In Bruges

It’s 5.30am on a cold spring day and I arrive at the beautiful and elegantly designed railway station, Paris Gare du Nord. Paris Gare du Nord is one of my favourite stations in Europe. I could easily spend a day watching the high-speed trains arriving and departing the railway station. It is the busiest railway station in Europe. I developed my love for railways at  a very young age, as I grew up in the steam era. My school was located next to a railway line and frequently saw trains going past. Every passenger train in India has a name and I used to write down the name of the train whenever I would  come across a new passenger train I hadn’t spotted.

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My train wouldn’t leave for another 3 hours, and one needs to be at the train station 30 minutes before the train departs ,as the platform number is announced only 15 minutes before departure. I stand in place in front of a huge display board so I can  spot the trains arriving and departing Gare du Nord. The next 3 hours go pretty quickly, and soon it was my turn, and I head to the platform to board my high-speed Thalys train to Brussels in Belgium. The train departs on time, and in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes I arrive in a new country, and thanks to one Europe, I didn’t have to show my passport. I had no plans to stay in Brussels but instead headed to a beautiful fairy land town, Brugge or Bruges located less than 2 hours by train from Brussels. Bruges is a UNESCO World heritage site and the slow train from Brussels pleasantly passes through the country side of Belgium and arrives in this modern railway station.  I was bit confused when I saw the modern railway station. The Bruges I had been told about was different. The disappointment only lasted for few minutes when I realized  that I had arrived at the new part of the town, and the hotel I had booked was located inside the old town which was surrounded by an old wall.

Once I entered the old town, my heart pounded, and I felt that I had actually travelled back in time as I walked into this wonderful medieval town. Nothing much has changed in Bruges since the 14th century and it has escaped the modernisation and globalisation. I lost the interest to locate my hotel but rather wandered around like a kid in a candy store. I walked through the cobble lanes through the idyllic canals and passed on the stone bridges and had no idea where I was heading as if I had no worries in the world. I had not seen such a beautiful town and only heard in fairy tales. I spent the next two hours wandering aimlessly on the cobblestones. I had no idea where I was in town, or  where my hotel was. It had been more than 10 hours since I had checked out my hotel in Paris and since breakfast I hadn’t eaten anything. But the thought of eating didn’t even enter my mind. Instead, I enjoyed walking aimlessly around the winding streets of Bruges until the sun started to set, and the chilly wind started blowing through my jacket, reminding  me to start looking for my hotel. I had planned to stay in Bruges for 3 days, and had enough time to explore this beautiful medieval fairly land. I went and located my hotel. Finally, I settled down for the night and fell asleep listening to the horse carriages going past my room and the noise from the horse shoes trotting  on the cobblestone.

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Bruges is often called Venice of the North due to its numerous and tranquil canals.  It mentioned on the brochure of Bruges that this magical town will capture your heart, and definitely it did for me. It was indeed magical, and I had never stumbled across anything like this beautiful, peaceful, picturesque fairy land. Perhaps next you would ask me if I had spotted any fairies in this magical land, but of course not. It is the image of an ideal place, that was prefect in every way. If you are on a diet, I don’t recommend visiting Bruges as its famous for its hand-made exquisite chocolates and there was a chocolatier shop every few meters you walked. I did finish 250 grams of these exquisite chocolates in one sitting.

Bruges gets very busy during the day, with  the tourist buses arriving in the morning around 10am from Brussels bringing loads of tourists. The streets are crowded with tourists and a peaceful stroll along the canals can be challenging. The tourists start to disappear around 4pm,  and then the  town’s quietness is finally restored. Only a handful of tourists stay in Bruges to explore the quietness of Bruges. As the night falls and the wind starts to get chilly, its time to once again explore the cobblestone streets and wander through the alleyways once again enjoying the tranquillity.

The next morning I decided to wake up just before sunrise, and so headed to the historic part of the town to  explore more of Bruges before the tourists arrive. The churches were open for the morning service and was a perfect opportunity to sit in silence and gaze over the medieval building. The architecture in Bruges is beyond belief and they have a unique way of designing the buildings. You can easily spot Bruges if you happen to see a picture of the buildings in a brochure, or in a book, because of its uniqueness.  I found an old cafe , and a perfect spot next to the window and gazed at the Markt (market square) and admired the architecture. I spent few hours at the cafe,  ordering coffee, one after the other. Then the coffee order turned into glasses of wine. I had done most of the sightseeing for the day, and wanted to relax and watch the world go by.

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The best time to take a boat around the canals is during lunch time, when most of the tourists are having lunch or have  already completed the boat trips. The journey through the quiet canals, winding along the streets was very peaceful. There were only few people on the boat, and I  could enjoy the quietness after a very busy morning at the public square. The boat drifted through the quiet waters of the canal, and white swans swam in pairs made it a perfect journey. I still remember this day and takes me back to this peaceful medieval town. Bruges is a place I would go back again and again and should be on one’s itinerary if you are in Paris or Brussels. I had the perfect 3 days and it gave me the chance to unwind after a hectic few days in Paris. It felt that I had taken a break from my 7 week-long  holiday in France.

I left my heart in Bruges and as it was time to step away from this magical place. I walked past the walls of the old city and entered into a different world of chaos.  I said goodbye to this fairyland while finishing my last box of exquisite hand-made chocolates as the train zipped past through the idyllic town and in few hours I was back in the chaotic Paris Gare du Nord.

If you would like to see Bruges through my eyes, click on this link In Bruges.

Now is the time to say Au-revoir (Good-bye until we meet again), I  hope you’ve  enjoyed reading this week’s blog. Your comments and feedback are highly appreciated. Have a great week, and warm thoughts for my friends in Perth who have been experiencing the coldest and wettest winter in decades.

Part II – Memoirs of Japan Kyoto – Japan’s Heartland (Day1)

Kyoto is one of my favourite city and the most visited city in Japan and should be included in one’s itinerary. Kyoto is located in the central part of the Island of Honshu. It’s place where you see authentic Japanese traditional culture, ancient temples, colourful shrines and sublime gardens. Kyoto’s is world’s culturally rich and diverse city. It’s one of the busiest destination for international as well as domestic tourists in Japan. Kyoto is packed during Cherry Blossom season and finding accommodation during this time is impossible. I would suggest booking as early as 3-4 months in advance to avoid disappointment. The best times to visit is during Spring to witness the beautiful Cherry Blossoms and during Fall to experience the colourful foliage. Kyoto has a lot to offer and can be done in 2 days, but four to five days  is about perfect amount of time to spend.

Kyoto is on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen line and there are frequent services available on this line. There is no need to book your tickets in advance as there is a Shinkansen (Bullet Train) every 3 -4 minutes. The fastest is the Nozomi with fewer stops and can cost around 13,200 Yen in Reserved car. If you are travelling from Tokyo, try to get a seat on the right side of the train so you can see Mt Fuji from your train window.

The best way to travel around Kyoto is by Kyoto City Bus and one day pass costs 500 yen and can be  boarded or alighted as many times during the day. A single ticket costs 220 yen and is only valid for one journey.

Suggested Itinerary in Kyoto –

Day 1

Kinkaku (The Golden Pavilion) /  Rokuon-ji Temple 

Kinkaku is located in the Kinkakuji Area in Kyoto and is one of the most visited sites. It’s also called The Golden Pavilion as gold foil on lacquer covers the upper two levels of Kinkaku. It is a representation of Muromachi-period architecture. The temple’s main image is a stone statue of the Buddhist deity Fudo-myo-o. The statue is hidden from public view and the image has long been revered for miraculous power.

The easy access to the temple is by Kyoto Bus and can be accessed by various locations throughout central Kyoto. The buses you need to look out are – Kinkakuji-mae (Bus # 12 and 59) Kinkakuji-michi (Bus # 101, 102, 204, 205).

Try the Japanese powdered green tea at the Tea House for 500 yen which comes with a Japanese sweet. It’s worth the experience.

Ryoanji Temple

This temple is located 20-30 minutes by foot from Kinkakuji Temple or if you feel lazy then take the bus either # 12 (5 minutes walk from the bus terminal) or # 59 goes directly to the temple.

This temple was founded in 1450 and the main attraction is the garden arranged in the kare-sansui style (Japanese Rock Garden) or often called as Zen Garden. The garden is meant to be viewed from a seated position on the verandah. It gets very busy and going early in the morning before 10am is advisable. The garden represents an austere collection of 15 rocks, apparently adrift in a sea of sand, is enclosed by an earthen wall. The wall behind the garden is one of the important feature, pay close attention to the wall; it’s made of clay which has been stained by age with subtle brown and orange tones.

 

Daitokuji Temple

Daitokuji Temple is a collection of Zen temples, raked gravel gardens and wandering lanes. The entire complex contains a total of 24 temples. This temple is not usually crowded by tourists, so it’s worth visiting the temple any time during the day. The temple is of interest who have fascination for Japanese Gardens.  The Rock Garden of Daisen-In Temple is located in the temple complex and costs 400 Yen, but worth the experience to witness the peaceful Zen Gardens. The Spirit of Zen is expressed here through the media of only rocks and sand. At the end of the touring the gardens, experience Japanese style tea for 400 yen along with a Japanese sweet (Photography is not allowed inside the Daisen-In Rock Garden).

Daitokuji Temple can be accessed by Kyoto City Bus # 12, 204, 205 and 206.

Well that’s the end of day 1. I will be writing more on Kyoto and Nara in my furture blogs. Stay tuned, until then Sayōnara.

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An old saying goes “ಕಾಲ ಇದ್ದರೆ ಹಂಪಿ ನೋಡ ಬೇಕು”; translated from Kannada, “If you have legs, visit Hampi” an UNESCO World Heritage site

When I first heard the phrase  “ಕಾಲ ಇದ್ದರೆ ಹಂಪಿ ನೋಡ ಬೇಕು”; translated from Kannada, “If you have legs, visit Hampi” (Author – Anonymous); I couldn’t understand what it really meant until I experienced it  myself  and found the real meaning of the phrase. An UNESCO world heritage site, Hampi is located in Karnataka State in India and 50 km from my hometown Koppal. This is one place I must have visited countless times during my childhood.  Whenever we had relatives and cousins visiting us at Koppal, the first place we would take them for a day trip was Hampi. My mum packed delicious home cooked food and we kids made sure to pack our cricket bat and ball so we could have a quick match after lunch.

The journey to Hampi took more than 2 hours by bus and we changed at Hospet as there were no direct connections from my town. My cousins, brother and I always sat at the back of the bus so we could have a bit of fun along the way so the 2 hour long trip passed quickly. We didn’t have an iPad, or personal audio system nor video games,  the one thing we did was to chat.

The Vijayanagara Kingdom was founded during the early 1330 AD and flourished for more than 300 years until it was destroyed by Deccan Sultanates. The beautiful city of Hampi which was once a rich and vibrant capital city of the Vijayanagara Kingdom was ruined by the Sultanates. They destroyed and defaced the statues and the temples and the damage to these beautiful monuments is still visible. The main bazaar or the market place in Hampi was a vibrant marketplace where one could buy precious gems and stones just like we buy vegetables today.  There was no gap between the rich and poor in this Kingdom and every citizen enjoyed the prosperity of the Kingdom.

After arriving in Hampi, the first place we always visited was Sri Virupaksha Temple, a Shiva temple situated on the banks of Tungabadra river. Once we had paid our respects at the temple and being attacked by monkeys after they stole coconuts and bananas from our basket it was time to head off to the local cafe. We had a nice sumptuous South Indian breakfast and my favourite dish was Idli Vada Sambhar and my brother’s was Puri Bhaji. It was time to start the sightseeing by foot as there were no buses or taxis that took us around the monuments. The only way we could cover all the places was by foot, so the term “If you have legs, visit Hampi” made a lot of sense. We started the long walk along the banks of Tungabhadra river through the rocky terrain as there were no proper paths. It was the only way to see the real Hampi as most of the monuments were not easily accessible by vehicle. The temperature during summer peaked around 40 degrees celsius.

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After walking over 10 km we took a break at Purandaradasa Mantapa which is situated near the banks of the river. It is huge open temple with no walls but beautiful carved pillars built from local stone.  While my mum and aunties were busy arranging lunch, we kids took the opportunity to swim and play in the river. After a heavy lunch it was time for a quick 2-3 overs cricket match while my mum and aunties took some rest before we started the next leg of the journey.  The cricket match always ended in a draw as somehow there was often  a complaint that one of us was cheating, or the umpire wasn’t fair etc., None of us would talk to each other and we maintained a distance between us when we walked. It only lasted for an hour, then we were back to being friends and forgot why we had the arguments in the first place.

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We covered most of the monuments during the day and also learnt about the historical significance of Hampi. I always carried a small book to note down the places we visited  so I could write to my pen friend Mikhael in Sweden about my visit to Hampi.

After a long and tiring day we stopped at a small town near Hampi, Kamlapur where we had tea and snacks at a roadside tea stall. We all sat on the bench outside the stall and watched the world go by. It was the last stop for the majority of the tourists and also the transport hub to nearby towns.  The bus trip back to Koppal felt long and exhausting but the memories of the day lasted a lifetime.

If you like to see more of Hampi photos, please click on the following link https://goo.gl/photos/61uy6JofsY4FsaGZ8 

This article was inspired by my fellow writer and childhood friend Ms. Geeta Canpadee in her article titled ” Hampi, Rome of the East”.