Category Archives: Cultural Pursuit

Diary of A Wanderer: Germany and Austria

Sitting down to pen my thoughts on Germany did seem a tad bit difficult – simply because the country is so breathtakingly beautiful, I wasn’t sure if I could do justice with a mere blog…

The famous Cologne cathedral

Where do I start …cliched…but true…my love affair with the country started with the famous ‘Sound of Music’ movie; the rolling hills, the tolling bells, the medieval castles which painted a romantic picture; the cathedrals, the endless travel books that I had read –  about the picture perfect villages and the magical forests – and the little phrases that I picked up along the way – Auf Weirdesen et al –  so when a chance came  along for me to experience Germany as part of the German Travel Mart in Colongne –

The city of contrasts - old and new city of Salzburg

I knew it was trip of a lifetime – because from the moment I stepped foot into the country, I knew the travel books hadn’t done justice – simply because as a Wanderer, you have to live the place – see the history come alive, waltz through the fairy tale castles, smile back at the charming people and experience the underlying thread of romanticism humming a tune to the lovers… a flavor which unfolds to every traveler who comes into the country.

Leopold palace in salzburg - sound of music location


Well, luckily, for us lot – when you are a Wanderer, we follow a pretty simple thumb rule  – pack your bags and explore the offbeat. Experience the myriad layers the country has to offer and that’s exactly what I did in my sojourn.

St. Peter's church in Munich

 Freiburg, Salzburg and Munich  was on my agenda after my series of meetings at Colonge…I had to experience the city of Mozart – had to relive my Sound of Music fantasy…had to discover the city of contrasts…and along the way, discover the little towns and the cities – which I now say are stunningly pretty, friendly, traditional, easily accessible, simple to discover, and literally oozing with character. The seduction’s easily explained.

 My worry at that point – I was in love with the country…and how was I going to pack my bags and head out back home?
As I headed into Cologne, I discovered ‘serenity’ – I was staying in Mondial am Dom which was a nice little boutique hotel which had  the fantastic view of the Cologne Cathedral which is one of the UNESCO world heritage center. Having my first cuppa tea with the breathtaking view of the Cathedral is a treat to the senses…
In Freiburg, come evenings, I would be welcomed by warm smiles from the locals who still sit together on long benches, and I realized it is so easy to make new friends. Yes, language is a barrier …but we managed.

I ended up learning a few quotable quotes…thanks to the wonderful locals.

And at the end of it all, I learnt the recipe for a perfect evening – meet up with friends, add to the mix a selection of regional dishes, one or two drinks and some music!

Germans love food and it is a meat eating country – and I’ve gorged on the yummiest steaks – without a second thought to the calories – (it’s vacation and a girl’s entitled to good living) and the desserts  are decadent delights…the cheesecake in Germany, Apfelstrudel and Mozart Chocolates in Salzburg are divine and I couldn’t do justice with mere words…if you enjoy sinful decadent delights,  then you simply need to pack your bags and head out to sample these delicious delights.

But I realized, along the way, being a vegetarian is not a good option in Germany. Simply because, the choices are limited.

The ‘off’  flavor to my journey – I had packed in my woollies thinking the temperature would hit a chilly point  – but little did I realize, the glorious Indian summer would follow me into Germany. Seemingly, Mumbai’s hot summer had decided to pay a visit to Germany…so here I was, lugging my woollie laden bags around and wishing the temperature would hit a near freezing point…

The open air cafes opposite Hellbrunn palace

Salzburg was next on my agenda – with its Alpine scenery and Italianate Baroque architecture, the city is a delight even without its lovely sounds. Besides the regular touristy sojourn, on my agenda was a boat cruise to Hellbrunn in Austria  – and the vista was truly captivating – the magnificent backdrop of the City of Mozart left me feeling complete.  As a traveler, there comes a time when ‘you know this is the ‘moment for you’…and for me, it was probably in the city of Mozart – with its history and surreal beauty.

 

The Trick fountain @ Salzburg

And on the fun bit – the Trick fountains was a real blast.  To be honest, I thought much fun can fountains be? My best advice to all who go: Leave the Dolce and Gabbana at home and bring your sense of humor. Put on a jacket if you’re really worried about getting wet (you won’t get SOAKED…unless you want to that is) and protect your camera.

My day ended with the Mozart Dinner Concert in Salzburg – the baroque room that it is held in is beautiful. It was an experience to hear the lilting music played before and between courses of the meal. A small ensemble of instruments and the singers who were full of personality did add to the drama. Loved every bit of it.

A whole new chapter in my travel diary.

Bear in mind the wine is very expensive so you might want to share with someone else.

It was early to hit the bed…the music was still in the air, lovers walking along the way, Wanderers like me…drinking in the beauty of the place

Ahhh…Salzburg!!!

Munich, capital of Bavaria, brought my first experience at a Beer Hall or  Hofbrauhaus.  It was also the first time that I had ever seen a liter of beer, and so of course I had to order one. And drinking a litre of beer in one go is no mean feat! 

The famous beer mug @ Augustine Beur - they serve in litres

But it was an experience…a definite must for everyone who believes in ‘sampling and savoring every experience that comes along in your Wandering ways! 

 In between discovering the friendly faces, missing a few hop on hop off buses,  I got an opportunity to see the bells of the Glockenspiel chime. Seemingly, the bells only chime three times a day and mini robot dolls pop out to perform two pieces for the spectators below. The first is a traditional wedding piece, the second a dance once used to ward off the plague.

The mad rush of my city awaited me…but the tolling bells and the rolling hills sang their song to me. I was going back to my world where the ‘grind’ awaited me…but I knew the warm smiles, the beer, the music…had woven itself so well into me…that I just had to go back yet again to relive the magic…

And it was, at that moment, I knew my sojourn with the country wasn’t over…in fact, it was just beginning….


About Salzburg Hellbrunn Castle:

In 1612, only a few months after ascending the throne, Salzburg’s Prince Archbishop Markus Sittikus von Hohenems commissioned a country residence to be built at the foot of the well-watered Hellbrunn Mountain. Within a relatively short period of time an architectural masterpiece was created just south of the city that remains one of the most magnificent Renaissance buildings north of the Alps:  the Lustschloss (“pleasure palace”) of Hellbrunn with its spacious park and its unique Wasserspiele (trick fountains).  Hidden in the shade of bushes and trees or jetting out from unexpected hiding places – the world-famous Wasserspiele have been the main attraction at Hellbrunn for almost 400 years.


About Dina

Dina Menon is our Executive- Sales and Client Servicing for MICE. A hotel management graduate from IHM Mumbai, she loves to network with people. And give her the world map and she is already planning her next sojourn even before her bags are unpacked. Discovering the history and learning all about the local flavor comes naturally to her. She loves her Wandering ways and her hobbies include listening to music, watching movies and partying till wee hours in the morning.


Morocco Marrakesh Market: A treat to the senses

Marrakesh Spice Market

Marrakesh Spice Market

Just off Marrakesh central square – Djemaa el-Fna – lies some of the most enticing souks in Morocco. The immense market is home to food vendors, storytellers, musicians, tattoo artists and snake charmers…and the list goes on.

Fascinating, spell binding, alluring – and the list of adjectives could go on if we were to describe the Marrakesh Market – where the exotic world of snake charmers, musicians and riot of colors and cacophony of sounds bring the market alive and enticing enough to take a day out and revel in the magic of it.

Its ancient history revolves around desert caravans and pirates; its low red buildings are framed by the snow covered High Atlas mountains. The square around, which the city is centered is easily the most alluring of any African market.

It is so easy to get lost in the shrouded alleyways, which leads us into a darker, narrower lane that snakes into a twisty clutch of passageways, each nudging us in directions we can neither predict nor resist. But then, at the end these labyrinthine byways all funnel back to the main square – eventually.

And in your journey through the sights, smell and sound of the souks…you chance upon its very soul which pulls you back into its fold. Enveloping you in its magic and transporting you into a world like none seen before.

Amid the dense souks, you’ll find objects to sate every sense. Monkey trainers, snake charmers, henna artists,, carpets for the feet, candies for the tongue and scores of potent spices for the nose, people standing over huge boiling cauldrons dyeing wool whilst their neighbours measure out spices on old lead scales. Music acting as a layer to the souk…and over cups of sugary mint tea, with chat of family and country bartering and haggling seals the deal.

Whilst you go to the square at different times of the day, and you’ll keep seeing it reborn. At times, storytellers spin tales. At others, the food stalls dominate the scene, packed with everything from dried fruits, nuts and orange juice to gleaming rows of calf brains.

The flavor of the market is it’s salesmen – aggressive, pushing everything from rugs to perfume, with prices “just for you, my friend.” With the  happy cacophony of sounds – honks, braying of the donkey, the blaring music which keeps the shopper enthralled – it is a world of havoc – captivating havoc…

For a flavor of culinary heritage
Four-course meals are common here, the freshest salads, and meat platters ladled over fine bowls of couscous in the steaming tagines.

A must taste: Pastilla, a meat or vegetable pie with powdered sugar on its crust. There’s also fresh bread here to rival anything from Italy or France.

The mechoui sellers’s delicious slow-cooked lamb flavoured with cumin and salt is not to be missed.
Stalls selling aromatic bunches of mint compete with colourful displays of ras al hanout, a popular spice blend, and jars of preserved olives and red peppers.

Marrakech Bazaar

Marrakech bazaar

Visiting the bazaar
Thumb rule: If you decide to buy, the name of the game is to haggle. Offer about a third of the original price presented to you. You may as well make yourself comfortable as negotiations can take hours and be prepared to drink numerous cups of sweet mint tea in the process. It may also be possible to swap things, if you have designers T-shirts or trainers for example that you are prepared to give up.
The most interesting time to visit the souks is in the early hours of 5 – 8am, or late afternoon around 4-5pm when local traders can be seen bargaining for goods. Most stalls are closed in the evenings, although a few stay open till 7 or 8pm. It’s also worth noting that some souks are closed on Fridays, the holy day.


The magic of Bhutan – Savitha Subramaniam, The Wanderers

Valleys of Bhutan

Albeit a little late to sit down and pen my thoughts about Bhutan, I had no one else to blame but me – simply because Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragons still had ‘that’ effect – which had me at loss for adjectives about the place. That, and ofcourse, the post vacation hangover – which translates into getting back into the routine.

 

But as I sit down to pen this blog post, my mind is flooded with the images of Bhutan – The land of the Thunder Dragon; The country which measures the happiness of its citizens ; One of the claimants to the title- Shangri-la! Anyone who visits this tiny Himalayan kingdom nestled between the two Asian giants (India and China) would be blown away by its beauty, culture and serenity.

 

As someone who believes that travel is an experience, a journey and not just visa stampings I take a lot of efforts to plan my vacations. It’s important that the travel is enjoyable and appealing to the varied tastes of my husband, my two kids and myself. Vacations and destinations have always been very close to my heart – simply because I feel that it is escapism from the normal rigours and the highlight should be fun filled family time.

 

And, lo behold came Wanderers – who understand the kind of traveller you are, your expectations, budgets and adds their own expert advice to it. And in this case, I had Alifiya – my little vacation genie, if I could call her that! With the Wanderers, the destination holds a close thread to their heart. And the magic of the country begins from the moment they sit across and bring the country alive with their words.

 

Bhutan is awe inspiring from the moment you start flying over the Himalayas and land into a breathtaking valley. I felt like applauding the pilot for that amazing flight. The itinerary was not too rigid and we were ready to put our feet up and enjoy.

Butter paint - Taktsang Monastery

Due to weather vagaries we couldn’t do the hike to Taktsang monastery. But the trips to Thimphu, Punakha, Wangdue, Bumthang and Trongsa exposed us to the beauty of this nation and their culture. And the view of Taktsang left us in awe! The hypnotic quality that the place possesses is something that the guide books could never do justice.

And of course, we had a fantastic guide and a driver – which made the trip all the more pleasurable. Extremely helpful and resourceful, they knew the ins and outs of the land and little quaint details which I’ve believed is very important to making your trip memorable. Excellent hotels and I would recommend the Kyichu properties which definitely gets thumbs up from us! Indian vegetarian food is available at most good hotels and resorts. And what helps is also the fact that the Bhutanese have lot of regards for Indians and it feels nice to see their warm hospitality.

 

Travel books, magazines, blogs and websites don’t do justice to any place. Because, if you have to feel the magic of the land, you need to pack your bags and head out. Let the country envelop you in its folds…let the magic of the monasteries and the snow capped mountains mesmerise you.

 

Simply put – you must visit the country to enjoy it.
Bhutan is a jewel in our neighbourhood. You don’t need a Visa to travel to Bhutan from India.  Between penning my thoughts and going back to the captured images, I’m promoting Bhutan as a destination to all my friends. And if a tailor-made trip is what you have in mind, then the Wanderers is your destination.


Top Eight Things to do in Dubai

Top Eight Things to do in Dubai

Now this is one city that sure knows how to hit the headlines. The magical lure that the city has leaves us asking for more. Futuristic, surreal, yet holding an old world charm – there’s so much do…so much to see…so much to absorb…

1. Shopping Paradise

Ask a shopaholic and the Dubai Shopping Festival is a page out of his/her fantasy. Year after year, the festival just seems to get on a better footing. And that leaves me intrigued. Sure, the shops are familiar and no cheaper, but there’s just something about shopping in Dubai which beats any other country – the shopping experience is built on a platform of unrestrained fantasy, offering surreal attractions to lure you (and your credit card) in. Just to give you a flavor, The Souk Madinat inside the Madinat Jumeirah Hotelboasts its own waterway to transfer people from its shops, bars and restaurants to the neighboring clutch of hotels or The Mall of the Emirates which has a bona fide ski slope.

Dune Bashing with Hatta desert trip: Most tourists do the typical afternoon dune bashing at the overcrowded dunes followed by dinner and belly dancing. This can be quite a tourist trap, though first timers seem to enjoy this. Personally, I would recommend that you go to Hatta, one hour’s drive from Dubai City where the ancient fortress village of Hatta is located. It is the home of the Hatta Fort Hotel, Dubai’s only mountain resort complex. The drive is as fascinating as the destination itself, taking the visitor through burnished sand dunes and mountains varied in colour. Tours cover the recently renovated old fort and a trip through Wadi Hatta with its lush greenery and diverse wildlife. The village, which is more than 200 years old, and Juma Mosque, which stands amid palm groves, are other tourist attractions. And if you are looking for a ‘out of the world’ desert safari, then head out to Najwa – albeit a bit more expensive, but the spectacular desert scenes and thin crowd promise you a journey of a lifetime.

The Gold Souk

Your trip to Dubai is incomplete without a jaunt to the famed Gold Souk. It doesn’t matter if you want to buy, but a walk into the souk is a must do. Simply to soak in the gold, diamonds, platinums and the semi precious laden stores.

The Burj al Arab

In a mood to splurge, then stay the Burj al Arab. It has been consistently voted as the world’s most luxurious hotel and one of the most photographed man made structures in the world. It’s the world’s tallest hotel, and probably it’s least subtle — gold-leaf is applied as liberally as undercoat, there’s a fleet of white Rolls Royces on the forecourt and dancing fountains in the foyer…but then, you didn’t come to Dubai looking for understatement! And if you want to just want to experience the flavor of the place, opt for a quiet dinner at their restaurant Al Muntaha?

 

Discover Dubai

The drive towards future has transformed the tiny little fishing village, but then a visit to the Bastakia Quarter has another story to tell – a little corner of Dubai which has managed to hold on to its old world charm. This quarter squeezes itself between the Dubai Creek and the buzzing Bur Dubai district – a mini maze of wind-towered buildings, a clutch of which have been transformed into art galleries and cafés. Discover the textiles souks – where you’ll find magnificent bolts of fabric. The old world charm of the quarter is mesmeric. And there’s nothing better than discovering this on foot.

Atlantis Dubai’s waterpark has everything from a Dolphin Bay where you can interact with dolphins to Aquaventure, a 42-acre area with slides, rapids, an area for kids, and a beach. If diving is of interest to you, whether you are experienced or a first-time participator, take advantage of the Atlantis Dive Centre and head to any number of dive sites off the coast of Dubai.

Go boating to avoid the traffic – cross the creek using a abra, one of the small wooden boats. Rustic flavor, but with the cool winds blowing, it’s magic and poetry interwoven! Try the shisha at one of the shisha cafes – definitely a must do!

A ride of your life –  Take a lift to the observation deck of the Burj al khalifa the tallest building in the world and we promise you it is an experience of a lifetime – heady, adrenaline rush…and more!  The best time – just when the sun sets. And following that, you cannot miss the mesmerizing musical fountain show.  End your evening with a dinner opposite the fountain over a glass of champagne.