Winter is almost over and spring has almost sprung. As I unpack my winter travel bag to get ready for the spring adventures, I cannot help but think about the wonderful winter travel experiences I've had and the amazing people I've shared my adventures with. Traveling with friends is as much fun as solo travel. And luckily I get to experience the best of both worlds.
Talking about adventures, although I'm always excited about visiting as many places as I can, sometimes it's good to spend a relaxing week just in one city, live like a local, get to experience the local culture and understand the importance of slowing down just for a bit. And this is exactly what we did over the last Christmas break. Since we were looking for a more relaxing vacation, we choose to spend a week in the countryside close to the city of Salzburg. If you want to feel at home in a new place, always opt for an Airbnb. I've mostly only had good stories to tell about my Airbnb hosts and their lovely homes. Salzburg was definitely one of the best Airbnb experiences I've had so far.
Christmas holidays are always a great time to travel. Everyone around you has their Christmas spirit on and such positivity only makes the vacation better. It would not have been a better time to visit the tiny town of Oberndorf, about 20 minutes away from the city of Salzburg, which is the birthplace of "Silent Night", one of most famous Christmas Carols. Our Airbnb host, being the amazing person that she is, offered to show us around Oberndorf and told us stories about the how the Silent Night chapel was the place of composition and the first singing of Silent Night, which later was then spread by several musicians and became famous worldwide. We also visited the historical Salzach Bridge which lies partly on the Austrian territory and partly on the Bavarian territory connecting the cities of Oberndorf, Austria and Laufen, Germany. It was funny to have lunch in Austria, just walk over the bridge and treat ourselves with some afternoon tea and a second round of deserts in Bavaria.
Since we had a week, we could take our time to not only visit the beautiful city of Salzburg but also the tiny towns around. On one of the mornings, we biked around the village of Sankt Pantaleon while enjoying the greenery and the view of Untersberg standing tall at a distance. Later that day, we did take the cable car up to the peak. And that is how we ended the year on a high note (pun intended)!
Austria does offer some of the best countrysides and I'm not surprised as to way it was one of the filming locations for the famous "Sound of Music". Salzburg of course also has it's own charm being Mozart's birthplace and residence for most of his life. Walking through these museums gives you a glimpse of the extraordinary childhood he had and what an incredible talent he was. The musical instruments and original documents of his compositions are a visual treat for the eyes. Definitely worth a visit! The entrance is free if you have a Salzburg card which not only offers free entrances to museums but also free public transport and some other discounts. In addition to being a musical paradise, the city also has it's share of fortress and palaces offering a journey back in time to the middle ages and a bustling historic city center .
We spent one of our last vacation days in Hallstatt, the picturesque village, an hour and a half drive away from Salzburg. Road trip!! On our way to Hallstatt, was where I met Scrat who was still busy trying to get his acorn (Ice Age reference). The refreshing view of the lake surrounded by the snow covered mountain tops and the traditional wooden houses in the village was breathtaking. It was almost like living in one of those snow globes with tiny houses completely covered in snow. Ah, what a delight!
Having experienced a tiny bit of Austria in the winter, I cannot wait to see what it has to offer in the summer!
- Asmita Bhandare
Definitely heard of the famous leaning tower of Pisa, haven't you? It's on your list of places to visit when in Italy, isn't it? And are you heading to Rome next? or further south, or maybe Venice? or perhaps Milano. Amazing locations all of them but wait, how about hopping onto a train for just an hour first? Where does it lead me to, you ask? The ITALIAN PARADISE aka Cinque Terre!!
Italy indeed has a lot to offer, from it's history to it's delicacies - neither of which can ever disappoint you! To then pick just a few cities if you are planning on a short trip around this country, it's always a tough choice. And in summer 2017, I had to make one. Since I was flying to Pisa first, a quick look on the map lead me to read more about this 12 km (approx.) stretch of 5 seaside towns on the Italian Riviera coastline. The more I read about them, the more convinced I was to skip the most famous cities, hop on the train to La Spezia and spend sometime along the coastline. A UNESCO world heritage site since 1997, each of these towns offer a unique view of vibrant colorful houses stacked together facing the coast filled with fishing boats. Spending the hot summer days at the coast, experiencing the cultural heritage that this place offers wasn't really a tough choice.
Stretching from Riomaggiore through Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza right up to Monterosso al Mare (translated as the red mountain by the sea), all of these 5 iconic villages are well connected by the Cinque terre express. If you are sure of using the train back and forth between the villages - the 1, 2 or 3 day pass i.e. the Cinque Terre card, offering unlimited travel is definitely worth it. You can also commute between the villages (except Corniglia) via a ferry (if the sea permits) or try some hiking routes (some of which may be closed temporarily). During the last visit, I didn't manage to get on any of the hiking trails but this is a definite to do when I go back.
I choose to stay in Riomaggiore, the southern most point of the 5 terre at the Riomaggiore reservations which I would definitely recommend. In addition to the place being clean and comfortable, the hosts were extremely helpful, gave some very interesting insights to the place and a lot of tips to make the most of my stay. If you happen to rent a room here during your stay, do not miss having the best omelette ever at Bar Centrale which is right across the street. Depending on the season it can get very crowded so don't forget to book your stay well in advance.
Since I spent 3 days in Cinque Terre, I decided to visit 2 villages per day. I spent most of my time just strolling around the villages during the day, admiring the pastel colors, enjoying the mouth watering cuisine, sipping on some coffee while reading a book at the harbor and waiting for the sunset whilst listening to the street musicians fill the place with merriment. If you happen to be an oenophile, you probably won't miss the blanket of grapes spread across the mountainsides and should definitely try the local wine.
Cinque Terre happened to be one of my best picks for the summer and I am definitely heading back soon. I have a few hikes to catch after all ;)
- Asmita Bhandare
In the summer of 2017, a random pick on the world map lead me to the beautiful rock formations of Meteora surrounding the small town of Kalabaka, north of Athens. Browsing through some pictures whilst planning the trip did little justice to what I encountered.
If you are headed to Greece and are looking for a go to place to escape the bustling city life of Athens, Meteora is the place that you should consider. Starting from the picturesque train route from Athens to Kalabaka and being welcomed into the town by the pillars of geological brilliance to the historical monasteries located atop the majestic rock formations of Meteora did not only exceed my expectations but also offered some experience of pure divinity. If you are a mountain person, Meteora definitely should be a part of your bucket list! In addition, don’t forget to spend some time to walk around the small town of Kalabaka at the foothills of Meteora and experience some authentic Greek cuisine. Depending on your travel schedule also check out the different 1, 2 or 3 day tours offered to Meteora from other cities in Greece.
I choose the two-day rail tour to Meteora from Athens offered by visit meteora. Although, I am not a big fan of traveling with tour agencies given the time restrictions with following a schedule, I wasn’t really disappointed with this particular one. The package inclusive of train tickets to and fro Kalabaka from Athens, a comfortable night stay with breakfast and a visit to the monasteries with some historical insights into the place was definitely worth the money.
The most favorite city is always a difficult pick, however you can always have a list of the best you have been to. A relaxing two-day soul searching experience in Meteora with a beautiful sunset to top it all, hands down tops my list.
- Asmita Bhandare