public transport system comprising of metro trains, trams and buses.


Until next time

Posted by Ceej 08:45 Archived in Luxembourg Tagged spring luxembourg easter Comments (1)


A chapter right off a world history textbook

overcast 2 °C

There are many reminders small and large that continue to stand all across Berlin, serving as a silent yet voluble reminder of a once-divided country and city. But Berlin I realised lives the term "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" that literally translates to the "struggle to overcome the [negatives of the] past".



All roads in Berlin literally lead to the Brandenburg Gate. This historic entrance built to reflect the German nations former glories has lot of space around it so the crowds are well spread.



A block away from the Brandenburg Gate is the HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL.

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This abstract monument honestly touches a raw nerve with anyone who has any understanding of Germany's "questionable" role in one of the darkest chapters of world history. A walk between the 2711 concrete blocks of varying heights, physically provoked anxiety in me, conveying some of the terror of what happened in Germany in the 1930's and 40's. This memorial is not particularly flashy, but maybe that is the precise point. Each visitor is able to wander through the memorial with their own thoughts and seek an independent interpretation, while remembering how the Holocaust changed our world forever.




Alexanderplatz is a big square in the middle of Berlin with lots of stores, restaurants, cafes. I found to be a really good spot to hang out with friends and grab some lunch. Discovered to my glee that the place has such a young-hip-cool-and-animated vibe and is flanked by modernistic monuments like the TV tower, the World Clock and the Fountain of Friendship. Plus there were a ton of street artists showcasing their art all through the square.




Seeing the wall in its full scale was an incredible experience and the highlight of my trip to Berlin. There is a fairly long portion of the wall still intact, decorated with art and graffiti.


Its strange that when I first planned a get-away to Berlin, I hadn’t pay much thought as to the scale of it. Berlin is a massive and extremely developed city and quite incredible when you consider that this city was until 25 years ago separated and was the setting for some of the most world changing events from the last century. Standing in front of a portion of the wall that formed the separation between East and West Germany was such a moving experience especially, when you reflect back about the past 80 years of history in this city which has found such a large amount of space in our history texbooks and makes you think of all the people who were affected.


But Berlin has a few lessons to teach the world and I believe especially in the present day, we could all do with some lessons in Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

Until next time,

Posted by Ceej 02:33 Archived in Germany Tagged berlin holocaust_memorial berlin_wall brandenburg_gate east_side_gallery alexander_platz Comments (0)

Happiness is a place called BHUTAN

semi-overcast 10 °C

Shrouded amidst the backdrop of the majestic Himalayas, Bhutan feels like country preserved in a time warp. The culture, traditions and way of life are still a true reflection of past centuries even in the face of the relentless onslaught of modernisation riding on the wings of the 21st century. Bhutan fames itself for being a country where development is measured in terms of Gross National Happiness versus the capitalist measure of GDP. It is a country where Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of life. Where hearts are big and the days are colourful. Where modernity meets history in simple yet unexpected ways. And I found all of this to be true during the week I spent in this gorgeous part of the globe.


The Government of Bhutan is focused on preserving the country's cultural and religious heritage and moderates the number of tourists at any given time in the country. We witnessed testaments to the will of a country to preserve the environment when there is an adopted state policy according to which 60% of the country’s landmass will remain forested for all of eternity. What’s even more brilliant is that they currently have 72% of the landmass under forest cover which makes it the only carbon-negative country on earth.

Having experienced its beautiful people, colourful festivals, awe-inspiring location and deep-rooted beliefs, I came away from Bhutan with one very important take-away: Happiness really is the best parameter to measure the life we lead.

Everyone I have spoken with since returning seem to have so many questions regarding this elusive part on the world map. I have tried answering the most frequently addressed questions in this post.


GETTING THERE : The only airport in Bhutan is in the Paro valley. The state-owned Druk Air and Royal Bhutan Airlines have flights from Delhi, Kolkata, Singapore and Bangkok to Paro. To say the least, this is a flying experience that one will remember considering the sheer size of the aircraft navigating between the mighty mountains to reach this isolated kingdom.
Imagine, the small valley of Paro is at an elevation of 7382 feet and the surrounding Himalayan range roughly ranging between 18,000 to 22,000 feet in altitude is the setting for one of the tightest airplane landings on earth. Apparently there are only 8 pilots qualified to land here. TIP: Try and get a seat to the left side of the aircraft. On a clear day you might get to see the majestic Himalayas towering over the clouds and if luck favours you, you might fly over Mount Everest!!

ATTIRE : The chic traditional dresses KIRA and GHO are the national dress and is even today the most common attire worn by the locals. Visitors are expected to wear full sleeved and full length clothes while visiting the Kingdom.

LANGUAGE : Dzonkha is the native language but almost everyone speaks basic English and a lot of them can speak Hindi.


CUISINE : Three foundational elements act as the cornerstones of Bhutanese cuisine - chilies, rice, and cheese! In Bhutan, chilies are considered a vegetable and not just a spice. They form the main ingredient in most, if not all dishes, so much so that Bhutan’s National Dish, Ema datsi, is a preparation of just chilli peppers and fresh yak cheese, and is available in almost all restaurants. If you are afraid that the dish may be too hot to handle, you can ask the local chefs to cut down on the spice. Pair the dish with native red rice for a complete meal. The rice is mostly red rice (a variety of rice that grows in high altitudes); and other cereal include buckwheat and maize. Meat is common in most dishes and includes chicken, dry beef and pork.


Red chillies hanging to dry on a traditional, ornate wooden window frames or rooftops of houses is a common sight in Bhutan.


RELIGION: Bhutan is the only country in the world where Buddhism is the official religion and is endorsed by the government. It is considered one of the last bastions where Tantric Vajrayana form of Mahayana Buddhism is maintained as the state religion. However, the Bhutanese constitution guarantees freedom of religion and citizens and visitors are free to practice any form of worship so long as it does not impinge on the rights of others.

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ARCHITECTURE : As you travel through the country you notice early on that the most striking feature of a Bhutanese house (and most buildings for that matter) are the highly decorated rustic windows. Wood is largely used to build houses especially for windows and balconies. The dzongs too seem to be built with wood with stone beams for support. There seem to be three main types of building:
• The Dzongs (fortresses) which are the municipal and religious headquarters in each district.
• Houses that are predominantly 2-3 floored large rural farmhouses.
• Religious structures of various kinds (from large temples to small chortens or stupas).

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WEATHER: Bhutan is a country of mountains and valleys, and the climate varies with elevation. The mountains are extremely cold and snowy, but it is humid and subtropical in the hills, and temperate in the valleys.

ECONOMY: Bhutan’s economy is largely agrarian. There seems to be a healthy tourism industry too. I heard from our guide that there is a good mountaineering industry too. Bhutan is home to the only unclaimed mountain in the world- Gangkhar Puensum and since the Bhutanese believe that the high mountains are the abode of the Gods, scaling any mountain higher than 6,000 meters is banned by law. Unlike Nepal where mountaineering is a mega industry, Bhutan does not seem to share its enthusiasm to capitalise on its unique presence on the face of the globe. And though it may sound conservative, that belief in a nutshell explains the Bhutanese ethic.

It is a rustic, removed, remote, pure country which strives to retain its cultural heritage and has avoided becoming globalized like so many others and refuses to use money as a benchmark to compare itself with the world at large.

CURRENCY : Bhutanese Ngultrum is the currency of Bhutan but Indian rupees is also accepted everywhere.

May the winds making the prayer flags across this beautiful country flutter, carry our prayers to the God’s spreading goodwill to all in the world.

Tashidelek and safe travels!!!
Sowmya CJ

Posted by Ceej 06:51 Archived in Bhutan Comments (0)


semi-overcast 15 °C

According to me, mountainous PARO is the heart of of Bhutan and the very image that a beyul conjures in my mind. The only international airport in Bhutan is located here since the valley is slightly larger than Thimpu.

Paro’s Taktsang Monastry known the world over at the Tiger’s Nest monastery has almost become the iconic symbol of Bhutan in news and print media. The world is full of buildings that are beautiful to look at, while being major feats of engineering, but the first sight of the Tiger’s Nest monastery as it precariously clings to the side of a mountain is an engineering feat that would take years of intricate planning to even begin replicating. The most peculiar feature of this monastery is its isolated location. While it makes for a breathtaking sight and beautiful pictures, it also creates a very unique problem. It is said that in 1998 when a fire started at the monastery, it was completely burnt to the ground as the temple was hard to access and emergency assistance was impossible due to its location and lack of telecommunication.


The trail cuts through a forest of pine trees and decorated with prayer flags symbolising protection from evil forces and blessings of good luck and positive energy. Every time I stopped to catch my breath I was treated to magical views all around. I heard at a rest stop that there are two other paths that pass through a plateau called “a hundred thousand fairies” plateau.

My lungs and legs gave up as I reached the halfway point and I spent four delightful hours in the company of women from around the world (at one point we even arrived at a consensus that we could start our own UN!!)
During a quiet moment of reflection as I sat there in the shadow of the Tigers Nest, I found myself wondering what contentment drives monks to a life so high up in the clouds. And then it dawned on me as I stood there in the light drizzle and a hint of warm sunlight pouring through the dark grey sky in the presence of the majestic Himalayas while far below on the other side was a valley filled with folks who live simple lives but experience simple joys - THIS IS AS CLOSE TO DIVINITY AND GOD THAT MAN CAN COME CLOSE TO.


My friends who trekked the rest of the way and completed the most ardorous part of the trek. Apparently there are the 700 or so steps cut out of rock that first descend to the valley, go past a gushing waterfall on the bridge and then ascend in another long staircase but they did say that the monastery is beautiful with traditional architecture, astounding views and was worth having the wind knocked out of you at times during the ascent.

I highly recommend that you book a nice massage and a traditional "hot stone bath". The tubs for the hot stone bath are constructed of wood and the stones are placed in a section of the bath water. Attendants place more heated stones to the water to bring up the temperature of the water.
Found it to be a perfect way to spend my last evening in Bhutan.

Posted by Ceej 06:27 Archived in Bhutan Comments (0)

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