Sunday, December 11, 2016

Paris

My ex-boss once referred to this city as "A city like no other". An old friend called it " A city for a lifetime". Paris. In reality it is something in between. More later.

Dates : July 23rd to July 27th
Stay : Booked through "Open House". Stayed near Pigalle / Abessess (Both 200 m / 4 minute walk)
Cost : 180 Euro per night for a full house (2 rooms / 1 bathroom - we were two families)
Weather : Warm during the day, very comfortable during evening and slightly chilly at night. Sun sets at 9 pm during this time.

First up, wrong time to visit Paris. Purely from an expenditure / prices perspective. If you have money, then probably, weather-wise this is the best time to visit. Which is why it was crowded in most places we went to.

  • Within the 20 arrondisements to stay, anywhere you stay, you are always 200 metres from a metro station. The network of Metro is that good.  
  • Buy metro tickets in stacks of 10, if you are traveling in a group of 4 or more or if you plan to visit more than 3 places in Paris on the same day. The tickets are valid only for that day.

  • Food is expensive. If you are fine with pizzas and pastas, then each meal for 2 will cost about 16 Euros. Else, it will be close to 25 Euros. 
  • Pretty much most restaurants serve bread free with butter / cheese. Chicken is not very easily available. Pork and beef rule the roost. The chicken is usually half-cooked.

  •  If you are travelling with a kid, its better to check for 'child-friendly'-ness before entering. The French are not known to be prolific procreators and do not, for most part, like company of children when they are enjoying crepes or wine. They are polite, for most part.
  • They will politely come and tell you "Your kids are making a lot of noise and I am losing business". You will feel like smacking them. But don't. Not wise to fight in a foreign land !  
  • A stroller is a must.
  • Air France allows you to keep the stroller inside the aircraft.
  • EasyJet & Vueling does not

  • Stay : Ensure that you have a bathroom for your exclusive use. Cuts down on time to get ready. 
  • Check room size / cupboards to keep luggages. Apartments in Paris are small and apart from the bed, there is hardly any space in the bedroom.
  • Check for microwave in the apartment. It always helps. We did not have one.

Places to visit :
  1. Notre Dame, 
  2. Sacre-Cour, 
  3. Louvre, 
  4. Eiffel Tower, 
  5. Roland Garros, 
  6. Invalides, 
  7. Muse d'Orsay, 
  8. Cruise on Siene
  9. Versailles Palace

Notre Dame : No entry fee. Easy to get in. Lovely cathedral. Nice setting. Nice eateries around. Wrong place to shop. Good open space in front. Nice place to sit beside the Siene. There is a park beside which lets you go behind. We did not get in. But looked to be a nice place. Must do.

Sacre-Cour : The steps of Sacre Cour allow for a superb view of the city. To view Eiffel, need to walk to the right of the church (with your back to the church). There is a lift which takes one up. The walk is quite a walk. Take the lift on the way up, walk down. Must do.

Louvre : Grand. Magical. The place where you stand and you are wrapped with a sense of history. Its mind blowing. We did not go inside the museum. History and children are not the best of combination. Must do.

Roland Garros : Prudent to arrange for a guided tour before coming. Its far from Paris. Getting to Roland Garros is not easy. We reached and the gates were shut. We could not enter. We could see from outside, the top of the stadium with names of French Open winners engraved on them.

Cruise on Siene : Must do. Gives a flavour of the city. The French know the value of history and are adept at preserving it. The buildings are imposing. Old. Yet majestic. I wonder why Hitler kept them intact during the German occupation of Paris. Probably, he had a sense of history too. Or probably, he could appreciate beauty.

Jardin du Luxembourg : A big garden. Not exactly the most wondrous of all places. Just a very good garden with lots of open spaces. Takes time to reach. No direct metro to reach. Metro + Bus or Metro + Walk. Not a must-do.

Eiffel Tower : A civil engineering marvel. Worth going up to the 2nd floor. Come early in the morning. The queue is short. Avoid weekends. Takes about 3-4 hours. Definitely have the macaroons. You get tickets to the summit as well from the ticket counter. But that takes a lot more time. 2nd floor is good enough.

Versailles Palace: If you are from India or places where castles, forts, palaces are in abundance, this will be a damp squib. The splendor, grandeur, architecture, beauty, sculpture - are far more intricate and awe-inspiring in India. Versailles is good. But not worth waiting in the queue for 2 hours (No shade - the sun can beat you down) and then roaming inside for an hour more, paying for expensive food inside and then out. In its defence, some of it is good. But getting here is pain (if you are coming by yourself). Not a must-do.

We did not go to Muse D'Orsay & Invalides. The former has the Van Goghs and the latter has Napoleon's tomb. If we had time, we would have. Any given day, would have gone to these in lieu of Versailles.

  1. Should do Eiffel & cruise on Siene together
  2. Go early to Louvre. Before you go, check out where you want to have lunch/ snacks. Restaurants nearby are expensive.
  3. Wi-fi is a problem. Specifically Google Maps for walking can screw you big time.
  4. Always, always take a cab from the airport to your accommodation for the first time.
  5. Stay near one of the must-dos. Would recommend near Sacre Cour.
  6. The crepes in Paris are very good. So are the desserts. Be prepared to eat a lot of pizza & pasta

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Sri Lanka

Date of Visit: 31st Oct to 7th Nov
Places Visited: Pinnawala, Dambulla, Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Colombo
Stay: Holiday Inns and Budget Places (No star hotels)
Holiday Vendor: Hirok Banerjee :)
Origin: Bangalore

Important Pointers:
  • Flight fares from Bangalore to Colombo are double of that from Chennai to Colombo.
  • Air India Express from Chennai is good. Timely and efficient. Costs about 6k per head round trip
  • Book your accommodation in advance. No need to pay in advance. Go check the room first and if you do not like it, you can look for other places to stay.
  • Take a mosquito repellent.
  • For money, use ATMs. $5 charged per transaction. So take as much as you want in one-go.
  • If you change currency at the airport be sure to keep the receipt. You will need it at the time of leaving the country. No one changes INR to SLR at the airport.
  • If you are not going to Dambulla-Sigiriya-Anuradhapura, then use public transport. Else, a car is required. It is expensive @35 SLR per km and daily driver charge of SLR500/-. Airport pick-up and drop is separate at SLR3500/- one way. Toyota Corolla is the basic car used.
  • Food per head for each meal would be about SLR 450/-.
  • People are extremely friendly.
  • Stay at Sigiriya or Dambulla to go for the day trips to Anuradhapura, Sigiriya and Polonnaruwa
  • It will take about 5 hours to reach Colombo from Nuwara Eliya
  • Total distance travelled: 950Km
  • Total trip cost would be about INR25K including food, stay, travel and flights per head
  • Carry your passports everywhere since entry fee for SAARC citizens are lower
Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage:
On the way to Dambulla. Its a state owned elephant reserve where elephants rescued by forest department are taken care of. Quite interesting to see a herd of them in the river and the process to get them out back to the reserve. Entry Fee SLR 500/- per head.

Dambulla-Sigiriya-Anuradhapura-Polonnaruwa: (All historical ruins)
Dont even think of going here if you are not interested in historical places. Though would recommend Sigiriya for sure.
Stay: B&B basis at Dambulla Oya Family Park for 2 nights @ USD38 per night. A/c Room. Lovely place with loads of trees and a river right next to the place. Food was great. Stay comfortable. Nice, clean toilets with hot water. Excellent experience overall.


  1. Dambulla - visited the Rock Caves where there are paintings on the walls of the caves. You have to climb roughly 500 steps to get there. Entry fee SLR 1000/- per head. Lovely view from the top. Do not carry edibles since loads of monkeys around.
  2. Sigiriya - The rock fortress is mind blowing. Need to climb about 700m to view a fort built on top of a huge rock. The view is amazing. Mountains all around in the distance and greenery in every direction you look at.This is a must-visit.
  3. Anuradhapura - The entire city is full of palatial ruins, stupas etc. Places we visited are the Ruwanweli Stupa, Abhayagiri Dagaba, the oldest tree in the world (Bodhi Tree), Moonstone depicting the various stages of life, the palaces of the kings who built them.
  4. Polonnaruwa - Possibly the best amongst the three. Gal Vihariya where there are 3 huge statues (of stone) of Buddha in 3 different postures. Statue of King Parakrambahu, Medirigiriya Vatadage - a Greecian kind of amphitheatre, a Dravidian temple, a 7 storey palace out of which only 2 storeys remain now.
Sigiriya-Anuradhapura-Polonnaruwa is known as the golden triangle and the entry fee comes as a package at SLR 2825/- per head.

On the way to Kandy from Dambulla, visit the Matale Spice Garden. Its free of charge and you get a complimentary spice tea which is great. The aroma of the spices is quite intoxicating and an eye opener of sorts.

Kandy:
Stay: B&B basis Blinkbonnie Inn for one night at USD25 per night. A/c room. Good view of the entire city of Kandy from the balcony. About 15-20 minutes walk from city centre. Free wifi internet. Good value for money. Nice, clean toilets with hot water. Strictly budget place. Food was average and slightly on the expensive side.

The temple of Tooth Relic is the only place worth visiting. Entry Fee SLR 1000/- per head. The museum there details the history of the Budhha's tooth (you read it right! Its a tooth!). Calm, peaceful and serene.

The Sri Lankan thali at The Bake Shop was excellent. Comes cheap at SLR 150/- and is generous in quantity.

On the way to Nuwara Eliya from Kandy, Rambodda Falls provides a nice view. Visit the tea gardens and get a tour of the tea production process. Do not buy from here. You will get more variety at the duty free shops at the airport.

Nuwara Eliya:

Hill Station at 6187 feet above MSL
Stay: Collingwood Hotel at USD32 per night for two nights. Very nice location and furnishings made of wood. 10 minutes walk from town centre.
Food: Milano is a good restaurant. Have Chinese there. Not advisable to be experimental. The Grand Indian is a good place for Indian food at reasonable rates (SLR 300/- per head). Not much choice otherwise.

Nothing to do here except go for walks. There is a lake which is about 10 minutes walk from where we stayed. Adam's Peak is about 60km from here.

Colombo:
Stay: Personal Arrangement
Food: Must visit the Beach Wadiya for awesome prawns and sea-food. Raffle's in Bagatalle Road has amazing Mango Soup and awesome desserts. Visit the Galle Face Green which is like the Marine Drive of Mumbai. Use public transport. Buses are cheap and convenient.

Here are the photos.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Movenpick and Mauritius

Date of Visit: 27th July to 2nd August
Stay: Movenpick Spa and Resort

Half Board: Breakfast and Dinner included

Room Type: Deluxe Sea View

Holiday Vendor: My Holidays


About Movenpick:

  • The welcome drink is tasteless. Its supposedly sugarcane juice with some other juice mixed. Do well to avoid it.
  • The location of the resort is superb. Private beach and relaxing beach chairs in plenty.
  • The decor of the resort is excellent.
  • Very well maintained with lots of trees, natural flora and fauna.
  • Rooms are clean but inconvenient. No wardrobes, no wall-clock. The resort does not provide for bathroom slippers or a comb or shaving kit despite being a 4 star accomodation.
  • DO NOT take rooms in the 4th block if you want a sea-view from your room. And DO NOT take ground floor rooms.
  • The breakfast is the same everyday but with a lot of choices and is very tasty. Particularly the bakery products and yogurt.
  • Dinner is pretty average with limited choice in desserts.
  • The honeymoon dinner was nothing short of disappointing. Hardly any choice of food. And in very limited quantity.
  • Honeymoon freebies (t-shirt, pareo, wine bottle) are good.
  • The Spa is nicely decorated but the complimentary massage is nothing of note. The voucher is valid only for the first two days and it is quite difficult to incorporate that in your itinerary since its available only from 11 am to 630 pm and you would be mostly out in the first two days touring the place.
  • Sports facilities are great. Lots of options and all free of cost.
  • The swimming pool is good but temperature is not controlled.
  • Lunch at the beach-side restaurant of Movenpick is reasonable and delicious.
  • Service is prompt and polite.

Overall, stay at Movenpick on the 1st or 2nd block and avoid ground floor rooms and the honeymoon dinner (instead ask for the normal course dinner which is much better)

About Mauritius:

  • Use Mauritian Rupees. Convert USD or INR to MUR at the airport.
  • Water sports at Belle Mare beach is expensive but the parasailing (USD 40 per head) is great. Much better than the one in Goa.
  • Under-sea walk (USD 40 per head) is hardly a walk. Avoid that and go for the submarine instead. Or even the subscooter.
  • There is a waterfall of 20 feet and its a total letdown but the journey in the speedboat to that is thrilling to say the least. (USD 25 per head)
  • The fort at Port Louis is at a splendid location and provides a wonderful view. Entry is free. Gives out the total landscape of Port Louis.
  • The Botanical garden is nice and cool. (USD 5 per head)
  • The shopping mall and flea market close to Port Louis does not offer much to tourists. Its exactly like any other malls in India. But lunch is a good option here within USD 5 per head. Good food at food court.
  • Food is expensive. An average restaurant lunch (a non-veg thali) will cost about 25 USD per head. Ask for cheaper options to the guide.
  • The Chamarel or seven coloured earth is the most interesting landscape. Entry free.
  • The crater of the dead volcano is quite nice as well.
  • The ship-model making factory outlet is mind-blowing. Bargaining works.

Overall, a very beautiful place with no hassles. People are nice. In July and August its very windy and rains intermittently. Pullovers or light sweaters are handy. Better to carry an umbrella. If possible, go for a private car so you have freedom of movement.