Wanderers Travel Tales: Europe in a houseboat

By Meenakshi Shankar

A Houseboat adventure – in the lagoons of Venice

A holiday to remember is how I would put traveling around Europe in a houseboat – a world removed from touristy hotels and villas; a world where a sense of freedom and adventure beckons you –  wherein you could chart your own course when you take hold of the wheel of a houseboat.

Simply put …in a houseboat, everyday the choice is yours.

Breakfast by the lagoon in the Houseboat

The brochures invited me to come and explore a different journey of sorts.

Which is what prompted me to shrug away the usual ‘hotel’ accommodation and board a houseboat – wherein, every morning, the balmy breeze would caress my wanderin’ soul and come twilight …. sipping my glass of wine, I would let the alluring beauty envelop me. My neighbors’ who would drop by to say a quick hello – would be a handsome swan pecking at a porthole of my rented houseboat waiting for some handouts or seagulls who would keep me company on an odd day.

Well, this is exactly the kind of thing that I signed up for – a world away from the usual. In the dreamy European city, Italy, laced with canals, there’s water, water everywhere, and well, I thought I might as well stay on some. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I booked myself onto one of the city’s hundreds of houseboats – Would it rock back and forth, or bob up and down? Would I get a hot shower and a decent night’s sleep? Would I get cabin fever, or worse, become seasick?

Needless to say – all my fears were unfounded — and every expectation was exceeded.

I signed up for a boho lifestyle aboard my own personal houseboat and it was a bargain – (some of the very best are for rent, and at prices on a par with three- or four-star hotels).


Shopping at the local market


The advantage:
You can move around while sunbathing on the dock with a book, grilling steaks, or indulging in other pleasures that car, plane, or train travel would prohibit.  Even the most banal daily chores, like making beds or washing dishes, become a novelty when they’re performed on a floating abode.


Glorious sights – off the tourist trails

The landscape slips by. Squadrons of swallows skim low over the water ahead of the bow. Cruising into the glittering path of a shaft of morning sunlight, with the smell of bacon and eggs cooking on the on board barbecue, it’s easy to see why people choose to live on a houseboat.

Life is visibly slower.

And if you are traveling with children -I believe there’s no better place for children to live out their Huckleberry Finn fantasies. Pelicans, carp and young boys have a symbiotic relationship. On a good day on the river, with only a bit of bread for bait, the fish virtually throw themselves on the hook, and the boys throw all their efforts into catching them.


Sailing away on my houseboat trip

Reasons to head out on a house boat trip around Europe

1. If you are a Wanderer like me and want a slice of travel with an edge to it, then a house boat trip is a definite must try. It’s different and panders to your Wandering soul.

2. There is a freedom to discover…unearth and feast on the glorious sights, landmarks and cuisines. In fact, you could discover more than the usual fare. Sailing along, you could chance upon a little tucked away cove, a tiny island hidden away from the usual tourist trails, a quaint cafe which serves the best breakfast…all of that and more.

3.  At first glance, it may seem that houseboats are an expensive option (because they look plush) however they work out to as much as a 3-4 star accommodation.

4.  Yes, it is an ideal getaway for a family vacations – simply because it gives you a feeling of adventure. Pirates of the Caribbean, Huckleberry Finn and other fantasies come alive – it’s an adventure like none experienced before.

5.  There is no license required to drive a houseboat. It’s very easy to work your way around.

6. The best part of a houseboat trip is the simple fact that there are so many options available –

Go on a long weekend – a perfect break from your routine.

A week long trip/roundabout trip – The best way to enjoy your holiday sights. You can take in all the sights and explore the wonders at your pace.

2 week plus – For those who want to simply enjoy the feeling of being on a boat and wandering.

7. The boats are fully equipped – so you don’t miss out on the creature comforts. It’s luxury redefined.

Meeting new friends – warm smiles, glorious sunshine

8.  Catching up on your reading, nurturing your writing skills, meeting new friends,  fishing, angling …the possibilities are endless. The freedom to bask in the glorious sun and do things that you otherwise wouldn’t have done in a holiday trip is what makes a houseboat trip ‘oh-so-tempting’.

9. Cycling tours available – The houseboat trip is not just ‘a world of waterways’ –  you can leave your boat securely moored in a safe harbor and jump on land. Explore the local museum, the market – enjoy the rich flavors of the street side café and more…In fact, some of the islands in Venice’s lagoon are considered sanctuaries for cyclists.

10. The houseboat trips are available in France, Holland, Ireland, Italy, England, Germany, Belgium, Scotland

Check out our latest package on Ireland

Things to do in Australia

Meenakshi Shankar

Tired of the same old tourist spots like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House? Wanderers Offbeat Australia is the guide to the weird and wonderful attractions that most tourists miss. Explore the odd places that make Australia truly offbeat.

From saffron to ocher, the earth paints herself in Australia. Some slip into the outback and forget about everything else, some savor the culture of the Aboriginals, some drink in the beauty of the land…and some simply launch themselves into the sky with parachutes attached to their backs.

Fancy a walk? You could either head out from the foot of Tasmania’s most famous peak, Cradle Mountain, and finishing at Australia’s deepest lake, St Clair. It’s called the Overland Track and it will take you a good week to walk it. The constant views of tall and marvelously shaped dolerite peaks (including Tasmania’s highest, Mount Ossa), beautiful waterfalls, rain forest, scrub land, swamps, bush, alpine plains and rivers. And we haven’t even mentioned the variety of fascinating flora and fauna.

Or hike to the top of Mount Amos where you drink in the glorious beauty of the picturesque Tasman Peninsula to Port Arthur.

Find out how you can connect with the world’s oldest living culture. Discover it the same way Aboriginal Australians have passed it down for at least 50,000 years – through art, dance, myths, music and the land itself. See Aboriginal art and contemporary dance in the cities. Or head to the outback and listen to Dreamtime myths of creation by the campfire. Bushwalk and snorkel, share bush-tucker or learn to craft spears and catch fish in the traditional way.
Let Aboriginal Australians help you understand this ancient land and its spirituality and wonder.

Try your luck noodling opal – in Coober Pedy – With more than 90 percent of the world’s opal mined from 70 different fields around northern SA’s Coober Pedy, you’re bound to find something, aren’t you? In between your mining excursions, you might want to take a look at the remarkable desert country near Coober Pedy – aptly named Moon Plain. It looks much like the lunar surface, dotted with mine shafts and mullock heaps from eight decades of digging.

Experience the sheer beauty of Kings Canyon :  The breathtaking sandstone chasm plunging 270m is one of Australia’s most dramatically beautiful places – a slash of deep green in a red landscape. – Hugely rewarding, though, with delights all the way round, including the Garden of Eden valley and the Lost City’s weathered rocks.

Visit little penguins on Phillip Island – Every day at dusk, Summerland Beach on Phillip Island comes alive with thousands of little penguins. Watch them waddle home in riotous packs and pairs after their long day foraging for food in icy Bass Strait. The rugged ocean beaches, sheltered bays, blowholes and caves are also home to koalas, abundant bird life and a large colony of fur seals.

In Kalabari, connect with the adventurer in you – Go abe sailing, Sand-boarding or simply explore Nature’s Window and Z-Bend Gorge which is an exhilarating 150 metre descent into the heart of the gorge.

Exhilarate in the spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef – Unforgettable is the word most people use to describe the Great Barrier Reef – a spectacle so vast it can be seen from space.

Swim with the whales –  Meet the world’s biggest fish – the whale shark – in the clear, turquoise waters of Western Australia’s huge fringing reef. These gentle underwater giants feed on the bright coral reef between April and June. You can also dive, swim or snorkel with dolphins, graceful manta rays and hundreds of species of tropical fish. On Ningaloo, this rainbow of marine life is just metres from the shore.

Drink in the beauty of the landscapeSoak up the beauty on the stunning Freycinet Peninsula. The most famous is Wineglass Bay, a perfect curve of white sand and turquoise sea against pink and grey granite peaks. Take in the magical view after an easy climb from Coles Bay or challenging trek from the top of Mount Amos. Or connect to this coastal paradise by going sea kayaking, swimming and scuba diving.

And, you cannot miss a trip to Christmas Island to watch the march of the red crabs. A perfect illustration on how Mother Nature can astound even the hardened cynic.

An Italian holiday: Wanderers Travelogue

Tuscany by sunset



“The Creator made Italy from designs by Michelangelo.”
– Mark Twain

I call it a veritable open-air museum.

From the impressive Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals of northern and central Italy to the ancient religious architecture in the Southern regions, Italy has it all.

Sicily - Cathedral

The splendor of Baroque architecture runs throughout the country, in the grandeur of the buildings and the richly decorated churches of Naples and Sicily. The unique and fascinating valley of the Temples in Agrigento, the mysteries of Pompeii and Herculaneum in Campania all the way to the Etruscan civilization around Tuscia in Lazio – the splendid architecture holds me mesmerized in its silken threads.

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.”
– Giuseppe Verdi

The Glorious Mt. Etna

The Wanderers’ Italy

The Wanderers’ flavor has always bordered on being unique and one of a kind. It’s not just about packing in the destination –  but about nudging the traveler to explore the far and beyond  – unraveling  the myriad layers, the exotic culture, the people  and more…

It could be as simple as spending a relaxed afternoon sipping wine in a street side cafe outside The Pantheon in Rome or in front of the many piazza’s that form the heart of every city in Italy.

Or moving away from the traditional ‘villas’ and ‘boutique hotels’ – exploring the gorgeous city in a houseboat.


The gorgeous Tuscany vineyard

A stay in a farmhouse in the heart of the Tuscan countryside with a spa treatment is what a holiday is all about.

A full day horse riding safari in the hills with a picnic hamper is what picnics are meant to be about.

A trip down the Grand Canal to Mark’s Square in a private boat followed by a Gondola ride followed by a dinner in one of the restaurants on the way back to Venice station or your hotel holds the promise of bringing back the romance.



The sheer cliffs of the sensual Amalfi coast

A drive down the Amalfi Coast; an evening walk through Florence…

Lake of Barrea in Abruzzo

And whilst in Florence – climb the soaring cupola of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, or Duomo, for views over red rooftops to Tuscany’s undulating hills beyond.

Captivating is Michelangelo’s David which stands proud behind the doors of the Galleria dell’Accademia, only rivaled in scale and splendor by the Uffizi Gallery where Boticellis, da Vincis and other Italian Old Masters hang out.

Landscape of the City - Abruzzo

Traverse the River Arno via the medieval Ponte Vecchio to picnic beside statues and fountains in the regal Boboli Gardens.

Head out to our favorite Tuscan village: San Gimignano, which I believe, is one of the most splendid examples of medieval towns.

It’s a whole new world which awaits you…

Gourmand’s delight

Learning all about olive oil

A trip to Italy without immersing yourself in its gastronomy isn’t a trip to Italy! This is a land where food is made out of nothing but pure love  – so what better place for lovers to share a meal?
Whether it is the pesto sauce of Genoa or the ‘original’ pizza from Naples, the delicious mozzarella di bufala, or the porcetto in Sardinia, each of the regions have unique cuisines that makes Italy an epicurean’s paradise.
Take up a cooking class – learn how to make Appetizer Sicilian style, Pasta Norma Style (with eggplant, tomato sauce and salted ricotta cheese), Breaded veal rolls or meat-balls Sicilian style, Cassata Siciliana with Mrs Eleonora Consoli in her La Cucina del Sole (The Sun’s Kitchen)

And for your sweet tooth – sample the exotic struffoli from Naples, caggionetti from Abruzzo, and panforte from Siena along with Italy’s Christmas cakes from Milan and Verona – panettone and pandoro.

And how can you ever forget Italy’s love affair with wine and cheese is well known. Amarone from Veneto, Barolo from Piedmont, Chianti Classico from Tuscany are but a few that you must savor on your journey.

Whether its white, rosé or red, this country boasts a huge number of the world’s best wines.

Head out on a wine tasting trip  – Visit  the cellars and wine tasting in Tenuta San Michele, an ancient estate located on the slopes of the Etna Volcano.

Or simply spend a week in Tuscany to  explore the vineyards and savor the rich taste of the wines.

It’s a journey of pleasure – wandering through beauty, discovering gastronomic delights, rediscovering history and more…

– Meenakshi Shankar


Image Credit – Fototeca ENIT (Tourism Italy)

Summer Destinations for this season

Meenakshi Shankar

Summer’s drawing to an end throwing caution to the wind …heading off to exotic  getaways, sojourns to surprise your beloved or simply treating your senses to an virgin island or a rain forest; heading out to discover a man made wonder – it’s a whole new world of Wandering.

If you still haven’t been able to get away, here are some destinations that don’t take too much planning (because the visa is on arrival).

1.  Fiji beckons both the thrill seeker and romantic traveler.

The reefs and cobalt blue waters  of the island created a surreal backdrop for Tom Hanks’ Cast Away and Brooke Shields’ The Blue Lagoon.

Must do:

1) The World-class windsurfing
2) Lazing around long languid beaches
3) Idyllic kayaking in a pocket-sized paradise

2. Cambodia’s Angkor Wat  attracts many Wanderers to the  Buddhist land of smile.

Must do:

1) Revel in the mystical glory of Angkor Wat
2) Relax in the sleepy seaside town of Kampot
3) Trek to the nearby Bokor National Park
4) Take an elephant ride in the jungles of Mondulkiri Province
5) Ogle the Mekong dolphins at Kratie

3. Laos: Head out to the country if you are seeking for a refreshingly simple and relaxed sort of languid riverfront life.

The country beckons the Wanderer who is seeking for a bit of nature and adventure.

Must do:

1) Head out to the sleepy river archipelago with rare dolphins & mighty Mekong rapids.

2) For the thrill seekers: Kayaking, rafting, rock-climbing and biking are available.

4. Seychelles: To romance and to rejuvenate.

The picture-book beaches lined by palms and marked by wonderful granite outcropping is a place to reconnect with your loved one.

Must do:

1) Snorkeling

2) Watching the tropical reef, with its eerie purples and oranges, yellows and iridescent blues, the fat clams with serrated teeth, the not-so-little reef sharks huddling under the rocks, and the wonder of the sea turtles, or the rays, surging through the water like Concorde jets.

5. Nepal beckons the Wanderer who is seeking for ‘blissful escapism’

Must do:

1) Trek through mountains and the jungles.

2) Go river rafting – the country is a river runner’s paradise .

6. Mauritius: Secluded coves, white sand, glorious sunsets, champagne by the seaside…

Must do:

1)Experience the absolute height of resort luxuries – from underwater restaurants to over water villas.

7.  Maldives: Romantic getaway never seemed better.


Must do:

1) Dive, surf, and sail among the coral islands.

2) Indulge in exceptional spa treatments from indigenous sand scrubs to three-hour tantric couples treatment.

8. Sri Lanka: If exotic is on your agenda – the lush emerald landscapes and turquoise Indian Ocean promises to hold you bewitched in its magnificent beauty.

Must do:

1) The ruined palaces of the kings of Kandy Experience life in the verdant tea plantations

2) Step back in time and explore the exquisite Buddhist temples.

9 . Indonesia: The volcanic lakes of the Sumatra is a must on your agenda.

Must do:

1) The sublime snorkeling and pristine coral gardens in history’s fabled Spice Islands. Jet setting off to Bali where the pulse-pounding surf, enchanting temple ceremonies, mesmerizing dance performances and ribbons of beaches beckon you.

10. Hong Kong: To experience the never say sleep city!

Must do:

1) Sample the shredded jellyfish

2) Join in the dawn tai chi.

3) Watch the sun rise from a remote mountain peak

4) Hike surf-beaten beaches and explore deserted islands.

11.  Macau: The Las Vegas of the East

Must Do

1) Gamble the night away.

2) Discover the forms which form a colorful palette of pastels shades soothing and calming, away from the buzz of everyday living.

3) Explore the cobbled back streets, baroque churches, stone fortresses, Art Deco buildings and restful parks and gardens

12. Thailand: The ‘destination’ for venturesome paradise seekers.

Must do:

1) Get and sport a tan on the virginal beaches.

2) Head out for some fabulous massage—the legitimate kind.

3) Tour the local market.

4) Go diving with mighty whale sharks in the coral fringed islands.

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 Cologne.

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.
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


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.

Check out our client Alka Deshpande narrating her journey 

Click here to travel with us.

Valentines Day Getaways

Exotic laced with silken threads of romanticism…candle lit dinners, walking in the silken carpet of dew laden grass to sipping wine in the floating resort, this season’s flavor  is all about celebrating getaways which spells romance.

So be it in the exotic, tucked away beach in Gokarna, waking up to the aroma of coffee and vanilla in Chikamangalur, to listening to the jungle lore around the campfire in Pench to treating your sweetheart to a spa in Maldives, to husky riding in the Lapland or simply discovering the mystical land of Srilanka…your wandering never seemed better!

And if you want your surprise to have an edge ‘a la the cherry on top of he icing on the cake’, go the Wanderers’ way and book a North Pole expedition which sets off on July 23rd, 2011! Adventure and exotic…your dream holiday never seemed better!

1994 — Couple embracing in twilight by dock — Image by © Michael Keller/CORBIS

So  savor the moment and pamper your sweetheart’s senses in a way where it’s all about getting up in the morning, watching the rays of the sun kiss you and your beloved, romancing in the azure blue sea, the lush green forests and the frozen land.

Note: For Indians traveling to Srilanka, Maldives, Mauritius, Thailand – it is visa on arrival. And its free!

Call The Wanderers on 9820904765 to book your Valentines Getaway

Indian tourist in Europe

We would like to share the experience of one of our clients, Rishiraj Singh who has just returned from his holiday around Europe and couldn’t stop raving about the experience he has had.  Here he gives us a detailed account of his journey.

Starting off the tour to the Arctic Circle !!!

Commenced the long journey to Helsinki via Frankfurt. Slept throughout the plane journey to Frankfurt, only to get soaked in football fever in Germany. Kind of a festival atmosphere at the airport. Ventured out in the 7-hour stopover with Kiran, my wife. Met a Brazilian named Eugenia in the subway train to Frankfurt city central. The helpful local took us to the old city as against her plans to show us around. What a sweet way to start the sojourn !! enjoyed the tranquility of the atmosphere there in, feasting on a fantastic pork pizza and strawberry cake along the way only to end up having yummy pasta on the onward flight to HELSINKI. And now it’s 11:30 pm here and we can still see daylight and scores of youngsters soaking in the atmosphere. Sitting in a pub called Teerenpeli wherein the Jack Daniels and amazing scenes have helped get over the jet lag!! Not to forget the picturesque Hotel Helka where we are staying. DAY 2 will take us to Rovaniemi.

A Colourful day in HELSINKI …

Helsinki had a lot of surprise in store for us. Instead of booking city tours, we set off on our own for a walk around to the main places in the city. All the key locations were nearby, the market, the station, STOCKMANN- the departmental store for bargain lookers like us and the main attraction – The Senate Square + the Lutheran Cathedral. With green and white decorating the beautiful monument, the Square bore a very lively look. The entire youth brigade with balloons had descended in thousands on what was a parade. Crossdressers as air hostesses, decorated canines, even a few nude chicks, varied hairstyles, Bavarian girls.The colors were endless and to back it up was live music. A local named Oulen briefed us on the significance of the party atmosphere. Headed further to the Orthodoxan Cathedral and then to the Esplanade market, studded with souvenirs. Bought some tasty fresh strawberries and even witnessed a Finn wedding. A long walk for 4 hrs and we had seen the heart of the city. Made our way on foot to the station in the evening to head for the Arctic Circle. A cute twin cabin and a cozy bed. Santa here we come…

Rovaniemi – high up in Lapland !!!

Rovaniemi was full of nature which one could come across only in Lapland. Luckily we were there when the Jutajaiset festival was on and it was actually the last day – 4th July. A Folklore Festival with World Music. We had Finnish, Europeans, Africans, and Asians amongst the performers.

Post a quiet soothing walk across the Ounaskaki river which passes through Rovaniemi overlooked by the Ounasvaara peak, we crossed the CANDLE BRIDGE to reach the venue for the festival. Luckily the finale of the evening – a Finnish Band Piirpauke was left and we decided to go for it. Had a kick-ass pizza at Valde – Mari, studded with reindeer meat and then we were a witness to the best music for a long time. With Ghanaians joining the impromptu jugalbandi with the Piirpauke, it just proved one point – music builds relations very strongly. The music still rings in my ears. The same day we visited ARKTIKUM – an encyclopedia on the Arctic Circle – quite an experiential tour.

The next 2 days were a toast to the area’s wildlife, the Ranua Wildlife Park which had the polar bears, musk ox, brown bears, wolverines and the snowy owl (finally saw a park without lion, tigers and elephants) and the Reindeer Park Safari which was the actual place where we crossed 66.32 latitude – THE ARCTIC CIRCLE.

The reindeer were against our assumptions, extremely noble guys, clean and furry and even WHITE – one in 1000 is white and we saw 2. But the cherry on the cake was the husky dog Safari, ferocious looking cute canines. The customary visit to the Santa Claus village filled in the itinerary. With Lapland done, the definition of Finland was complete – a large forest with a 1000 beautiful lakes and rivers and a few inhabitants. A truly different experience.

Fascinating Tallinn – Estonia !!

The last day in Helsinki was an extensive tour of the city by foot, and studded with loads of shopping – KARLFAZER chocolates are a must and designers clothes (if the pocket helps the same). The clothes are bizarre and beautiful at the same time – and they prove the fact that Helsinki is the WORLD’S DESIGN CAPITAL. A visit to Soumenlinna – an adjoining Sea Fortress and sipping on coffee at the beautiful cafes therein relaxed us before the oncoming hectic schedule.

The next day was Tallinn – Estonia and undoubtedly the most picturesque city which we would have ever seen. Surprising to find how beautifully an Old Town has been preserved and maintained – complete with Cathedrals, Mosques, passages and culture. Felt a part of History at St. Catherine’s Passage, tried my hand at archery and roamed a lot at the marketplace which was complete with locals in traditional costumes selling traditional wares. Made a pretty sight. Had a stage wherein performances, recitals, fashion shows (dressed up as Russian Czars) rounded up the beauty.

Tallinn made the trip complete. Finished off the first leg of Europe – Finland and Estonia in the traditional Finnish SAUNA – a must do for every tourist in Finland. Relaxing and Unique!!!

Unplanned trip surprises us – SALZBURG …

After a good fulfilling tour of Finland, Munich was a little bit tiring esp as the flight was at 6.55 am. Sort of trudged our way to the hotel and then rested till afternoon. The restlessness of not traveling took us over as well as the eagerness to see SALZBURG in AUSTRIA as was recommended by a good friend.

Unplanned, spontaneous and exciting – left the hotel at 3.25 pm, got tickets from Hauptbahnhof at 3.38 and caught the 3.42 train to Salzburg to see something which could match Talinn in all its grandeur. Salzburg Old Town (Altstadt) with its world famous baroque architecture is one of the best-preserved city centers north of the Alps and made a picturesque location with its green domes and the castle in the background.

It is the place where “Sound of Music” was shot, the art and culture inclination was visible in every aspect –  Mozart, the Cathedrals, Riverbanks et all. Saw the Panoramic view of the city from atop the Museum of Modern Art.
On the way back we caught with a Somali student and an Egyptian national in the train and imagine what connected us and got us talking – SHAHRUKH KHAN. They would literally know each and every movie of his with the release year – believe that he connects to their emotions !!!

Atop Germany – Zugspitze !!

10th of July was atop the highest peak in Germany – Zugspitze – laden with snow and giving a great view of 4 countries surrounding it. Was a perfect goodbye to a fantastic tour of Europe.

The evening saw us catch Germany in its fullest as the 3rd place playoff of the FIFA WORLD CUP – Germany v/s Uruguay was on roaming around Marienplatz we saw all cafes jumping in joy at each goal. A German victory it was to get the entire town on the streets, in cafes, in front of the screens. The lit and lively city with its street performers saw us off with a well rounded off long holiday !!! Too many must dos on a tour like this and too diverse a holiday to match.

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