Travel checklist : 2016

2016 was a year of adventures, big and small. Early last year, Mr.A and I prepared a 2016 Travel Wishlist. And we went though quite a bit of it, of course, missing some here & there, but adding a few more in the end. By the end of it, I had ticked off 9 totally new countries! Whoa, I’m so lucky!! So, continuing on the tradition set down by my Travel checklist: 2015, here’s the lineup from 2016…

#1 Germany : Around my birthday in February, we visited Berlin, a city rife with such poignant history, yet so contemporary at the same time. It was an eye-opener, trying to imagine what the city might have gone through during those war-torn years.

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#2 Czech Republic : In spring, it was time for beautiful Prague, together with our friends N&G. The city of a hundred spires was as intriguing as we had expected. Like Berlin, here too, we experienced some heartrending snippets of history.

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#3 Croatia : May brought in a terrific week of road-trips, when we travelled through the length of Croatia, from Dubrovnik to Zagreb. We visited several cities and witnessed amazing geography, enjoyed traditional food and met some really nice people along the way.

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#4 Estonia : Around midsummer, we took an overnight cruise to Tallinn, to see its charming old town and relax at a spa hotel. Mr.A’s little sis joined us on this fun trip.

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#5 Latvia : A mere 4-hour bus ride from Tallinn brought us to Riga, another really winsome town with its many spires, squares, parks and cafes.

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#6 Iceland : In fall came our epic road-trip around Iceland with our friends S&S, one of our most awe-inspiring trips ever. To say that the landscape is stunning, is a gross understatement. Every step of the way was a revelation in beauty and wonder.

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#7 Switzerland :  In September, Mr.A and I took my parents on a trip to Switzerland, the enchanting land of endless green fields, glorious mountains and postcard villages.

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#8 United Kingdom : And then there was a bonus office trip to London. Though it was short & snappy, I got a chance to see a couple of prime spots and became even more excited about returning to this groovy city.

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#9 Hungary :  In November, keeping up with an unsaid tradition of ours, we celebrated Mr.A’s birthday in Budapest. We were charmed by this city of bridges, and felt knowledgable while comparing it to its almost-twin, Prague.

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#10 India : And finally in December we spent time in India to connect with our beloved friends and family. I know this is cheating, ’cause I am from India, so this is not a new visit, but I just couldn’t resist the fun of getting down to a square ten-pointer 😉

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How was your year in travel? Keep going!!

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Croatia Day 7, 8 : Zagreb

… Continued from Croatia Day 6: Motovun, Hum
We spent most of Day 7 on the road, stopping here and there, at no particular destination. The drive from Hum to the capital Zagreb was  about 200km, we finally arrived at our apartment hotel by sundown and settled in for the last leg of our awesome Croatian road-trip.

Highlights

  • Next morning the plan was to walk through Zagreb’s Upper Town. Mr.A and I started our tour at the Ban Jelačić Square & the Manduševac Fountain. Next, up to the Kaptol dominated by the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then onto the colorfully umbrella-ed Dolac Market where local farmers bring fresh produce every day of the week. Strolling through the happening Tkalciceva Street, we passed under the Gradec Stone Gate, dating back to the 1200’s. Here locals and tourists light candles to the Virgin Mary even today. Next stop was the colorfully tiled St.Marks Church. We toured Gradec some more, listening to piano music floating in from a ballet school, such a pleasant touch to our afternoon! And then ended up somewhere in the Lower Town. The final high-point was the fun funicular ride up to the Strossmayer promenade. At the top, we were enchanted by the bird’s eye-view of the city warmly lit by the setting sun.
  • Tkalciceva Street (pronounced tkal-chee-tseva) needs special mention when one is talking about Zagreb. This is the city’s hep street lined with scores of restaurants, cafes and fast-food joints that to satisfy any craving you might have. Of course, the cuisine is not limited to Croatian food, but a large variety from all over the world. This is where you will find the best dressed Croatians sipping on their coffee, meeting friends and family, hanging out with friends, and generally enjoying the good life. Mr. A and I happily joined the scene strolling through to the very end.We even witnessed some sort of horse procession! We rewarded ourselves with an excellent lunch and coffee 🙂
  • You might have noticed that I have a thing for street-art  😉 and Zagreb had lots to offer on that front. Zagreb’s prominently young population is owed to its universities that attract students from not only the rest of Croatia but also neighbouring countries. As such, it is not surprising that graffiti show up on its walls as an expression of the young voices. Also, there are several inspiring installations all over the city in the form of sculptures & statues.

And that brought us to the end of our amazing week in Croatia, the fascinating, versatile land of natural & cultural wealth. We could wish to stay on much longer, but it was time to head back to new adventures. And there is always a way back to places we love, isn’t that right?!

Croatia Day 6: Motovun, Hum

… Continued from Croatia Day 5 : Pula, Rovinj

Carrying forward on our Croatian road-trip, from the quaint seaside towns of Pula and Rovinj, we drove towards the center of the Istra Peninsula, up through the hills, into the town of Motovun.

Highlights

  • Motovun is a tiny mountain village with a medieval history in the heart of the Istra Peninsula. It is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is so small that the city wall can be traced in about ten minutes. No kidding. Hotels and restaurants share walls with the ancient fortress and everything seems to be part of a harmonious whole. The town is fabled to be protected by the gentle giant, Veli Jože. Since it is nestled atop a hill, the uninterrupted view of miles of green forests and plains is a treat for the eyes. This is a place where you do nothing, just soak in the atmosphere and be happy!
  • Truffles and wine. Motovun’s grapes yield grapes for delicious local wines. Our hotel had a selection that we could buy from. We enjoyed a heavenly rosé on the balcony by the sunset. We surely will remember that for a long time 🙂 The region is also famous for its truffles, the most expensive mushrooms in the world. They are locally called ‘tartufi’. A small area of the surrounding forests are home to white and black truffles that have such a fine aroma that they have to be hunted by specially trained sniffer dogs. Some excursions allow visitors to join such a hunting trip. Most restaurant dishes incorporate truffles in some form or another, and so did our hotel breakfast… yummmy. Some of them, like the renowned Konoba Mondo, even shut down for a few months every year when the truffle season ends, because they only serve fresh truffles 😮 For those who are less particular than that, you can buy souvenirs of whole or crushed truffles and truffle oils and many other variations of this precious mushroom.
  • Hum, the smallest town in the world! Yes, you read that right. It has a total population of 21 by the 2011 census. Yes, 21 persons, no more! A placard tells you “Since Hum contains administrative facilities, facilities for public affairs and has its own mayor, it is regarded as the world’s smallest town.” The drive from Motovun is barely 40 mins, and I would definitely recommend a visit. Hum has its own medieval history, with a bell tower from the 1500’s and a church from the 1800’s. Walking the cobbled streets, taking in the aromas from pretty cafes, glancing at dainty little cottages, a feeling of timelessness and bliss washed over Mr.A and me.

Followed by Croatia Day 7 & 8 : Zagreb…

Croatia Day 5: Pula, Rovinj

… Continued from Croatia Day 4: Plitvice Lakes

Refreshed after our hike through the Plitvice National Park, we travelled north-west towards the beautiful Peninsula of Istria, or Istra.

Highlights

  • The road-trip. It was such an enjoyable drive! As we drove out of the Park area, we hit some smaller scenic routes for a while before we came upon the highway. The highways were in excellent shape and traffic was low, so we covered around 250 km in about 3 hours, stopping for coffee and cake on the way. There were several tolls to be paid, but hey, the infrastructure deserved it alright. The views were again splendid, greenery everywhere and mountains on the horizon, it was so soothing to the eyes. The sun and clouds played around, making a pleasant game out of light and shadow.
  • Pula is the largest city on the Istria Peninsula, located practically at its tip, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The town has much to offer, from a bustling harbour, to an old town, to local wineries. But the reason why we were in Pula, was the arena, constructed between 27 BC and 68 AD. Mr.A and I love all things Rome! So when we found out that Pula has a well-preserved Roman arena to offer, we just had to add it to our itirenary 🙂 This is an awe-inspiring structure, the only remaining Roman amphitheater where all four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders have survived through the aeons. We sat there imagining how it must have been in back in the day… one of the many moments I have said to myself, oh how I wish I could go back in history and see for myself…
  • Rovinj is yet another pretty coastal town on the Adriatic, about a 40-min drive along the highway to the north of Pula. It is a fishing port as is obvious by many a boat docked at the harbour. We had the perfect lunch of xxx and lazily strolled around the town. The cobbled streets jumble into one another, offering views of rows of colourful houses, tastefully planted window boxes, glimpses of the blue sea in between, and oozing a relaxed charm all the way. This could be the ideal place to unwind oneself, which is why it serves as a popular tourist town and a stop for long-distance bike teams. We ended our tour with yummy ice-creams which appeared to be another popular ‘activity’ here 😉

Followed by Croatia Day 6: Motovun, Hum…

Croatia Day 4: Plitvice Lakes

… Continued from Croatia Day 3 : Trogir, Klis, Salona, Zadar

Today was all about walking through the Plitvice National Park, locally known as the Plitvice Jezera. Incidentally, Jezera or Jazeera is the Urdu word for Lake, quite widely used in India…

Highlights

  • The guesthouse & our hosts. Mr.A and I arrived at Sven Guesthouse the previous evening and received a warm welcome from our hosts. This place is a stone’s throw away from Entrance1 of Plitvice National Park. Just across the road you can see one of the waterfalls. The farm on the guesthouse is extremely charming, with some hilariously curious sheep who kept bleating at us! Sven gave us all the information we might need to plan our next day of hiking at the Lakes. Also gave us practical tips about restaurants, stores, etc. and even lent us umbrellas the next day since it was raining. The room was cute and cosy, too.
  • Plitvice Lakes National Park. We spent the entire day hiking along the trails of yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The official website suggests several alternatives depending on how long you want your route to be. We chose one that took us around the Lower and Upper Lakes area, and included a ferry ride across Lake Kozjak. I cannot start talking about how awesome this experience was. One of those things you don’t do justice by trying to describe. I would highly recommend visiting Plitvice on a visit to Croatia. The land is rich in limestone, as most of Croatia. The waterfalls dissolve the soft limestone, carry it forward an deposit it elsewhere, thereby creating a somewhat dynamic landscape.  You can almost reach out and touch the gushing sprays. The Great Waterfall, the largest of them all, is a sight to behold. The lakes themselves hold translucent green waters, offering a magical view. It is simply one of the most naturally beautiful places I have been.
  • The park facilities were indeed impressive. The park has a great network of trails and boardwalks to take one right upto and below some of the waterfalls. The paths are clearly marked out and a shuttle bus will take you between the different gates, if you wish to walk less. The entrance ticket includes one ferry ride across Lake Kozjak, the largest of the sixteen lakes. Restaurants offer good food and drinks at a reasonable price, accompanied by splendid views, too!

Lowdowns

The weather again! It was damp and cold and wouldn’t stop pouring all day long. There were loads of umbrellas and raincoats in the scene. Some of the paths were flooded and completely closed down. On some others you had to walk on planks, no kidding. And then there were those where the planks were just about submerged. However, there were enough trails that were open to us, to not ruin the hike. And we were thankful eventually that the cool helped us walk longer than would be comfortable on a hot day. Everything will be okay at the end of the day, right Mr.A?!

Followed by Croatia Day 5: Pula, Rovinj…