India, Travelblogging, Venice, wanderlust

A Venetian Affair

Few other cities evoke feelings of romance and love and Italian charm like Venice. Venezia as the Italians call it, has inspired artistes and musicians for centuries, attracting them with its inimitable beauty. Whether it was Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice”, or Jan Morris’ vivid portrait of the city “The World of Venice” or various Condé Nast features showing some gorgeous pictures of the city in their honeymoon/must see destinations, I always knew I wanted to visit Venice- a veritable city of dreams, quaint alleyways, delectable cuisine, historical bridges, gondolas and colourful Venetian lives along the canal.

Getting to Venice 

8439DEE6-E664-44E2-9808-7E2FCA07CD98

I took a Euro Rail -Frecciarossa train from Milano Centrale station to Venezia Mestre station, a journey of a little less than two and a half hours. I highly recommend Euro Rail when travelling within Europe. It guarantees the best view and is consistently punctual. Book online and book them well in advance to avoid the most expensive fares. They are also mostly sold out during peak season! My ticket cost me €45.

82307E5E-15EA-44E3-BAAA-6E621E245B44

I was welcomed at Hotel Plaza Venice, right in front of Venice Mestre railway station.

It is perfectly located if you decide to forgo the trek into the city and staying within Venice itself. Carting suitcases around Venice can be quite a hassle and public transport to and from the hotel is excellent. The bus stop and train station both are just across the road. The bus fare is €3 per person (return) and buses run every 10 mins.

I got a beautiful room on the top floor. The hotel also features unique artwork on all floors and a wonderful breakfast. Try the delectable hot chocolate!

Before you go anywhere on a hot August day though, put on some comfortable clothes, carry a bottle of water, apply your best sunscreen, put those shades on and go out there!

Top 5 Touristy things to do in Venice-

223882A0-8DBC-4A5F-BA52-F975DDB1167B

1.Get Lost in Venice
There is nothing, I repeat nothing, that is as important when you’re visiting Venice than just wandering aimlessly through its streets and alleys. In a city like Venice, where almost every home is rendered fascinating by the remains of ancient arches and windows juxtaposed with flowery window boxes. Even getting lost is a beautiful experience.

71CC8611-92C3-4DA2-BC7C-D1D75AE6A983

 

2.Go on a free walking tour

A great way to learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops. Venice Free Walking Tour has a few tours that can show you what the city has to offer. Booking in advance is required and you could book online on http://www.venicefreewalkingtour.com/ or http://freetourvenice.com/ . These tours are well structured and you can see the entire city with a group of fellow tourists. The tours are termed free however a suggested gratuity is 20-40€ per person!

IMG_1050.JPG

3.Visit the Piazza San Marco 

The most famous piazza in Venice. Steeped in history, it’s a crowded place, full of pigeons, and occasionally flooded, but always, always a majestic place.

IMG_1046

4.What’s Venice without a Ride on a Gondola?

B9B274E7-489E-4AA0-ADBF-3328377F4819

No mode of transportation is more closely associated with it’s city of origin than the Venetian boats known as Gondolas. It has a flat bottom and an elongated banana shape; it’s always black, (There is a fascinating story behind this) and is steered by one person, the Gondoliere. They all wear a striped black and white t-shirt and are easy to spot while walking around town. The most popular area is the shore right in front of St. Mark’s Square. This area has a gondola station, or you can wander the streets and minor canals to find a quieter area to start your trip. The flat rate is €80 for half an hour during the daytime. After 7 pm, it’s €100! But Venice without a Ride on a Gondola? No!!!

1773E945-4383-4A46-A0E9-AE03513BFC07

Hop into your gondola and enjoy the gorgeous views as the boatman sings you ballads and tells you the secrets of Venice. Gondoliers are the oracles of Venetian history and are treasure troves of information and Stories of ages gone by! As a gondoliere comes to a bend in the canal or a corner he must yell “OY” to call attention to himself. Scream OYYY along with him, and wave to other tourists!

0CEF47A1-9846-4678-8FF8-A24C6CF92216

So, yes, the gondola ride is a touristy thing to do, but we saw many happy people walking away after their ride, a once-in-a lifetime experience in this magical city. So, go for it!

5.Tour the Doge’s Palace

A series of doges ruled Venice, and their incredible three-story palace predates the Renaissance. The facade features beautiful arches and pink and white marble. The inside of the palace is remarkable and filled with artwork. Entry fee starts from 19€. There are a range of tours, from the regular tour to the secret palace tour. Pick what suits you best and live the lives of the Doges who shaped Italy! Book tickets online on http://www.tickitaly.com/tickets/doge-palace-tickets.php

Food hopping in  St mark’s square

While in St Mark’s Square grab an Aperol Spritz- the traditional Italian aperitif cocktail or a Gelato, or both! They keep you going and ensure you aren’t dehydrated with all that walking.

E157D0FB-9EC0-4322-AC22-767BD29AE5B0

Aperol Spritz is bitter! But it gets to you and walking around with a take-away Aperol Spritz is the way to be in Italy!

Eat bigoli in salsa, a signature starter dish of Venice. The Venetian lagoon is home to all sorts of wonderful crustaceans, making Venice the perfect place for seafood lovers. Moleche, small green crabs, are a must try for seafood fans! And gelato, loads and loads of it!

End the day by dining at a restaurant by the water and lose yourself in trying to decide what’s more appetising- The food or the view!

2B241748-0216-4708-B981-307353D8A330

For all its beauty and charm Venice is slowly falling to one of the modern era’s most pressing issues. This charming city of canals is slowly filling up with litter and pollution thanks to innumerable visits from cruise ships and day-trippers. This has led to steep pricing, the presence of a slum, plenty of graffiti and Venetian buildings cracked and covered in mould, and all this because of a tourist industry that has boomed and kept booming for decades. Ironically, this has not contributed much

to the growth or prosperity of the city. It’s time we all became more responsible tourists before this amazing place becomes something we read about only in books. The permanent population of Venice has fallen from 120,000 residents in 1980 to just 60,000 today and is still declining. Meanwhile, some 15 million tourists visit each year and the number is only projected to go up!

Day 1 in Venice was very touristy so on the second day, we decided to do the exact opposite. Unlike the first day, we went in the opposite direction of where the crowd headed.

Mountains, vineyards and parasailing

venice1

Yes, mountains in Venice!

A mere two-hours away from the city, is an untouched part of Venice which tourists haven’t discovered yet. The region of Veneto, is in the northeast of the Italian peninsula, between the Piave and the Livenza.

Prosecco Tour and Tasting

Cantina Toni Doro II Prosecco- is a family run vineyard that has existed since 1956 between the charming hills of Vittorio Veneto. Their grapes are hand-picked and we joined them to explore their wine making journey. Enjoy varieties of great prosecco along some delicious cheese and ham here.

 

You can also go parasailing & paragliding in the region and experience some breath-taking views! Sadly, I couldn’t squeeze that into my schedule since it wasn’t something I had been expecting.

C6188595-F1CD-4BA6-A65D-8DC13B36E613

And that’s about it! Venice was a collage of beautiful experiences and I wish with all my heart that it remains as beautiful and magical as always for many generations to come.

F3A082B5-A260-4E51-8F35-D42CA0FDBA84

We are heading to Rome next and that’s my personal favourite! So come along…

For all your Italian rail connections visit https://www.italiarail.com/ Find out more about Hotel Plaza Venice on – http://www.hotelplazavenice.com/

 

Advertisements
Disney, India, Mickey's Birthday, travel

Meeting Mickey Mouse and crew

On the event of Mickey’s birthday, I am using my “fast pass” to directly move forward to my Paris trip and write about my visit to Disney Land. Today is Mickey Mouse’s day and this one is for him!

IMG_9977

No one wove magic out of thin air quite like Walt Disney and Disneyland, whichever one you go to, crystallises that magic unlike anywhere else in the world. No matter how old we are, we never quite get tired of meeting our favourite Disney characters at the parks. The trick, of course, is knowing where to find them. Sometimes they appear  unexpectedly – and that is pure Disney magic, But to really find them, you have to go looking for their favourite spots at the park. If you know where they might be, you can increase the likelihood of meeting your favourite Disneyland characters on your next trip!

I loved meeting all the Disney characters, but there’s nothing in the world like spending a few minutes with the star, Mickey. He’s by far the most popular around Disneyland but it’s well worth the effort. I’m sharing my best tips for meeting the hero and rest of the characters.

 Scheduled “Meet and Greet” opportunities which are known in advance are printed on the weekly park schedule. These are available at the entrance to the park and collecting it must be the first task of your adventure.

This is what a schedule looks like – http://download.disneylandparis.com/Disneyland-Paris_Shows-and-Parades.pdf 

Another essential on your visit is the free FastPass. This is a handy little ticket that allows you to explore the park while keeping your place in line at your favourite rides. Just come back when you’re done and you can fast forward to your place in line!

 

Meet the Princesses

Where do you expect to meet a princess? At a castle, of course! Most Princesses stay in Princess Pavilion in Fantasyland. Several can be found in or near the Royal Hall in Fantasy Faire. Sleeping beauty had a queue stretching for over two hours and sadly, I had to skip that. My suggestion is to visit them early in the day before the lines get unbearably long. Grab a free FastPass for your favourite attraction and spend an hour or two hopping around to find the princesses.

Fantasyland is the home to eight different cafes and restaurants and the one place that all little princesses go to is L’Auberge de Cendrillon, a character dining experience with many Princes and Princesses.

If you don’t get to meet any princess, Be one! Fantasyland is home to many shops where you can buy a costume, wand or tiara!

IMG_9993.JPG

There is also a scheduled Fairy Tale Waltz everyday where all the Disney princesses come together for a captivating performance that simply cannot be missed! It is at the Princess Pavilion, Fantasyland, and there are about four shows in the evening. It’s every girls dream come true! I watched it twice :’)

princess.JPG

 

Meeting Aladdin and crew

Jasmine is my favourite Disney princess. Now she isn’t found in Fantasyland with the other princesses, she’s ofcourse with her charming Aladdin in Adventure land. There they were! Outside the bazaar in all their glory. Meet Aladdin, Jasmine and Genie here.

IMG_9978

Meeting Winnie the Pooh and friends

They don’t quite have a fixed spot. Winnie the Pooh and friends could be spotted at the Casey’s Corner or outside the Plaza Inn. They have a “meet and greet” schedule which you could check.

IMG_9770

Meeting Alice and friends

In Alice’s Curious Labyrinth, follow Alice into her wonderland, meet some of its crazy inhabitants and get lost within the one-of-a-kind hedge maze, but be careful around the Queen of Heart’s castle! You might lose your head!

alice.JPG

Alice is usually found near Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups in Fantasyland. She had probably fallen asleep when I visited! However it’s always fun getting lost in the maze and finding your way back.

Insiders Tip: There are several dead-ends and wrong turns. If you do get lost, Google maps could be useful in getting out! IMG_9983

Meeting Mickey Mouse

A special experience is meeting the superstar, Mickey, in his backstage dressing room. I stood in line for-wait for it- ninety minutes! People waiting for three hours isn’t an unusual experience and it helps to come early! There is a grand theatre that showcases classic Mickey Mouse episodes, before entering the backstage area. This is a covered area, so irrespective of the weather, you could spend hours and hours here watching vintage Mickey Mouse. No food is allowed inside though, so make sure to fill up before you go in.

mickey

Crisscrossing queue managers, a few noisy kids and a long wait… But when you finally make it to the end and climb those stairs to Mickey’s dressing room? Oh boy! It is decorated with large suitcases and props referring to Disney stories involving magic, including Mary Poppins, Sword in the Stone and the Disney-Pixar short Presto!

mickey2

mickey4

In a room filled with memorabilia from not just the iconic suitcase but there he is! Mickey gave me a hug and I told him that I come all the way from India, so I got a few extra flying kisses and a special dance!

IMG_9974

A Disney photographer will hand you a Disney Photopass. Keep this with you and hand it to any other Disney photographer when taking a picture with the characters. You can watch, choose and buy your photos at numerous locations in the parks, as well as at the boutiques in the Disney Hotels.

IMG_1247

 

So go ahead and I hope you meet your favourite characters! Disneyland Paris is the happiest place I have been to and hope to go back soon!

IMG_9979.JPG

 

 

India, milan, Travelblogging, wanderlust

48 hours in Milan!

IMG_1009Milan is one of the world’s fashion and design capitals, it has several museums, urban bridges and high rise corporate buildings, great street art, beautiful parks and is one of the most culturally diverse Italian cities. It was my first stop in Italy, so this city definitely stole my heart.

We reached Milan from Birmingham on a two hour FlyBe flight. Malpensa Airport was welcoming. I had a Schengen visa from France, however immigration was hassle free and entering Italy was a smooth experience.

I had a booking at Hotel Michelangelo in the city centre. The airport is about one hour from the city centre. I took a Malpensa Shuttle which cost €8. The shuttle service is efficient and reasonable. Hotel Michelangelo has a vintage look to it. Rooms are cosy, breakfast is great. But you know what I liked the most? FREE MINI BAR! Yes! A fully loaded minibar, which was on the house! YAY!

You could book this hotel on http://www.michelangelohotelmilan.com/  or booking.com.

Also, all hotels in Italy charge a tourist tax, ranging from €20-€40/- per person. So be prepared to pay this sum of money above the rates you’ve booked for, to hotels directly.

The hotel is super close to the Milano Centrale railway station, making it very convenient for travelling within the city. And if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing while in Milan, I suggest you get the “Milano Card”. The pass gives you discounted or free entry to the museums, monuments as well as free access to public transportation!

Visit https://www.milanocard.it/ for more details on the Milano card. You could pay online and get one in advance, or buy it at the station.

So,without further ado…

My 48 hours in Milan

Day 1 : 

Duomo di Milano 

image2

 

One night in Milan or five, the Duomo is a must! Milan’s Cathedral is a Gothic extravaganza! Pink-marble of spires, columns and statues. You take the subway and walk out from the basement, and there it is, right in front of you. It looks like a paper cut out palace floating in air, right in front of your eyes. It’s beautiful!

Once done grasping the beauty of the Duomo from the outside and feeding the pigeons some seeds and your palm, tour the dimly lit interior and marvel at the beautiful stained glass and lofty ceiling. Climb to the rooftop! It’s a view to die for.

 

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele

image4

On the left-hand side, facing the Duomo, is the elegant shopping arcade-Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. It’s lined with luxury shops and luxurious cafés. It is known as the world’s oldest shopping mall. The soaring thousand-yard-long glass roof is, even today, a technical marvel. Early evenings, no matter what the weather is, the cerulean blue light streams through the glass. Leaving strollers at pause. Want to pick up a Chanel bag, Dior shoes, or Dolce & Gabbana? You’ll find them all at this one place.

We also got dinner and wine, in the shadow of Duomo, and headed back to the hotel for some good night sleep 🙂

 

image3

 

Day 2 :

Castello Sforzesco & Parco Sempione 

This place was about four kilometres from my hotel. You could take a metro/subway. 5 stops from the Milano Centrale railway station. Castello Sforzesco & Parco Sempione  is another great thing to do in Milan. It is right out of a fairy tale- A huge castle surrounded by the city’s best park. Walk through the castle’s courtyards before reaching the park, or visit one of the 6 museums housed in the castle – don’t miss seeing Michelangelo’s masterpiece, Rondanini Pietà.

milan

 

Piazza Gae Aulenti

IMG_1015

 

Contrary to the renaissance artwork and historic architecture, Piazza Gae Aulenti is a host to the tallest building in Italy- the Unicredit tower. The modern square is the symbol of the contemporary Milan.

I was slightly shocked, because it was my second day in Milan and this was the complete opposite of what I witnessed yesterday. This place is raised by several meters above the road level, which gives a magnificent view of the sky line of the modern district of Milan. Quite an interesting place with lot of activities, musical and social events.

 

IMG_1014

 

 

 

Modern high buildings, and yet there is still something gentle and cosy around the fountain and on the terraces of the bars and restaurants.

 

 

 

 

 

image1 (1)

 

Corso Buenos Aires, Milan’s main High Street 

In the evening, we headed to Milan high street. A 10 minute walk from the hotel. Home to the largest concentration of stores on one avenue in Europe, this is a paradise for shopaholics!

IMG_E4571

Not fashion flagships, just independent boutiques, laid one after the other. In all honesty I’d prefer you checking out Milan’s independent boutiques, because you can go to an H&M or Zara almost anywhere. So this is a must for all those who love shopping!

Spot random street art!

A fan of Graffiti? or like art? You will spot colourful street art throughout the city! Make sure you take pictures!

IMG_7362

Where to eat? What to try? 

Italian cuisine is a very global cuisine and we all love their pizzas and pastas! Well here in India we give our own little twist to Italian food, but when in Italy.. Do try some local authentic Italian cuisine. Things I definitely suggest you to try:

  • Risotto Alla Milanese: Milan’s most iconic and favourite dish, saffron-infuse buttery beef based risotto.
  • Luini: Fried dough filled with mozzarella and tomato
  • Handmade pizza : ofcourse, can’t go wrong with it!
  • Gelato : MUST TRY!  Go to “Gelato Giusto” if possible, but be ready to stand in a queue for 15-45 minutes 😦 €2.5 for 2 flavors) and they have really unique flavours! Like Nocciola/Hazelnut , Ricotta & Honey,pistachio and it goes on and on..

I hopped into local restaurants and the above were my personal favourites. There are great restaurants in Milan and do check out http://www.elitetraveler.com/travel/destination-guides/europe/milan/the-7-best-restaurants-in-milan if you are someone who likes fine dining or likes deciding where you want to have a meal well in advance.

Sip on some Prosecco, it’s the Italian alternative to Champagne. Most Prosecco wines are produced in a dry, brut style, with only upto half gram of sugar per glass! So you might not quite like it the first time you try it unless you have developed a palate for it. Pair it with rich seafood such as calamari and crab-meat.

IMG_E4566.JPG

Quick tip on reading the label: While picking the level of fizz: Frizzante on the label means semi-sparkling; Spumante, fully sparkling.

In the Duomo walk-about, visit “Sweet Sweet Way Milano” for some great candy! This place smells so good! You teleport to being a 5- year old again and want to buy them ALL. Candies of all shapes and sizes, you’ll love it ! Jawbreakers/pretzels/cupcakes/peanut butter cookies/Panna Cotta/Gingerbread/Bruttiboni and

Ferrero Rocher- Yes it started in Italy! So much more.I am drooling again :/

IMG_7099

 

And that’s about it. A good 48 hours in Milan and I guess you’ve covered it all.

Pack you bags and we got to catch a train to Venice next!

Let’s go?