Kay and I enjoyed Irkutsk and its pleasant atmosphere of a university city. But after a couple of days, we were off to Bolshoe Goludnoe, a Siberian village on the shores of Lake Baikal, not far from Irkutsk. Lake Baikal is the oldest and the deepest lake in the world which contains 1/5 of all the fresh water in the entire world. Even though the weather had been hot during our Siberian adventure, the depth of that lake and the amount of water ensured that the water was constantly freezing cold. My first impression of our new Homestay was that village homes seemed more spacious than city apartments. These were actual houses rather than apartments. There was plenty of empty space outside, though, and we took advantage of being in the countryside to do some long walks – through the village, through the nearby forests, and along the shore of Lake Baikal. It felt so liberating to be out in the countryside for a while with its fresh air and wide open spaces.
Krakow-Auschwitz At Auschwitz concentration camps, the atrocities against deported Jews changed the definition of human monstrosity forever. Millions of Jews were gassed to death. The railway tracks, barbed wires, personal belongings of the victims(there's fabric made of human hair!) all narrate horrifying tales of Nazi cruelty. In Krakow, synagogues were destroyed, Jews rounded up. But one man rekindled faith in humanity - Oskar Schindler. He saved nearly 1,200 Jews by providing them employment in his factory (remember, Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List?)
St. Peter's Church
St. Peter's Church is a part of Riga's heritage and history. A Roman Catholic Church built in 1209, it turned Lutheran in 1523. The church has been modified and renovated time and gain and thus reflects the various phases of the city's past. An architectural style combining of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque, this masonic church is a highlight of European art. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this monument is a symbol of pride for Riga. There is an observation deck here that lets you witness the colourful and charming views of the city. The church is also a center for art and culture in Riga, as it often holds art exhibition, concerts and competitions.
House of Blackheads
Another wonder to behold. The house of Blackheads was constructed during the 14th century by the Brotherhood of Blackheads, a guild of unmarried German Merchants. It has been destroyed twice before finally being reconstructed in 1999. Lavish parties and feasts were thrown here in its day, and while things are a bit quiet today, the magnificence of the place is still pretty imaginable. The architecture is mostly Gothic with a evident influence of Dutch Renaissance.
Wawel Royal Castle
The Wawel Royal Castle, perched magnificently on the stunning Wawel Hill is undoubtedly one of the most culturally and historically significant structures in Poland. It is most importantly an emblem of Polish identity. This 16th Century palace has been home to a line of Kings and Queens who kept beautifying it and has also seen troubled times in the form of vandalism and occupation by enemy troops. It was only entirely restored after the Second World War and is now an elaborate museum where one can see the splendid Halls of Deputies and Senators as a section of the State Rooms. Then there are the Royal Apartments and the Treasuries apart from other exhibitions. All of the interiors are spectacular and are brilliant examples of the Renaissance, Baroque and Gothic style of architecture. There are five permanent exhibitions to be seen at the Wawel Castle and there is a different ticket for each one of them: State Rooms: 18PLN from April to October and 16PLN from December to March. Royal Private Apartments: 25PLN from April to October and 21PLN from December to March. Crown Treasury and Armoury: 18PLN from April to October and 16PLN from December to March. Exhibition The Lost Wawel: 10PLN from April to October and 8PLN from December to March. Exhibition Oriental Art: 8PLN from April to October and 7PLN from December to March. The State Rooms, Royal Private Apartments and Exhibition Oriental Art are open from 9:30am to 5pm from Tuesdays till Fridays and 10am to 5pm during the weekends. They are closed on Mondays. The Crown Treasury and Armoury and Exhibition The Lost Wawel are open from 9:30am to 5pm from Tuesdays till Fridays, 10am to 5pm during the weekends and 9:30 am till 1pm on Mondays. It is advisable to book your tickets by calling the reservations office in advance or you could buy them at the visitors centre. Arrive as early as you can and avoid weekends. For more information about the office, the winter timings and the updates for the month of November, visit their official website: https://www.wawel.krakow.pl/en
Suomenlinna Church (Suomenlinnan Kirkko)
I did not know what to expect in the Suomenlinna Islands, but from the moment we landed there (it's a 10 mins boat ride from Helsinki), we were transported to a different era. The island is serene, clean, and breathtakingly beautiful! I was surprised to know that people actually stay in that island!
Wieliczka Salt Mine
A shining gem in the UNESCO World Heritage list, this eerie yet fascinating salt mine is located 14 kilometres from the city of Krakow and its rich deposits are well known for their preservative properties and their multiple health benefits. Everything here has been carved by hand by virtue of salt blocks and is of immense material and spiritual value in the country. The length of the many tunnels inside the mine amount to some 300 kilometres and there are as many as 22 chambers. Then there are salt chapels, statues, monuments and even underground lakes for that matter. Heck, even the chandeliers are made of pure salt. There’s also a reception room for private weddings. Yes! There’s the Eram Baracz Chamber with an elaborate salt lake, the Stanislaw Staszic Chamber with a panoramic lift and the beautiful Chapel of St. Kinga. There’s also the Krakow Saltworks Museum to be seen during the 2 hour tour during which you are expected to walk around 2 kilometres and be entirely covered in salt towards the end. Tickets for the mine come for 49PLN inclusive of everything and English language tours depart every 30 minutes between 8:30am to 6pm during July and August. During the rest of the year, there are six to eight daily English tours.It is advisable to buy your tickets online (and a lot in advance) from their official website: http://www.wieliczka-saltmine.com/ Minibuses to the salt mine originate from the Krakow Glowny train station between 6am till 8pm and a single ride costs around 3PLN. You could even take the suburban public bus but the ride is longer. You could however take this bus 304 on your way back to Krakow.
St. Basil's Cathedral
The first thing you'll probably notice after entering the Red Square is the beautifully colored onion domes of the Basil Cathedral, and a magical view of one of the most famous landmarks in Russia. But it's interesting to know that the bright colors were only added 200 years later to its exterior walls. Another funny note is that the former dictator Josef Stalin wasn't really happy about how the location of the church blocked the entrance to the Red Square for his mass demonstrations, so he considered demolishing the cathedral. Luckily, someone made him change his mind.
Harbin Ice & Snow World
This is to be visited at night because the ice sculptures will be lit-up with colourful lights. Do note this is different from the one mentioned earlier. Both places are near each other, hence I would recommend doing the snow sculptures in the day and the ice sculptures at night. If possible, do get there early because there will be a massive queue at the ticket booths.
The Kadriorg Palace is set in a beautiful park where the Prime Minister's house is located. The Prime Minister is the actual political head of state, and their President is mainly a symbolic figure, who does not hold any executive power. We are pretty sure he was there as the flags were up, the red carpet was out, and guards were walking everywhere. It was a lovely walk through the park. The Palace and park were created by Tsar Peter I in the 18th century for his empress Catherine. The name, Kadriorg, means Catherine's Valley. We toured the Royal Palace, which is now an art museum.
One of the most popular beaches in Pondicherry, this beach stretches forever. Its great to take a long walk and find a spot which is not so crowded and relax. If you are lucky to get friendly with any of the fishermen there, they might agree to take you on a boat ride into the sea- which i guarantee would be the awesomesttt experience you could have (you will have to pay them some money ranging from 400 to 700 bucks..its worth every penny you spend, i swear)
Kakslauttanen Igloo West Village
How can someone travel to Finland and not stay in a glass igloo & not try his luck to view the Northern Lights from your very own Glass Igloo! Well I did the same... Took an early morning bus to the Saariselka Village where the hotel is located! This resort is right in between the Arctic Forest, you just cannot find a man or vehicle outside the hotel. In the evening it was so peaceful with thousands of stars shining above you. A memory that you just cannot forget. And guess what, they appeared, yes the Aurora Borealis! It was my last night and I was so excited and happy. I had mixed emotions then as it was my last day in the Arctic! But all of it was worth the journey! It was also very surprising that we got some amazingly delicious vegetarian dinner here which made our evening even more memorable, and as soon as we walked out of the restaurant, a mixed burst of green & pink appeared. I did have my camera in hand but no tripod to get an amazing picture. But it was so beautiful that I just stood there and kept staring without moving an inch.
Krakow’s Central Square, replete with its grandeur and charm is undoubtedly one of the most stunning plazas around the world. This 13th century marvel is perpetually bustling with activity and occupies a massive area of some 10 acres. It therefore happens to be the largest square out of all medieval cities in Europe. The layout was intriguingly based on a Roman Military Camp. If Krakow was a human body, Rynek Glowny would be the blood running through its veins; both are ultimately incomplete without each other. The rectangular square is surrounded by churches and town houses and the most prominent of them all are the Town Hall Tower, St Mary’s Basilica and the Krakow Cloth Hall. They rise like giants and account for the most conspicuous structures around the plaza. The pubs, restaurants and cafes are so large in number that it is almost impossible to keep track. Rynek Glowny is also a playground for buskers right from musicians to dancers to rather amusing magicians. And they sure keep you entertained with all the talent they possess. If nothing, hop on to a horse carriage and allow yourself to feel like a member of the royalty!
Stalin used to call them the 'palaces of the people', and the Moscow Metro station truly does seem like a palace. Every ride on the Moscow Metro is a majestic journey. You will be amazed by the fancy chandeliers, the beautiful wall adornments and the marble abutments. Every station tells you a different story about Russia's history. Another exciting highlight is the escalators that take you up or down the stations. Sometimes you aren't even able to see the end, especially at the Park Podeby Station where you can find the longest escalator in the world, measuring 126 meters. Nine million people use the Moscow Metro every day. Must visit stations: Mayakovskaya/Маяковская, Prospekt Mira/Проспект Мира, Arbatskaya/Арба́тская Kievskaya/Киевская, Komsomolskaya/Комсомо́льская, Novoslobodskaya/Новослободская, Belorusskaya/Белору́сская
St. Mary's Basilica
The Church Of The Assumption Of Our Lady or St. Mary’s Basilica is an 80 metre tall brick church standing tall and pretty adjacent to the Rynek Glowny. The crimson façade is essentially composed of two asymmetrical towers one of which is a watch tower and the other a bell tower. While the 13th Century Tartar raids left it in ruins, it was rebuilt in Gothic style to look like the iconic structure that it is today. The southeast entrance is open for tourists and it is illuminated courtesy of breath-taking stained glass windows. The blue starred ceiling of the nave and the intricately carved wooden altarpiece are the most striking aspects of the interior. Designed by Veit Stoss, the beautiful altarpiece represents the assumption of the Virgin surrounded by the Apostles and is an extremely important piece of medieval art. 13 metres high and 11 metres wide, it is also the largest. Tourists are expected to pay 6PLN for the side entrance and 5PLN for ascending the tower for arresting views of Krakow. The church is open from 11:30am to 6pm Mondays through Saturdays and on Sundays, it is open from 2pm till 6pm. The timings for the watch tower with its gilded ball and stunning spire may differ.
Balkan Jewel Resort
A high-hospitality surprise awaits whoever chooses to stay at Balkan Jewel Resort in the area of Bansko, Bulgaria. The hotel is located in the area of Razlog, only a 10 minutes ride from the city of Bansko. The Balkan Jewel resort is amphitheatrically built around the spacious pool area, including a garden and a playground. Besides rooms, small apartments are also available, all well-furnished. You get the best of impressions from the minute you check-in as they welcome you with a bright smile! The breakfast offered by the hotel is very nice and you will truly enjoy not just the tastes offered but also the low prices of the hotel restaurant! This is what makes the Balkan Jewel Resort special: it offers great quality of services at exceptionally affordable and competitive prices! www.balkanjewel.com
The travel agency picked out a hotel for us. I was in touch with the head of the reservations department, Melnikov, in the first week of March to request for visa support. Since we were arriving in Moscow at 0530, I asked if we can check-in early. It was kind of him to offer us the room free of charge if our room was available Unfortunately, the hotel was full that day. We had to wait for a couple of hours. Aquamarine Hotel is a four star hotel which is 20 minutes walk from the Kremlin.
How to recover the post-New Year hangover, you would ask. The Georgians go to eat soups or khinkali, the dumplings with meat, cheese or mushrooms. I think I will end up in Munich: even though it sounds German, there are Georgian dishes as well.On the 1st and 2nd of January there is a big contemporary music program at Era Square, so I think my dancing program will take place outside and not inside. I like both pop-rock bands like Young Georgian Lolitaz, The Bearfox or Salio, and the local DJs (Vako T, Lasha Craft) who will perform at the public concerts.
5. Yellow Mountains National ParkThese are the most famous mountain peaks present in the country of China and have one of the three most famous national parks in China. In comparison to the other two national parks this one can be easily accessed and therefore the most popular. Located between Shanghai and Hangzhou this place is also renowned for its beautiful and scenic sights – the misty clouds, the sun rises, the oddly shaped rocks, twisted pine trees and hot springs.
Radisson Blu Hotel
What about dancing, you may ask? Several times I went out in the club at the upper floor of Radisson Blu. In summer there are more outdoor places, of course.In winter I would jest relax without loud parties. Some people also head to Batumi in order to play casino, but I'm not into trying out my luck this way.
9. Sports: Are you game for some fun? For all the sports fans, head to the Likas Sports Complex at KK with a number of sporting facilities open to public. Equipped with a badminton stadium, tennis stadium and a twenty thousand seater soccer stadium, this complex also has a gymnasium for fitness freaks! What’s more – you’ve got a huge swimming pool, diving range, hockey field, squash court and an indoor climbing centre. It clearly is the biggest sports complex in Malaysia and houses endless sports events all year round. Having hosted a number of national and international sporting events, KK has more than just one stadium. It has four golf courses – Sabah Golf and Country Club at Bukit Padang, Kinabalu Golf Club at Tanjung Aru, Karambunai Golf and Country Club and Sutera Harbour Golf and Country Club. Check out the other sports complex at the suburbs of KK, in Penampang, equipped with a full-sized football stadium. If you aren’t pressed for time, here’s the list of sports-centres and other centres related to sports: Ararat Sports and Souvenirs, Lea Sports Centre, Borneo Sports Arena and Jugs Sports Bar.
The Cloth Hall
Krakow’s Cloth Hall was a shopping mall way before the idea of malls even existed. This Renaissance structure, dominating most of Rynek Glowny, is one of the most conspicuous places in Krakow and is loved by both locals and tourists. While today, the many shops on the ground floor majorly sell souvenirs and crafts, this place used to be a hub of textile trade in the 14th century and the 15th century saw the flush of exotic imports. The level upstairs is dedicated to a rich exhibition on 19th Century Polish art. Walk around the arcade and you can then enter the Rynek Underground through its northern end. The Underground is a permanent exhibition and a treasure chest of information about Krakow’s history. There are tools, coins, clay figures and medallions from the medieval ages and documentary films and holograms enrich the experience of peeking into the past. You have to pay 13PLN to get into the Rynek Underground and it is open from 10am till 8pm from Wednesday to Monday. On Tuesdays, it is open till 4pm.
Fabryka Emalia Oskara Schindlera
Located in the working class suburb of Podgorze where the Nazis took some 15,000 Jews to concentration camps during the Second World War, Schindler's Factory or Fabryka Emalia Oskara Schindlera is now an elaborate museum and is a part of what used to be an enamel factory owned by a certain Oskar Schindler. You might know of him from the book ‘Schindler’s List’ by Thomas Keneally and its successful movie adaptation of the same name. The exhibits here recount the heart-wrenching story of the city, especially that of the Jewish community from 1939 to 1945. Photos, documents and audio-visuals help in illustrating what living in Krakow during WW2 was like. The most prominent of all the displays ranging from tram carriages to ghetto apartments is that of the fate of Oskar Schindler and his workforce. Irrespective of whether or not history interests you, a visit is imperative. The museum is located at 4 Lipowa Street and is around 3 kilometres from Krakow's Old Town. You can hop on to any tram from Starowislna and get down at Plac Bohaterow Getta. Walk along Kącik and turn left for the museum. Schindler’s Factory is open from 10am to 6pm from Tuesdays till Sundays and the ticket comes for 15PLN. On Mondays, the entry is free and it is open from 10am to 2pm.
We took the 10:00am bus to the village of Zverovska. It's a little higher up in altitude, and also allowed us to hike all the way back to our town in Zuberec. And I mean three hours of uphill, every step of the way. The signposts don't give distances, only estimated time to get there. We found that we must hike at a pretty average speed because we're always pretty close to the estimates on the uphill sections, and we usually beat the estimated times by a fair bit on the downhill sections. The estimated times on the signs include what people would normally take for rest breaks. We knew it was cloudy at higher elevations, but we decided to go for it anyhow. We hoped that we were going to be above the clouds once we were at the top, or that they would dissipate. The worst case scenario was that we would be in the clouds the whole time.
Santa Claus Holiday Village
Here I land... To the official town of Santa Claus! There was a red Santa bus which had come to pick me up from the airport and dropped me directly in my small cottage which was just like another small house you dream about or like a house which you draw! Freshening myself I decided to pay a visit to the Santa & look he was right there.. the original Santa Claus about whom we have always been told stories or have seen one dress like him on Christmas. The Santa actually knows everything! He knew how I had traveled, he could speak my language! I was just amazed.. Left Dumbstruck! Later in the noon I visited Santa Park. Although its not open during February, I was fortunate enough to at least get a small guided tour of the place, it is setup under a big Cavern offering so many things for children as well as adult. Well I couldn't stop imagining how lively it would be during Xmas. Another evening I thought of trying my luck again and rode a snowmobile into the Arctic Forest & guess what.. I could find the Aurora.. Chasing me.. And I was riding around as if I'm gonna catch hold of it! We did our tour with Arctic Circle Snow Mobile Park, their guides were just so excellent & friendly.. The next day I visited the Ranua Arctic Zoo where I could see the Polar Bears, Wolves, the Arctic Fox, the snow owls and many more arctic creatures. We had a great time in the lovely small city of Rovaniemi!
Square Nine Hotel Belgrade
The Square Nine Hotel Belgrade has perhaps my favorite location – less than 60 meters from the car-free street, Knez Mihailova and only 100 meters from the Kalemegdan Fortress. Surrounded by high-end shopping, cafes, and restaurants, this is a wonderful part of town and an impressive hotel! The rooms at the Square Nine Hotel Belgrade are decorated with hardwood floors, paneling, comfortable Treca de Paris beds, linen wallpaper and unique furniture pieces. It is a little modern looking but very comfortable. This is where I’ll be staying on my next visit to Belgrade!
St Olaf's church
This church, at one time, was the tallest building in all of Europe. It's a massive landmark in Tallinn and one of the most beautiful. The 12th century church is also unlucky having been hit by lightening many times and burned down thrice!Places to visit nearby TallinnFinland is just a ferry ride away. If you fancy a day trip to Helsinki (and for information to know prior to travel, the Indian Embassy is in Helsinki), just head to the harbour and take one of the many ferry rides to another country. In the country, heading to University town Tartu is an option or for the nature lovers, the Lahemaa National Park.
After shivering in the snow for a few hours, I gave up on couch surfing and went to find a hostel. Quick Google search + Google Maps, and twenty minutes later I was in front of Hostel Costel. THANKFULLY they had room, and the hostel was nice and non creepy (that’s not something I can say about the hostels I stayed at in Rome. Shudder!!!).