Romantic City of Lakes or the Venice of the East

Do you want to hear a story about that small island?” my friend asks as we cross over Pichola Lake in Udaipur. The small island with a courtyard is the keeper of a story about a tightrope walker (natani). It is said that Maharana Jawan Singh of Udaipur promised a natani half of his kingdom if she succeed in walking over the lake on a rope that was suspended above the water. When it was apparent that she was about to succeed one of the Maharana’s ministers cut the rope and the girl fell in the water and drowned. Before drowning she cast a spell on the Maharana’s family that of not having any direct descendants or heirs. Spell or no spell six out of seven of the Maharana’s descendants were adopted sons.

Udaipur - View from City Palace

Udaipur – View from City Palace

We reached Udaipur (also called Romantic City of Lakes or the Venice of the East) after more than 9 hour drive from Jaipur and landed right in the middle of a Muslim festival. The streets were more crowded than the usual crowd in India – cars, scooters, rickshaws of all sorts, pedestrians, flags, festival arrangements.

Udaipur

Udaipur

While sipping our coffee on the rooftop terrace of our hotel we absorbed the city that was unveiling in front of us. A labyrinth on hills, small streets intersecting even smaller streets, typical Indian houses tall with rooftop terraces put together like domino pieces, painted in light blue and white, Indian ladies appearing from a window or an a terrace here and there carrying about their normal chores and in the middle of it all the Jagdish Temple blissfully located inside the labyrinth like a sweet escape from the madness outside.

Udaipur

Udaipur

We had less than 2 days in Udiapur so our plan included no plan. We left it all to our feet to carry us around and to the city to uncover its mysteries.

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Udaipur

We went wandering the streets amongst houses decorated with wall paintings displaying colourful and elaborated portraits of men, women, elephants and deities…

Udaipur

Udaipur

We mingled amongst the people praying in the Jagdish Temple – an impressive temple built in 1651 well decorated in a way that reminded me of the temples in Khajuraho and with an open air praying area resembling the Balinese Hindu temples..

Jagdish Temple

Jagdish Temple

We got lost in the rooms of the well conserved royal City Palace and admired the panoramic view overlooking the city and the Pichola Lake. Built in 1559, the palace is considered a fusion of Rajasthani and Mughal architectural styles. Legend says that the location of the palace was actually pointed out to the Maharana Udai Singh by a hermit that he found meditating while he was hunting in the Udaipur hills…

City Palace Udaipur

City Palace Udaipur

City Palace Udaipur

We chilled in a small coffee shop on the shore of Pichola Lake admiring the impressive Lake Palace. The formal royal summer palace a Taj hotel since 1971, the Lake Palace is both a royal abode and luxury hotel, loved by people like Vivien Leigh, Queen Elizabeth, the Shah of Iran, the King of Nepal or Jacqueline Kennedy and depicted in several movies amongst which the 1983 Octopussy – Bond series…

Lake Palace

Lake Palace

We watched traditional Rajasthani dances…

Udaipur

Udaipur

We took a boat ride to the Jag Mandir Island at the Lake Garden Palace. Currently a hotel and restaurant often used for royal weddings and parties the palace used to be a summer resort and pleasure palace for holding parties by the royal family. The palace served also as a refuge to asylum seekers amongst which the “father” of the Taj Mahal – Emperor Shahjahan when he rebelled against his father…

Jag Mandir

Jag Mandir

We shared memories and dreams, gossips, jokes, laughter, hidden tears on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Pichola Lake with small fires to warm the night and good wine to warm the hearts…

Udaipur - Rooftop

Udaipur – Rooftop

As we listen to the story of the natani our feet carry us through the small streets of Udaipur on a quiet January night. It’s well past midnight and there’s no tuk-tuk to take us to our hotel so we walk. No soul around, no bird, no wind, no move…just the footsteps and voices of three friends talking life. And as we get closer and closer to our hotel and to our imminent goodbyes we know that we are meant to meet again on the streets of Udaipur. Just like the legend says “See Venice and die, but see Udaipur and live to see it again and again”.

City Palace Udaipur

City Palace Udaipur

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Happiest people on Earth and the hygge feeling

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,/To gain all while you give,/To roam the roads of lands remote,/To travel is to live.”, this is what Hans Christian Andersen was saying in the Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography and man he was so damn right.

Our first trips in the Northern countries started with Copenhagen. Well now, in figures, Denmark has a population of 5.4 million people, is made up of 406 islands, is a little bit larger than the Netherlands and could easily fit into Sweden 10 times. Hmmm, too much info? We agree. Let’s better leave this details for the science people and start an imaginary scroll down the streets of Copenhagen. We promise you will love it.

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What we did

It’s probably fair to say that most part of our 3 days escaped to Copenhagen was spent walking and getting lost on the streets blending with locals, tourists, kids, bikers and what not. We made no plans of what to see or do and just left it all to our feet to carry us around. Being a very compact city and not so big it was easy to actually bump in most of the attractions. Here’s what we’ve seen from the recommended attractions:

Nyhavn area

Most of the postcards and pictures of Copenhagen will either depict the Little Mermaid (more about this one later) or the Nyhavn area. Nyhavn is a 17th century waterfront, canal and entertainment district. It was a gateway from the sea to the old inner city where ships handled cargo and fishermen’s’ catch. In older times, it was notorious for beer, sailors and prostitution. Nowadays the area is notorious for its colourful buildings and great restaurants facing the harbour.

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Round Tower

The Round Tower is a 17th century tower located in the centre of Copenhagen built as an astronomical observatory. Walk the helical corridor leading to the top of the tower and you will have a great view from up above of Copenhagen.

DSCF0290_collageAmalienborg Slot

Amalienborg is the Royal Family’s main residence and consists of four similar palaces. The palaces have been built in the 18th century and represent a highlight of the Danish Rococo architecture. The Danish Royal Family enjoys remarkably high approval ratings in Denmark (somewhere between 82% and 92%). Her Majesty Queen Margrethe II has eight grandchildren – that must be fun!

Every day at noon you can see the changing of the Danish Royal Life guard in traditional uniforms. The route of the guards starts at 11:31 at the barracks and goes from Rosenborg to Amalienborg so if you are lucky you can actually catch them marching on the streets of Copenhagen towards Amalienborg.

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Rosenborg Palace

A renaissance castle and a former country summerhouse of the Danes Royals the Rosenborg Palace was built by King Christian IV in the 17th century and became his favoured residence. The Palace exhibits almost 300 years of the history of the Danish kings, valuable furniture, art treasures, well decorated rooms with impressive ceilings as well as an exhibition of the Crown Jewels and the Danish Crown Regalia (the symbols of the Danish monarchy – 3 crowns. Sceptre, an orb, a sword and an ampulla).

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Christiania

Christiania is located in Christianshavn and is walking distance from the port area of Nyhavn all you have to do is cross the bridge and walk some 10 minutes or so.

Also known as the Freetown Christiania it is a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood of about 850 residents located on the area of a former military base. The spirit of Christiania developed in a hippie movement, collectivism and anarchism. People of Christiania have their own flag and even currency called Løn. Christiania it’s famous for Pusher Street where hash and weed were sold openly (and it seems that are still sold).

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Once you reach Christiania you are greeted by the words “You Are Now Leaving the European Union.” and by 3 main rules: “Have fun, Don’t run, No photos”. There’s a hippie look all around, barracks, some buildings that look more deserted than occupied, stalls covered up so you can’t see the faces of the sellers where you can most probably buy hash and weed, graffiti works, some sellers of artisan works. We’ve only seen part of Christiania but with all respect for free spirit we can’t say we liked it that much.

More about Christiania with pictures included in this interesting post http://www.littleobservationist.com/2014/01/27/colour-and-cannabis-in-christiania-copenhagen/ .

Little Mermaid

The Little Mermaid (Danish: Den lille havfrue – still can’t properly read this one :p) is a statue by Edvard Eriksen, depicting a mermaid. Based on the fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen, the small statue is a Copenhagen icon and has been a major tourist attraction since 1913. The statue is located in the Kastellet area and you can actually walk from the city centre to see it no need to spend money on a boat cruise or a Hop-on/Hop-off bus. Honest opinion about this one is that is more advertising than an actual attraction; it is small, it gets crowded around the statue with people anxious to touch the statue and click pictures and that’s kind of all to it.

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Where we ate

We tried to experience a variety of place while in Copenhagen so we went to restaurants in the Nyhavn area for breakfast, cafes in the city centre area near the Round Tower for late lunch or dinner and stopped for beer or coffee wherever it felt cosy enough. Our favourite places where Mormors and, although rather expensive, Geist.

DSCN4193_collageFor more details on where and what we ate click here – Food & Drinks Copenhagen.

Where we stayed

We stayed in Generator Hostel on Adelgade Street just 5 minutes away from the city centre and the Nyhavn area. Comfortable room, great location, good prices, cool shared area downstairs with music and bar with food, drinks and even a pool table, lockers downstairs to leave your luggage if you want to walk the city some more after check-out, helpful staff.

What we think about the Danes

It is said that the Danes are the happiest people on Earth. We don’t know about that but we can definitely share with you that we felt the Danes as being peaceful and nice people, handsome, tall, neat, family kind most of the time surrounded by kids, friends or family, lovers of nature and spending time outside irrespective of the weather, bicycle riders and lovers, health orientated people with the word organic being used often.

Interesting fact about the Danes is that they seem to have their own word for something that is cosy, comfortable, loving, and intimate all in one. And that word is “hygge”. To describe what hygge means is rather complicated but it seems to have something to do with people’s behaviour towards each other, the art of creating intimacy, the sense of comradeship, conviviality and contentment rolled into one.

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Click here for some Tips & Tricks of Copenhagen.

Click here for our Top 10 experiences in Copenhagen.

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Food & Drinks Copenhagen

Mormors

Our favourite spot in Copenhagen is definitely Mormors cafe which translates to “Grandma”. It’s a cosy little café with tables inside and outside and usual window stalls that you can find in most of Copenhagen cafes. The décor is a special one reminding you of a dream living room of anyone’s grandma, a place where you can find ancient furniture and old time memories, porcelain, old pictures, not matching chairs.

The staff is really nice and welcoming. They serve homemade sandwiches and Danish cookies, smoothies or all sorts, coffee and amazing warm chocolate to take the edge of any day. They even have two memories book where visitors have signed in from 2008 onwards; take time to read through them we promise it will be a fun ride.

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Geist Restaurant

Giest is a very fancy restaurant in Nyhavn area and rather expensive one. It has a simplistic décor, with diffuse light and candles and with everything just in the right place that you instantly fall in love with the atmosphere. The kitchen area is open so you can see the cooks preparing meals. The star and owner of the restaurant is the cook Bo Bech and the menu includes items like baked celeriac with condensed buttermilk, guail with chanterelles and chili, salted and dried young duck breast; the guy won a Michelin star in his fomer restaurant Paustian.

We enjoyed some wine at the window stalls, at candlelight overlooking the Nyhavn area and Geist definitely goes on our list for the next visit when we promise to try some of Bo Bech specialities.

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Spiserestaurant

Located in the Nyhavn area, good restaurant serving also breakfast and brunch for a fixed price (99DKK). The staff is really nice and the food is amazing.

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Café Norden

Located in the centre of Copenhagen on 2 floors it’s the perfect gateway from the city. It was incredibly crowded with locals enjoying dinner and drinks. We tried their Danish beer and their amazing chocolate cake.

Café Dalle Valle

Located near the Round Tower this is a spacious restaurant more than a café like the name indicates. It serves buffet dinner and lunch and it was thus crowded. We had late lunch for half price with pastas and Danish beer and all was very tasty. Prices are also very affordable.

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Café Sommersko

Fancy restaurant that seems to have also some live bands in certain evenings. We loved their steak and fries all together with some Hoegaarden beer.

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Emmerys Cafe

Organic bakery and coffee, light and elegant decor, the usual window stalls and a couple of tables and couches. They serve great coffee, juices and cookies.

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Top 10 Copenhagen

  1. Beautiful, peaceful people that enjoy riding bicycles;
  2. Nyhavn area and breakfast outside;
  3. Rosenborg Castle;
  4. Danish cookies and warm chocolate in Mormors;
  5. View of the city from the Round Tower;
  6. The special cafes with bookshops;
  7. The change of guards at Amalienborg Palace;
  8. Danish beer;
  9. Danish restaurants with candles and an opened kitchen area;
  10. The Marble Church (Frederik’s Church).

Tips & Tricks Copenhagen

Tips & Tricks for visiting Copenhagen. Feel free to jump in and add any advice to the below:

  • we visited Copenhagen at the beginning of February and believe us it’s not that cold and the day was not that short; we say this is a city to visit irrespective of the season;
  • Nyhavn (the port area) it’s really a good place for enjoying breakfast or brunch; they also have fixed prices;
  • Rosenborg Castle is worth visiting; the interiors are well decorated and the treasury hold an impressive collection of royal jewellery, royal crowns and even the crown of King Christian IV;
  • don’t bother with the Hop-on – Hop-off buses, cruises, metro cards, bus cards, Copenhagen city card; the city is a walking city and you can easily get to the landmarks just by walking; better find accommodation near the port area and just walk the city;
  • the Little Mermaid is not that impressive and it can get crowded around the small bronze statue with all the tourist crazy for touching the statue and clicking pictures; it is the kind of landmark to scratch off the to do list and not more;
  • Christiania it’s not that much of a town but more like an area with a surface of less than 1 km (0.34 km2 to be precise); it is definitely not for everyone but it’s worth seeing as an experience; if you don’t like the hippie look, barracks, the feeling of a deserted place, graffiti work and stalls for selling hash and weed just skip it;
  • if you do decide to see Christiania don’t forget their main rules: “Have fun, Don’t run, No photos”;
  • for a great view of the city don’t miss going on top of the Round Tower.

Flying Kites in Jaipur

Fact: the largest kite ever flown is 25,475 m long and 40 m wide. Curiosity: there is at least one Kite Festival every weekend of the year in some part of the world.

First day in Jaipur at the end of 2014 started with my first experience of flying kites.

DSCF9616_collageUp we were on the rooftop of my friends’ home which happened to be also the tallest house in the neighborhood. There is no age or gender for flying kites; everyone can do it. And on that particular sunny Sunday of the last week of December the entire neighborhood was out on the rooftops; parents, grandparents, children relaxing in the sun, watching the kites or indulging in the game of flying kites.

DSCF9614It was a good time to practice for the biggest Kite Festival in Jaipur happening on 14 January. On the Festival of Mankar Sankranti the Pink City turns all colorful with beautiful kites in the sky and people pray to the sun god to bless them with good health, wealth and good crops. Before the Kite Festival the market place of Jaipur is filled with kite makers and sellers. The kites are available and named according to different colors and size some of the common names being aadi, guddi, tukkal, addha, pauna, panni, etc.

DSCF9603_collageKites of all colors and shapes were flying all around (even kites with Bollywood actors J) while everyone was trying to catch the kites around his/her kite. My friends tell me that the point of the game is too fly your kite and cut the kites of the others around and catch them. Whoever cuts the kite of another has the right to take the cut kite. But see, here is another trick, you have to be able to reach the kite that you cut. You can see kids running around the houses picking-up the fallen kites or even people on rooftops with eagle eyes spotting the thread of the cut kite and just catching the kite either by hand or by using a wooden pole.

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DSCF9606Hmmm…now I wanted to get into this game and learn how to play right? The kites we were flying were the size of 2 A4 papers. The thread holding the kite is rolled on a wooden spool with handles on both sides. What you have to do? Pull the thread to one side or the other, roll it on the wooden spool or unroll it and just direct your kite up in the sky. All of this while paying attention to the other kites around you not to cut your kite and trying (of course J) to cut the kites of the others.

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I have to admit I am still very much of a beginner at flying kites but damn it was so fun. And watching a colorful sky makes a perfect day of any day.

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More kites facts:

  • the traditions of kite flying in Jaipur seem to date back to the times of Maharaja Ram Singh II (1835 – 1880), who was an ardent lover of flying kites;
  • the thread used for flying kites is known as “Manja” which is rolled into a wooden spool with handles on both sides called “Charkhi”; the thread is made of fine cotton which is then sharpened using very fine grinned glass powder coating, colors and chemicals;
  • the thread of the kites is actually very dangerous as it can easily slit even the neck of a person; birds are injured and sometimes even people if not enough attention is paid while flying kites;
  • there is a variety of kites or all colors, shapes and sizes; we’ve seen small kites in Jaipur and huge kites in Bali; just google Kite Festival if you are curious to see some designs; we promise you will be amazed by the imagination used to make kites;
  • more adults in the world fly kites than children;
  • large kites were banned in East Germany because of the possibility of man lifting over the Berlin Wall;
  • the world record for the longest ‘kite fly’ is 180 hours;
  • some Japanese kites weigh over 2 tons.

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2014 Rewind

If 2014 would have a nickname than that would be rollercoaster. This was the year when we lost old friends and gained new friends, lost lovers and gained opportunities for new beginnings, lost family members and gained family members, travelled a lot, worked a lot, learned a lot, smiled, cried, laughed as crazy, dreamed, learned to let go what we can’t change and fight for what we can change…

Started the year with Spanish Sangria and churros in Valencia…

Valencia

had an amazing spring drinking beer in Munich traditional beer gardens…

Munich

meeting up friends in India…

India

breathing in the Italian “dolce far niente” in Milan and gazing at amazing views in Lake Como…

Milano Como

enjoyed a summer of Cyprus beaches with girlfriends…

Cyprus

street wandering with soulmates on the streets of Prague and Amsterdam…

Prague

Amsterdam

chilling in Budapest…

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going with the flow with no plans in Gokceada, Turkey…

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had an autumn with Super Trees lighting up in Gardens by the Bay in Singapore

Singaporetrekking volcanos, walking rice fields and diving into an incredible culture in Indonesia

Indoneziasailed and partied with locals with our feet in the sand and San Miguel beer in the Philippines

Boracayhad great time with old friends and new friends at the WTM in London and dived in the world of Harry Potter; spent nights between flights in Doha and Abu Dhabi.

LondonEnding 2014 with an Indian New Year in Jaipur amongst friends and feeling incredibly blessed. 2014 has indeed been a year of constant change and surprises. And maybe there is no good or bad change there is only change…and if change is the core of evolution we say why not embrace it. And maybe sometimes you have to let go any plans and expectations and just let yourself be carried away by life and go with the flow.

As the days are getting fewer and fewer and we step into 2015 we wish you all to have an amazing 2015. Wishing for simple and pure happiness, more family time, more friends’ time, more traveling, more smiles, more exploration and adventure. May we all have the courage to challenge ourselves, push our limits, dream more, feel more, be open minded, let go of other people’s expectations and focus on our priorities, be safe, evolve.

The magic world of Harry Potter, Warner Bros. Studio, London

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense...” this is how the magic world of Harry Potter begin.  The idea of Harry Potter came to J. K Rowling on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990.  In 1995, Rowling finished her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and after several refusals the book was finally published by Bloomsbury in 1997.  This was followed by 6 more books and 8 movies that conquered the world.
 
 
If you happen to be in London and you are a movie lover you must not miss a tour of the Making of Harry Potter in the Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden.  Leavesden, originally an aerodrome for the production of aircrafts during the World War II, was turned into movies studios by Warner Bros. Studios.  In 2000 the studios started to be used by Heyday Films on behalf of Warner Bros. and have been the home of Harry Potter movies since then.
As the guide introducing you to the studios will say, a visit to the studios usually takes around 3 hours but it can also take anywhere between 30 minutes and 13 hours.  Walking through the gates of Hogwarts you are instantly teleported into the world of Harry Potter.
The visit carries you through two hangars and one outdoor area where you can see anything from rooms, offices, costumes, props, special effects, testing area for wands, special area for flying on broomsticks and so much more.
Everything we see in the movies, from costumes, to tapestry, paintings on the walls, props, newspapers, leaflets, wands was designed to bring to life the words of J. K. Rowling.
 What could not be designed in material shape was put together with the help of special and visual effects.   
Just to give you some numbers by the time the production ended in 2011 there were 5,000 pieces of furniture, 12,000 handmade books and 40,000 Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes products and packages specially made or purchased for the movie. 
More than 3,000 wands were made for the films using combinations of wood, plastic, resin and rubber. Olivanders was the home of more than 17,000 individually labelled wand boxes.  If you look carefully, you can see on the wand boxes the names of each and every person that was involved over time in the making of Harry Potter.
What impress about the studios is the fact that you get a chance to get behind the scenes of the movie, to understand a glimpse about visual effects, special effects, set decorations, hair and make-up, directing, producing, marketing and to get a sense of how important is each and every person involved in the making of a movie, from the person that appears in front of us on the big screens to the person that rubs the floors or brings the coffee every morning when the shooting starts.
It is said that 4,000 people contributed to the making of Harry Potter movies.  We don’t get to see them on screen and we don’t really get to appreciate their work.  But for what is worth, there would be no magic world of Harry Potter without these guys and visiting the studios in Leavesden makes each and every one of them special.
Practical tips:
– buy/reserve the ticket online http://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/ ;
– if you plan to use the metro and trains to get to the studios plan around 1:30 – 2:00 for the trip to cover the metro, the train and the bus taking you from Watford Junction to the Harry Potter Studios;
– the bus from Watford Junction comes every 20 minutes; do check the schedule of the bus for the specific day you plan to visit; the ride takes not more than 10 minutes;
– if you get hungry, in the outdoor scenes you can find something to drink (the butterbeer is really a must try) and to eat;
– save some energy for the souvenir shop; it is full of all you can imagine and it’s a must to take home at least a wand.
J. K. Rowling: “The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”