Thursday, June 28, 2012

St. John's, NL, Canada - the most easterly point in North America

St. John's is a small scenic Canadian city on the Atlantic coast. It has the distinction of being the most eastern point in North America (see the sign below). That makes it the closest to Europe - London is only 5hrs by flight from here.

St. John's, NL, Canada

Signal Hill

Because of this strategic geographical vantage, St. John's is also where Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless transmission in Morse code. The place is referred to as Signal Hill.

Signal hill, St. John´s, Canada
St. John's, NL, Canada (night)

Atlantic coast

St. John's allows you to be very close to nature. You can basically walk around the Atlantic coast for hours. There are many hiking trails and national parks nearby. Of course, proximity to nature has its disadvantages as well, esp. in terms of weather conditions. Winters here can be really chilly with minimum temperatures dropping to -15-20 for most of the winter months.

Atlantic coast

City, University & culture

St. John's is the capital of Newfoundland & Labrador (NL). NL was one of the last provinces to be integrated into Canada. Because of their mixed heritage, people here have a strong (Newfoundland) accent which is different from the general Canadian accent. However, that does not stop people here from being very friendly and welcoming towards foreigners.

St. John's can in many ways can be termed as a "student" city with around 20, 000 students (out of St. John's 100, 000 population) enrolled at the local university here - Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN).

There are around 250 Indian families here. They also have their own temple which is quite an achievement for such a small community. Do visit it if you get time! Get in touch with the Indian association@St. John's for further information: Friends of India  

Memorial University, St. John's, NL, Canada

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Iceland - glaciers galore (Part II)

Part I of this blog appears here: Part I

Collection of pics on Flickr: Pics

To continue on the 'Places to See in Iceland' from Part I of the blog.

Þingvellir National Park

The last but not least marvel in the Golden Circle tour is the Þingvellir National Park where the American and Eurasian tectonic plates plates meet. So you can technically cross continents and come back the same day - which seems truly remarkable if you think about it!

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon

Floating icebergs are a sight to behold. There are many small and big glacial lagoons in Iceland. Jökulsárlón is probably one of the largest and easily accessible close to Reykjavik (1.5 hours drive).
It is interesting to note that even at such places, the temperature is not freezing at all - definitely cold but very tolerable.
To give further proof of its 'awesomeness', major Hollywood action movies including A View to a Kill, Die Another Day, Tomb Raider and Batman Begins have been shot here.

Icebergs galore at Jökulsárlón, Iceland
Iceland bridges

Blue lagoon

Blue lagoon is geo-thermal spa close to Reykjavik (~45km). The idea is to spend a relaxing time swimming in the crystal clear mineral rich hot springs of the region. There is a small indoor cafe and you can rent bathrobes, towels, slippers on reaching there. It is ideal for a half day morning tour.

Blue Lagoon, Reykjavik, Iceland

Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)

We reserved the nest for the last. Aurora Borealis feels like a truly amazing spectacle when you see it for the first time. It appears as if someone has basically painted the sky 'green' for you.
 Unfortunately, as with all good things in life, you need some luck and endure some hardships to experience this phenomenon. First, the night sky needs to be absolutely clear (no clouds). Second, you need to be in a place which is (almost) completely dark (no streetlights even).

From personal experience, our 'Northern Lights' tour was canceled the first day as the sky was cloudy. The second day, the tour happened but we only managed to catch a glimpse of it - that too after waiting for more than an hour in the freezing cold.  Note that it can get really chilly in the night, so be prepared! Of all the weird things, it was actually our feet which seemed to have completely frozen while waiting. So warm clothes are not sufficient, get 'warm' shoes also. Finally, it was on the 3rd day, where we had a private tour guide who drove us around quite a bit before we were able to enjoy it in its full glory.

Even then, we did not manage to take a picture of it :( So coming back to the tip of bringing along a good camera with you, be sure to get a 'good' camera with a tripod.

Till then, here are some (external) pics of Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) for motivation: Aurora Borealis Pictures

Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption

Volcanic eruptions are another natural phenomenon you can try to experience in Iceland. Of course, it is really difficult to plan for them as they do not occur frequently and at regular intervals for our convenience. And, they can also be really dangerous.  

However, if and when they occur, the local tour companies do seem to promote "Volcanic tourism" with daily trips by helicopter or special jeeps that can take you really close to the eruptions. We were actually in Iceland between the Mar 27 and Apr 14, 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull. The Apr 14 eruption was the one that led to large-scale disruption of flights over European airspace, and we were quite lucky to have avoided it. Unfortunately, we did not have time to visit the eruptions up-close and below is a pic of the eruption from far below.

There is also another glacial volcano 'Katla' in the neighborhood which is considered more active than Eyjafjallajökull, with its chances of erupting in the near future quite high. So it might be worthwhile to keep an eye on its activities if you want to be at the right place at the right time.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Iceland - glaciers galore (Part I)

The lonely iceberg ...

If you are only interested in the pictures (which is quite natural):
Flickr link

Iceland is a nature lover's paradise. Iceland is like reaching the end of the world, literally! If you are looking for a place far far away from the hustle bustle of daily life, and also away from the hordes of tourists  flocking the usual touristic hot-spots in summer, Iceland is the place to be in. Of course, this also means that Iceland is NOT the place to be in for tourists who enjoy crowds and look forward to the place's nightlife.

- Don't forget to bring a good camera with you or you will regret it later (and don't tell us that we did not warn you!).
- Can get really cold during night even in Apr, so be prepared.
- All advertised tours do not operate throughout the year.  Tourism in Iceland is still developing which also implies that there are often too few tourists for the group tours. So please confirm beforehand with the travel agency who can then also arrange private tours for you (for an additional fee) if required.
- One of the primary attractions of Iceland is the 'Northern Lights' (aka Aurora Borealis) and it is mostly seen in winter. So this might also influence your travel dates.


Travel to Iceland is expensive. There are no direct flights from major European cities (Frankfurt, Paris, Zurich) to Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland). You will have to change in either Helsinki or Stockholm. Iceland is in Schengen, so while your Schengen VISA will be sufficient to visit Iceland - the trip would be very expensive esp. because of the lack of direct flights.

However if you are already resident in Europe or US and wish to take a transatlantic flight, then it might be worthwhile to lookout for discounted deals to visit Iceland. Because Iceland is almost midway for most transatlantic flights, they usually offer package deals which include spending a few days in Iceland in between.

Places to see

Iceland is a place of natural wonders. Simply driving along the country side is a visual delight (see the pics below).

Icelandic country side
Black lava columns, Iceland
Atlantic coast, Iceland

A very popular tour here (which almost every 'average' tourist takes) is the 'Golden Circle' tour. The tour is not very costly (~70Euros per person) and it allows you to cover a lot of wonders in only half a day - so it is efficient both from time and cost perspectives. Highlights of the tour include:

Strokkur geysir (hot springs)

Hot springs are an interesting natural phenomenon and seem quite remarkable when you see them for the first time. You will basically see columns of water shooting high up in the air from time to time. There are actually quite many in Iceland (you can even see them close to the road while driving - the pic below) and we were told that there is some serious effort ongoing in Iceland to harvest this energy.  

Hot springs, Iceland

One of the stops in the Golden Circle tour is the Strokkur geysir where you can see hot springs shooting water up to 30 meters in the air.

Strokkur Geysir (hot springs), Iceland

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfalls

Another marvel in the Golden Circle tour is the Gullfoss waterfalls. We have been to Niagara Falls, however that in no way affected the impressiveness of Gullfoss for us. In a way, Gullfoss can be considered as the "wilder" cousin of Niagara. Surrounded by civilization and easily accessible, Niagara doesn't give you that "wild & dangerous" feeling. However, you very easily get that feeling here when the river Hvítá falls straight into a rocky crevice some 30 meters deep.

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfalls, Iceland
Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfalls, Iceland

Kerið volcanic crater lake

The geology behind the formation of this volcanic crater lake eludes us now, but the crater is still quite deep and impressive. More scientific details here: Wikipedia.We understand that one of the specialties of this place is that the volcanic rocks are 'Red' here in comparison to the usual 'Black'.

Kerið volcanic crater lake, Iceland

To be continued ...

Monday, June 11, 2012

Corsica - the land of white cliffs

We visited Corsica in Aug 2009. Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea between France and Italy.

Napoleon was from Corsica and politically Corsica is  part of France now. So a Schengen Visa is sufficient to visit it. The best way to reach Corsica is via Marseilles, France. There are regular flights from Marseilles to Ajaccio (the capital city of Corsica). There are also ferries from Nice, France and Sardinia, Italy to some of the cities in Corsica. So if you are in Nice for the Cannes Film Festival, Corsica would be a very nice stopover before heading back.

Bonifacio, Corsica

Corsica was one of those very rare places we have visited till now where we did not find an Indian tourist.  This is probably because there is no McDonald's here as well (the refuge of the average Indian tourist). The touristic crowd is predominantly French and Italian. Thus if you are manage to reach this far, you will be in all likelihood be one of the very few Indian pioneers to have wandered here. Of course, that also gives you better bragging rights when you return home as compared to visiting the tried and tested places like Paris or Rome. We can assure you that Corsica is indeed a hidden gem and you will have no problems in findings things to reminiscence about on returning home.

On a more serious note, English is not so prevalent here  and you will only find French/Italian restaurants here (with even the menus in French/Italian). So do not forget to take a English-to-French dictionary with you.


While Ajaccio is the capital, Bonifacio can be considered as the main touristic city. There is practically no public transportation here so either you drive or take a taxi. The city itself is quite small, so walking is definitely a viable alternative though the cliffs may dampen your spirits. Of course, the cliffs also allow you to capture amazing views of the coast from above (below).

Bonifacio, Corsica
Bonifacio, Corsica

The hotels here are on the expensive side as they cater only to tourists. There are no business travelers here as Corsica is a "conserved" state with virtually no industries. Most of the people working here are also seasonal who only live here during the peak (summer) touristic season.

Corsica played an important role in the French-British wars and hence the fortress walls surrounding the city (below).

Fortress walls, Bonifacio, Corsica

In the evening, Bonifacio transforms itself into a chic maritime city with many cafes, restaurants, shops along the coast. There are usually local musicians playing in the streets transforming the whole evening atmosphere into a very relaxing/soothing place where you will easily forget all your worries. So get your best summer dresses out and just chill!

Bonifacio city, Corsica

Lavezzi Islands

From Bonifacio,  there are numerous ferries that take you to one of the many small islands nearby. One such option is the Lavezzi Islands. Corsica can get pretty hot in summer and the island provides tranquil conditions to spend most of the day under water, sleeping on your sail boat (the perfect summer pass time) or enjoying a picnic on the beaches.

Sailing on the Mediterranean Sea, Bonifacio, Corsica
Lavezzi Islands, Corsica

The ferry trip also allows you to enjoy some more spectacular sand cliffs on the way.

Bonifacio, Corsica

Sardinia, Italy

Of course, if you have a little more time in hand, or would simply like to continue your trip to Italy - you can take a ferry and cross over to Sardinia, Italy. The journey time is around one hour and there are daily excursions from Bonifacio that make it possible to go and come back the same day. The ferries (operated by Moby Lines) are actually quite big (pic below) and also allow you to take your cars with you.

Ferry to Sardinia, Italy

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Paris - A Tribute to Style

No travel blog would be complete without mentioning Paris. Paris continues to be one of the most popular destinations in the world attracting over 10 million visitors per year. We can well understand this fascination. Having lived in France for many years and visited Paris many times, we still enjoy the prospect of visiting Paris any time.

The city itself has a very modern and stylish look. Refer to the pic below. You can see that although the houses are old-fashioned, they are very well maintained.

Paris from Eiffel Tower
City of Paris from Eiffel Tower


The public transport in Paris, as in most of Europe is very efficient. There are public transports connecting all major touristic attractions from the Airport or Train stations (note there are more than one).

From the Airport to the City: It is very much recommended to take the RER connecting the airport to the Train stations. Taxi are not only very expensive but the traffic in Paris can be almost as bad as Kolkata/Mumbai - and the meter keeps running while waiting. There are of course shuttle buses which are cheaper but the traffic problem remains. The only scenario when a Taxi/Bus might be recommended is when you have a lot of luggage as you usually have to walk quite a bit to reach the Metro station from the Airport 'Arrivals' or Train stations (even though technically they might be in the same terminal/building). RER is a special type of metro which costs more than a normal Paris metro ride, so buy the right ticket.

For commuting within the city, once you have dropped off your luggage in the hotel and are all set to explore the city, a more enjoyable and scenic (though of course, slower) way is to take the ferries running over Seine river. Seine river flows through most of Paris and you can take the ferries as Hop-on/Hop-off touristic buses getting off at a touristic spot and then taking the next ferry from that stop. There are also more romantic options where you can enjoy a candlelight dinner while cruising the Seine river.

River Seine from Eiffel Tower
Seine river from Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower

Irrespective of whether you consider Eiffel as one of the 'Wonders of the World', it remains one of the most remarkable and recognized structures in the world.

It is easy to reach by public transport and while walking to the Eiffel from the Metro stop, you will encounter many people selling Eiffel replicas and souvenirs yelling 'Namaste', 'Shah Rukh Khan' and 'Amitabh Bachchan' to you to get your attention (if they notice that you are Indian). Guess this is testimony to the growing number of Indian tourists visiting Paris nowadays. 

You can either climb up or take the elevator (costs more as expected). The elevator ride is worth it as Eiffel is quite high and you will have to climb a lot of steps - can be very tiring for the average Indian (like us) who does not believe in wasting time in exercising. You can take the elevator to 3 possible levels, so the best option is probably to take the elevator to 2nd highest level and then walk to the top. Note that it can be really windy at the top and is definitely not recommended for people suffering from Vertigo - but the view is really worth it. So please try but of course keeping your safety in mind. As they say (who?), there is no point in discovering something incredible and then not living to tell the tale.  

Louvre Museum (in French: Musée du Louvre)


We are also not the 'Museum' going type of tourist but Louvre is of course no ordinary museum. A day is probably too short to visit all the exhibits here. There is no need to buy tickets in advance on the internet. You can buy them at the reception or at the many automated kiosks available to avoid queues. You can also pickup audio guides at the reception.

Even with its impressive collection, the most popular resident here is of course the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. The museum itself is huge but there are clear pointers to Mona Lisa everywhere, so shouldn't be difficult to locate.

For the uninitiated, the inverted Pyramid inside the Louvre is also the place where the Christian Holy Grail is buried (according to the bestseller 'Da Vinci Code' by Dan Brown ). Such was the popularity of the book that they now have an Audio guide chapter dedicated to the book, describing the museum artifacts described in the book.

Louvre Museum (black & white)
Musée du Louvre
Musée du Louvre

Moulin Rouge

Having grown up on Helen's cabarets (not to mention the item songs in our current films), it makes sense to visit one of the original cabaret houses. From cabarets, the shows here have now diversified to theme based broadway kind of musicals. The themes and stories are mostly in French so you will in all likelihood not understand much but the shows are still enjoyable. 

Word to the wise, the show girls do get topless (nothing more though), still viewer discretion is advised. It is located in the Paris redlight area, however is usually very safe to visit at night as well (and the surroundings are not uncomfortable at all).



Paris is one of the fashion capitals of the world. So a trip to Paris would not be considered complete (at least by the fairer sex) without visiting Champs-Élysées.

Champs-Élysées is the main shopping street in Paris. The good news is that it s not some kind of huge shopping mall, but a street with many cafes, restaurants and theaters along with than the luxury branded stores - which makes it rather enjoyable even if you are simply window shopping.