Thailand 2019: Phuket and Phi Phi islands

Covid-19 is still having a free rein in 2020 and so the travel-deprived moi shall be content with memories of past holidays. My recent-most trip is almost a year ago, to Thailand with the hubby’s extended family, thanks to Banti mama. I find myself back in time on my second day in beautiful Phuket, continuing on from my last post (Thailand November 2019: Phuket).

The highlight of Phuket is the stunning coastline and the islands just off its coast. This day, we had a pre-booked tour to the well-known Phi -Phi islands. Ideally we would have chosen to stay a couple of nights instead of just doing a day trip like we did this time, well you learn something every day! Fortunately for all the older people in our group, we were booked on a huge boat and not a small long-tailed boat or speed boat, which had been a pain for the poor seniors. After waking up unreasonably early and driving almost an hour to the pier, we stood waiting for the boat to be loaded for another hour. Needless to say, we were (as in Krabi Thailand November 2019: Krabi 4 island tour), completely disgusted by the tour operators; all except Babu masi, who utilized the time to shop. (In retrospect, it might have been the smarter thing to do)

Ever-smiling Babu masi spent the wait time fruitfully

When we finally boarded the boat, we were even more disappointed to find our seats in the lowest cabin area that had tiny cubby-hole windows way above seat level. There goes the view! “Thomas Cook never again,” was everyone’s furious decision!

The ride to the islands is 2 hours and the airconditioning in the claustrophobic cabin ( unthinkable today!) was the only saving grace. Oh and the “Gujju” food bag! With no food service on board, we thanked our lucky stars for our smart vision in carrying the food bag everywhere (and for finding it at Bangkok airport!). Once you are stuffed silly, even a dull ride can seem less painful! Of course, there are mobile phones to while away the time.

Kids can always entertain themselves. Look at the bored/ sleeping adults behind!
The hubby needed no device, the kids had a blast playing with him and jumping over him!

However, even mobiles, running and jumping about could get boring and after some time with no beautiful sea scape to wow us, everyone slid into a slumber.

Finally, they allowed us to go onto the deck and there was a mad scramble to get out into the sunshine.

Karst islands rising from the deep blue sea and the stunning clear blue skies ensured that we never went back down
Banti mama enjoyed a chilled beer while the kids had icecream

If you travel by speedboat to the Phi Phi islands, you can get off at the island where the Leonardo diCaprio starrer “The Beach” was filmed, but the big boat tour only takes you to an island where you can snorkel and then on to the Phi Phi islands themselves. So a bunch of us and the 2 teens got onto another boat to snorkel while the senior citizens and the kids went onto Phi Phi directly.

It was my first time snorkeling and I really enjoyed it. Not having carried an underwater camera casing, I have no pictures but this is something I have to do again for sure. It was fascinating to see the pretty yellow and black striped fish and marvel at a rare blue one, and fun to be bobbing in the ocean, trying to stay within the ropes.

Tiny fish in the clear waters off the pier at Phi Phi

Phi Phi island is quite large, very crowded and touristy. And yet, it has a certain charm to it. Maybe it’s the beautiful color of the waters, the delicious food available, or just the chilled island vibe, but I felt that this would be a lovely place to stay at, especially after day trippers like us were gone.

Banti mama loved this island

Our tour included lunch at the main beach area, so we rushed through the market without stopping and had a very average lunch (the only 2 bad meals on the trip were those included in the tour). It probably was for the best as we quickly wolfed down the food and dove in to the best beach I swam in on this trip. White sands and clear blue waters, absolute bliss!

Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to enjoy our seaside bliss, as we had to head back pretty soon. We walked back through the market place, grabbing some slush and icecream on the way, wishing we’d stayed here instead of at the mainland. On the boat ride back, the seniors and kids had a bit of shut-eye, but we had a great time on the deck in the blazing sun, watching the beautiful scenery rush by.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law getting very tanned on the deck

Back at the hotel, we roamed around our hotel area, making a mental note of places to eat at. We were surprised to see the large numbers of massage parlors in the area, and a little doubtful about what exactly was on offer. We finally decided to actually see for ourselves instead of slandering them without evidence & dived into one. I am happy to report that I had the best foot massage ever and nothing else happened. At least I think so, as I fell asleep!

While in Phuket, one must sample the nightlife, and so we headed off with our younger cousins to Bangla road, the neon lit, pedestrian-only vibrant center of night life in Patong Bay area. The party here is not only in the bars, but all along the road. The long day caught up with us, and we, the older lot needed to call it a day by midnight, which is actually when the ‘day’ begins in Bangla.

Since the last 4 days had been crazily hectic, we decided to just rest the next day and have really no plan but local sight seeing. The kids were desperate to swim, so they leapt into the hotel’s tiny pool, while we walked around our hotel and then headed for a long lazy lunch.

We simply took over the entire restaurant!
Beloved food of our teens

That evening, we planned to visit the local beach that was a mere 1.5 km walk from our hotel. As we set off, we were pleasantly surprised to come across the Phuket Patong Bay parade, with beautifully decorated floats and people dancing in their local costumes.

The kids joined in the parade and merrily danced along. The rest of us walked ahead to the beach to catch the sunset, the only sunset we saw at the beach on this trip.

My sister-in-law loved the chilled coconut water at the beach

As it grew dark, the floats lit up, and the dancers put up quite a show for us. This unplanned evening turned out to be the most fun filled evening for us!

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law posed with the prettiest lady in the parade

My niece spotted a Starbucks, and dived in. Kids and their fads! FYI, back in India, my house is 500m from a Starbucks! So much for trying the local cuisine, the curse of globalisation! All in all, it was worth getting in simply to enjoy some air-conditioning actually.

I loved these pretty wooden lamps

The entire beachfront ahead was lined by beautifully decorated shacks, selling drinks and a huge variety of food. But we already had our share of overpriced corporate cake & coffee so we could only gawk at it!

Filled to the brim, we walked back to our hotel. The next day, we had an early morning flight to Bangkok. Phuket turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable place. Food was outstanding and despite the long distances, this large peninsula had enough to keep everyone entertained. And I slept happily, dreaming of this gorgeous sunset.

P.S. Many many thanks to Yogesh Shenoy for editing my very lacklustre post and making it a post worth a read.

Thailand November 2019: Phuket

September 2020 is when I thought I would be able to take my postponed North Italy trip. Of course, I’ve been living in fool’s paradise with hopes that just cannot materialize. With all plans of travel in 2020 dashed, it’s nice to revisit a wonderful, unplanned and unexpected trip to Thailand almost a year ago, courtesy hubby’s uncle and aunt, Banti mama and Renu masi. I’ve already relived the Krabi trip in previous posts, it’s time to move onto Phuket.

On the third day of our trip, we woke up early (again) for the long 4 hour drive to Phuket. I didn’t know the 2 places were so far apart, and was lucky that I had enough music stored on my phone to keep me company as we drove past groves of trees with no water in sight. Tired by the early morning, everyone else fell asleep but Coldplay managed to keep me up till we finally reached Phuket and planned a long day of sightseeing before reaching the hotel.

As always, included city tours are boring, with visits meant to lure the unsuspecting occasional traveler to overpriced lousy stores and over-touristy destinations from where the drivers get kickbacks. Luckily, we had our own list of places to visit that the kids would enjoy and were spared half of the unwanted destinations that the guide tried to make us visit. After a slow (but delicious) Punjabi lunch at a “dhaba” styled restaurant run by a Sardarji, we went straight to Tiger kingdom.

I really hate the idea of drugging an animal for letting kids and adults pose with them, but we had little kids with us who were too young to understand such concepts and were all charged up about touching a real tiger. Surprisingly, our teens were just as charged up and despite my entreaties, joined the kids in the tiger cub “meet and greet”.

Some day, they will realise their folly, till then, they will be happy with this memory
Delicious mango slush with mangoes while waiting for the kids

Any trip with kids has to have enough for them to do and Thailand certainly provided enough. Straight from Tiger kingdom, we went to Dolphin bay to see a seal and dolphin show. Even with my anti-animal torture sentiments, I loved the show. Dolphins are my favorite sea animals and it’s relieving to see how much their trainers love them, even while making them perform in ways they really shouldn’t be doing.

The highlight of the show was when we could actually touch the dolphins. Having never gotten close to a dolphin, I was the first to rush ahead this time and was shocked by how rubbery their skins were and still amazed by the beauty of these graceful sea animals. Sigh! I really don’t have the right to talk about kids’ folly!

From there, we were whisked away to a temple, only to have our teens groan away at that thought. However, Thai temples are beautiful and peaceful and we enjoyed posing outside and inside the temple.

I was impressed by the photography skill of the driver, who captured all of us with the temple
Ask nicely and y’all will be blessed!

Like all Buddhist temples, the architecture was ornate and detailed, but not a shade on those in Bangkok. We climbed up all the levels to the terrace with a beautiful view of the huge Buddha statue on top of a hill and the surroundings.

Banti mama and Renu masi really enjoyed the temples

It wasn’t just humans and drugged animals who posed nicely for us that day, some animals were naturally forth-coming for their turn on my lens.

It was getting late and dark as we left, but our driver was keen on taking us a viewpoint over Phuket bay, so we drove and drove up a long winding slope to reach a beautiful terrace with a great view.

As we watched the sun set and the city light up, the exhaustion of the day finally caught up with us. Having emptied out the Gujju snack bag, we drove to the hotel past glittering streets and high end boutiques. After some rest, we indulged in some street food (the best street food of the teen’s life, she’s drooling even as I type) and visited a night market for some unique food options.

Tiny tables lined the market
I have never seen so much sea food at one spread

Our teens went off with the hubby’s younger cousins, one of whom was once a chef in a 5 star hotel, to try local cuisine. And did their horizons broaden! For a change, my daughter stayed off pizza and pasta and tried something different, including even octopus and clams!

My sister-in-law and I, much less adventurous and vegetarian, had a blast sampling the exotic fruits and desserts available.

Ice creams and slushes made using delicious fresh fruit

Having had such a hectic but exciting day, we were happy to crash into bed early as we had another long day ahead of us, a full day trip to the famed Phi Phi islands. However, the exhaustion of writing has crept up on me just as the exhaustion after that long first day at Phuket, and so, the story will continue on yet another “locked down” day.

Thailand November 2019: Krabi 4 island tour

There are some places that one describes as impossibly beautiful, and they stay fixed in one’s mind as impossibly beautiful forever. For me, one of them is Krabi, more specifically, its islands. The soft golden sands with stunningly clear turquoise-green waters and deep blue skies have captured my heart. I have always loved beaches, but Krabi’s beaches are a class apart and I would love to go back.

It was our second day at Krabi and of the unexpected trip to Thailand courtesy the hubby’s uncle and aunt Banti mama and Renu masi (Thailand November 2019). We had to wake up ridiculously early (for a holiday) to go on the pre-booked 4 island tour. Thanks to the rain, we had rested enough the previous day and could wake up on time for a scrumptious breakfast and head off on time, sleepy but very excited.

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A sneak peek of the day ahead, shimmering through a gap in the trees

It is a different matter that once we were unceremoniously dumped by the car driver at the meeting point, there was no one to meet. We went to the waterfront, to the few shacks around, then back to the drop-off point, but found no one. Banti mama struggled to call the local travel agent, who didn’t take the calls. After more than half an hour of getting frustrated, we met someone who told us to wait near the waters.

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Everyone was grinning at having found the tour organisers

Happy to find a point of contact, we walked right back to the beachfront, cheerfully stood under the trees, admiring the waters and wondering how there was no one around, while the kids shrieked for beach toys. As their mother went back towards the road for the toys, she noticed a large gang of people and approached them to ask about our tour guide. It turned out that we should have been waiting right there, by the road, instead of being misguided by one of their own people!

As we trudged the long walk back, the tour guide actually yelled at us for having wandered off and making everyone late. That was the last straw, considering that we had reached way before anyone else.

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However, it was impossible to stay angry for too long, as the tour group was led by an extremely entertaining woman. She proceeded to “orient” us for the better part of an hour. She had us in splits, not because she was funny, but because she was really silly. We could only thank our stars that she was not our boat guide.

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Traditional long tailed boats

We set off almost 3 hours after reaching the beach from where the tour started, and it was very hot by then. Still, we were very excited as we approached the line up of long tailed boats, till we struggled to clamber in. Note to all elderly and physically challenged travelers, approach these boats with caution. You need to wade into thigh deep water and hoist yourself over the edge to get in. Luckily, with a lot of effort, all 18 of us managed to get in safe and sound and settled in, and then we set off.

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This neat orientation took half an hour to set up and was undone in 5 minutes!

Soon, the beach was a tiny speck on the horizon and beautiful blue-green waters surrounded us. A gentle breeze blew into the boats, cooling those of us not covered by the shade. Fortunately, the Gujju food bag had made its way onto the boat too, and we cheerfully chomped on theplas and chili pickle, interspersed with biscuits.

Once your tummies are full, everything appears more beautiful. The sea appeared greener, the skies bluer and the sun seemed sunnier!

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Even the clouds seemed, well, cloudier.

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Even the grins were toothier!

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Happily, we leaned over the side of the boat and let our fingers trail in the water. The kids squealed as the spray flew over their faces, and we had to hold them down as they jumped about. Tall karst islands protruded from the waters, some with entertaining shapes.

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Soon, it was time to reach our first island of the 4 island tour, Phranang Cave on Railey island. As we moved in, we could see that this part of the island was packed with people and boats. Our driver expertly maneuvered between 2 boats, and hurriedly 2 adults, 3 kids and 1 teen jumped out and ran onto the beach. Before any more of us could hop out, the waves started tossing our boat towards the neighboring one. Our driver struggled to control the rocking boat and we to keep our balance. Unable to secure a safe docking spot, he finally moved away, planning to dock a little ahead.

But he hadn’t accounted for a new set of boats coming in. Before we could reach the shore, the landing area was full and we had no way to get off. Feeling panic stricken about being separated from our group, we considered jumping into the water and swimming to the shore, but the driver and guide wouldn’t allow us. Finally the boat had to back away, turn around some rocks in the water and stop on a part of the island far away from the rest of our family.

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We spent a lot of time just trying to get to the shore

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My sisters-in-law at the tail of the boat

The guide told us that we could only spend half an hour here as he had wasted a good chunk of the allotted time trying to get the boat to the shore. My mother-in-law waited back in the boat as it was a huge struggle for her to get on and off (actually she spent the entire day on the boat till the tour was over).

We rushed to find our children, who had thoroughly enjoyed playing on the soft sands and the clean waters. They dragged us into the waters for a good swim.

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The only picture I took with my SLR on this day. I shouldn’t have carried it at all

We had so much fun in the water that we didn’t want to leave this island, despite the scorching heat. But time was short, and leave we had to, so we clambered back onto the boat, to get to the next island, Chicken island.

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The boat pauses at the place where the chicken’s head is best seen

While the name got everyone hungrier, this island had no beach to land on. There was a small cove at one edge where snorkeling could be done. Our younger cousins cheerfully hopped into the deep green-blue waters, but the in-laws were too frightened to allow us (and mainly our teens) to get into the waters, so we couldn’t experience that.

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Bharti Sodhi, who came up with the brilliant family tee shirts

It was a very still part of the ocean, sheltered away by the island, with very beautiful shades of water.

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Once the snorkelers were safely back in, we headed off to the next island, the Tup island. This island is connected to another by a sand bank that you can walk on when the tide is out. I had really hoped that we would be there at such a time, but that was not the case. Instead there was enough water to stand in, and the sand below made it a gorgeous shade of green.

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We got off the boat directly into the warm waters

We spent a lot of time in this shallow stretch of paradise. The kids had picked up the snorkeling gear and were practicing with it.

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What fabulous shades of color are these waters!

The rest of us swam about, marveled at this place or just floated along.

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The hubby’s favorite island

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Print-worthy vistas

Had we not been on the tour, we wouldn’t have left this place, we loved it so much. But we were on a tight time frame and we really had to move onto the next stop.

Did I forget, lunch was calling?

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Our last stop was Poda island (lunch island for me), where we disembarked and rushed for food, turning our backs to the alluring sea. Lunch, however, was a terrible disappointment. After standing in a huge line, we got some over cooked unsalted vegetables and mushy glass noodles. It was basically food for a fussy toddler and we ate to fill some bit of the crying stomachs, but really hated it. So, we wasted as little time as possible on lunch and rushed to the sea instead.

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We just sat and stared at this view

Before we could swim to our heart’s fill, we were called to the boats as the waters tend to get choppy in the evenings. We hopped from boat to boat as there was no ladder on ours, feeling very happy indeed that my mother-in-law had stayed back on the boat. Here, we had a wonderful surprise, finally something to eat to our heart’s content, delicious fruit!

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Needless to say, we wiped out the boat’s entire stock of fruit in seconds. The long ride back, the full stomachs, and the exhaustion of the day caught up with us and nearly everyone slept off.

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We were very tired once we got back at the hotel, so we made good use of the pool (and its cafe) to recover and catch up with dinner and slept soon as we had an early morning drive to Phuket the next day.

We had had a wonderful albeit short time in Krabi. I would certainly call it the best part of my Thailand trip and would love to go back. However, I wouldn’t take the 4 island tour again and wouldn’t recommend it either to anyone. The islands are doable on their own and its better to choose the island and amount of time you have there rather than be at the whims and fancies of Thai tour operators.

Yet, nothing, not even the mass tourism of Thailand, can detract one from the abundant natural beauty of Krabi and that’s why I loved it. And till I go back, this is what my dreams will be made of.

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Thailand November 2019

Some holidays are unplanned, unaccounted for and served on a platter. You have to be lucky to get one of those, and lucky we surely were when the hubby’s uncle decided to plan a holiday for the extended family to (hold your breath) Thailand for his 60th birthday. Thank you Banti mama and Renu masi!

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2019-2020 was the year of minimal travel as the teen was in grade 10 and behaving as though she were giving the IAS or CA exam (the toughest Indian exams). We had already enjoyed a small trip to the golden beaches of Tarkarli (Tarkarli-May 2019) and a wonderful holiday in Bangalore with my sister and adorable niece in May of this year. I was busy researching destinations for the long holidays post-Grade 10 exams and having the hubby reject them all (sad face). That’s when Banti mama’s 60th birthday party got shifted from a Lonavala farm house to Goa to Phuket and Krabi. Great jump I say!

Banti mama plans trips at 10x the pace I plan them. He promptly hired Thomas Cook for a 5N Phuket and Krabi package and added 2 extra nights in Bangkok for good measure and booked the tickets before we could even get our heads around the idea. Leaves were sanctioned and the teen coaxed and cajoled to miss her precious classes. The Thomas Cook UK collapse certainly added a big set of flutters, but of course it all worked out.

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It only helped that I had colored my hair blue and teal a month ago for my 45th birthday. I was all set for Thailand! Frantic thepla and Gujarati and Punjabi snack shopping, and desperate downloading of songs and movies on mobiles took us to D-day where 14 adults, 2 teenagers and 3 kids assembled in matching tee shirts (courtesy Bharti Sodhi) at Mumbai airport.

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We had a stopover at Bangkok airport, where we walked almost 2 km and stood in a crazily long queue for visa on arrival and then another long walk and queue for security check before the domestic flight to Krabi. In all the sleepy haze and mayhem, we forgot the food bag at the counter and only remembered it at the gate, when we were very hungry.

Luckily, Gujju food bags have a sense of belonging and stay true to their owners. We rushed back to security, retrieved the bag and hogged and hogged before the flight. While on it, the teens and the kids were too excited to sleep, but the adults merrily caught their 40 winks.

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Beautiful palm trees at Krabi

 

We loved Krabi best of all the places we visited. If I ever go back to Thailand, I will spend a full week relaxing in Krabi. Lovely beaches, clear waters and great food are all a direct flight away from Mumbai. However,I have no idea when that will happen, given the current mess the world is in and the many other places yet unticked on my bucket list.

Krabi airport is a long drive from the beachfront, but the lovely hotel with its huge rooms and pool livened us all up.

5 hotel (3)

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My coffee terrace

 

We freshened up and headed for a quick lunch, planning an afternoon trip to climb a thousand steps to the tiger cave temple with a great view. Hungry as could be, we ate and ate, while it suddenly started pouring, effectively cancelling all plans for the hike. I was so relieved as I wasn’t sure that I could climb a thousand steps!

The long walk back to the hotel in the now-gentle drizzle was very enjoyable, past the market area. We had fun peeking into the tiny shops with their charming wares.

8 pretty krabi by night (7)s

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While the older people enjoyed an afternoon of shut-eye, the rest of had a great swim in the huge pool and delicious French fries, pizzas and cocktails.

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Too tired to walk to the beach, with a long day ahead of us the next day, we relaxed in the pool till night, where we headed to a night market right beside our hotel.

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7 aonang night market (15)

I love quaint market places with their myriad artefacts, wares and food. The different colors and smells, the hustle and bustle, all appeal to me. If there’s a night market where I am visiting, I will land up there. Luckily for me, this one was too close to miss and all of us went to see what was on display.

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The hubby’s aunts, Babu masi and Renu masi, are great fun and super enthusiastic

This tiny market was filled with stalls of tacky clothes, handbags, jewelry and souvenirs to carry home. As always, I was too busy clicking pictures to even pick up a fridge magnet for my sister, who loves them. That ended up as a repetitive pattern on this trip.

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7 aonang night market (16)s

7 aonang night market (13)

There were lots of food stalls with small tables laid out and we wandered through all, hoping to finish dinner here itself. Sadly, most of the food was seafood, and most of us were vegetarians. There was even a Bavarian beer garden here and that was tempting for a few in the group but they held on for now!

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Sushi

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I have never seen fruits look more delicious!

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Even though there was no food of our choice, there is always the universal favorite – icecream! A couple of cold stone ice-creams and delicious fruit slushes later, we headed off to the main Aonang beachfront for dinner at a multicuisine restaurant so that everyone could have food of their own different tastes.

The signboard was enticement enough and those that had held off earlier gave in now!

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Banti mama with the love of his life

With a heavy meal in our tummies we walked back slowly, listening to the waves lap along the beach, deciding that we’d wake up early the next morning to walk along the shore at dawn.

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Needless to say, only two people went on that walk, Banti mama and me! Used to the solitude (Did I leave Banti mama behind? I really don’t remember!), I enjoyed the fresh breeze and the sun lighting up the entire beach.

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What a great place for breakfast. Sadly, nothing was open

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Cute knick knacks outside a public restroom

 

Having started the day on a happy note, I headed back to the hotel for a delicious breakfast and later, headed off to the waterfront to some of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever been to, as part of the 4 island tour. But that tour deserves a full separate post, so here I sign off, happily dreaming of turquoise waters and golden sands.

Germany Austria May 2018: A wonderful last day at Hellabrun zoo and Nymphenburg palace

All good things must come to an end. “But why mama, why?” asked the unhappy kid. “So that we can earn money for the next trip,” I unhelpfully answered. We were on the last day of our holiday and the very thought was depressing the two of us. But I was determined not to let it mar our last day.

The biggest worry for the day was where to go. The contenders were Nymphenburg palace (highest on my list), Munich zoo and Primark for shopping (highest priority for the kid). The hubby flatly refused one more palace, so we set off for the zoo.

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Hellabrun zoo is a long train ride from  Munich central station, so we left as soon as we could, especially because the penguin feeding time was 11 am and I was desperate to see that (it was past 10 am when we left!) We hurriedly walked/ ran to the zoo and then to the penguin enclosure which was at the far end of the zoo, without bothering to look at any of the animals on the way. “Relax Beejal, the penguins aren’t being flown out of Munich after their feeding,” admonished the hubby, but I was charged up.

Fortunately, we made it in time (the keeper was a bit delayed, thank God for the lack of the brilliant German efficiency here), and we could see loads of Emperor, Rockefeller and Humboldt penguins, waddling about on the ice.

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The tall commanding Emperor

I love penguins. They are my favorite birds. I love seeing these ataxic birds jump into the water and swim so gracefully. When the keeper picked up a penguin and cuddled him, I was so jealous and would have happily traded places.

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It was a wonderful experience, like watching ‘Happy feet’ live. We spent the bulk of our day here, and came back once again. Somehow after the penguins, I lost my steam and my interest slowly waned. The hubby was very irritated by my mad rush to the penguins and complained about how we’d not enjoyed the zoo because I was obsessed with seeing the penguins eat fish. “Hmmpphh,” I said, “the other animals aren’t being flown out of the zoo because I didn’t see them.”

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A snowy owl (looked so like Hedwig)

Of course, we patiently roamed about the entire zoo. There was a reasonable cloud cover and we had a good time. We saw a seal show that was in German and we couldn’t understand, but there’s no mistaking the love the trainers and the animals share.

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Awwwww!

Naturally, we were fascinated by the big cats, especially a growling tiger prowling about.

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A pair of lions was fast asleep as we walked by and admired the beautiful cats, when one suddenly woke up and looked us in the eye.

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The zoo had fairly large enclosures for the animals to move about in, but they could be a still larger. Though I do visit zoos, I feel that animals don’t deserve this kind of captivity. We wouldn’t like a world in which we were in some enclosure and a “higher” species was gawking at us.

On a happier note, there was a huge enclosure for the primates with swings and branches for them to enjoy, which they did whole-heartedly.

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Some primates are happy enough on land.

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A tropical rainforest enclosure intrigued us a lot. The atmosphere was hot and humid, and we were very much at home. We enjoyed listening to the chirping of the birds around us.

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By afternoon, I was in a rush to exit quickly as I wanted to see Nymphenburg palace before it closed. So, we rushed through the aquarium, shopped for soft toys and had lunch in a biergarten by the flamingos.

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Brew with a view

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We headed back to the hotel together post-lunch, as our Munich day ticket mandates our travelling together. By this time, stormy rain clouds had gathered and the sky was an ominous gray. The hubby refused to head out so I convinced the kid to come with me to Nymphenburg palace even though she was tired by all the morning walking.

much needed dessert on last day

Much needed dessert on the last day of a great trip

A short tram ride took us to the gates of the summer palace of the Wittelsbach rulers. In the good-old-days, it took 2 hours from Munich by carriage, making it the perfect summer getaway for a ruler. It was raining heavily till then, but amazingly, the rain stopped just before we clambered out and walked the short distance along a canal to the long flat palace with buildings all around it and swans and geese curled up in corners at the sides.

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The stunning Nymphenburg palace on a stormy afternoon

Even as we approached, the sun burst through the dark clouds, momentarily brightening up the landscape.

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Buildings and gardens have been added on to the main palace over the years

It was truly breathtaking. The large green grounds with pretty flowers surrounding large water bodies reflecting the simple buildings made me admire the architect who had designed a home so well harmonized with nature. But this was just the prelude to the show. The magic of Nymphenburg unfolds as you see more of it.

We walked into the palace, put away our bags into lockers and set about seeing the palace interiors first as they would close in half an hour. We weren’t too keen on seeing too much of it as we’d already seen the opulent Residenz but that didn’t stop us from gawking at the beautifully designed stone hall with frescoes on the walls and ceilings featuring nymphs (naturally) and the flower goddess Diana.

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I would happily have lain down on the floor to admire this ceiling 

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My photography skills are too poor to capture this beauty. This hall has got to be seen, and we were happy to feast our eyes on it a second time before leaving. But now, we wanted to walk through a few of the rooms, and most importantly, the gallery of beauties.

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The Gallery of Beauties, with my own little beauty

So, the king made his queen a palace for bearing his heir, and then put up specially commissioned paintings of beautiful women chosen by him, in clothes and embellishments chosen by him. How sadistic can a man be!

 

We wandered through pretty rooms with glamorous chandeliers, liking this palace far more than the Residenz, for its compactness and relative simplicity. It felt like a palace one could live in.

DSC_4919Sure I’d love a canopied bed with a chandelier like that. But that’s not why I’d love to live in Nymphenburg. I fell in love with it for the palace grounds.

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The lawns and canals in the front of Nymphenburg palace, from the terrace of the palace

By the time we got our backpacks and set out to see the extensive park grounds of 200 acres at the back of the palace, the sun was out blazing away and no one could have identified this as the scene of a thunder storm an hour back.

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Geese were more at home here than tourists here as we gazed out at unending fields of green punctuated by canals and lakes. The large expanse in front of us was dotted by statues of Greek Gods and the kid, enlightened by “Percy Jackson”, had a blast running amongst them and naming them.

The amazing Nymphenburg park was increased in size over 200 years, and is now a huge forest-like space that would take an entire day to explore.

Screenshot (1)Sadly, we had barely a few hours and were already tired after a full day of walking at the zoo. Yet, we set off to explore at least one half of the park, intending to walk to the largest lake of the park, the Badenburg lake and then to see the waterfall cascades at the very end of the park. We certainly had taken no scale into account while chalking up this ambitious plan, nor the overpowering evening sun.

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Water bodies are the basis of the park, they fill every nook and corner of it. Small canals crossed by Venetian bridges, long canals you can take a gondola ride on and huge lakes that you can’t see the end of, all fill the park and add to its tremendous allure.

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A Venetian gondola in Germany, with a singing gondolier

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Geese with their goslings swam merrily along

Ever the explorer, the kid chose a path through the forest, instead of walking at the edge of the canal. Beautifully shaded, totally empty, surrounded by trees and the calls of birds, this was the most pleasant of all the walks we took.

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Rambling along, we were a tad concerned about finding the right path to the lake, when we came upon a fork in the road. Since we were on a small path unmarked on the map, we had to choose. Inspired by Frost, we chose the road less travelled and plodded on, to reach a clearing in the woods and a charming bridge over a little canal that opened out onto Badenburg lake.

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Thrilled, we pushed ahead and were delighted to see a few people milling about the periphery of a beautiful lake, with sunbeams dancing off the surface and charming geese for company.

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The monopteros at one edge of the Badenburg lake, that I couldn’t figure out any way to reach

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We sat there for a quite a while, stretching out our tired legs and enjoying our refreshed minds. It was so quiet that there was no need to intrude on the peace by conversation or shutter sound, we took a few pictures for memory and then, just sat quietly together.

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Reluctantly, we left this wonderful place of solace and walked on. By now, the kid was very tired and we couldn’t reach the end of the park. So we decided to cut across the forest and walk back along the central canal on the opposite side, coming upon a statue of Pan and his faithful satyr.

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The God of the wild would love this resting place for sure. As we crossed the central canal, we glanced at the reflection of the palace in the narrow canal and simultaneously went “Oooohhhh!”

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The only thing stopping us staring at this view was the hot sun and our own exhaustion. Truly, Nymphenburg deserves an entire day. We crossed over the canal to the other side to see the Pagodenburg lake, where the setting sun was casting its rays.

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We walked back to the palace halls, thrilled by the evening’s adventure and very glad that we’d stepped out in the storm.

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As we exited the palace and came out to the front lawns, we were struck by how different it looked without the dreary clouds and amazed by how the day had changed. It was as though Munich was giving us a fitting farewell.

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I noticed things I hadn’t seen before like the flowers and the cherubic statues.

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The swans reclaimed their places in the canals, no longer hiding their beaks under their wings, but proudly floating about.

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Tired, but very very happy, the two of us caught the tram back to our hotel and packed for the flight back the next day. We had had a terrific 14 days in Germany and Austria. Every day and every place we visited, we had loved. The hubby’s role in turning down the original plan of Italy must be applauded, as his terrific driving.

While I must credit the hubby the most, there are those who are very important too. The kid was a great companion on this trip, interested in the history of the places, willing to step out and walk and walk, and play lots of Uno. My sister was very accommodating as she didn’t insist on my going to her place to visit her and my adorable niece (my only regret). And I can’t sign off without profusely thanking Yogesh Shenoy for planning my trip to the hilt and being the greatest support system. Nor can I forget the lovely Bavaria and Austria that made my trip so special. I hope to be back someday.

Auf wiedersehen Germany and Austria.

Germany May 2018: Munich Day 2: Cars, palaces and gardens; a day well spent

“3 days in Munich? What will you do there,” asked a friend. As it turned out, 3 days were barely enough. The vibrant city with oodles of old world charm has plenty to offer within the city itself, apart from day trips, all of which we had already visited. Munich turned out to be a city that we fell head over heels in love with. The old town had already enamored us the previous day (Germany May 2018: Munich, the charming Bavarian capital), this day, we chose to visit the BMW welt, Munich Residenz and English Garden.

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The BMW headquarters represents the cylinder head of the four-cylinder car engine

After buying a Munich inner city pass that would allow us to use the train and bus network, we set off to the Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) welt and were surprised to see a bunch of high school kids get off at the stop. I was amazed by their interests till I entered the welt and realised that they were there to play racing games on the free Xbox consoles. The kid didn’t get a chance to play till we were about to leave. We had a blast looking around at all the beemers on display and choosing the ones we would buy if we could. The kid, unsurprisingly chose a concept car.

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From here, we headed to the Munich Residenz, the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian royalty. We got off the U-bahn stop and turned into the palace gardens just behind the Residenz.

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Sadly, it was too hot to tour the gardens, so we turned to look at the Residenz.

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“Imposing building,” I thought, as I tried to push open the doors. “No, no, you can’t enter,” cried a man, “the entrance is all the way around.” ‘All the way around’ turned out to be a long way around. We walked into many courtyards, but couldn’t gain entry through any of those.

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We had to walk back almost half the way to Marienplatz, to a square called Max-Joseph-Platz square and then get in. The walk in the sun was very pleasing to the eyes, with architecture like this to feast the eyes on.

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We stashed away our backpacks and entered the first HUGE room, the Antiquarium (the room of Antiquities), built to house dozens of sculptures. By far the most beautiful of all the rooms, it was filled with just the right amount of art and sculpture.

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We walked from one end to the other and back, staring at the ceiling as much as at the walls, and stood at one end and saw how different it looked with a change of position.

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This grandest room of this grand palace was stunning and captured our attention for the longest time. However it turned into the benchmark that everything else didn’t quite live up to. 

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The paintings on the walls and ceilings were stunning

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Munich residenz is a huge palace, where bits and pieces have been added on by different rulers. It actually looks deceptively small from the outside. There were lots of museum personnel who politely showed you the way and very enthusiastically opened doors and gushed about the rooms ahead. It was clear that the palace employees loved their jobs and were very proud of their city. I found this very very impressive. As we walked through, a gentleman reminded us to go back to see the shell grotto, which was well worth the walk back.

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From here, we entered a huge gallery with fancy chandeliers and gilt portrait frames with paintings of the entire Wittelsbach clan. Apparently these had all been removed just before the bombing of WWII and hidden in bunkers. 

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The Ancestral Gallery

There were many others that hadn’t been salvaged, hence there were many rooms with empty portrait frames. The palace was filled with rooms of gold and gilt. Some rooms had color themes like deep red, cream, blue or even green.

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The wallpaper matched the furniture and sometimes, it was more garish than elegant, but grand it certainly was. However, after a while, we got tired of all the sparkle and were happy to see a relatively simple (and very pretty) chapel.

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Some things were very beautiful indeed like the intricate tapestries on the walls.

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And beautiful artwork on the ceilings.

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And intriguing paintings on the walls of subjects that would have been perfect for the surface anatomy class of college.

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And a desk that the kid said she’d love to use as a book reading table.

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After some time, we got terribly bored. We hadn’t taken the audio guide, so all the rooms looked the same after a while.

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Never ending opulent rooms

So, we left the minute we saw a shortcut to the exit. We didn’t even see the treasury or the theatre, both of which are supposed to be very beautiful. We swiftly caught a train to our hotel, hogged on a delicious meal and rested the entire afternoon.

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We were too hungry to click a picture before starting

The much-needed rest perked us up and we set off to the Odeonplatz once again, now to the English Garden. I’ve always loved large open green areas in cities and visit them on every trip, so naturally, the English Garden could be no exception. But I hadn’t bargained for this wonderful oasis. We just walked through the gardens behind the Residenz, crossed a busy road where cyclists crossed us at supersonic speeds and entered the green patch, where the world seemed to shut itself out. It was as though we were in a different Munich.

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Huge tree cover, many walking paths, benches all around and large open green spaces intersected by small streams characterised this wonderland. There was no street noise, it seemed more like a forest. We walked down a path and came upon a small rivulet.

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Swans and ducks swam in this little water body and the kid desperately wanted to take a little gosling home. Ducks walked about us fearlessly, well accustomed to human presence.

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There were large green spaces packed with people walking, jogging, playing with their kids or dogs, cycling or just enjoying the sun. It was amazing. It was only 6pm in the evening and everyone was free from work to relax. This is a good quality of life indeed. I can’t imagine going to a public garden at 6pm on a working day in Mumbai!

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We walked on, enjoying our leisurely stroll as suddenly came upon yet another stream rolling over some rocks.

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Part of a city? Unbelievable. We fell in love with this oasis. I only missed packing a picnic basket. The kid missed renting a bicycle and cycling about. “Next time,” I promised her.

 I was keen on finding the bit of the river where a one foot high wave is created and surfers plunge into the freezing waters for their bit of fun. This huge garden is unfortunately not very well-marked so it’s not easy to navigate, but we saw a surfer and asked him the directions. A lot more walking led us to a narrow width of water where we could see surfers in the water. Excited, we followed the path upstream.

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It was great fun to watch. There was a small stream 10 feet wide with waves at one place. On both sides of the stream in 2 very orderly rows, stood a line of surfers. They alternately jumped into the surf and rode the waves til they fell in and got swept away by the current.

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Surfing in the center of the city! That’s Munich. We looked about for the stream that was the source of the water but couldn’t locate it. It came out from under a bridge, on the other side of which was the city. It was amazing. On one side were cars and motorcycles and huge buildings and on three other a stream with surfers and a huge green garden.

We stood there for long and then finally moved on. We walked deeper into the garden where there were large lawns. I could see the Monopteros, a small Greek style pavilion high on the slope and headed there.

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The hubby and I struggled up the slope while the kid found a nice staircase and merrily climbed up. While standing at the pavilion, the whole garden sprawled out in front of us with the old town in the background.

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We sat there, recovering our breath and enjoying the view before heading back down.

 

Now we were tired and hungry, so we walked the short distance to the Chinese tower beer garden, to enjoy the perfect German meal.

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The kid read the menu and promptly refused, saying she wanted to get back to the Turkish eatery we’d eaten at the previous day, so we tried figuring out how to get back to Marienplatz without walking backwards, when we suddenly;y came upon a large road with a bus stop. The road goes through the center of the garden, and wisely, we walked no further and saw no more of the garden, but headed back in a bus.

We spent the evening at the old town, wishing time would stand still and the holiday get prolonged, but these things don’t happen. Yet, we had had a wonderful day at Munich and slept well, dreaming of tree covered paths and bridges over streams in the midst of a bustling city.

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Germany May 2018: Munich, the charming Bavarian capital

We had reached the end of our trip, the last 3 days in Munich before we flew out of Europe, by a regional train from Salzburg. The Bayern pass we took enabled us to travel by the extensive rail, underground, bus and tram network of Munich very comfortably. After checking into Hotel Europhaiser hof, a brilliant find by Yogesh again (thanks!), right by central Munich station, we hurriedly grabbed a bite at the station itself, and rushed to Dachau concentration camp. Why did we choose to cloud a beautiful holiday with a visit to a place where humanity died? Where we would relive the Nazi days? Where we would end up sad and melancholy? Mainly to show our child how the madness of one can spread and destroy mankind.

 

Dachau was the first concentration camp to be built, and the model for those to follow. As Hitler grew in power, so did the camp and the unspeakable horrors unleashed on its inmates. This was where most new ideas for torture spread to other camps.

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The entire memorial site is stark, an agonising reminder of a time that should never have been allowed to happen. We walked in through the gate to see the huge empty area where the ground was and then the barracks beyond. This was the most chilling of all the places in the memorial site.

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Walking through these grounds, reading about the state of the prisoners, a documentary about the camp itself and the barracks themselves were the most depressing experience anyone could have. I was amazed that the kid was holding up, but impressed by how Germany took no effort to conceal its terrible past. Instead, it kept it alive in the memories of generations to come, to understand how history must never repeat itself. But today, for me, the sun seemed to go out of the trip.

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Extremely disheartened as we were, we decided to go straight to the center of Munich old town, Marienplatz. While on the train, some 9-10 year old school kids climbed on and sat down around us. Our daughter, who was still very disturbed, had asked to play games on the phone and was engrossed in it. The little boy beside her got so curious that soon he was peeping over her shoulder at the screen.

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You can depend on children to lighten up your mood and brighten up your day! We got off at the Marienplatz stop. Mary’s square has always been the center of Munich (München), when monks settled here and started a market right here. Now, it’s the most crowded and attractive of the many attractive squares that make up Munich, with the beautiful new and old town halls, restaurants and cafes and a very lively atmosphere.

 

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The Gothic Neues Rathaus or New Town Hall

We stood amongst the crowds to see the Glockenspiel, where figurines twirl to depict a medieval tournament and a dance. Famous as it is, I wasn’t particularly impressed by it. I personally found the rest of Munich far more enchanting.

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Münchner Kindl (Monk Child) statue at the top of the clock tower. The Monk Child is the symbol of the city

We followed the downloaded Rick Steves audio tour to guide us around, and frequently and enjoyably got lost. We might have missed a few sights (and churches, much to my chagrin), but fell in love with Munich. My friend Olivia told me that I should have taken a Munich walking tour, but we didn’t have time over the next 2 days and missed a chance to relive the history of this amazing city.

As I read aloud about the new town Hall and its Gothic architecture, my husband heard he magic word “elevator”. I’d told him that we would climb the bell tower of St Peter’s church, but the mention of the word “tower” made him clutch his shoulder and promptly refuse to accompany me. So as soon as he heard elevator, he was thrilled and without further ado, we were riding the elevator to the top of the new town hall.

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The old town hall and St Peter’s church from the clock tower terrace

A narrow enclosed balcony ran all around the top of the tower and we posed against every quarter we could see.

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The crowded Marienplatz with its turquoise colored fish fountain

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Frauenkirche, the tallest church of Munich. No building in the old town can be taller than this church tower

As we waited for the elevator, we noticed the trademark graffiti and couldn’t stop grinning.

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Back in the square, we enjoyed looking around and admiring the statues around and this weird fish fountain with turquoise waters that we’d seen from above.

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Our next stop was the oldest church of Munich, St Peter’s church, built by the monks who settled here and built a monastery right here. The village grew around it. We entered to see a very beautiful church with a marvellously painted ceiling. As a service was on, we didn’t sit too long or look about the church.

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Graves were dug up when the city expanded and the tomb stones were plastered onto the walls of the church

By now, our stomachs were growling, so we headed to the Viktualienmarkt, the central marketplace with a large biergarten, rows of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, cheeses, oils and spices, restaurants and cafes. I love market places and this was no exception, especially when we came upon cherries the size of plums.

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The kid and I were thrilled to find a Turkish eatery, with delicious hummus and falafel. No photographs could be taken as the hunger was overpowering! Tummies full and system recharged, we were set to conquer Munich old town more. Now that we’d ventured off theRick Steves route I struggled to reorient myself and then just gave up. We just roamed around the streets and admired the buildings.

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And weird fountains that you can have a beer in.

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Cattle Market Fountain, a memory of the old cattle market

And a church that were built for the predominant purpose of showing off the skill of the Asam brothers who constructed it.

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The wide streets that led off from the Marienplatz were all cobble-stoned and pedestrian only and studded with big brands, a veritable shoppers paradise.

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The buildings were small and ornately decorated. They were a delight to my  camera and the hubby and kid reached way ahead while I went trigger crazy.

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A beautifully painted building houses a popular restaurant

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What a lovely street with flowers in the center and ancient architecture to house pretty clothes!

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Rambling along as evening fell, we reached a square that we realised later was Odeonplatz. We were simply walking towards a very attractive yellow steeple and came upon a this huge square with a bright yellow church the  Theatinerkirche, built when the king had an heir after a decade of marriage.

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We entered this beautiful peaceful white church that I would have loved to spend an hour in, but were shooed out at top speed by the caretaker as it was closing time. Such a pity!

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Disappointed, we turned our attention to the large Romanesque Feldherrnhalle, built to honor Bavarian commanders and misused by Hitler to honor his own. All those who passed by had to give the Nazi salute. A route actually circumvented the square during the Nazi era, for those who wanted to avoid saluting, that earned the name Dodger’s alley and is now marked by bronzed stones.

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A long dinner at MacDonalds saw us reach the Marienplatz by dark. Gently lit up, the square was filled with musicians, playing at all corners. A violinist tugged at our heart, a band made us wanted to stomp with them. A little ahead a lady with an opera singer’s voice was raising her pitch higher and higher. I held onto my glasses fearing their shattering. Soft lights lit up the buildings of the square.

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The old town hall seemed to gleam at night.

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From around the corner of the new town hall, the onion-domed brick towers of the tallest church of Munich, the Frauenkirche dominated the skyline. These two towers had survived the massive bombing Munich underwent in World War II.

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As the sky darkened, the clock tower of the new town hall grew brighter and brighter.

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We headed back home, tired but happy. We had loved our first day in Munich, the big city with the small town charm, a city where Nazism started and spread from, yet one that has neither hidden nor suppressed that fact, a city that stayed true to its old world roots while moving forward. We still had two more days to enjoy this vibrant city and were determined to make the most of it.

 

Germany Austria May 2018: The mirror lakes Konigssee and Obersee

Our original German road trip was to cover the Romantic Road, the German Alpine road and end in Berchtesgaden, at the border of Germany and Austria. When the Grossglockner high alpine road and Salzburg entered our plans, we had to tweak our route a bit. Finally, we drove down the Romantic Road (Germany Austria May 2018-The unromantic Romantic Road with the very romantic towns), down south to Mittenwald and into Austria, before reentering Germany to drop off our car and hence avoid huge surcharges. As a bonus, we got to visit Berchtesgaden that had gotten cruelly pushed off the itinerary.

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Our trusted car Volkswagen Golf from Sixt rentals

Alright, we really went there because I was desperate to see the stunning mirror lake Obersee, that the hubby had heard rave reviews about from a friend (lucky for me, as I didn’t have to persuade him to go here!) We did have to drop the car off at Freilassing, across the border from Salzburg, and then we took a regional train to Berchtesgaden. Unfortunately, we were used to the extreme convenience of the car and hadn’t realised the difficulty of public transport, which is really what spoiled the day for us.

Getting to Lake Konigssee involved a train and bus change and long waits for both, which translated to 3 hours to reach the much desired lake. Once at the beautiful lake (the most beautiful of all those we visited), worried by the pace of Berchtesgaden and the long wait-times everywhere, we didn’t bother to grab lunch, but hopped onto the first boat we saw.

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This turned out to be a bad move because the boat took a good hour one-way, which meant that we stayed hungry for very long. But we were not to know that. At that moment, we were very happy to get onto anything that was waiting for us instead of the other way round.

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The pier with the wooden boats

Despite the heat and the sun, and the hunger, the stunning lake with brilliantly green and turquoise coloured water, surrounded by towering cliffs was enough to lift everyone’s mood.

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Rows of boat houses lined the lake, that reflected the deep green of the trees

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A duck accompanied us for a short part of our journey

Lake Konigssee is a glacial lake at one end of the Berchtesgaden national park. It’s different from most lakes of the region as it’s surrounded by tall fjord like mountains that seem to rise almost vertically from the lake. The lake itself is narrow and long and there is little wind as it’s all so tightly locked in. This makes for beautiful reflections of the surroundings onto the water.

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Only electric boats are allowed in these waters. The entire perimeter of the lake is the national park and mountains so there is no walking track or habitation around the lake. There are only 2 stops on the lake, from where people can hike into the park. Naturally, one would expect complete peace. Instead, we had a boat full of yakking tourists and this “peace-loving” man!

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As we went deeper into the lake, there was nothing to be seen but the mountains and the waters. Soon the snow-covered peaks came into view, forming one distant edge of the lakes.

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It was too stunning to describe, too stunning to capture on camera. But sadly the peace was broken by the boatman starting a commentary in German. It must have been amusing, because everyone who could understand it was laughing away, but for me, it was an intrusion into my mental space. So I drowned out the noises and concentrated on the locales around me instead.

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What a place to unwind

At some point of the way to the first stop, we were completely surrounded by mountains. Here, the boatman took us closer to one side and stilled the motor. He clambered out onto the steps we’d used to get onto the ship. The kid was petrified looking at him. He then picked up a flugelhorn (trumpet) and played a few notes. The same notes echoed back. Perfectly. He continued playing, a tougher set of notes progressively and the echo would mirror it perfectly. It was like listening to a beautiful song where one verse was loud and the next soft. It was the most amazing part of the day. When he finished, I’m sure that no one wanted him to stop. It was so magical that I didn’t even record it, I just sat transfixed. That lilting melody is still playing in my head as I write today. These few minutes were worth the entire day trip.

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That wonderful fuzzy feeling stayed with all of us for a very long time there onSuddenly there came a gasp from all the people in the front. The onion domed red-roofed church of St Bartholomew came into view. 

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The famous pilgrimage church is where the bulk of the passengers got off. We didn’t disembark as we wanted to reach the last stop before the predicted rain, but we ended up missing an important lunch stop.

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Looking back to the church as we moved ahead

The boat moved deeper towards the end. The mountains were less green here, steeper, taller and the sky bluer. A waterfall could be seen at one side. This area was wider but the water stiller, brilliantly mirroring the mountains and skies. Since the boatman was no longer talking, it was very enjoyable and we loved this portion of the ride.

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Soon, we reached Salet, the last stop. The waters were crystal clear, a few children were feeding fish and the boats were anchored to the pier.

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We saw lots of families with small kids and dogs walking to lake Obersee, a 20 minute walk from the boat dock. I was surprised by the huge numbers of people in this tiny place. People were resting on the grass or sitting on rocks. There was a general cheer in the atmosphere. I think the weather that we found hot, sunny and unbearable was pleasant and wonderful to the locals and they were having a blast.

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We crossed over this little stream, hoping the lake was worth the “trek”, not realising that hunger and thirst contributed in a huge way to our exhaustion. And then, we just stopped in our tracks as we came upon Lake Obersee.

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The still lake completely mirrored the surroundings. The famous wooden chalet on the lake made me wish I could break in and stay here. It was totally shaded and very very pretty.

But very tragically, Instagram had made this quiet abode of nature a selfie paradise. This tiny, really tough-to-reach lake was packed with tourists, yakking away. The line to get onto the little wooden path to the chalet was crazily long. Disgusted, we walked a little further, on the trek towards the waterfall, till we were adequately far away from the madding crowd. Here we stood in a few minutes of silence, trying to enjoy the atmosphere.

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A pair of ducks swam by as we stood there alone. The kid clambered onto a rock jutting out from the water and enjoyed the calm. However, even this moment of peace was short-lived. Some people saw her perched on the rock and rushed here, making us rush off. We walked on towards the waterfall, but it was a long way off and we were too hungry to walk on further, so we turned back.

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We walked back to the ferry pier with ice creams to help us along. But the German eis had spoiled us and the Magnum bars we got here just didn’t live up to the brilliant eis we’d had elsewhere. Back on the ferry, the kid was very disappointed to see a muzzled dog. What with the horse-carriages and the muzzled dogs, our animal rights activist was on a roll.

I wanted to get off at the stop of the church but the kid was very hungry so we simply continued back. As the boat pushed away from the pier, the reflection of the onion domed church in the water glittered in the lake.

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The journey back seemed faster and very different. Dark clouds rolled in and I was surprised to see waves in the waters. The lake seemed to mirror the darker skies.

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We were so hungry by the time we reached the shore that we hurriedly downed our food without bothering to take pictures. A light rain fell, bringing much needed respite from the sun and made the long wait for the bus (es) back more bearable.

Undoubtedly, Lake Koniggsee and Obersee were the most beautiful lakes we saw on this trip. It was sad that local transport was so challenging here, which really spoilt our day. I’m sure we would have been better off driving here and dropping the car off on our way back, or staying in Berchtesgaden, which certainly looked like a small charming town.

Yet, I can’t complain. I got to see the lake that I badly had wanted to, and this image will stay imprinted on my mind forever.

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Germany Austria May 2018: An evening in Salzburg

Despite spending 3 nights in Salzburg, we had spent 2 days on trips outside the town, so this last day at Salzbug was the marathon Salzburg sightseeing day. We’d already roamed the old town in the morning (Germany Austria May 2018: Salzburg) and gone on the Panorama Sound of music tour in the afternoon (Germany Austria May 2018: Revisiting the Sound of Music in Salzburg). We finished the tour at Mirabell gardens, where we roamed about for a tiny bit and then headed straight to our hotel, as the hubby and kid were tired. I was keen on seeing the city by night, so I quickly freshened up and headed out alone to the old town. Big mistake. I should have set off from Mirabell itself to save some time and a long walk.

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This time I crossed the first bridge near my hotel so as to avoid the delinquents lolling about on our side near the river. The sun was lower now, a cool breeze was blowing and the unbearable heat of the afternoon was gone. Families were out and children were playing in a small park. Houses were built into the mountainside, the mountain itself being a back wall. 

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The opposite bank had a larger walking path and many more people. The setting sun lent a golden glow to the whole place.

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I walked over my beloved love lock bridge and (naturally) took lots of pictures.

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Walking along without much of a plan, I stumbled into a quaint square that led me into the old town.

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It opened straight onto the well-lit Getreidegasse. With more time at hand, I enjoyed looking at the beautiful wrought iron signs above the shops.

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Apparently, in the middle ages, people were fairly illiterate, so signboards had to represent what the shop sold. The street has maintained the same rule even in the 21st century!

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Surprisingly, this was a clothing store. How can one guess this?

 

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Some signs were remarkably ornate

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Church of St Blaise at one end of the street

I suddenly remembered that I had to see Salzburg in the setting sun from the Monchsberg elevator. I followed the walking route of Google maps but it didn’t show me anything. I hunted about the empty alley but found no signboards or people to talk to. I was about to give up when I saw a shady doner shop, and rushed in, but the counter guy didn’t understand the words elevator, top of mountain or museum of modern art. Finally, in despair, I asked if he knew the lift and he grinned and pointed the way to a glistening shiny building. I found it! I quickly bought a ticket and rushed up the lift to the terrace and this stunning view of Salzburg in the twilight.

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The viewing terrace is a very narrow small platform outside the museum of modern art and there were very few people up here. The view of the entire town with the sun illuminating the fortress was well worth the effort to get here. The restaurant at a higher level was so tempting, but I was too full with the apple strudel.

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Reflection of the fortress in the glass walls of the restaurant

I waited for the colours of the sky to change  and just enjoyed the breeze ruffling my hair.

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My heart satisfied, I went back down to walk through old town. It looked so different from the morning. There were a handful of people about, it was very quiet. A golden glow had settled over the town.

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Quaint cafes along small roads

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I wanted to visit the cathedral at leisure, but sadly, it was already shut.

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Residenz square with the Triton fountain was the only place well lit

Salzburg wasn’t a well illuminated town. Nor were there many people about. So, I started walking back out of the old town, towards my hotel.

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I got a little lost trying to get out, so I took longer than I’d anticipated and it was fairly dark by the time I got out of the old town.

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Last glance at the fortress and old town Salzburg

I knew that the path beside the river wouldn’t be safe anymore, so I chose to walk down a large road. Even that was empty and quiet, especially as I walked further away from the central area.

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Once again, I felt unsafe, despite the numbers of cars whizzing by. I sped up and hurriedly reached the hotel, and admired the Salzach river and the reflections of the opposite bank in it.

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Beautiful, yes. Scary, yes. Worth the walk, certainly. Yet, Salzburg somehow disappointed me. I found it a town more photogenic in the pictures than in reality. I can’t explain why, but that’s how I felt. But that night, I really couldn’t dwell on this, as we had to pack and leave for Munich the next day.

P.S. Salzburg is one of the safest cities in the world. It’s crime rate is very very low. It’s possible that my paranoia stems from the fact that I live in Mumbai, the city that never sleeps, and am used to a constant hustle and bustle. That can be the reason why I don’t enjoy European towns by night, they are way too empty for my comfort.

Germany Austria May 2018: Revisiting the Sound of Music in Salzburg

“The hills are alive with the sound of music
With songs they have sung for a thousand years
The hills fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing every song it hears”

I grew up with the Sound of Music, like almost all 70’s kids (and 80’s and 90’s). I fell in love with Austria, music, songs, Captain von Trapp, Maria and Gretl, but most of all, with the romance of the entire movie. My teenage idea of love were Maria’s implausible story. So naturally, when we suddenly slotted in Salzburg, we had to book a Sound of Music guided tour (SoM from now on) through Panorama tours.

Most outdoor scenes were shot in and around Salzburg, but the guided tour didn’t cover Salzburg old town. The Aldstadt sights we saw by ourselves. As we hadn’t seen the movie before going, there were quite a few areas that we didn’t recognize, but we saw the movie after coming back and revisited our trip with a lot of “oohs”, “aahs”, and “that’s where this was shot” squeals.

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For example, we encountered this horse bath during our mad dash from the Monschberg ridge to Mirabell gardens, and just liked what we saw, but realised that Maria and the children had danced about it in “My favorite things.”

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The mint colored domes as Maria runs through Salzburg

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The Alte Residenz is where the Nazi flag flutters once the Anscluss (German possession of Austria) occurs

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“I have confidence in confidence alone!
Besides, which you see, I have confidence in me!”

Words to form the backbone of years to come rang through my mind as I saw this fountain where Maria regains her confidence.

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Maria and the kids rode a horse carriage through the pretty streets of Salzburg while learning Do-re-mi but my considerate kid was appalled by the misuse of animals. Proud of her!

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Nonnberg abbey, where Maria was training to be a nun is the red domed building. It’s still an abbey and no one can enter it

Panorama’s original SoM tour took us to see the less accessible locations of shooting. My last post ended with our running to Mirabell gardens where the tour was to start (Germany Austria May 2018: Salzburg) and we just reached the Panorama tours spot in the nick of time, when we realised that the entire area was cordoned off because of the marathon. No vehicles were allowed here, no instructions were posted on the Panorama board, no one picked up at the Panorama phone center as it was a Sunday. I was heartbroken and had almost given up when the hubby saw the bright red bus far off and we rushed there.

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There were 4 busl oads that sunny afternoon. Panorama makes huge money for sure! We hadn’t had lunch and armed with some (lousy) bakery stuff, we plonked ourselves in the bus, relieved to have air-conditioning and some rest for our tired calves.

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The lonely goatherd and Lisa (our pretty guide) drove us out of Salzburg towards the living hills. Considering that half the roads were blocked, the driver did an amazing job of maneuvering the huge bus through the narrow claustrophobic lanes. I felt relieved once he was out of the town. We drove straight to the Leopoldskrunn palace, where the captain sees his children in the boat and they all fall into the lake. It was so perfect a sight, the large man-made lake with tall trees around, the fortress far behind and the perfectly white palace reflected in the lake. I could have happily sat on a picnic bench here for hours doing nothing but taking in the view.

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All the scenes on the terrace between captain, Maria and the kids were shot on the outdoor veranda of this beautiful house, which is now a hotel. Even the grand ballroom has been inspired by an actual room in the palace.

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Note the two lions at the edge of the water, near the fence. That’s where all those scenes were shot, especially when the boat capsizes. The amazing thing about the scene that follows is that it’s a continuous conversation between Maria and the captain. The scenes of the captain were shot in this palace and the scenes worth Maria were shot in a yellow building 10 km away and then they were put together. Ah the magic of film making.

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The von Trapp house was a canary yellow villa 10 kilometres away. It is now a music school and we only drove past it, we couldn’t even run down the long driveway and pretend to be the “urchins” hanging out of the trees.

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The budding romance between Liesl and Rolf was very charming, but for me, the love story between the Captain and Maria was infinitely better. So I was thrilled to see the gazebo where both couples professed their love, singing, “16 going on 17” and “Something good”.

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“So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good”

It would be so gorgeous in the moonlight, especially if it were still in the lawns of the white lakeside palace where it was during the actual shooting. It has been moved to Hellbrunn palace, the summer residence of the Archbishop of Salzburg. . On this bright sunny Sunday it seemed as though the whole of Salzburg had accumulated here. Kids were running about, parents were pushing their strollers, dogs were panting in the heat and flowers bloomed everywhere.

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It also housed the trick fountains, a naughty entertainment for the archbishop. He’d invite prominent people for lunch and had water outlets below their chairs that would be intermittently turned on during the meal. Not to let his highness down, the palace now had a huge trick fountains section to spray unsuspecting visitors.

From here, we drove out to the Salzkammergut, with rolling hills, meadows as far as the eye can see, lakes surrounded by quaint towns and the alps rising majestically are all around. It’s actually a place where one can stay for a week, cycle about and chill. To help enjoy the ride and loosen up for the “merry singing” bit of the tour, the driver had beer, chilled water and a yodelling drink for the self-conscious.

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We were lucky enough to have driven through a small part of it on a rainy day from Hallstatt to Salzburg. I could totally understand how the composer thought of the song, “The hills are alive with the sound of music.”

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The lakes of the Salzkammergut are the biggest draw. We drove past Lake Fuschl, the lake of the rich and famous, where the Austrian celebrities and who’s who owned properties.

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This bright sunny day of the SoM tour, we drove past this lake, which looked so different in the sunshine.

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Since we were not the ones driving, I actually enjoyed this drive more. The tiny villages and pretty houses looked so alluring and I felt so bad about the fleeting visit.

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While I spent my time looking around me, enjoying the environs of the beautiful land, the hubby spent his drive-free time enjoying the environs of the bus.

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While the hubby slept blissfully, Lisa (bored of the trivia maybe) played track after track of the movie, urging us to sing along while she didn’t. Apparently, SoM is not a huge sensation in Austria, just good money for the tour. So we should pardon Lisa for not sharing our enthusiasm.

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Shortly, we drove up to Lake Wolfgangsee, a huge lake nestled amidst the mountains. People were out in hordes at the lake front, yachts were sailing on the lake and paragliders were enjoying the respite from the rain.

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This looked like such a wonderful place to stay, the houses sloping upwards from the lake up to the road itself, all looking onto the lake. There are 2 towns on this lake, St Wolfgang itself and St Gilgen, both of which looked like wonderful places to stay at and I had strongly considered staying here and day tripping to Salzburg, instead of the other way round.

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As we drove on, Lisa pointed out the super glamorous Red Bull headquarters to us. While we all sighed in unison, the kid piped up, “Mummy this is where I’m going to work.” Kids today are too smart. We chose our profession first and then everything just happened. Today’s generation chooses the destination first and then works towards it. 

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As we drove on singing along softly to the songs, I really wished we had a more enthusiastic bunch of people on the bus. They were all prim and proper and no one was hollering along. Even when the lonely goatherd played, no one yodelled. I think they all needed more of the yodelling ale.

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A pretty villa owned by a man who bought the entire area, and then the adjoining little lake as well

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We passed by fields of green with yellow wildflowers.

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And admired the brilliantly blue lakes with boats bobbing on them.

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And then, finally, we reached Lake Mondsee, the longest halt, to see the cathedral where Maria and the Captain were married.

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In the movie, Maria gets married in the abbey, but the actual wedding scene was inside this cathedral. The exterior was never seen.

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Remember Maria walking down in the floaty white dress and long veil. It was shot right here, without the pews.

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I could picture Maria gliding up the steps and kneeling before the priest with the Captain. This was my favorite scene after the Ländler dance where Maria dances with the Captain.

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The old town pedestrian-only part of Mondsee was charming as could be with a lane of multi coloured buildings and gorgeous shop windows.

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We were so terribly hungry that we had to eat something here, pizza for the kid, the famed apple strudel for me.

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It was truly the best apple strudel I’ve had so far, made even better by the fact that I had to share it with no one! While the kid finished her pizza, I strolled about the pretty town.

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We’d seen a huge line of people outside an icecream store, both on our way to and back from the town and we wondered if he was doling it out for free.

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Of all the towns I’d seen in Austria, Hallstatt and Mondsee stole my heart the most. I will certainly return to the Salzkammergut someday.

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As we walked back to the bus, we came across an Indian couple posing in a grass meadow like Rose and Dawson in the Titanic. I wanted to take pictures but the “nice” kid stopped me. We got into the bus and set back for Salzburg, with a last look at lake Mondsee.

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The drive back to Salzburg was not through the hills but on the autobahn, a terrible disappointment for me. Lisa played a short movie about the filming of SoM in Salzburg narrated by Liesl. Swiftly, we reached Mirabell gardens, a palace with large lawns built by the Archbishop for his wife.

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We stood at the entrance to the gardens on the Do-Re-Mi steps where Maria and the kids sing and dance, but it was so crowded that we could only take one picture of the beautifully designed garden lawns with the green domes of the old town and the fortress in the background.

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Apparently, the gardeners change the floral patterns and the flowers that they plant all the time so none of the pictures look identical.

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Picture courtesy: Ravi Thapar, shot just 15 days after my visit

Since we were completing the SoM tour, we had to walk on the parapet of the Pegasus fountain (where Maria and the kids dance).

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And run and jump through the vine-covered tunnels.

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Jump about a fountain surrounded by statues.

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Pat a dwarf or two.

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Or simply admire the pretty flowers.

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Just a fortnight later, my brother-in-law was greeted by a garden of brilliantly red roses.

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Despite the obvious beauty of these places, I didn’t love the SoM tour. Maybe the guide and group weren’t engaging enough, maybe the hot day and lack of food put me off. Most of all, I think it was the cast that made the film so wonderful, and that’s what was missing; the handsome Captain, the bubbly Maria and the adorable kids. That’s what I missed the most, the magic of Hollywood.

“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye”