Saturday, May 27, 2017

Return to Roots in Scotland


We visited the Scottish Highlands in May, 2017.

Amazing landscape of the Scottish Highlands
The grand Balmoral Hotel
Once upon a time, there was a king ...
The Bridge to Nowhere ...
The very imposing London Tower Bridge
The colorful London eye
The lone explorer
Lakes of Scotland
View from the Stirling Castle
The 2 most iconic things in London - Big Ben and the Red (Telephone) Boxes


To be continued ...

Friday, May 26, 2017

Seaside in Algarve, Portugal

We visited Algarve during Easter, 2017.

Lisbon


As there are few direct flights to Algarve (Faro Airport), we decided to take the opportunity to make a short break in Lisbon. So we only had a day in Lisbon, and this will be a brief primer on Lisbon; clearly a city like Lisbon deserves a whole blog post on itself.

The absolute essential thing to cover in Lisbon is the Jerónimos Monastery (below).

The colorful city of Lisbon


Unfortunately, the only day we had in Lisbon was also a public holiday in Lisbon. As such, the queue to visit the Monasteries was too long, and we had to skip it. Note that there there is a separate (sometime hidden) queue for the Cathedral, so it might be possible to at least visit the Cathedral if you are in a similar situation like ours.


The whole area is impressive, esp. the Discoveries Monument. The Discoveries Monument also has an elevator and it is possible to go to the top of the monument - and take panoramic pictures of the Monastery.

Marching onto the skies ...
Its a BLUE world!
25 de Abril Bridge

While exploring the city of Lisbon, do not forget to take a snap and (if time permits) ride on its iconic trams.


The best place to spend the evening in Lisbon, is to head straight to the Praça do Comércio. This is the commercial centre of Lisbon on the banks of Tagus river. In the evening, it transforms itself into a riverside paradise with its many cafes/bars, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
 
Praça do Comércio
An evening in Lisbon


Algarve

 

Vila Vita Parc Resort


We stayed at the the Vila Vita Parc resort in Algarve. This is an upscale ocean side resort right on the Atlantic coast.

The stunning Vila Vita Parc resort on the Atlantic Coast

Location wise, it is located in Porches - Alporchinhos is the closest city/village. The closest airport is Faro, and it takes around an hour from the airport to the resort. So you will need to rent a car, or please arrange a transfer with the hotel before landing.


The resort is spread over 50 acres of landscaped gardens. So there are basically golf carts to take you from one place to another within the resort.


It looks equally stunning at night.

An evening in Algarve


The resort is amazing. You really feel as if you are in the lap of nature, and the only thing that you want to do is to leave aside your mobile/laptop and relax; even though there is perfect WiFi connectivity. This is the best way to enjoy nature, but in a luxurious setting! The resort has 10+ restaurants including a 2 Michelin star restaurant. So you can rest assured that you won't have to compromise in the food category. If you do end up indulging the excellent food, the resort has plenty of options to loose some of that in terms its many swimming pools, yoga, gym and spa facilities.

Finally, the staff are absolutely charming, friendly and helpful - so the resort is absolutely recommended. Many of the guests we met at the resort seemed to be return guests, so its quite safe to say that we are not the only ones looking forward to return :)

Benagil Caves


The Atlantic coast in Algarve is famous for its many rock formations, caves and grottos. They are indeed very impressive.


The entrance to the magical caves :)
Amazing rock formations on the Atlantic coast
Rock formations in Algarve

The best way to explore them is to take a boat cruise. From the hotel, it is basically a half an hour drive to the departure point of most boat tours. Most cruises last around 1 to 1.30 hours. While a longer duration implies that you will visit more caves and cruise farther; the caves do get a bit monotonous after you have seen the 10th one - so choose your duration wisely.

The most impressive among the caves, and the one which you absolutely need to cover is Benagil. You can get an idea of the enormity of the cave from the pic below - if you look carefully, it is me standing at the bottom of the pic (in the spotlight) :)

In the (natural) Spotlight

There are many beaches, in and around the caves; so in some cases it is also possible to reach some of the caves by walking (through tunnels) from the beaches. I will leave you to explore these tunnels when you visit!


Somehow, international tourism still does not seem to have reached Algarve; as most of the tourists seemed to be either local or from nearby Spain. You can of course take this as a favorable sign, as the beaches were not overcrowded, and it was possible to find a boat tour of the caves at last minute. Having said this, there are sufficiently English speaking people, tour operators and taxi drivers - so its all good for now - better visit it before the rest of the world discovers this hidden gem :)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

A night in Prague

We visited Prague in Sep, 2016.

The colorful city of Prague

Transportation


Prague is the capital of Czech Republic. It is is reasonably well connected by International and European flights, so you shouldn't have any problems in getting a flight to Prague.

Just so you know, Czech Republic is considered as part of Central Europe, and not Western (or Eastern) Europe. This implies that it is less developed than say Germany and Austria, but more developed than Romania. In practical terms, this means that while hotel and food will be cheaper, you still need to be cautious while taking a taxi so that you are not ripped off. Having said this, Prague is of course a major touristic hub, and you are more than safe if you stick to touristic parts. Like most European cities, it does have a very well connection public transportation system.

Old Town Square


Three days is usually a good duration to cover (and enjoy) Prague. The absolutely essential things that you need to cover are: Old Town Square, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and take a cruise on the Vltava river - this one is "if time permits", as you will already see some of views if you visit Charles Bridge.

Let's start with the Old Town Square. As the name suggests, this is main town square. Almost every monument at the square has historic significance. Even if you don't care about history, the monuments are downright impressive. For instance, we were told that some of them served as the inspiration for castles that you find in Disney Movies may be you will recognize some of the ones from the pics below :)


and they looks equally stunning at night. 

Prague old town square at night
Prague Old town square at nightPrague Main market square
Evening lights in Prague

This is is the place with a lot of shops and cafes/restaurants. So its easy to spend a whole day here. 

Charles Bridge


If you are wondering what is so special about a bridge, you have to see it to believe it. Below is a spectacular night shot of the bridge:

Prague Charles bridge at night

The area around the bridge is for pedestrians only. So it provides a leisurely means to walk around and explore the many shops and cafes/restaurants around the bridge. There are a couple of towers, one on each side of the bridge, which provide excellent vantage points to take panoramic shots of the city and the bridge. 


The best time to take pictures of the bridge is around dusk. So try to be a bit early and you can take pictures of the bridge and riverscapes as it progressively gets dark.

An evening in Prague
Prague looks absolutely stunning at night


River Cruise


Since we are talking about the bridge, let's continue with the description of the river cruise. 

The river cruises usually start from a different point than the bridge. River cruises are usually included if you take a day pass with any of the Hop on-Hop off bus tours. It is usually an hour or so long and takes you from the pick-up point to Charles Bridge and return. 

It is a leisurely cruise and you get the see the Charles Bridge, and some other bridges/monuments from a different perspective. So its nice, but our recommendation would be to prioritize it after the other 3. 

   Colorful Prague Legio bridge

Prague Castle 


Finally, let's consider the Prague Castle. It is slightly outside the main city, so the best way to reach there is again the Hop On-Hop Off buses; it is of course also possible to reach there by public transportation. 

It is a wide scenic area with many impressive monuments, e.g. museums, castles and cathedrals. So plan for around 2-3 hours to cover the Castle. An alternative is to combine this with exploring the Charles Bridge on the same day. 

Majestic Prague Cathedral