A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Ceej

BERLIN

A chapter right off a high school world history textbook

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

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Snippets from a brief trip to this fascinating city.

BRANDENBURG GATE

All roads in Berlin literally lead to the Brandenburg Gate. Interiors of metro trains, marks on pathways, ... all point towards this beautiful vicory gate. (Observation: It resembles the Archway on the grounds of the Louvre Museum). This historic entrance built to reflect the German nations former glories has lot of space around it so the crowds are well spread.

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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.

SOVIET WAR MEMORIAL

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ALEXANDER PLATZ

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.

WORLD CLOCK
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FOUNTAIN OF FRIENDSHIP BETWEEN PEOPLES
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EAST SIDE GALLERY :

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.

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Its strange that when I first arrived in Berlin, I hadn’t pay much thought as to the scale of it. Berlin is massive and extremely developed that is 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 I truly believe Berlin has a few lessons to teach the world and considering the divisive climate taking over the world in the present day. We all have to re-look at history and could do with some lessons in Vergangenheitsbewältigung.

Until next time,
Sowmya

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

A QUIET MORNING AT THE VATICAN

MADE FOR A PERFECT POST IN PICTURES

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6:45 AM : Outside the Vatican walls.

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The Vatican Museum entrance.

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First view of the Vatican.

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Tapestry Gallery

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Resurrection of Christ at the tapestry gallery of the Vatican museums

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

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Marble statutes

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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.

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

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Entrance of St. Peters Basilica

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Inside St. Peters Basilica

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

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The dome above the Pieta.

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,
CJ

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

THE GRANDEUR THAT WAS ROME

A weekend exploring remnants of a glorious empire on the city's 2770th birthday

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A mound on top of a hill close to the Roman Forum is said to be place where the small non-descript village on the banks of the Tiber once stood and the brothers Romulus and Remus, twin brothers abandoned after birth and raised by a she-wolf grew up. It is said that when a fierce argument erupted between them, Romulus killed Remus and gave his own name to the tiny settlement that would grow into a great empire on the 21st of April in the year 753 BC.

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COLOSSEUM

A must see attraction in Rome is the Colosseum. You can visit the Colosseum, the Forum, and Palatine Hill in one tour panning 4-5 hours. Which includes quite a bit of walking along uneven surfaces and steep stairs. The front area is usually packed with ticket sellers, tour guides and hawkers, and since the lines for tickets to the Colosseum are long and people end up waiting an average of 90 minutes, the entire space resembles running a gauntlet.

Just being inside this architectural wonder with its amphitheatrical structure and understanding the reserved seating system which corresponded with on of the 76 gates was such a fascinating experience. Just the sheer scale of the Colosseum and the realisation of how much of Rome's history is packed into this space and that more than 2000 years later, it still stands is enough to make it a surreal place to visit.

TIP: Buy tickets online for the skip the line tours with a good company. The tour takes approximately 4 hours and concludes on the summit of the Palantine Hill. It includes 10-20 people and a knowledgeable and patient guide.

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ROMAN FORUM

Apart from the Trevi fountain, the Roman Forum qualifies as my favourite place in Rome. This is the heart of Ancient Rome and in my opinion should be where the Ancient Rome tour should start - at the Palantine Hill. Since Rome was founded here, and grew through the era of Ceasar's and the Colosseum was the highest point. But since getting into the Colosseum is a feat in itself, most tours are conducted in the reverse order.

Entering the forum through the ceremonial arch and strolling along the Via Sacra brings back to mind images of chariots being driven through those stone pathways. The Via Sacra was a very important road during the Roman Empire since it was along this road that armies returned to Rome, and Emperors travelled to their coronations. The sheer number of sights to visit in this space is mind numbing. The fascinating temple of the vestal virgins, the funeral pyre of Julius Cesar, the little gardens, the ruins of Saturn's temple and even a gateway to hell!

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FOUNTAINS AND SQUARES

Rome is estimated to have more than 2000 fountains and almost every square in Rome is adorned with a beautiful fountain at its center. Like so many other elements of Rome, these fountains are pure works of art. Some are small, large, famous, hidden, built by great artists, some with origins unknown in every possible shape and size. I happened upon most of the fountains in Rome after traipsing through narrow twisting streets and housed in a picturesque square. Each square that hosts these fountains are great places to just sit and people watch over a coffee/wine and soak up the ambiance. Plus the fountains themselves are exquisite examples of baroque carving.

TREVI FOUNTAIN - an aquatic dream and my favourite place to visit in the Eternal City.
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PIAZZA NAVONA
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FONTANA DEL PANTHEON
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PANTHEON

Situated in its own little square surrounded by narrow lanes is the only fully standing monument of the Ancient Rome. Originally commissioned by Julius Agrippa and built in the honour of all the Roman Gods 2000 years ago, this ancient temple is today a Christian church. Entry is free and I hear that it gets very crowded through the day as most tourist attractions in Rome do. I visited at 8:30 in the morning and had the entire place all to myself which turned out to be a glorious experience. The occulus in the ceiling is extraordinary and made me want to return to see the pillar of light at noon and when it is rains, especially after I saw the system to drain the water on the floor.

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FOOD!! GLORIOUS FOOD!!!

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IMPORTANT POINTS TO REMEMBER WHILE PLANNING A TRIP TO ROME:
• You don’t need to buy a Rome Pass. The public transportation is quite extensive and services most of the places to visit. A bus/metro ticket is
valid for 100 minutes and costs 1.50 euros. There are also 24-hour and 3-day tickets which are not expensive.
• Everyone who visits Rome seems to have a scary story about aggressive pickpockets or con artists. So I would advice a good degree of
awareness of your surroundings and some quick thinking.
• Italians linger a long time over a meal. Unless you call for their attention, the waiters let you be to enjoy your wine. The tip is generally included
in the price of the meal. You can choose to round the bill up and leave a bit extra.
• The famous touristy squares are stunning backdrops for a drink and to linger in the evenings, but the food in the restaurants is often is
disappointing and expensive.

Rome is so much more than what lies in ruins today. But I guess I will have to visit again to explore that side.

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Arrivederci Roma!!
Sowmya

Posted by Ceej 23:53 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

A SUNNY DAY IN LUXEMBOURG

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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".

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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.

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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.

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Until next time

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

Happiness is a place called BHUTAN

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.
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Tashidelek and safe travels!!!
Sowmya CJ

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

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