Tungabhadra river at Hampi

Weekend Getaways From Bangalore: Places to visit in 2 days

If you are looking for some places to visit near Bangalore (or Bengaluru if you insist) over the next long weekend that comes up, this post is for you! Here is a list of just 5 of the popular weekend getaways from Bangalore, as recommended by travel bloggers.

1. Munnar

One of the most preferred destinations among travellers for weekend getaways from Bangalore is Munnar. Munnar boasts an enticing landscape enveloped in carpets of tea plantations. It is till date the greenest place I’ve ever seen on this planet. Not only is it famous for its tea plantations but also has small yet scenic waterfalls amidst hills, and the highest peak in South India – the Anamudi Peak.

The best way to soak in the tranquillity of Munnar is to sit back, relax, and let the sprawling plantations work their magic. However, this resort town is much more than just plantations. Head to these places to see what more Munnar has to offer.

Mattupetty Dam: A deadly combination of mountains, forest, and water with blue sky and clouds like cotton balls is what I call the Mattupetty Dam. It is true that all dams look almost the same but this one comes along with a splendid view which makes it a photographer’s choice. You could opt for a boat ride, too.

Echo Point: Play a duet with nature – call out your names and let nature scream back to you. Works better when the crowd is less. It lies at the other end of the same Mattupetty Dam. Echo Point is a great 10 minutes stopover en route.
Top Station: Enjoy the panoramic views of Western Ghats from the highest point in Munnar. Lying on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border, it almost feels like breathing the clouds. It is around 40 km from Munnar but the scenery it offers makes it totally worth a visit.

Attukad Waterfalls: I went to these waterfalls in the off-season and found I had the Attukad waterfalls all to myself. The trek to this waterfall is much more scenic than the waterfalls itself. It was a delight to walk through that path that leads to the waterfalls. Having Maggi next to the waterfalls made it worth every mile that I walked.

Anamudi Peak: A treat to the eye! On your way, spot a massive peak awarding mesmerizing views. Stop the car and take a glimpse at the highest peak of South India. The best part is that during monsoons you can see the waterfalls gushing out which makes it simply mystical.

View of Anamudi peak, the highest peak in the region
Anamudi peak as seen from Munnar

The most unique thing about Munnar is the Neelakurinji (blue-purplish flowers) that blooms once in every 12 years, and it is going to happen in 2018. It has already started blooming and by August the hills of Munnar would be bathing in shades of blue and purple. Top Station mentioned above has the best views of the Kurinji flower.

Munnar is an overnight journey from Bangalore by road. You could either drive or take a sleeper bus which is easily available online. Shut your eyes at night and the next morning you find yourself in the middle of heaven! This ease of getting there also makes it one of the most popular places to visit near Bangalore.

Neha blogs at TrippIndian and you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook

 

2. Belur and Halebid

Do you want to see the extraordinary architecture of the south Indian empire? Take a trip from Bangalore to Halebid and Belur temples in Karnataka. Famous to locals, but not known enough by foreigners, are the hidden gems worth a visit one of your next weekend getaways from Bangalore.

Belur and Halebid are located about 200 km from Bangalore and are popular places to visit near Bangalore. Both of the towns were once the capitals of the Hoysala Dynasty empire, that’s why they are rich in architecture from that period. Currently, they are proposed to be added to the UNESCO Heritage List.

A view of the stone cut temple of Belur
The ancient Belur temple

Halebid temple, the most important place in Halebidu town, was built in the 12th century and dedicated to the God Shiva. The detailed artwork and the friezes cover every wall and ceiling with every piece carved in the smooth soapstone, telling a different story. Since Halebid is a Shiva temple, there are two Nandi shrines on both sides of the building. Nandi is a name of the Shiva’s bull. The 6th and 7th biggest ones in India are located in Halebid.

The Belur temple is located 16 km away from Halebid, so it’s easy to visit both at the same time. Belur temple has a beautiful sanctum with a silver sculpture of Vishnu God. I especially liked the delicate and detailed carvings on the roof of the main building. The Belur temple is considered to be one of the most beautiful buildings of the Hoysala empire. It has a lot of details, and if you are patient, you can even find a few from 644 elephants located at the temple base. They are all different! Belur temple was initially built in the 12th century and its completion took 123 years. As the tradition says, you should always visit a temple in India in a clockwise direction, so remember that when going around the sacred buildings in Belur.

The closest city to Halebid and Belur is Hassan. It has good transport connections with Bangalore. You can take a train from Bangalore to Hassan and then a local bus to Belur and Halebid. There is also a possibility of arranging a private tour.
Both of the towns have several traditional shops and restaurants around, so you can grab a bite in between the sightseeing. There are not so many options for accommodation, however, you can find a few guesthouses around Belur. Alternatively, you can come back to Hassan, Bangalore or Mysore for the night. Hope this will inspire you to add Belur Halebid to your bucket list of weekend getaways from Bangalore!

Aga blogs at Worldering Around and you can follow her on Facebook and Instagram

 

3. Mysore

Mysore was one of the largest princely states during the British rule on India. It’s grand royal palace, planned roads and architecture makes it popular among places to visit near Bangalore. The royal family of Mysore still follows some age-old traditions and that makes them different from others royal families. Today Mysore of one of the most popular weekend getaways from Bangalore.

Places to visit in Mysore

Mysore Palace: My favourite place in Mysore is the Royal Palace, its beautiful Indo Saracen architecture makes it one of its kind in India. There are many valuable artefacts on display in the palace and the durbar hall is so beautifully ornate that you feel amazed at the workmanship. The Palace is illuminated with thousands of light bulbs on special occasions and holidays, it looks very nice with lights.

The Chamundeshwari Temple: Dedicated to goddess Chamundi, it is located on the Chamundi hill outside the main city of Mysore. This temple is one of the 12 Shakti Peeths of the Goddess. Also, visit the massive black colour monolithic statue of Nandi bull on the Chamundi hill.

Chamundeshwari Temple

Brindavan Gardens: These gardens are 20 km from Mysore city. It is a good place for a picnic or to spend an evening at leisure. The gardens are well designed and landscaped and there is a musical fountain show with special light effects every evening. This place gets crowded for this fountain show, so keep your belongings safe.

Cathedral of St. Joseph and St. Philomena: This is one of the tallest churches in Asia. This Neo-Gothic style church was designed by a Frenchman named Daly by taking inspiration from the Cologne Cathedral in Germany. The twin spires of the church are 175 feet tall and can be seen from a distance of 1 km. The inside of the church is beautifully designed with stained glass windows showing the last supper of Christ and other events of his life after the crucifixion.

Railway Museum: This is the second best museum of its kind in India after Delhi’s Rail museum. They have a good collection of vintage motor cars, the salon of Wadiyar royal family, a gallery with photographs and paintings displaying the growth of Indian Railways. A small toy train runs on the grounds for children.
GRS Fantasy Park: This is a place to visit if you are travelling with kids or like water parks. Though it is not as modern as some of the big parks in India, it is still an interesting place to spend some time with near and dear ones.

Food
The local food of Mysore is healthy and tasty. Eat at Vinayaka Mylari, Mahesh Prasad, Om Shanti, Hotel Parklane and Oyster bay for some good food.

How to travel from Bangalore to Mysore
The distance between two cities is 150 Km and takes about 2.5 hours. The road conditions are good, so driving is the best option if you are visiting Mysore on one of your weekend getaways from Bangalore. If you don’t want to drive than take a train, there are around 2 dozen trains between two cities. Both cities are well connected by bus service. KSRTC and private bus companies operate many buses throughout the day. If you want to go by taxi than Ola outstation is a good option. To travel in Mysore or nearby areas, auto rickshaws are available easily or you can also book Ola Cabs.

Sapna blogs at My Simple Sojourn and you can follow her on Instagram and Facebook

 

4. Chikmagalur

Are you looking for places to visit near Bangalore? You should consider the hill station Chikmagalur whose peace and tranquillity will give you the break you need from the city’s traffic and noise. The clean air is the perfect escape from the pollution. The nearest railway station is Bangalore and you can drive from there in four hours, or book a taxi. Chikmagalur is not accessible by public transport, unfortunately. Mangalore is the nearest airport and it is a three and a half hour to four-hour drive from there. Chikmagalur is famous for its home stays. There are even five star home stays which you may prefer if you are a luxury traveller. Chikmagalur is mainly a hub for nature sightseeing, hiking and treks so if you are a trekking enthusiast you should consider including Chikmagalur in your bucket list of weekend getaways from Bangalore.

You may want to spare an entire morning for a trek here. Mullayanagiri which is a 3km trek should be considered. This takes you to the highest peak in Karnataka at an altitude of 1950 metres. It is a 20 km long drive from Chikmagalur. There is another peak named Baba Budanagiri which is a 36 km drive from Chikmagalur or you can go here from Mullayanagiri as there is a trail that connects it to Baba Budanagiri. But it is a hard climb as it is a 12-kilometre trek. The other popular trekking trails from Baba Budanagiri are to Gallikere(4km), Manikyadara falls(7km), Attigudi Junction(6km).

A view of Mullayangiri from above
Mullayangiri

Non-trekking activities include a visit to the coffee plantations and a coffee museum which is located within the city. Kudremukh National Park which is located 96 km away from Chikmagalur can also be visited; there is a hill there shaped like a horse head hence the name Kudremukh (In Kannada kudre means horse and mukh means head).

The scenic manmade Hirekollake lake located 10km away from the city is a perfect picture clicking spot. If you decide to skip the trekking and have some time to spare, you must pay a visit to Bhadra Dam and Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary along which the river Tungabhadra flows.

Summer is not exactly the ideal time to visit Chikmagalur since it can get really hot and you may not enjoy certain activities like trekking. The weather is pleasant during the monsoon but the rain may spoil your day. The best time to visit Chikmagalur is winter between October and February. Do explore Chikmagalur as one of the possible weekend getaways from Bangalore!

Harini blogs at Miss Talking Feet; you can follow her on Instagram and Twitter

 

5. Hampi

The ancient Vijayanagar empire was once the richest and most important kingdom in this part of the world. Its capital was Hampi, and this town still bears witness to the striking architectural developments of the time. Hampi is a must-visit place for anyone who has an interest in history or architecture. The ruins of the temples, palaces and other structures here date mostly between the 14th and 16th centuries and offer a peek into the life of an earlier time. It can easily be visited during one of your weekend getaways from Bangalore.

The Virupaksha and Vijay Vitthala temples, as well as the Royal Enclosure, must not be missed while you are in Hampi. You can cover the main highlights of Hampi in two days although three would be even better; I strongly recommend adding Hampi to the top of any list of weekend getaways from Bangalore. Do read my detailed post on things to do in Hampi. 

The stone chariot at Vitthala temple in Hampi
Chariot at Vitthal Temple Hampi

Hampi is about a six-hour drive away from Bangalore, but you can also take an overnight train or bus from Bangalore to Hospet if you prefer not to drive. Hospet to Hampi is a brief auto rickshaw or bus ride away. Early in 2018 Trujet also started a flight connection from Bangalore to Vidyanagar airport, making it even more convenient to make weekend getaways from Bangalore to Hampi. Hampi is definitely one of the most culturally rich places to visit near Bangalore.

So there you have it, five ideas for weekend getaways from Bangalore for the next long weekend that comes up. The question is, where will you go first?

 

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10 Best First Time Solo Travel Destinations

Do you dream of travelling the world but lack company and are not sure about travelling alone for the first time? Are you an aspiring solo traveller looking for information on the best first time solo travel destinations, especially for solo female travel? Then you must read this! Here are 10 female travel bloggers telling you about their own first solo trips, and why these places can be recommended as great first time solo travel destinations.

 

Suzy from Suzystories recommends: Melbourne, Australia

A Brit travelling to Australia for their first solo trip is not an original idea by any means, but I believe that the allure and popularity are for good reason. I chose to visit Melbourne as a starting point for my first solo trip that would then take me around the world because I knew it would bring me comfortably out of my comfort zone. As a friendly, not completely unfamiliar, and welcoming environment it made the ideal beginner destination for a first-time solo globetrotting adventure. Read on to discover why I consider Melbourne one of the best first time solo travel destinations.

Australia is a great place to begin a solo trip for a number of reasons; firstly, they speak English which makes communicating, getting around, and planning so much easier for a Brit (and it’s a commonly spoken language if it’s not your mother-tongue). It’s also an easy-going and tourist-friendly place, and there’s so much to see and do that regardless of your interests you’ll find the perfect place for you to visit.

The decision to visit this particular city was largely based on a lot of research, the recommendation from friends and family, and gut instinct. I’d heard great things about Melbourne and trusted it would have the same charismatic and quirky vibe to match my favourite city of Bristol in the UK, but also provide enough new experiences to begin soaking up a different country’s way of life. The street art adorning walls through the city certainly confirmed the former, and the cityscape views from the beach confirmed the latter!

Sights like the Great Ocean Road make Melbourne one of the best first time solo travel destinations

Things to do: Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better first-stop on a big trip going solo. I was able to tick off some pretty amazing experiences such as seeing koalas in the wild, witnessing the penguin parade of Phillip Island, driving the Great Ocean Road, and exploring the city’s famous arcades and laneways. One of my favourite things to do in Melbourne was to visit one of the many green open spaces that are scattered throughout the city. Kings Domain is a particularly great spot and offers a welcome bit of peace and quiet after lots of sightseeing. You can even go to the top of the Shrine of Remembrance for stunning views of the cityscape and park – it’s especially magical at sunset!

Although it’s a hugely popular destination, with so much choice of things to do each person’s experience is entirely unique. Outdoorsy folk might enjoy heading out of the city to tackle Kokoda Track Memorial Walk (otherwise known as 1,000 Steps), whereas art-lovers might be inspired by the National Gallery of Victoria and Australian Centre for the Moving Image overlooking the Yarra River. Or, if you’re like me, you might enjoy a bit of everything, and Melbourne certainly has that! And, if in those moments when you do miss home, there are lots of other like-minded travellers with a great sense of community who’ll certainly be able to offer advice and comfort.

Melbourne view from Shrine of Remembrance
Melbourne view from Shrine of Remembrance

If you’re looking to escape to the other side of the world, there’s nowhere better to start than Down Under. You can be assured that the notoriously chatty and vivacious Aussie characters are accurate stereotypes, so even travelling solo in Australia you’re never really alone. And, with Melbourne offering the perfect mix of edgy city life right alongside beaches, national parks, and dramatic coastal landscapes, you know that it’ll confirm your love for travel and fuel your desire to see more of the world.

You can follow Suzy on Twitter

 

Christine from And The Story Goes recommends: Los Angeles, U.S.A.

Los Angeles is one of the greatest first time solo travel destinations. The city has so much to offer in terms of museums, shopping, nature, and great weather throughout most of the year. There are always public events happening, so one can enjoy everything in the sunshine without ever actually feeling alone.

Moving around: Los Angeles is made up of multiple cities one wants to visit on a trip (like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Los Angeles). Driving in Los Angeles can get hectic, parking is expensive, and a two-mile drive can take upwards of 30 minutes. So, ditch the rental car and buy a TAP card which can be used on all public transportation. In recent years, the Metro light rail has been expanding into every part of the city. The newest line takes you from Downtown to Santa Monica in 45 minutes.

Stay: Most people associate hostels with Europe, but there are several hostels within Los Angeles County as well. One just needs to decide if they want to be based in Santa Monica, Hollywood, or Downtown. Many of these hostels offer tours for their guests and private rooms at a fraction of the price as hotels. With Airbnb becoming outlawed in many parts of the city, hostels are one of the most affordable places to stay, especially if you are a solo traveller.

Ferris wheel at Santa Monica Pier
Santa Monica Pier

Things to do: For those wanting to meet others while they’re in Los Angeles, they can attend one of the daily free events in the city. Throughout the summer, the Twilight Concert Series offers concerts at Santa Monica Pier. On Halloween, there is a huge Halloween Party in West Hollywood. In the spring, there are city festivals every weekend. And throughout the year are pop-up outdoor movies of classics and cult favourites.

The worst part about solo travel is the cost since it isn’t split amongst multiple people. Luckily, Los Angeles is home to many world-class museums, some of which are free. The most popular is the Getty Center which houses not only the museum and breathtaking gardens but also the J. Paul Getty Trust, the world’s richest art institute, with an endowment of $6.9 billion USD. The newest art museum in LA is The Broad, conveniently located in Downtown. The museum houses 2,000 pieces of contemporary art; and while it is beneficial to reserve a timeslot beforehand, one can wait in a standby line for entry. If you visit the Broad, head next door to the Walt Disney Concert Hall; when there’s not a performance, they offer free self-guided tours to the public.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Walt Disney Concert Hall

For those wanting to get out into nature, it’s both safe and easy to do so. The popular hiking trails (Runyon Canyon, Griffith Observatory, and Temescal Canyon) are all favourite spots for locals and busy enough for a female to feel safe on when alone.

Eat: The best part about Los Angeles as a first time solo travel destination is the food. There is something for everyone and dining in the California sunshine cannot be beaten. Eating out can be hard for solo travellers, but at Grand Central Market, a large food court in Downtown, once you get your food, you’re bound to meet new people you as it’s communal seating.

I’m sure now that you’ve read about LA you will agree that it’s one of the best places to travel solo!

You can follow Christine on Pinterest

 

Megan from Red Around The World recommends: Costa Rica

I almost didn’t go to Costa Rica.  I didn’t know why I should go.  Then I came up with three reasons: coffee, sloths, and zip lining.  In case you’re wondering I didn’t see any sloths, but I did go zip lining and I did bring home my weight in coffee, so I still consider it successful.  I also just happened to love my week spent in the country.  My whole trip was two and a half months going from Mexico down to Panama.  I can confidently say that Costa Rica is one of the simplest first time solo travel destinations especially if you are based in North America.

Moving around: It can be a little annoying getting around the country on public transportation, as you’ll be doing a lot of backtracking to San Jose to change buses, but it’s super easy figuring out where to go and people are very helpful.

Costa Rica is great for first-time solo travellers because it’s so easy to get around.  It has a lot of good tourism infrastructure, probably the best in Central America or right behind Panama, making it even easier to navigate your way across the country.  English is pretty common and while some activities are a little pricey, you can balance that out with delicious local food and budget/backpacker-friendly hostels.

Things to do: You’ll most likely be starting in San Jose, which I might spend a day exploring, but I was there for the nature, so I left right away.  It does look like it has some cool things, though.  First I went up to Monteverde to see the cloud forest and to go zip lining.  Here I would recommend doing a night jungle tour the first night, then going to the cloud forest reserve to do some hiking the next morning and zip lining that afternoon.

Costa Rica is lush green

From there I went to the southeast and spent a few days biking around Puerto Viejo from beach to beach, even in the rain.  This is a little hippie backpacker town right on the coast.

That was all I was able to see, but some other must see things in Costa Rica would be Manuel Antonio National Park to look for wildlife, Corcovado National Park for a secluded nature getaway with, you guessed it, more wildlife.  Poas Volcano and Arenal Volcano are two other great places to go hiking.  If you are looking for a city getaway, Costa Rica isn’t it.  This is the place to get out and enjoy the wild that is the jungle.  So if you are looking for a solo trip with lots of nature and adventure, pick Costa Rica as your first time solo travel destination!

You can follow Megan on Facebook

 

Holly from Globeblogging recommends: New Zealand

Even if you were blessed with a travel-loving family, sooner or later the time will come that you are ready to spread your wings and venture out into the adventures of the world on your own and you’ll be shortlisting the ideal first time solo travel destinations.

New Zealand is the perfect choice to find your solo travel feet! Particularly for Australians. Flights are cheap, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump over the ocean, they speak our language and they really aren’t all that different from us. They do pronounce Wh as a Fa sound though, so don’t think that they’re swearing at you!

But even if you aren’t Australian, New Zealand offers an appealing blend of adventure, scenery and quiet relaxation. It’s rugged, volcanic landscape offers sights quite unlike anywhere else in the world, and it is a photography enthusiast’s dream. It’s incredibly easy to find your way around so no need for reservations over hiring a car and driving yourself.

Depending on what kind of solo trip you want, both the North and the South Island have their appeal. The South Island is best known for the skiing, glaciers and adventures in Queenstown, while the North is the place for spectacular volcanic parks, caves and the picturesque Bay of Islands. If you only have the time to do one it’s a tough choice, so try going through the travel brochure with a highlighter.

The museum at Rotorua

Things to do: My pick is the North Island, and Rotorua is not to be missed. Don’t be put off by the smelly reputation. It does smell quite strongly of sulfur but you get used to it quickly. Even just a walk around town offers plenty to see, including the local park and museum, but make sure to check out the following;

One for the adventurers, Kaituna Cascades run rafting and kayaking trips down the grade 5 rated Kaituna river. They provide all equipment and experienced guides, and transfers from your hotel are also available. There isn’t much that tops plunging over a seven-metre waterfall!

Immerse yourself in the traditional Maori culture with a trip out to the Tamaki Maori Village. You’ll get to see Maori huts and carvings, a traditional Maori warrior ceremony and dancing, before you sit down to enjoy a delicious Hangi – a feast slow-cooked on coals and buried underground. The food melts in your mouth.

You don’t need to organize a tour for Waimangu Volcanic Valley, just rock on up and pay your entrance fee and walk around the trails of the park. You’ll be amazed by the colourful geothermal landscapes you’ll find within. Wai o Tapu Thermal Wonderland might not sound all that different from the Waimangu Valley, and it is certainly in the same vein. The scenery is still spectacular and quite unique. It also features an active geyser and boiling mud. Hell’s Gate is yet another thermal park, but Hell’s Gate is also an exceptional day spa and offers cultural experiences. The massages are fabulous!

Skyline view NZ

The view from the top at Skyline is exceptional and the luge is a whole lot of fun! Take a cable car up the mountain and ride the luge back down again. You can also visit Te Wairoa. New Zealand’s version of Pompeii, the village was buried by the 1886 eruption of Mt Tarawera in one of New Zealand’s greatest natural disasters. Today it is the country’s most visited archaeological site.

Scenic New Zealand totally deserves to be right up there on the list of top first time solo travel destinations. What do you think?

You can follow Holly on Facebook

 

Neha from Travelbinocular recommends: Vienna, Austria

Although I have been calling Vienna home for the past 4 years, I am writing this guest piece from the eyes of a solo traveller. A little over 6 years ago I had the opportunity to visit Vienna as a solo traveller and little did I know, my destiny would bring me here for work.  I am certainly very happy it did. Vienna is a beautiful city, not just known for its cafe’s, cakes and museums, but for one of the best qualities of life. Vienna showcases a striking display of European Imperialist opulence, statues, sculptures and castles. The very air feels rich! I would any day recommend it among the top first time solo travel destinations, especially for women.

Stay: Areas around the main tourist attractions (Mariahilfer Strasse, Innere Stadt, Rathaus, Karlsplatz) are expensive but convenient. More affordable options can be found farther away from the city centre (close to subway stations).

Things to do: To get a better view of the city go for a ride on the Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater, at the Prater Amusement Park. If you appreciate modern art, visit Mumok. At Stephansplatz, visit one of Vienna’s most impressive landmarks, St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

The Opera House

At Schoenbrunn, visit the world’s oldest zoo and spend time walking around the Tiergarten Schoenbrunn and the magical grounds of the Schoenbrunn Palace. At Donauinsel, take a nice long walk around the river. Also visit the historic Ringstrasse.  There are many trams (1,71, D etc). which you can hop on and get a glimpse of Vienna’s most monumental buildings including Rathaus, Parliament, Opera House. Rathaus is one of my favourite buildings in Vienna to catch a glimpse at night. It’s truly breathtaking.

At UNO City you can visit inside UNO by taking their guided tour at specific times.  At the Tiergarten, Vienna’s wildest park, you can see deer and wild boar roam free! Don’t forget to visit Hoher Markt, Vienna’s oldest marketplace. You can also see the famous Anker Clock by Franz von Matsch here. Also unmissable are Graben and Kaernten, central streets in Vienna, great for the trendiest boutiques and cafes in town.

The Anker Clock

The Belvedere Palace and its garden is impressive and houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Austrian art. The Hofburg, also known as Court Castle, was the Imperial Palace for the Habsburgs. The oldest parts date back to the 13th century. The Museum Quartier is one of the largest cultural centres in the world with a mix of Baroque and modern architecture. Don’t miss the Vienna State Opera – It dates back to the mid-19th century, is world-famous and one of the busiest in the world. You can also visit Kirschenhain (trees given by Japan), Hainburger Weg or Stadtpark to see the cherry blossom in Vienna. If you are interested in wine, I recommend a visit to Kahlenburg where you can take a wine walking tour with a great view of Vienna.

 Moving around: For just 20 euros, the Vienna City Card gives you unlimited travel on the subway, bus and tram for 72 hours (with an additional 200 discounts for city use). The subway (U-Bahn) is extremely developed with 5 lines and 100 stations and is arguably the best public transport option. Ticket prices depend on city zones, time and number of rides.

Tip: the mobile app Qando provides detailed information about getting around in Vienna.

There’s lots to do and worth a visit in this beautiful, safe and clean city. It is definitely one of the best places to travel alone in Europe. If you’ve got any questions or thoughts, please let me know!

You can follow Neha on Pinterest

 

Matilda from The Travel Sisters recommends: Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang is one of my favourite places I have visited and is perfect to be included among first-time solo travel destinations.  Located in northern Laos and bordered by two rivers, Luang Prabang is one of the most charming, pretty and delightful cities in Southeast Asia, with friendly locals and a relaxed and laid-back vibe.  Dotted with beautiful architecture and Buddhist temples, the entire town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.  While Luang Prabang is a great destination for travellers that want to chill out and relax at one of its many cafes, there is no shortage of fun activities for visitors.

Moving around:  Luang Prabang is small so it is safe, cheap and easy to explore on your own by foot –  I always felt safe walking around town alone even at night.

Things to do: There are plenty of affordable and nice hostels that are suitable for solo travellers and cheap and tasty street food so you don’t have to dine alone in restaurants if you don’t want to.  One of the best things to do in Luang Prabang is to take a tour or a hire a tuk-tuk to visit the nearby Kuang Si Falls, a beautiful spectacular multi-tier waterfall where you can take a dip in turquoise pools. I also recommend waking up early to eat local food at the morning market and see orange-robed monks emerge from their temples to walk around town collecting alms at dawn.

Luang Prabang Sunset

Other fun activities to do include temple hopping, taking a cooking classvolunteering to practice English with locals and joining a sunset cruise on the Mekong River.  You can also climb the stairs to the top of Mount Phoosi, a hill which is located in the centre of Luang Prabang, to view the sunrise or sunset and enjoy panoramic views of the town. In the evening, the main street has a night market, which is a great place to shop for clothes or souvenirs without much haggling or enjoy some local street food.  If you don’t like making plans, you don’t need to – you can just walk around town enjoying the riverfront and you will run into temples and other things to see without much effort. Luang Prabang is a popular destination for backpackers in Southeast Asia, so it is easy to meet other fellow travellers if you decide you want some company, but it does not feel too crowded or too touristy.

You can follow Matilda on Facebook

 

Rebecca from She Roams Solo recommends: Sydney, Australia

One of my favourite first time solo travel destinations would have to be Sydney. I’m biased, I grew up in Sydney. Yet the main reason I would recommend Sydney is because of the safety level. I never felt a high level of danger in Sydney, everyone speaks English and people are happy to help you when needed. Men will not harass you and catcalling is not the norm. On top of this, Australia is a very laid back country. We are a very friendly bunch, this means you won’t feel as awkward asking questions or trying to make friends when travelling alone for the first time.

 Meeting people: Stay in hostels; the YHA hostel in Central Sydney holds “Aussie BBQs” and other eventful nights. This makes for a great way to sit around and get to know other travellers. Meetup.com is a great resource is Sydney, you can join activities from hikes to pub crawls and you will certainly come away knowing someone new. However, if you wish to simply hang out alone, jump on a bus and head to the beach to relax, walk to Hyde Park and people watch or just simply walk around on your own.

Sydney's Harbour Bridge
Sydney’s Harbour Bridge

 Exploring: Get to know the different areas of Sydney. Australia is huge and so are her cities.  Once you have seen the main sections of Sydney CBD – The Opera House, Harbour Bridge (you should walk across it), the Botanical Gardens, etc… why not hop over to Manly on the ferry, check out Glebe markets on a Saturday and enjoy walking around the lively area, head down to Newtown for a coffee, check out some creative boutiques in Paddington or Surry Hills. I also advise walking over the Harbour Bridge and sitting under the bridge with a takeaway pizza from Pizza Rio whilst you stare out into the harbour. There’s even a bottle shop nearby if you want to try some of Australia’s fantastic wines or craft beers with your pizza. It’s a great way to see a different side of the Harbour Bridge and the beautiful harbour.

Day trips: One of my favourite day trips or even weekend getaways, depending on time is the south coast. Renting a car means you can drive The Grand Pacific drive, which is amazing! Stop in Kiama for ice creams and check out the blowhole or stop in hidden beaches around the Royal National Park. If you make it as far as Berry (A very cute Australia town), don’t miss the famous doughnut van or the creatively decorated pubs where you can try an emu burger. Another great one is the Blue Mountains, famous for beautiful hikes and nature. If you do get to the Blue Mountains, stopping at the famous pie shop Pie in the Sky is a must do.

Sydney beach

Other options for your first solo trip to Sydney include a train trip to Cabramatta for some of the best, cheapest Asian dishes and checking out museums to understand the short history of Australia even more. One of my favourites that isn’t so well known is the Susannah place museum which teaches you all about life living in “the rocks”, one of Sydney’s oldest areas and my favourite. And one of my favourite places is Coogee beach, where you can find large groups of travellers and locals alike having BBQs on the grassy area, listening to music and playing soccer… if you’re sick of spending the time by yourself, go strike up a conversation, before you know it, you have made friends for life.

You can follow Rebecca on Twitter

 

Shivani from The Wandering Core recommends: Paris, France

Paris was my first solo trip from Delhi, India. A dream trip for many, was more of paranoia for me. An introvert who never dreamt of travelling alone and that too to an international destination like Paris was daunting. Choosing Paris was a leap of faith which opened me up for my further travels. From the moment I landed in Paris to the day I came back, I remember every moment. Not only because it’s one of the world’s most travelled place, but also because of the warmth of the Parisians. Let me tell you how my story went, which will show you why I feel Paris is the best of all first-time solo travel destinations.

I landed at the CDG airport and headed towards immigration and found a spot for myself in the queue. I couldn’t help but notice that the airport staff were giving families with toddlers and elderly a priority. This gave me an impression that I will be safe here. Passing through all the formalities, I looked for the ticket counters for Paris metro. Coming to a country with no coins is a bad choice which I made. But once again, a travelling couple saw my struggle and helped me out there. Ideally, I hadn’t set foot in Paris city and I experienced these 2 amazing incidents. I found Parisians to be humble and helpful. Dragging my heavy suitcase, I saw a cop and asked him about the train for the city. Without saying a word to me, he said something in the walkie-talkie and waved me in the direction of the platform. While boarding the train, I noticed he had literally stopped the train for me as I saw the driver waiting for me. That was only the first day when I landed at the airport. Most of my days went by like this, meeting the most helpful people. Despite the language barrier, they won’t hesitate to help you out. Even the tourists are extremely considerate.

Travelling solo means no one to click your pictures and one can only rely on the kindness of strangers. The same happened to me but a touch of benevolence. I was trying to click a selfie from Trocadero with Eiffel Tower in the background. But obviously, I was craving for a picture more and being an introvert means I was too shy to ask anyone. It was then that another solo traveller came to me requesting a picture. I clicked hers and finally asked her to return the favour for me as well. She didn’t know English but still, she accepted. It was evening and my pictures turned out to be dark. With a little English she knew she asked me to turn on the flash for a better picture. I realised that’s Paris for solo travellers.

Things to do: Paris has something for every traveller. The history of WWII in Louvre Museum and Arc de Triomphe, the museums, the cafe culture and the cathedrals with intricate work. Paris will not disappoint anyone.

The Parisian culture, history and the food makes it a perfect place for travel. But it is the compassion of people, which stood out for me in Paris as the most important thing for solo travel. If given a chance I’ll grab the opportunity to travel solo here again.

You can follow Shivani on Facebook

 

Jamie from Crashed Culture recommends: Madrid, Spain

My first solo travel experience was in Madrid, Spain, and I couldn’t be happier with the choice! Especially as a woman, the idea of travelling alone can be a scary one. When I travelled in Madrid, I was surprised that I felt more comfortable walking around alone than I ever did in the US! While back home I would never walk around alone at night, Spaniards are up and out until sunrise the next day, so you needn’t worry about empty streets and the unknown. During my year in Madrid, I also did not have to deal with catcalling once!

Moving around: But, while feeling safe is incredibly important to first time solo travelers, this isn’t the only reason I’d recommend Madrid as one of the best first time solo travel destinations. Madrid is particularly well-known for how easy it is to travel both within the city and around the country as a whole. In fact, the city is famous for its metro system! If you’re under 26, you can get an abono, or a public transportation card, and travel unlimited trips throughout the city for the rock-bottom price of 10 euro a month. Can’t beat that price, especially in a decent public transportation system! The metro is (mostly) predictable, clean, safe, and runs until 2 AM, which makes for a natural curfew for those who don’t have a car and don’t want to pay for a taxi.

Outside of Madrid, public transportation may be a smidgen pricier, but it’s still incredibly affordable and convenient – you can find yourself a bus ride to most any city within the country for under 50 euros. And don’t worry, the buses are just as nice as the metro: clean, safe, and organized. It’s easy enough to hop online and purchase a ticket to almost anywhere in the country, show up at a bus station, and find an adventure!

Madrid

Things to do: While travelling in Madrid, there is lots and lots to see. There are glorious castles, extensive parks, artistic performances, gastronomic adventures…the list goes on and on. My favourite place is Parque del Buen Retiro, or Retiro Park. This is a huge, beautiful park that used to belong to royalty, but is now open to the public. Retiro Park is great for a stroll, bike ride, picnic, row (in front of the beautiful Monumento a Alfonso XII), and even to join the variety of clubs that meet there. I once took a free Flamenco class there – talk about a Madrileño experience!

Not far from Retiro is Puerta del Sol, which is another must-see. Puerta del Sol is the plaza where life meets – stores, restaurants, street performers, clubs, and everything in between. If you want to find something exciting to do, this is the place to go, for tourists and locals alike.

You can follow Jamie on Facebook

 

My own first solo trip took me to the charming Scottish city of Edinburgh, from where I also took a three-day trip to the Highlands and to the Isle of Skye. I would definitely consider Edinburgh among the top first time solo travel destinations, especially for female solo travellers.

Things to do: You can spend a couple of days exploring Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town and the 18th century New Town. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Old Town especially is very atmospheric and charming, with stone buildings and narrow lanes called Wynds and Closes leading into enclosed residential courtyards and gardens. The Royal Mile in the Old Town – the cobblestoned street connecting the Castle with Holyrood Castle – is where a lot of the tourist footfalls happen. You’ll find a ton of souvenir stores and cafes here.

The Old and New towns are separated by a beautiful green stretch called Princes Street Gardens, a perfect spot for relaxing and people-watching. It also offers you great shots of the Edinburgh Castle. The Castle itself is supremely impressive and worth a half-day’s time and the investment into an audio-guide.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh – The National Gallery in the foreground

When you are done exploring the city, you can take day trips into the surrounding areas to explore distilleries, visit the nearby St Andrew’s Golf Course, explore the seaside town of North Berwick or the castle of Stirling, the possibilities are many.

Moving around:  Edinburgh’s Old Town is best seen on foot, it is compact and easily walkable. To explore farther areas, you can get a day pass for the local buses. Trains run from Waverley station to nearby towns and are also very convenient.

Stay:  Edinburgh is great for solo travellers thanks to the large number of hostels and BnB’s available here. My hostel was just a 5-minute walk away from the Mile and a 10-minute walk from the station, and being in a 4-bed dorm meant I was able to make friends to hang out with later!

I would also recommend Edinburgh among the easiest first time solo travel destinations because of the energy and vibe around it. People are very friendly, so if you are a solo traveller and want to talk to folks and make friends, you will have no trouble at all. There is a large variety of things to do, from culture to adventure, so it will suit all tastes. If you want to party, there are plenty of bars and clubs in the Old and New towns. The city also hosts internationally known festivals like Fringe and Hogmanay.

 

 

My heartfelt thanks to all my fellow travel bloggers for helping put together this list of recommendations of top first time solo travel destinations. To those of you who have read this far and have been dreaming of solo travel, hope this post has helped push those dreams a little further into planning stage! All the best for your solo travel planning!

 

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First time #solotravel #destinations like #Sydney,#Vienna, #Edinburgh, #LosAngeles etc recommended for the first time solo #traveller by #travel bloggers!

 

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Two Traveling Texans

 

The most beautiful places in Sardinia

Sardinia is often described as a small heaven in the heart of the Mediterranean. Its coasts and its candid beaches are the emblems of it, but there are numerous places and endless facets that are worth a visit. In this guest post, Italian blogger Simone would like to introduce you to the most beautiful places in Sardinia. All these places are ideal to visit both for couples or families, although some excursions could be fatiguing for young children.

Best places to visit in Sardinia

Here is a list of my preferred places in Sardinia –

Arbatax

Arbatax is something different, an alien place, dry, exotic and open as its sea. It seems that its name come from the Arab and means “14”, to point out the fourteen towers that dominate the promontories and that remind us the history of Sardinia, used by the main cultures of the Mediterranean, among them the Saracens.

After having crossed the inside land from Cagliari to the province of the Ogliastra, among dry and almost desert hills, the sea is what you’ll see once you arrive, a blue that loses itself to the horizon and that lays upon a coast of stones, great as the megaliths of the ancient civilizations, among palms and eucalyptuses.

Arbatax Park covers 60 hectares of Capo Bellavista, among small roads that climb and go down along the hill, a perfect walk between the white and the violet of the oleanders. The tall eucalyptuses pick up the wind and their leaves produce a rustle that you’ll hear all over the night when the sea breeze is stronger.

All it takes to reach the sea is a few footsteps; go down toward the beaches and the small inlets, where you can stay also in the warmest hours in the shade of a palm, watching the waves that slowly come from the open sea toward the rocks.

Best beaches in Sardinia

Gallura, north Sardinia

If I say Sardinia, what thought comes to your mind? To me, a fabulous sea that resembles a lot the ocean of the Caribbean islands, with the only and only difference that it is a little cold, but these are just details!

On a sunny day, I have departed for an excursion on a boat from the tourist village Marinedda, on the northwest coast of Sardinia, with destination the Red Tower harbour. Here I took a motorboat to discover the most beautiful beaches of the Gallura (some of which are visitable only by sea) to see the colours of the water that changes due to the clouds, to the backdrop, to the season.

The first beach that I have visited during the tour has been Cala Tinnari, a lonely and untouched place, and thereafter I continued to the best Sardinia beaches, Cala Serraina, Vignola, and Monti Russu. The word that unites those beaches is “wild”, in a positive sense. They are still unspoiled beaches where man has not destroyed anything.

I then continued up to the archipelago of the Maddalena! Among the most important islands of this archipelago, there are Maddalena, Budelli, Caprera and Saint Maria, that I warmly recommend you to visit. Each one has in store for you some unforgettable characteristics!

Here I have described an enchanting day articulated by the rhythm of the sea in a place surrounded by nature.

 

Things to do in Sardinia

I have spent one weekend in Sardinia and discovered that this big island is not only sea, even its hinterland has places rich in beauty that also deserve a visit. This is where the villages are surrounded by a veil perfumed of the past, where the pebbles of the roads have been stamped on by people who have made of their earth a source of life.

I have visited Aggius in the heart of the Gallura. It has a small inhabited centre, in which the houses are built with the granite rock. An important resource of the territory, it is specialized in the production and framework of carpets.

In the Museum Etnografico, the MEOC, there is the whole history of their traditions since 1600. Just with entering the building you seem to be catapulted in a new dimension, thanks to the perfume of the helichrysum in the air and the folklorist music of the place. You can see a “traditional house”, a representation with all the objects and the furniture, with the activities that had taken place during the day, like the preparation of wine, bread, and cheese.

Other things to see are the Nuraghe, a megalithic construction of conical form that goes back to the Bronze era (1700 B.C. around). Their main function was that of defense, but not only that, considering that during the excavations archaeologists have found utensils of daily use.

I have visited the Nuraghe Majori. Inside the building live a colony of bats that reach the nuraghe every April, where they give birth and then in October they go away again. The guide illuminated them for a quick instant, without frightening them: those little creatures made me feel really tender!

South Sardinia

To find white and untouched beaches you don’t need to go to the Caribbean! You just have to reach South Sardinia. This part of the island has, in fact, some of the most beautiful places in Sardinia.


Perhaps it is lesser known, but the southern part of Sardinia is as beautiful, even if slightly different in comparison to the zones in the north of the island, with breathtaking beaches of white sand. In the hinterland, the landscape is constituted of mountains covered by woods and cultivation.

Cagliari is the chief town of Sardinia and is an important destination of the Mediterranean routes. This city can boast the passage of the Phoenician around the IX century B.C. and of the Romans toward the end of the II century. You can visit innumerable historical monuments such as the Patrician’s Villas and the amphitheater that in the summer hosts different cultural demonstrations.

To the east of Cagliari (about 50 km through the beautiful coastal road) is  Villasimius, an old village of shepherds and fishermen, that has known significant tourist development during the 60’s. It offers a breathtaking panorama of white sand beaches and the crystalline sea. The city offers the tourists some of the most beautiful beaches in Sardinia as Porto Giunco, Punta Is Molentis, and Cala Caterina.


To the south of the Sardinian chief town, you will find Pula, a great agricultural and tourist village for all types of budgets, unlike the Coast Smeralda. Pula, other than a magnificent shore, offers also a series of attractions of cultural and archaeological interest. For example, Villa Santa Maria with its neoclassic style and the Archaeological Museum of Giovanni Patroni where are hosted some archaeological finds of the archaeological village of Nora.

Iglesias is deeply tied to the mining activity of Sardinia. The Carthaginian were the first ones to exploit these resources and subsequently, in the Middle Ages, Pisa. The city has preserved a medieval urban development, where you can visit the Cathedral of Santa Chiara, the church of San Francesco and for the interested ones, the Museum of Mineralogy and Paleontology where there are at least 8000 pieces of fossils and archaeological findings.

These are only some examples of thing you can see during your vacation in Sardinia: some sun, some sea and so many things to visit, here are the ingredients for your 2018 summer! Hope you enjoyed learning about some of the most beautiful places in Sardinia!

 

My name is Simone, I have a wife and two kids. I travel a lot, I like it and I like Italy. And I want to share it with you. Follow my website Lovinitaly and my Pinterest       

 

 

Sunshine blogger award

The Sunshine Blogger Award

A month ago I received a Twitter notification that Megha, whose blog Delightfull Discoveries I follow, had nominated this blog of mine for the Sunshine Blogger Award. This came as a very pleasant surprise, and a real shot in the arm at a time when I have been struggling with things in general. So thank you Megha, this means a lot. If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, do take a look. She blogs mostly about food and books.

These awards don’t just act as motivators to bloggers, but also help one discover new blogs to read. I know I have found a bunch of new blogs just by reading award nomination posts of blogger friends!

RULES

1. Thank blogger(s) who nominated you for the blog post and link back to their blog.
2. Answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you.
3. Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
4. List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

 

Here are the questions Megha asked, along with my answers to them:

1. Since when are you blogging?
I have blogged off and on with a gap of years between phases. This blog was started in 2017.

2. What inspired you to start blogging?
My love for travel, and the desire to talk and write about it.

3. You have a beautiful blog name. Why did you choose this name?
It’s based on my Instagram handle, which I named because that’s what I am – a nomad dreamer!

4. What is the ONE thing you don’t like about blogging?
Being an introvert, I find the “plugging” pretty much impossible to do.

5. What is your favourite book?
Pride and Prejudice

6. If you could travel to a country anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Italy!

7. Which movie you can watch again and again and why?
Casablanca, because it appeals to the tragic romantic in me :-/

8. After a tiring day, would you prefer to cook a meal or order one?
Always order lol

9. What’s your favourite breakfast?
Something hot made by my mom!

10. What’s your goal for 2018?
Get back to a decent level of health and fitness. And finally make my first trip to Italy.

11. Which TV series are you watching currently?
It’s been a while since I watched any TV series…

 

My Nominations

  1. Sonam @ Soulspeak
  2. April @ Just Leaving Footprints
  3. Shilpa @ Metanoia
  4. Ramya @ Meotherwise
  5. April @ Travellingwanderer
  6. Verushka @ Spicegoddess
  7. KJ @ KJ Around The World
  8. Katie @ WeirdTravelFriend
  9. Chad & Stef @ Touring Tastebuds
  10. Madhu @ The Urge to Wander
  11. Lynn & Justin @ Mad Hatters NYC

 

My questions for my nominees:

1. What inspired you to start blogging?

2. Is blogging your full-time career or side hustle?

3. What’s the part of a blogger’s life that you love the most?

4. If you could rewrite the ending of one famous Hollywood movie, which one would you pick and why?

5. Describe yourself in six words.

6. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

7. What’s your secret superpower?

8. What’s your travelling style?

9. If a book were to be written about your life, what would it be named?

10. Beaches or mountains?

11. If you weren’t blogging, what would you be doing?

 

Thank you so much Megha for this. I will now look forward to reading the others’ posts 🙂

 

Pangong lake in the afternoon

Pangong Lake – The Most Popular Lake in Ladakh

My post today is more of a picture-post about Pangong Lake, the most popular lake in Ladakh. It is definitely one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The original name of the lake is Pangong Tso, with “Tso” being the Tibetan word for a grassland lake. One-third of the lake lies in India, and the rest in China.

A very large section of the Indian population had not heard of Pangong lake till 2009. That’s the year when the popular Aamir Khan movie “3 Idiots” was released. This lake was where the final scene of the film was shot. Since then, the popularity of the lake has grown across the country and a visit to “the 3 Idiots lake” is a must-do for practically any Indian visiting Ladakh.

Pavilions alongside Pangong lake
Pavilions alongside Pangong lake

I’ve been lucky to see the lake both in summer as well as winter. In summer, the colour of the water in Pangong keeps changing according to the level of sunlight and clouds. In winter, the water freezes over and I had a great time walking (and slipping) on the frozen Pangong lake.

Some more images from the late summer visit

Clear waters at Pangong lake
The water is crystal clear, salty and brr cold!

 

Pangong lake around sunset
The lake at twilight

 

Pangong lake at sunrise
Watching the sun about to rise over the mountains

Increasing tourism in the region has brought its own challenges of infrastructure and ecological balance. I hope the local administration will continue to keep a control over the area, and not let it get over-touristed like so many other places in the country.

Getting to Pangong:  Pangong Tso lies about a 6-hour drive away from Leh, the capital of Ladakh and the only airport in the region. Leh is connected by flight to Delhi, Srinagar and Mumbai.
Cabs or bikes can be hired from Leh for a day-trip or overnight excursion to the lake.

Stay at Pangong: During summer (Mid May until about the end of September) you will find seasonal camps set up near the lake. These will be basic tents with toilets but no other mod-cons. If you are in reasonably good health, and happy to rough it out for unforgettable sunrise and sunset views, then you might want to stay overnight. Be prepared though – the area gets terribly windy at night. Also, the lake is at a much higher altitude (14,200 feet) than Leh (11,500 feet), so you will need to acclimatize in Leh first.

If you are travelling with children or older persons, I would recommend a day trip and return to Leh, to stay at the lower altitude.

Camp at Pangong lake
Typical camp at Pangong

Whether you visit for a day-trip or brave an overnight stay, Pangong lake is an unforgettable, unmissable part of a visit to Ladakh. Do remember though that you are in an ecologically sensitive area, and act like a responsible traveller.

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Pangong Lake is the most famous and popular lake in Ladakh

 

Two Traveling Texans

 

Travel solo

Why I travel solo

I travel solo quite often for various reasons. While an Indian woman travelling by herself for leisure still often elicits some surprise/shock/concern from others, I’ve never let that bother me. In fact I believe that solo travel has made me better in many ways. I travel solo at least once a year, more if possible.

This is what I believe happens, when you start to travel solo

  • After the initial discomfort of being all by yourself, you move on to being able to enjoy your own company and the pleasures of being the sole decision-maker for your holiday plans. Want to capture a sunrise? Go for it! Prefer to spend the morning lazing at a café instead of visiting a museum? Sure, whatever you like!
  • You become a lot more confident. Travel can bring along with it missed connections, lost belongings, budget issues, security concerns and lot of other things. Dealing with it all and still having a good trip teaches you that you are stronger and smarter than you think you are. You learn to trust your gut.
  • You start getting to know yourself better. With nobody else’s preferences to worry about, you can plan your trips just the way you want to. In the process you learn more and more about your own likes and dislikes and what makes you happy. You also figure out things like how good a communicator you are, what your travel style is, what are the things you have trouble dealing with, and so on.
  • Gradually your perspective on life begins to change. When you go out into the world, meeting and talking to people, learning about different places and cultures, you realise what is superficial and what really matters in life.
  • You learn that there are a lot of good people out there, and travelling alone does not necessarily mean not having folks to chat with. All you need is a willingness to smile and communicate.
  • You realise that your fears about travelling alone were mostly unfounded, and that you’ve ended up actually having a great time.

Maybe now you can see why I travel solo so often! If you have not tried solo travel yet, go ahead and give it a shot. Be sure to let me know about it!

Featured image by Yaoqi Lai on Unsplash

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This picture of a peaceful beach illustrates one of the reasons why I travel solo

 

 

Rediscovering spirituality in Orchha

“Photo? Take my photo?” he says, walking after us as we stroll towards the bridge on the Betwa. I oblige, and the sadhu baba gives me a beatific smile. I wonder if money is now expected, realise I’m not carrying any cash to give him and say something to that effect. He smiles and says, “Beta I will never ask you for that.” I feel ashamed to have suggested it.

This small town has more than its share of saffron-clad men and women, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise because this is after all basically a temple town. Jhansi, the closest big city, is a mere 25 minute drive away – but the difference is dramatic. Orchha is small and still retains the innocence of a place untouched by the hectic nature of modern life. Oh sure you have the Tata Sky dishes and motorbikes and even – so I hear – a local radio station. The market has signboards advertising Italian cuisine, B&B’s and shops selling kitschy souvenirs. But the pace of life here is slower, gentler. The locals in the market all seem to know each other. Life revolves around the temples and the daily aartis. Nobody hurries, nobody has deadlines. Nearly everybody has a smile on the face.

A group of young boys watches as Christine and I walk across the bridge, get some shots of the Chattris , and walk back – just about managing to escape being pushed into the river by a truck that has rumbled too close past us. When we reach them, one of the boys shyly asks if we’d like to share a soft drink. We smilingly refuse and continue on our way.

Orchha is a medieval town, established in the early 16th century by a Bundela king . The palaces and temples of Orchha are reason enough to visit, especially if you are a history buff like me. The fort here has a number of palaces built during various periods of its history; Jahangir Mahal for example was built as a welcome gift for the Mughal emperor Jahangir when he visited. There is also a Sound and Light show held here every evening which acts as a good introduction to the history of the town, though a touch melodramatic.

There are many famous temples in Orchha but to me perhaps the best sight here were the cenotaphs (Chattris) standing in a row like brooding sentinels; these riverside memorials to former rulers are now in ruins and still starkly beautiful. I stand and watch the sun disappear behind them.

Cenotaphs (Chhattris) at Orchha
Cenotaphs (Chhattris) at Orchha

At night, the stars come out. Standing by the river I look up and try to identify constellations. I think I see Orion. I know for sure that it’s been a long time since I saw so many stars in the night sky. The night is quiet, peaceful and I could well be all alone – except for the half-full hotel just behind me.

We decide to attend morning Aarti before leaving Orchha. The Ram Raja temple is the only temple of its kind – Ram is worshipped here not as a deity but as a king. In deference to his royal status, a pair of cannons is posted at the entrance of the temple. Sentries are on guard duty outside and inside. We go in, a few minutes before the morning Aarti is to begin. The temple courtyard is full mostly of locals, who from the looks of it seem to be regulars here. There are of course also a few gawking tourists like us. I have a vague sense of unease, feeling like an intruder – I never visit temples if I can help it – but I soon start feeling better.  Finally the sanctum doors are opened and the Aarti begins; the devotional song being sung is one that I’ve never heard before, but the entire congregation seems to know it well. They sing loudly, un-selfconsciously, with all their hearts. A mother picks up her toddler son to allow the priest to touch his forehead in blessing. An old man is getting a wedding card blessed by Ram Raja. The hymn goes on, soothing yet cheering. I look around. I feel tears running down my face that I can’t stop. And finally, after years of declaring I don’t believe in prayers, I find myself saying one….

(Written in 2011 and published on an earlier blog. Migrated here now)
Edinburgh

Top ten things to do in Edinburgh

There is so much beauty and history in Edinburgh that you can spend days getting to know your favourite parts of it. Here’s my list of the Top 10 interesting things to do in Edinburgh if you are visiting Scotland for the first time:

1. Free Walking Tour: The tour starts from the Starbucks on the Mile and lasts about 3 hours. The guides pepper the facts with humour, making it overall a fun tour. They work for tips only. The tour will give you the general layout of the town, and also acquaint you with the legends and celebrities connected with the city. You would probably see the St Giles Church, the Elephant Café (where JK Rowling used to write before becoming JKR), the Heriot School (inspiration behind Hogwarts), the Writers Museum, Princess Street Gardens etc.

2. Ghost Tour: This one is usually a paid tour and full of drama and gory stories, as expected. You will also be taken to the cemetery and on to Calton Hill, from where you can get a lovely view of the city below as well as a Parthenon-style incomplete Monument.

3. Visit Edinburgh Castle: Located on top of Castle Hill, the 12th century castle is the result of years of building, rebuilding and renovation. I am glad I paid extra for the audio guide, it’s of a high quality and allowed me to explore at my own pace. You can easily spend an entire morning wandering around here. This is probably one of the most popular things to do in Edinburgh.

4. Climb Arthur’s Seat: If you have a reasonable level of fitness, climbing up to Arthur’s Seat can be a fun activity. It is an extinct volcano and Edinburgh’s highest hill, offering fantastic views. Early morning or evening would probably be the best time to go.

5. Walk the Royal Mile: The lower part of the Mile especially Canongate is a nicer area than the upper half, less crowded and touristy. You just have to veer off into any of the narrow lanes leading off the main road and you find yourself in beautiful little residential areas with gardens and flower-boxes in the windows and that kind of thing.

royal mile
The Royal Mile

6. Party at the Grassmarket: If you ask at your hostel or hotel about popular things to do in Edinburgh, this would probably be high up on the list. Grassmarket in the Old Town is a vibrant and lively area full of pubs and restaurants. You can choose to pub crawl, or have a casual dinner with friends, or sit in the central square and people-watch.

7. Try the local food: Popular Scottish dishes include Haggis (minced liver, heart and lungs of a sheep mixed with oatmeal, onion and spices) usually eaten along with neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). I was lucky enough to find a vegetarian version of the dish at The Last Drop pub. You can also try Black pudding, Leek and Tattie soup, Scotch pies, shortbread, sticky toffee pudding and the fabled deep fried Mars bars!

veggie haggis
Vegetarian haggis (!!) with neeps and tatties

8. Take a tour to the Highlands: I took a three-day backpacker’s coach tour to the Highlands and Skye from Edinburgh, and it was just amazing. If you prefer you can hire a car and drive yourself. The highlands are beyond scenic, and you will find some great photo ops everywhere you go. More detailed post on this part, to follow someday soon!

9. Visit a distillery: Lovers of Scotch whisky cannot miss this. A number of companies run tours from Edinburgh to various local distilleries, covering the history and process of whisky production with tastings thrown in.

10. Cultural immersion in New Town: New Town on the other side of the bridge can be termed the cultural hub of the city. It has some highly rated museums such as the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, etc. New Town also has The Edinburgh Playhouse, the largest working theatre in the UK, which routinely stages musical productions.

I hope this list will someday help someone out there who is planning a trip to beautiful Edinburgh. To me, it was a walk down memory lane just putting this together. More posts to follow soon, on my tour to the Highlands and the Isle of Skye!

Two Traveling Texans

Picture Post: Andaman

Just a few of my favourite shots clicked over the last two or three years during multiple trips to the Andaman islands. More coming soon.

Andaman beach Havelock
Vijaynagar beach, Havelock
North_Bay_island_Andaman
Looking out at the North Bay lighthouse from a ferry near Port Blair
Laxmanpur_Neil_island_Andaman
Natural Rock Formation, Neil Island
Bharatpur_beach_Neil_island_Andaman
Bharatpur beach, Neil island

So, what’s to see in Phuket?

I’ve been meaning to write this post since my visit to Phuket over a year ago. When I visited I was with a group of friends and had no idea what to do or where to go – so I just went along with all the others! I now know a little bit more, and can share that little bit with those in a similar situation 🙂

Contrary to what the first-time visitor might imagine, there is a lot more to Phuket than the famous Patong beach and Phuket/Patong nightlife. Granted that the nightlife is a major draw for most visitors, but here are some other suggestions on things a visitor can also enjoy in Phuket:

  1. Boat trips – Tons of options are available for day trips on speedboats or larger cruise boats to neighbouring islands and beaches. If you are not planning to stay at Phi Phi, a boat trip to see Maya bay might interest you. If you only have time for one excursion, I would recommend the excursion to Pha Nga bay instead. The boat will take you to this impossibly scenic bay and the famous James Bond island, and later give you an opportunity for canoeing and swimming off a secluded beach. A good lunch is usually included.
Phuket
On a boat trip to James Bond island

2. Spas – Thailand is known for spas, and there are some really great ones in Phuket offering massages, scrubs, foot rubs etc. at really decent prices. After a hectic day out, a good foot and back massage can be just what you need, before a night of partying!

3. Beaches – Naturally, you cannot be in Phuket and not spend time at the beach. The most commonly known beach is Patong of course, but for the same reasons it can also be crowded. If you prefer a quieter, calmer beach experience then head to Kata or Karon beaches. I loved the sunset at Karon. Kamala and Nai Yang beaches are also recommended.

4. Street food – Try some of the local food being sold by roadside vendors. You will find delicious fruits, pancakes with a variety of fillings, soups, noodles, seafood and a host of other interesting dishes being sold very cheap. Be as adventurous as you like!

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5. Heritage tours – If you are the kind (like me) who likes to learn something about the history and culture of the place you are visiting, this one is for you. The Old Town of Phuket still has beautiful examples of Sino-Colonial architecture – buildings dating mostly from before the second World War. These include old merchant mansions, shops, gardens, hotels etc, and are best seen on a walking or bicycle tour of the Old Town.

6. Adventure – For those seeking an active holiday, there is no dearth of interesting options in Phuket. You could go white water rafting, scuba diving, take a bicycle or ATV ride into the countryside, try ziplining or even river canoeing.

Getting There: Phuket can be reached from Bangkok via flight (most convenient) or by bus (cheapest, but a 12-ish hour ride).

 

Top 7 Monsoon Getaways in India

Travel during the rainy season in India has its pros and cons. On a trip during this season one needs to be prepared for a more leisurely vacation, since sightseeing would become weather dependent. However there is a lot to be said in favour of quiet getaways where one can just kick back and relax, without the pressure of ticking off “must do’s”. Enjoy the weather and simple pleasures like walks in the rain, endless cups of tea and conversations with your loved ones. Here are some ideal places that can be picked for a quick monsoon getaway:

1. Kumarakom – The backwaters of Kerala are pretty all the year round, but the rain lends an added touch of solitude and romance. Take advantage of off-season rates at hotels, and book yourself into a lakeside resort for a couple of days of relaxation involving Ayurveda treatments, amazing local cuisine and gorgeous sunsets.

Closest airport: Cochin; closest railway station: Kottayam

2. Udaipur – The “City of Lakes” becomes greener and prettier during the rains, with the lakes looking their best ever. Enjoy breathtaking views from vantage points like the Monsoon Palace and City Palace, and take a relaxing boat ride on Lake Pichola.

Closest airport: Udaipur; closest railway station: Udaipur

3. Goa – Goa in the rains offers a distinctly different experience. Take long walks along rain-swept beaches, enjoy a drink at one of the many watering holes, and party the night away at a club. While many of the temporary shacks along the beaches close down during the monsoon, this also means fewer people around!

Closest airport: Goa; closest railway station: Madgaon

4. Kodaikanal – Kodaikanal in the rains looks really green and washed clean. The misty hills and gushing waterfalls offer a very scenic view during this season, if you are up to getting soaked now and then. Perfect weather for invigorating walks and steaming cups of tea!

Closest airport: Madurai; closest railway station: Kodai Road

5. Mahabaleshwar – If you want a quick break from chaotic urban life and are not too keen on running around sightseeing, a monsoon break in Mahabaleshwar might be just the right thing for you. The rain in these hills can be torrential, keeping the tourist hordes away, but offering beautiful landscapes and a peaceful stay.

Closest airport: Pune; closest railway station: Satara

6. Orchha – This sleepy little town on the banks of the Betwa river is full of old palaces and temples that you can explore at leisure. The monsoon brings cool temperatures and fewer crowds, always a plus. Do attend morning Aarti at the Ram Raja temple.

Closest airport: Gwalior; closest railway station: Jhansi

7. Ladakh – This is for those who wish to escape the monsoon downpour, since Ladakh typically sees dry weather during these months. You will enjoy the warm sunny days and cool evenings, and have the added advantage of being cut off from mobile networks once you get out of Leh town! Keep aside at least 5-6 days for the trip, since you would need some time to acclimatise to the altitude.

Closest airport: Leh

The monsoon is here. Time to get packing!

Of memorable sunrises…

There is something magical about sunrises. Wherever on earth you may be, watching the light change slowly around you as the sun comes up and the world slowly comes to life, can be a soul satisfying experience. The effect gets magnified if you are watching this in the vicinity of one of the “alternative” wonders of the world.

Anyone who has been to Siem Reap will tell you, you can’t miss watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat. Get a tuktuk man to drive you over at the unearthly hour of 4.30 am; any later than that, and you won’t be able to find a good “seat” for the show. Find a nice comfortable spot in the grass near the lily pond, where you will get the best view.

Since a picture can speak a thousand words, here is what it looks like

Some of the stages of an #Angkor Wat #sunrise

A post shared by Neha (@nomadic_dreamz) on

Definitely, one for the bucket list!