Our Flight Cancellation Experience with Vueling

Upon our recent visit to Bologna, we had an interesting airline experience that I’d like to share here. In addition to being an interesting read, it might help you learn a thing or two about your rights in relation to airlines.

This might also be a good time to shamelessly promote my post about Saving on Air Travel. I highly recommend it if you love to travel and save money (who doesn’t?).

On with the story…

To catch our return flight home from Bologna, we showed up at the airport more than 3 hours in advance. At the airport, we were notified that our flight had been canceled for “technical reasons”. Furthermore, we discovered that there were no other return flights from Bologna that day. Fortunately, our airline (Vueling) stepped up and organized alternative transportation. After a long wait, they put us on very comfortable buses to Venice, from where we were put on an alternate flight to our final destination. All said and done, we reached home 6+ hours later that we should have, and much much more tired.

From the point we were informed about the cancellation till we got home, we kept all our receipts, hanging on to the slight hope that we might be compensated. Having heard all kinds of horror stories about how hard it is to get any compensation from airlines, we almost didn’t try.

A quick call to Vueling, and surprisingly the matter was taken care of (Shock & disbelief!!). There was no argument, no demand for a physical boarding pass, no demand for receipts, no nothing. They simply confirmed the compensation we were legally entitled to and paid it out.

Here, I have to commend Vueling. For whatever “technical reason” they cancelled our flight. That sucked, but shit happens. However, instead of leaving passengers hanging and in confusion, they took responsibility for their mistake and fixed it by organizing and paying for a viable alternative for their passengers. They even went the extra mile by ensuring that passengers got the compensation they were legally entitled to, without making it unnecessarily difficult. Kudos Vueling! The others should learn from you.

PS: Check your passenger rights here: EU, USA, India

 

 

Anniversary Weekend in Bologna

After a long hiatus, we finally resumed our travels. To celebrate our wedding anniversary, we took a long weekend trip to Bologna, Italy.  It is the 7th most populous city in Italy with a population of just over a million. Apart from the extraordinarily large number of tourists and foreign students, the city is also home to a lot of cultural history and boasts numerous historical landmarks, in addition to the world’s oldest university.

Following my guide to saving on air travel, we scored a really good deal on flights to and from Bologna. Upon arriving early in the morning, we got lucky and managed to get checked-in early at the hotel. We grabbed a Cornetti (croissant filled with different types of creams, etc.) and hit the city’s center for some sight-seeing. We spent a lot of time eating and drinking (and you should too). Nonetheless, we did try to get in a fair amount of sight-seeing. As always, to avoid a meandering post, I’ll focus on our top 5 highlights.

1. Piazza Maggiore, with the San Petronio Basilica and the City Hall: The city’s definitive center, this massive plaza is flanked by the incomplete but beautiful San Petronio Basilica, the city’s town hall and beautiful heritage buildings with cafés and restaurants.

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The Basilica is the 10th largest church in the world and dominates the plaza. During the hot summer days, we joined other tourists and took respite from the sun sitting on the stairs under the massive shadow of the basilica. In the evenings, its a good place to sit and people watch and enjoy the activities going on the in the Piazza Maggiore.

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We also spent a lot of time sitting in the various cafés under the porticos of the many heritage buildings enjoying a cold beer or a refreshing lemon Schweppes. I should point out here that most cafés will overcharge you for drinks (c. € 4), but this includes some complimentary snacks. So, don’t make the mistake of ordering drinks and snacks, ‘coz they won’t tell you in advance.

2. Neptune Fountain (Fontana di Nettuno): This imposing bronze structure stands just a few meters away from the Piazza Maggiore. Since the fountain was undergoing major restoration, it was completely covered by scaffolding. However, we managed to get on a tour that took us inside the scaffolding and allowed us to view the statue up close.

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As our guide explained, in one hand Neptune holds the trident calming the waters, and with his other hand, he is gesturing to calm the wind. I always wondered about the difference between Poseidon and Neptune. Upon investigating, I found that “Neptune is the ancient Roman god of the sea, and Poseidon is the Greek God of the sea. They look similar in depictions, and some consider them to be the same God with two different names. Many people believe the Romans adopted the Greek God Poseidon and changed his name to Neptune.”

3. The 2 Towers (Due Torri): These two tall stone towers are amongst the few remaining and without a doubt the most prominent of all the towers that once dotted the city’s landscape. Built by wealthy families during the 12th century to keep a watchful eye over and defend their property, they eventually became symbols of a family’s status within the society, and families would compete to build the higher tower.

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These 2 towers are named after the families that supposedly built them-Asinelli and Garisenda. Believe it or not, these towers have developed a considerable tilt, making them very comparable to the world-famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Once again, we were unfortunately not allowed to climb these towers as they were closed for restoration.

4. Archiginnasio of Bologna: As impressive as the building is, what is even more breathtaking is what it houses. Built during the 16th century, it was once the seat of the world’s oldest university- the University of Bologna. This building now houses the Anatomical Theater and a beautiful grand library, among other things.

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The Anatomical Theater was used for anatomy lectures. It is made entirely of wood and is shaped like an amphitheater, lined with statues of famous doctors and anatomists. The ceiling is also wooden and has a statue of Apollo, the God of medicine, in the center which is surrounded by various constellations. At one end, the room is overlooked by an ornate seat for the professor topped by two naked and skinless men knows as “gli spellati” (the skinned ones). In the center of the room stands a marble table, used for the dissection of humans and animals. This structure was almost completely destroyed in an air raid during the Second World War. It was then rebuilt meticulously using all of the original pieces recovered from the building.

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As tourists, we were denied access to the library. However, we were able to pay for a tour of the rest of the building, and get a glimpse of the library from one of the side doors. The library is a grand old room, decorated with paintings, coats of arms and statues. It is impossible to do justice to the beauty of the library, so let me just paraphrase the way a friend described it to me: “When you see the library, you will want to study there.”

5. The Middle Market (Mercato di Mezzo): A three floor market, here you can get a sampling of traditional Bolognese food. There are a number of kiosks that offer a variety of meats, fish, cheeses, fruits, breads, wines, beers, etc. There are also a couple of restaurants with limited seating. After a number of years of being abandoned, the market was finally brought back to life after a major renovation in 2014. 

Others: Without going into detail, I’d also recommend visiting the University, the Santa Maria Basilica, the San Pietro Cathedral (and above all its bell tower where you can learn about how the bells are rung, how dangerous it is and how it makes the tower sway), the Pescherie Vecchie, the tons of local restaurants for fresh pasta, and so much more!

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Overall, I’d say Bologna is a great city to visit during a long weekend and would recommend it. It has a rich cultural and gastronomical history. If you’re a history buff, I’d recommend a few more days. There is more than enough to do, see, eat and drink. Notwithstanding, we probably won’t return for a second visit- not because there is anything wrong with the city- but because we enjoyed our previous trip to Florence much more and would rather revisit there.

 

Arrivederci!

 

Day Trip to Vilanova i la Geltru

With spring right around the corner, it made a preview appearance last weekend-a welcome change after months of cold weather. Not wanting to waste such a beautiful day, we decided to make a day trip out of it.

We visited the nearby town of Vilanova i la Geltrú. About an hour and a half from Barcelona city, this small town of around 70,000 people has a rustic small town charm that draws you in. Located close to the beautiful beach town of Sitges, this town is also located on the waterfront. However, we chose to skip the beach entirely and spent most of our time walking the town’s small tile paved pedestrian only streets, lined with 1 story buildings with houses and shops. There was also a local festival in progress, in celebration of which the streets were decorated with creatively recycled and colored objects like plates, water bottles and water barrels.

We also walked along the main rambla, a much wider and airier pedestrian only avenue, which was filled with families enjoying an afternoon walk and children playing. This avenue was also lined with numerous stores, but unlike in the smaller streets these were branded chain stores.

After lots of walking, we wrapped up the evening enjoying a sunset at the main square (Placa de la Vila). This main square houses a number of beautiful and iconic public buildings. It is interesting to note that this square has a bronze statue of a former prominent resident, Josep Tomàs Ventosa Soler, a textile magnate that made his fortune in Cuba. 2 identical statues were forged in Cuba, of which one was brought to Spain, while the other still stands in Cuba.

Since it was a weekend, there was a lively outdoor market staged at the main square. The square was bustling with activity. Some people strolled around casually looking at the merchandise on sale, while others sat in one of the many cafes lining the square, sipping on their cold beers or hot coffees. We were in the latter group, enjoying chocolate croissants, olives and drinks.

All in all, it was a day well spent. We’re hoping for more beautiful weather over the coming weeks so we can leave the city and make more day trips. I’d definitely recommend visiting this town if you happen to be in the Barcelona area.

Christmasy weekend in Porto

After a long time, we had a long weekend off from work. Since we haven’t really “traveled” anywhere in a few months, we decided to take advantage of it and flew to Portugal to the beautiful riverside city of Porto (or Oporto).

As I have blogged in the past, we flew there really cheap, courtesy of RyanAir. It is interesting to note that Portugal is in a different time zone from Spain. If you look at a map, you will notice Spain is in line with Britain, Portugal and Morocco and should be on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In fact, it was. However during the 1940s, to show his loyalty to Germany during the Second World War, Spain’s dictator changed the time zone to align with Germany’s.

After we landed, we set our clocks back an hour and set off to our city center apartment. I must mention here that the Honey Bee and I have traditionally been highly skeptical of Airbnb. However, after months of pondering, we decided to try it. We booked a beautiful apartment, right in the middle of the historic district, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. The entire building is owned and run by a mother-son duo and features comfortable modern apartments. They even bring a variety of warm fresh-baked breads to your door every morning. For those thinking about visiting, I’d strongly recommend you consider it (Mouzinho 134).

At check-in, we were welcomed with a delicious cup of sweet local Porto wine and given a detailed introduction to the city and its sights. Something I learned that surprised me was that up until 10 years ago, the historic district was in shambles and was overrun by drug traders and gangs. However, the advent of low cost airlines opened up new routes to Porto that brought in hordes of tourists, injecting new life into this part of the city, and rejuvenating the local economy.

During our 2.5 days there we saw, did, and ate & drank a whole lot. However, to simplify things we’ll focus on what we consider musts for visitors. So here’s our list of the Top 5 things to do in Porto:

1) Capela das Almas & Rue Santa Caterina: An unlikely location, the church is located on the bustling and central Santa Caterina Street that is lined with shops and restaurants. The street itself is a great place to hang out, grab a drink in the evening or simply window shop.

When you come upon the church, it is almost by accident since you expect to see another shop or mall or restaurant where it is. Located right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle, it is like a little sanctuary in the midst of all the chaos. The entire outside of the church is beautifully adorned with blue tiles typical of Porto (azulejos) depicting the lives of various saints. From the inside the church was the simplest and most basic we visited, but it is also where I felt the most at peace.

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2) Igreja do Carmo & Igreja dos Carmelitas: These churches are built alongside each other. They are two distinct churches, but form one unique structure. It is interesting to note that the 2 are separated by a very very narrow house, put there to prevent any mixing between the monks and the nuns. The latter was built in the 17th century and the former in the 18th. As can be expected, both churches are grand and ornate from the inside and dwarf visitors. The exterior walls of the Carmo church are also adorned with blue and white azulejos depicting scenes of religious historical importance.

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3) Porto Bridge Climb: Started close to 6 months ago for those of a slightly daring disposition, you climb the arch of the Arrábida Bridge. This bridge was built in 1963 over the Duoro River and connects Porto to the neighboring town of Gaia. It rises to a height of 52 meters and offers a clearance of 70 meters above the river. When completed, its main span of 270 meters was the largest of any concrete-arch bridge in the world.

Our guide Pedro, one of the nicest people you will ever meet, gave us an introduction to the bridge, briefed us on the safety instructions, harnessed us to the safety line and accompanied us up to the top of the bridge. The view from the pinnacle takes your breath away. You see the city on one side, and the estuary where the Duoro River feeds into the Atlantic Ocean on the other. You see the river flowing some 70 meters below you, and airplanes flying overhead. You even see birds flying in formation, swooping underneath the bridge. I would strongly recommend you reserve an evening visit so as to enjoy the sunset from this vantage point.

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4) Dom Luís I Bridge & Cais da Ribeira: Another one of the 6 bridges in Porto, this is a double-decked metal arch bridge over the Douro River that also connects Porto and Gaia. At the time of construction in 1886, its span of 172 m was the longest of its type in the world. While amazing to look at any time of the day, a night time view transports you to another world. At night, the bridge and its surrounding banks come alive with beautiful multicolored lights and lasers.

A walk along the Cais de Ribeira, which literally means the neighborhood on the waterfront, goes hand-in-hand with the river and the bridge. A night time stroll after dinner and drinks at one of the restaurants mentioned below is an absolute must, not just for romantics, but for anyone who comes to Porto.

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5) Livraria Lello: Although the bookstore has existed in various forms in different locations across Porto, this bookstore was built in 1906. It is one of the oldest book stores in Portugal (and probably the world) and is consistently rated among the top bookstores in the world.

You wouldn’t be wrong in wondering why tourists would choose to visit a bookstore? Well, apart from the carved wooden ceiling, the beautiful stained glass roof, and a grand staircase straight out a fairy tale, it just so happens that JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter Series, visited this bookstore often. Turns out she taught English in Porto and this store is reported to be an inspiration for her writing.

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Porto is a beautiful place with lots to see. So while not all the places worth visiting made it onto this list, heres some more to-dos that you might want to consider if you have the time: Praça da Liberdade (Porto sign), Clérgios Church & Tower, Palácio da Bolsa, Porto Cathedral & São Bento Station.

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Restaurants: You will undoubtedly find a lot of great restaurants & bars on TripAdvisor like we did. So instead of an exhaustive list, let me just mention our 2 favorite spots:

  • Wine Quay Bar: A rustic little bar by the riverside with great wines, appetizers, views and ambiance.
  • Mengos: Very local-don’t expect anything fantasy here. Heaven for desserts, local food and other baked delights.

Porto was a fun and memorable trip, and without a doubt we plan on returning there in the near future. If you haven’t visited already, what are you waiting for?

Surprise Birthday Getaway (Under the Stars)

We recently celebrated a big milestone birthday for the Honey Bee. She has asked me not to mention her actual age, so out of interest for my own well-being I am going to leave that out.

Usually, we spend our birthdays traveling on vacation. However, this year the Honey Bee was fatigued from too many flights and asked that we not fly anywhere (ironic given her name, I know). So, I had to find something within driving distance. She had dropped a few hints over the past few months so I tried to find a hotel that met some of those requirements (more on this later).

Hours of research led me to Hotel Mas Sola, an isolated hotel in the middle of nowhere, with rooms opening on to balconies overlooking a beautiful well-manicured lawn and a pond fully stocked with ducks. This secluded hotel is miles away from the nearest town and is kind of like a little resort, with tennis courts, a number of swimming pools, a gym, a spa, and a whole lot more. The exact hotel and location remained unknown to the birthday girl until we actually got there, making for a pleasant surprise.

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We spent one night at this wonderful property and wasted no time in taking advantage of everything it had to offer. Since we checked in on a Sunday, most people were checking dsc04313out. There couldn’t have been more than 4-5 couples staying the night. We spent quite a few hours sitting out on the patio by the lawn, enjoying ice-cold beers, served in pre-chilled glasses and snacks with the warm sun overhead. We chatted while we watched the ducks waddle along and every so often take a dip in the pond.

We walked around the massive property taking it all in until we got tired and decided to relax at the spa. The hotel boasts a beautiful spa, fully equipped with a heated pool, a jacuzzi, hydro massage beds, a steam room, a sauna, 5 different types of showers and a foot reflexology path. What I really loved about all the aquatic installations was the use of beautifully colored mosaics throughout. Since the hotel was pretty much empty, we had the spa all to ourselves.  We spent an hour detoxing and enjoying the hydro-massages. We wrapped up the spa session by trying out all the different showers. Some were cold water, some were hot, and some alternated between the two. There was a rain shower, a shower with jets that massaged the entire body, a nebulizer shower, and a shower that carried water mixed with herbal oils. Lastly, and this is one that the Honey Bee refused to try, was the cold bucket shower which is exactly what it sounds like. It consists of a bucket of cold water hanging overhead that you tug on with a rope to overturn.

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After our relaxing spa experience, we went back out on to the patio and watched the sun set on a cloudless horizon, while we enjoyed more cold beers. As dusk approached it started to get colder and a little rainy, so we eventually switched to hot coffee. For dinner, we ordered some delicious pizza. Since it was the Honey Bee’s birthday, the hotel gifted us a tasty bottle of wine which we paired with the pizza and devoured.

The Honey Bee has always mentioned her curiosity of and interest in the heavenly bodies. That is one of the reasons why I chose this place. Due to its isolation, there is almost no light or air pollution here, which results in the visibility of a spectacularly starry night. To make things even better, I bought her a telescope which I surprised her with that evening. We awoke at 4 in the morning to the enchanting smell of wet grass, and the full glory of the night sky overhead, something you can never see from the city. You could see the moon, stars, a number of constellations and even Mars with the naked eye. Once we had the telescope all set up, we just couldn’t get enough. The lack of sleep eventually caught up with me, and I went back to bed leaving her to enjoy the night sky with her brand new telescope.

The next morning we woke up fairly late, but made it in time for breakfast. We indulged in a delicious, heavy and filling breakfast, accompanied by some delicious Cava (the local equivalent of champagne). We spent the rest of the morning hanging out around the swimming pool, reading, and enjoying the other facilities the resort had to offer.

As afternoon approached, so did check-out time. And just like that, this little vacation came to an end. We left the hotel with a whole bunch of great memories and a birthday experience that we will never forget.

If anyone is ever in the area, I would strongly recommend paying this great hotel a visit. The facilities were super clean and comfortable and the staff very friendly, ever willing to go over and above to ensure you have a great stay.

An Eventful Afternoon in Platja d’Aro

After a brief hiatus, we picked up our travels once again and visited our 2nd favorite beach town along the Costa Brava: Platja d’Aro. Readers will remember our favorite is currently Tossa de Mar, which we have visited multiple times over the last year.

After driving around for quite a bit in search of parking, we found an open “spot” in an undeveloped construction site. It truly amazes me every time I think about it. The number of people driving around looking for parking at any given moment is ridiculous. I remember reading about a statistic that close to 20% of cars on the streets of Paris at any given time are not trying to get anywhere, but are simply looking for parking. I would imagine that number to be close to the same for Barcelona as well.

In any case, once we parked, we decided to do a short hike. Most beaches in these coastal towns tend to be connected by way of a rough path weaving along the coast. These paths tend to be unpaved and quite rudimentary, with a LOT of ups and downs to navigate the changing terrain. We had probably walked close to 30 minutes when I realized my wallet was missing. It was entirely possible that I had forgotten my wallet in the car. But, it was also equally possible that I had dropped it/had it stolen along the way. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember whether or not I had taken the wallet from the car. Not being one to take chances, I opened up my banking app and conveniently canceled my cards from my smartphone. Unfortunately, my wallet also contained my driving license and other government issued IDs that can be a headache to replace.

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We retraced our steps, leaving my phone number with local restaurants along the way in case someone happened to turn in a lost wallet. By the time we reached the car, we were soaked in sweat, tanned from the scorching sun overhead and tired. We had maintained a brisk pace during the hike back hoping that if it had slipped out of my pocket, we might find my wallet before anyone else does.

Much to our relief, we found it sitting on the dashboard of the car. We grabbed my wallet and headed back to the trail, hiking 20 minutes till we reached a beach we liked. We bought ourselves some cold sangria from a chiringuito (beach shack) and were ready to relax when we found out they were out of rental umbrellas and loungers. As luck would have it we had a beach umbrella in the car, but were too exhausted to make the long and tiring journey back to the car. Eventually, we got lucky and found a shaded area right next to the water and laid out our beach towel.

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I must confess that all these mishappenings had left me a little grumpy. The Honey Bee, being the beacon of positivity that she is, kept our spirits up. Not even my grumpiness could hold out against her bubbliness and soon we were both enjoying ourselves again. She brought out her sketch book and started painting the landscape. Meanwhile, I sipped my drink and decided to take a little siesta.

It was a beautiful afternoon in a veritable paradise, with the sun setting behind us, our feet buried in the soft sand and the soothing sound of the waves lapping gently against the beach.

Day Trip to Sitges

Since it’s a long weekend, we decided to make the most of it and take as many day trips as we could.

We just got back from a great day trip to Sitges, a beautiful little beach town about an hour from Barcelona. Apart from being well-known as one of the most gay friendly places in the world, Sitges is very popular for its beaches, nightspots and historical sites. More than once it has been referred to as the St. Tropez of Spain (in reference to the expensive property prices) and Ibiza in miniature. Once you get there, it doesn’t take too long to realize how heavily the local economy is dependent on tourism.

Given that we are in peak summer season, the town was packed. Quite a contrast from the peaceful and sparsely populated version I have gotten used to during my other visits throughout the year. You can also tell based on how long it takes to find parking. Driving along the beautiful beach front promenade, we found a spot that was probably a 20 minute walk from the main beach. We’re not complaining though; it was nice to walk along the beach, taking in the beautiful waters and enjoying the gentle breeze under the summer sun and the palm trees.

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The beachfront promenade is an excellent walk, lined with little restaurants, cafes and ice cream shops. This time, a close friend joined us for lunch. The 3 of us sat down at a wonderful waterfront restaurant. The restaurant, which I would recommend to everyone, is called La Santa Maria– after the largest ship that Christopher Columbus used in his first voyage. We ordered the best and most mouth-watering tomato soup I have ever had. We also ordered some bread, accompanied by a special butter. If you ever do decide to visit, you have to specifically ask for this butter to be brought to you. Called Aioli butter, it’s one comfort food that you just can’t get enough of. You could lather the entire bread with this garlicy treat, and it still wouldn’t be enough. We also ordered some lip-smacking spinach lasagna and garlic mushrooms. Now, this doesn’t happen often, but we were extremely satisfied with every single thing we ordered.

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We followed up our heavy meal with a quick visit to one of the many ice cream shops. I got a delicious strawberry cream and the Honey Bee got her regular stracciatella, both perfect to beat the heat. We wrapped up the visit with a leisurely stroll around the beachfront, enjoying the scenic views of the beaches, churches and the some of the town’s history.

This is my fifth happy visit to Sitges, and we’re hoping for many many more.

 

 

 

Day Trip to Pals

Last weekend we visited Pals, a medieval village with a population of around 2,500. Situated along the beautiful Costa Brava, you can walk through this picturesque village in 10-15 minutes.

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Very well-preserved and still an active town, most structures here are small and made of stone. The streets are narrow and cobbled and you can’t help but be taken in by the quaint homes. It’s exactly the kind of place that comes to mind when you think of a medieval town. Everywhere you turn, you see beautiful arches, bucolic windows and stone balconies. I don’t think we saw a single brick structure in the entire town. Walking through, we couldn’t help but feel like we were on the set of Game of Thrones.

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In fact, we were lucky enough to even encounter a small troop performing in the rustic town center. We saw dueling knights fight in front of a king, queen and other members of a royal court. They fought with their heavy swords and shields in full armor until one was defeated and fell to the ground. The winner was felicitated by the royals and rewarded. You might notice that the pictures are not up to the mark. The thing is that we forgot to carry our camera and hence had to make do with lower quality pictures taken on our cell phones.

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We had lunch at a well rated local Mediterranean restaurant we found on TripAdvisor. We enjoyed some pizza and fresh mozzarella salad, accompanied by a fruity sangria made of Cava, the local equivalent of champagne.

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Situated close to the town is the Playa de Pals. This picturesque beach, though fairly crowded, has been fortunate to escape the onslaught of commercial tourism. We enjoyed relaxing on the beach under our umbrella and reading. When it got too hot, every so often we took a quick dip in the water to cool off. Unfortunately, unlike some of the other beaches we have visited along the Costa Brava, the water here was not transparent. Not to say it wasn’t clean, but I am more comfortable being able to see through the water I am entering.

All said and done, we spent around 8 hours in this paradise and had a great time. We were also extremely fortunate to not have encountered any heavy traffic along the way and back.

Next, we’re planning on visiting another gem along the Costa Brava. More about that in next week’s post.

Summer Travels Part 2: Austria & Germany

Continued from Part 1…

After a wonderful time in Croatia and Slovenia, we took a short flight into Munich. We landed in Munich an hour later, after a surprisingly peaceful and calm flight. We rented cars at the airport, and drove straight to the hotel.

Third stop: Austria

We started early the next morning. After getting a heavy breakfast, we settled in for the long drive to Hallstatt. A small (Really small! The population in the year 2014 was 788) and picturesque town, it is settled along the banks of the Hallstätter See lake.

Upon arriving, we went straight to the Hallstatt salt mine. Following a very steep funicular ride which boasted breath-taking views (pictured below: first from left), followed by a 15 minute uphill walk, a 20-30 minute standing wait and another 5-10 minute steep uphill walk, our tour began. We were given colorful overalls to wear, which served to protect our clothes from water droplets containing mineral deposits that might stain our clothes. The tour started with a 15 minute walk deep into the mountain.

hmAs we went deeper, the temperature dropped drastically. It was also interesting to note the changing materials and forms of the support structures of the mines (pictured above: second from left). We walked through the mine, learning about the deposits, and how they came to be since the formation of the earth. We also learned about the so-called Hallstatt Era when the importance of salt (or white gold, as they referred to it) made this place very significant.

Apart from the educational aspect, there were also a couple of fun elements mixed in. For example, we rode Europe’s longest underground slide (pictured above: top right). At 210 feet long, this wooden monster shoots you through the cave, breathless and screaming. Once it’s over, you only wish you could do it again. The entire experience probably lasted an hour and a half, and culminated in a fast mini-train ride that leaves you freezing because of the cold winds, and then deposits you just outside the mine under the scorching sun.

After the mines, we went back down to Hallstatt. This quaint town seems miles away from any worries or bothers, nestled comfortably between mountains. We sat by the lake, dipping our feet in its cool waters, watching the fish and duck swim by. We lay in the grass, and enjoyed the tranquility of the lake. We also enjoyed walking through this old-world town, taking in the charming pedestrian-only streets, rustic houses and the endearing city center (pictured below: first from right).

HC1.jpgFourth Stop: Germany

The next morning we only had a few hours in Munich before our flight back home. Due to the short amount of time we had on hand, we weren’t able to get in any sight-seeing, but we didn’t waste our time lazing around either. There was absolutely no way we were leaving Germany without downing some local beer. So, we headed straight to a nearby beer garden, where we enjoyed great beers in the famous Maßkrugs, magnificent 1 liter mugs, and munched down on delicious German pretzels.

Over cold beers on a hot day, we bid adieu to this great little summer family vacation.

BGProst!
(Cheers in German)

Revisiting Tossa de Mar (Pictures)

Recently, we had more family visiting and that gave us an excuse to revisit the beautiful Tossa de Mar, that I talked about earlier.

We had such a great time the last time we went, we repeated everything, including the restaurant, our spot on the beach, etc.

Only this time, we ensured we took a lot of pictures to share here. So, here’s Tossa in all its splendor and glory for you to enjoy.