Romantic Italy

Hello, my friends!

If you have read my blog post on Venice, you would already know that we had travelled to Italy in end March. We were there for 11 days and covered just the 3 big cities – Rome, Venice and Florence.

I have penned down my experiences in Rome and Florence here: 


Enchanting Venice

I had mentioned in my last post that we had gone to Italy in end March / early April. The blog post on the trip got delayed because I had run out of hard disk space to download all the photos! I finally managed to create space and here’s the first post on Italy – that fabulous country.

It was an 11 day vacation – 3 days each in Venice, Florence and 4 days in Rome. I planned to put all of it in one post with 3-4 photos of each place but we fell in love with Venice and I wanted to put many more photos!

Read my post on Venice here:


Charms of Budapest

After the long and eventful train journey from Ljubljana involving some scares (read here) we (me and husband) reached Budapest. I fell in love with the city in the brief taxi ride from the Deli train station to our hotel, crossing such beautiful structures as the Chain Bridge and other beautiful baroque buildings – talk of love at first sight!

This is a little photo blog of the city.


Pictured above is the St. Stephen’s Basilica – a beautiful building named after Stephen, the first King of Hungary. The interiors are beautifully done and the stained glass artwork looks lovely. The cathedral also holds the (possibly mummified) right hand of St. Stephen which resides inside a glass case.


Next up was the Hungarian State Opera House.


The grand interior was so big that my 18mm lens on a 1.6x crop sensor could only get one side of the galleries.



After the tour of the building, we got to watch a mini performance by an opera star. I didn’t understand anything but what a variation of vocal pitch by the lady. She did hold up a wine glass as she was raising the pitch but it didn’t crack!

After the Opera, we visited the House of Terror! It’s not a place handing out cheap thrills but a much more sombre affair which reminds visitors of Hungary’s dark past under fascist and communist rule. This was the very house from which the secret police under the oppressive regimes would operate – victims were arrested and brought here for interrogation and torture and in a lot of cases execution even. It’s a reminder to humanity of its own dark doings.


We then went on to Heroes’ Square which was a magnificent statue complex.


Heroes’ Square


Close-up of one of the statues on top of the arches flanking the central tower


Statues of Magyar Chieftains in one of the flanking arches

Heroes Square had a metro station which we wanted to check out but for some reason didn’t. Budapest has the oldest underground metro rail system in continental Europe.

We then visited the Dohany Street Synagogue – a beautiful building with such lovely patterns.


Dohany Street Synagogue – largest in Europe and second largest in the world

After that we crossed the iconic Chain Bridge on foot.


Crossing the Chain Bridge on foot – that’s not us!


We got this view while from the Chain Bridge – the Hungarian Parliament standing prominently in the Pest side.



Close-up of the Hungarian Parliament Building

Next stop was the Fisherman’s Bastion – on the Buda side of the city. The previous sights were all in the Pest side which lies to the East of the Danube.


We then spent the late afternoon and evening on the Buda side exploring some of the cafes and restaurants on the riverfront and taking some more photos.


I was amused to see someone getting back from office (?) on such a cool ride


I was trying to take a random photo when this tram came into the frame and I pressed the shutter!


The Chain Bridge over the Danube


Walking back after a long day…

Have a great weekend!


Blast from the Past

A few years back, before kids had happened, we were on a journey through Central Europe. We being me and my husband. The two of us had boarded the train from Ljubljana in Slovenia to go to Budapest in Hungary. It was going to be a long and boring 8 hour journey – little did I expect any of what followed.

First up the train we boarded was not air-conditioned like we had come to expect of all European intercity trains. It was a dry hot September day with the sun beating down all around as the train slowly made its way eastwards. The interiors reminded us of the Indian train carriages with grilled windows and bunk beds. But unlike Indian train carriages this one was completely empty! It was surreal.

I was having misgivings in spite of my husband’s sincere attempts to reassure me that there was nothing to be scared about – we were not in an Eastern European horror film after all. The appearance of a ticket checker (TC as we call them fondly on Indian trains) calmed my frayed nerves slightly.

Two hours had passed and I was getting worried that we didn’t have much water and food and was hoping that the journey gets over soon. As if someone heard it and decided to play a prank, the train suddenly stopped – but it wasn’t a station. On coming to the door, we found the ticket checker walking up and down the tracks asking people to get off. It was all very strange. He wasn’t speaking in English so we couldn’t figure out the reason but I was relieved at least to see some more passengers!

We had to get off with our luggage in the middle of the tracks. We jumped down and hauled the large heavy suitcase across to a mini-bus waiting for us (I hadn’t known the joy of packing light those days). That bus took all the passengers to the next station where we boarded a waiting train. This one was more like the other inter-city trains we had seen and best of all – there were a few more people in the compartment.


From thereon the train rolled smoothly on towards Budapest and we were less than an hour away from our destination. And then it stopped again. We saw that we were literally yards away from a station called Haros. There was one more train stopped on another track.

We went to the door with the others and the ticket checker said something in a different language. But we could sense the urgency in his voice. We could see people from the other train getting off with their luggage and heading for the road nearby. Luckily a co-passenger explained to us in English that the train was stopped because a bomb had been found on the tracks ahead and the bomb squad had been called!

I was horrified! Was this really happening?? A terrorist attack?!? What were the odds?? Oh My God!!

We asked the kind lady some more questions – if the railway rep had mentioned what kind of bomb it was and was it linked to a terrorist attack. She said that the man had not said anything.

I was getting really nervous now and the tension in that space was palpable. Some people started getting off with their luggage – like the passengers of the other train.

I didn’t know what to think. 


We decided to stay in the train for the time being – could have been difficult to find the right bus to Budapest particularly when you didn’t speak the language.

After a few minutes the lady got up to leave – I was hoping that she doesn’t because we wouldn’t be able to communicate with anyone without her. Just then the ticket checker came around again and there were some more rushed words spoken.

After he was gone, the lady turned around and told us that it was a WWII shell and the bomb squad had already arrived.

A blast from the past but thankfully in the form of a damp squib!

We finally reached Budapest, about 3 hours late, after quite an eventful journey and my silent thanks to God for helping us through the presence of the kind English-speaking lady.

I will put up a some photos of our short stay in charming Budapest in the next post.

Till then,


Fun Family trip to Western Australia



It was the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere in 2015. I was 6 months preggie and was already sweating profusely everytime I stepped out in the sun. We were thinking of a vacation and requirements were: short flight (considering how uncomfortable a mom-to-be can get in those cramped-up flights), cool weather and a place where we can let loose our 1.5 year old monkey do some jumping around and play to his heart’s content!

Perth ticked all our boxes: it’s 4.5 hours away from Singapore, excellent weather in May-June – bright sunshine with cool winds, lots of parks and farms for the kids. So we quickly booked our flights (found some cheap deals on Singapore Airlines) and applied for visas (and lost all that savings on the super-expensive visas).


We weren’t expecting much from Perth – it didn’t enjoy the same glowing reviews as Sydney and Melbourne from our friends. Our itinerary was 3 nights in Perth, 2 nights in Busselton (didn’t find accommodation in Margaret River) and 3 nights in Freemantle.  

In the end it was one of the best vacations we have had – loads of fun with our kid who loved running about in the open spaces, petting kangaroos, watching slumbering koalas and colourful birds. Read on for details.


Getting Around

We had rented a car from Avis right from the airport itself. Driving in Australia is a breeze – everyone follows the rules and nobody honks even if you are driving a bit slow which my husband is sometimes prone to do.

The car made moving around, especially between cities and towns, very easy and we could take pit stops every now and then for photo breaks or just to stretch my legs. After an initial struggle and resistance from the kiddo to sit in a car seat, he got used to it and started enjoying having his own special ‘throne’ (as we would call it). I had kept some drawing books, color pencils and videos on the phone handy which kept him busy for the short day trips we made.

Perth Highlights

King’s Park

It is an enormous and beautiful green space on a hill and impossible to cover in a day. The weather was outstanding the day we went! I finished the book I was reading basking in the sun, with a h-u-g-e milkshake (duh! I was 6 month pregnant) and watching my hubby playing football with my son. I had the best burger in my life that (OMG! Wish I could go back right now). That was the time I decided, this has to be one of the best vacations I have taken!


City Centre

We spent some time around the shopping malls in and around Murray Street and Hay Street with me picking up some cheap maternity stuff from Target. There was a beautiful square at the end of the blocks of malls which seemed to be a venue for street music and arts.


Caversham Wildlife Park

This animal farm is part of the much larger Whiteman park which also has a motor museum, vintage railway rides and many other attractions. It’s a 35-40 minute drive from Perth city centre. We reached around lunch time and had a hearty meal of burgers and fries before doing anything else (I don’t think I stopped eating in that trip!). We should really have reached there at 8:30am when the park opens but getting a 1.5 year old showered and fed and then getting myself ready and fed takes long in the mornings.

We could only do the wildlife park which was a lot of fun – this must have been the best highlight of our trip.


Kid’s Food

My son, the pickiest eater in the world, lives on biscuits and milk when on vacations. I try to fret not and let it ruin my holidays, but still, being a mom, it bothers me if he isn’t eating well at all. There though he was more than happy to have those filling milkshakes for snacking and somehow loved the Aussie bananas (he hates bananas in Singapore) and fruits that we picked up from the super-markets. We had booked serviced apartments or self-contained cabins for the trip so I would make French Toast or porridge in the mornings and in the evenings to keep him full. All of the restaurants we went to were child friendly, so a scrumptious bowl of chips or spaghetti, boiled eggs would be available mostly everywhere. Best of all – the waiters and waitresses were so accommodating and friendly to our kid that we always felt welcome.  



Busselton Highlights

We wanted to stay in Margaret River which is where everyone goes but sadly we could not find accommodation in a single farmhouse because they were all sold out the days we wanted to stay. We found accommodation in Busselton – a small town in the wine region about 220km from Perth. GPS guided us to take the freeway (the Aussie highway) for as long as available but we took a small detour to hit the very scenic Old Coast Road at it’s very beginning.

We stayed at Mandalay Holiday Resort and Tourist Park and we certainly don’t regret it! It’s a kids’ paradise! It has 4 kids outdoor play area including a giant pillow for jumping (I would jumped on it too but for the baby in the tummy), large fields to play in, heated indoor pools, bicycles for renting and the beach is just few yards away! We loved it so much that we extended our stay here by another day and cut down on Freemantle by a night.



The Busselton Jetty was a 10 minute drive from the resort, so we went there in the late afternoon to catch the setting sun. There was a jetty toy train ride for the kids and an observatory, but unfortunately  they were closed by the time we reached.



Margaret River Region

It’s the wine region in South Western Australia and very pretty.


We drove to Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse in Dunsborough some 30km away – a lovely ride passing through tiny towns. Considering my health, we didn’t climb up the lighthouse but I am sure the view would have been spectacular (something for the next trip!).


On the way back we made a stop at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory! It was such a fun place even for adults, as we could see people making chocolates and there was an array of selection of chocolates to sample and buy. The coffee and food too were delectable. It had a patch of green area at the back for the kids to play while the parents can munch on some goodies. My son joined other kids moving the stumps of logs chopped from the forest and kept in the clearing.



We followed signs to the wineries to see what they looked like – there were so many names on the signs so we picked one named Rivendell (both me and my husband are Hobbit and LOTR fans). It was unfortunately closed by the time we reached which was past 3pm. A person there told us to try the winery just opposite –  The Aravina Estate.

It was a lovely place with rows and rows of short grape trees – the foliage was a bit yellow because of the season. There was a small building with a restaurant overlooking the estate and a car museum (!). We splurged a bit in the restaurant and it was totally worth it. The out of the world french dishes and the terrace dining made the experience memorable. Later, we spent a good half hour playing with bubbles in their perfectly manicured lawns and showing the vintage cars to our very excitable kid.


Some more things to do in the region…


Yallingup Maze – we couldn’t finish it!

Country Life Farm – there are some ponies, llamas and kangaroos to feed, an indoor kid’s playground, a pond to paddle boat in and a small cafe.


Freemantle Highlights

Since we changed the dates last minute, we changed our serviced apartment and it was a bad choice of acco. The apartment looked quite old in everything it had and worst of all there was a water leak from somewhere in the bathroom – not good especially with the cold. The reception office was closed over the weekend so there was no way to get it repaired.

What was a low point on the acco, was more than made up by the lively atmosphere of this beautiful town. We had a lovely sumptuous dinner in a Mexican restaurant. All of the shops were open until 9pm unlike in Perth where everything seemed to be closing down by 6pm!


A highlight was the Freemantle Markets – I loved the shops selling at a variety of knick-knacks and the vibe here. There was a public piano where a very kind lady pulled up my kid and played a kid’s tune with him!


This was one of the best trips I have had (possibly because of the food! and my happy hormones) with my family. We missed doing a lot of things – and that’s as well because it gives us an excuse to go back.


If you have any suggestions of Things to Do in Western Australia it will be most welcome and would help with making the itinerary of the next trip.








Guest Post: A Rwandan Adventure – Golden Monkey Trek and Notes from Rwanda (Part 3 of 3)

My dear husband just got back from his trip to the jungles of Africa and he has agreed to do a guest post for my blog. Here is his travelogue in three parts – this is Part 3 of 3 which covers Golden Monkey trek and my husbands notes on Rwanda. Read Part 1 (which covers how the group of three “in-laws” was formed and their trip to Akagera National Park) and Part 2 (which covers their Mountain Gorilla Trek).



Golden Monkey 

I met my father-in-law (AM) and his brother-in-law (RNS) for an early breakfast at Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge’s dining room. They complained of varying degrees of pain in the legs and feet from the hiking yesterday to see mountain gorillas. I had some aches too but all of us were eager for the day’s trek.

AM and I were going to do the Golden Monkey trek while RNS was going for another gorilla trek. The initial procedure for AM and I was same as for gorilla trek – the permit is cheaper at USD 100/person and doesn’t need to be reserved in advance. There were 15 individuals for the trek and the trek itself was a walk in the park – more exactly, a walk through a bamboo grove.


An easy stroll from the village to the edge of the forest…


On through the jungle…


…and through a cool shaded bamboo grove…


Apart from swiftly crossing a clearing that was infested with red ants of all sizes, there was nothing by way of difficulty. A random nettle sting here and there was also par for the course but I didn’t really stop to caress any of these beastly leaves so the sting was mild and the itchiness would go away within minutes.


A leaf straight out of “The Monster Book of Monsters” in Harry Potter!

The golden monkeys were found after a 45 minute walk and they were jumping out and about as monkeys are wont to do. Everyone in the group of 15 people got good photo opportunities but I did get the feeling that after the gorillas, these were seen to be the poor cousins.


Enjoying a mid morning snack…


Golden Monkey – called so because of the “golden” fur on the back


On the way back, there was a porter who fainted – possibly from not having enough water and/or food since the morning. I lent him my water bottle and another person who had some energy bars gave him a few. He was so grateful that it showed in his face although he couldn’t say it as he didn’t speak English.

And that brings me to the next point in this post.


Conservation & Eco-tourism

The permit for the gorilla trek was quite expensive but I see this as a form of eco-tourism or assistance with the conservation efforts, without which not only will the mountain gorillas get wiped out, but even Rwanda will face a lot more economic issues than it faces today. Tourism is the main source of revenue for the country.

Mountain gorillas and golden monkeys are both critically endangered species. As per last census in Q4 2015, there were 880 mountain gorillas in the world. Our guide told us that the number is expected to be 1,000 in 2016 census. The conservation effort has been a great success story in Uganda and Rwanda which is widely hailed.

However I saw this article in the BBC which highlights that Uganda may be conserving the gorillas well but at the expense of the Batwas (indigenous people who shared habitat with the gorillas and have been displaced). In Uganda the permit costs USD 600/person and only USD 8 of that goes to local communities. In Rwanda 10% of the permit price of USD 750/person is channeled to local communities although I don’t know if that is enough.


A lady picking flowers in the farms bordering the national park reserves

Poverty in Rwanda is high – most of the population lives on subsistence farming. So hiring porters is definitely recommended at the minimum rate of USD 10/porter. Each individual porter can only get work once a week and possibly less so this is quite low an amount for them. Similarly tips given to rangers, trackers, etc helps to boost their regular salary from the Volcanoes National Parks and help to keep them away from poaching, hunting wild animals for food, etc.


Not only are porters very helpful, they also need the job

Notes on Rwanda

In spite of the poverty, Rwanda is a country that is trying hard to improve her condition through good government and a culture of discipline. I read somewhere that President Kagame has ambitions to follow the Lee Kwan Yew and make Rwanda the Singapore of Africa. People follow the rule of the law even if there is no policeman around. I saw people queuing up for buses at a large bus terminus. I am told that crime rates are quite low and Kigali is generally safe for women – we saw women walking alone at 10pm. Apart from this, I noted:

  • No soliciting by taxi drivers at the airport – everyone had fixed price.
  • All the roads were very clean even though there were no garbage bins; even village roads were kept clean.
  • Roads in the cities, towns, highways were smooth without potholes.
  • Highways had street-lamps.
  • I don’t remember seeing overhead electric lines in Kigali.
  • Everyone riding two-wheelers wore helmets.
  • I didn’t see any plastic bags being carried by people on the roads.
  • Schools operate in 2 shifts per day to maximize the use of infrastructure.
  • I didn’t see anyone smoking on the roads or in restaurants, etc.



Beautiful flowers in a farm

What I missed

  1. I didn’t visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali as I didn’t want to leave the place with visions of a dark past haunting my memories. RNS did and he said that it’s been done in a positive and good way and worth a visit by anyone who wants to understand the history of the country.
  2. Next time around, I might do the Diane Fossey research camp and Dian Fossey grave trek – it cannot be done on the same day as a gorilla trek. A fellow tourist informed us that it was a very humbling experience to see where the lady lived her life in dedication to her beloved gorillas.
  3. We were told that Lake Kivu is also a popular tourist destination in Rwanda but we didn’t have this on our itinerary.


The Final Word

I would like to thank you for your kindness if you read this far into the post.

There are lots of places in the world where efforts are being made for sustainable conservation of critically endangered species. Rwanda is but one of the places and the Mountain Gorilla and the Golden Monkey are but two of such specie. Even though sometimes the permits can be expensive, it is worth visiting – for me, it was my first such trip and it gave me a new experience which I will treasure, apart from the appreciation of our world and fellow inhabitants.

Rwanda or East Central Africa may sound forbidding to some as it did to us – visions associated with 3rd world countries like rampant petty crime, cheating tax drivers, cheating tour operators, badly serviced hotels etc may come up. But Rwanda dispelled all of these visions from the moment we set foot into Kigali airport – it is a beautiful country with very friendly and honest people who need your help. Please visit and help the mountain gorillas and help the country.


Our porter for the gorilla trek


Bernard – he kindly taught me a smattering of Rwandan.


I was clicking aimless from the car while crossing Kigali, when I noticed these two happy kids trying to move into my frame – keen to be photographed! Such lovely bright smiles.

I was clicking aimlessly from the car while crossing Kigali, when I noticed these two happy kids trying to move into my frame – keen to be photographed! Such lovely bright smiles.



Cheers dear reader – hope you enjoyed the post!

Murakoze and Murabeho!

Guest Post: A Rwandan Adventure – Mountain Gorilla Trek (Part 2 of 3)

My dear husband just got back from his trip to the jungles of Africa and he has agreed to do a guest post for my blog. Here is his travelogue in three parts – this is Part 2 of 3. Read Part 1 here which covers how an unlikely group of three “in-laws” decided to go to Rwanda and covers their trip to Akagera National Park.


Mountain Gorilla Trek

Evidently everyone had slept well the night before after the long day in Akagera chasing the wildlife on a bumpy ride – my father-in-law (AM) and his brother-in-law (RNS) looked all ready for the highlight of the tour.

We started off after an early breakfast for the park headquarters a short drive away. Once there, our guide Enos from the tour company collected our passports to get our gorilla permits and our group allocation. RNS only started breathing again when he got is passport back.


Rwandan cultural show at Volcanoes National Park HQ with the Sabinyo Volcano in the background covered in mist. The visitor area had free high speed wifi and hot tea/coffee as well!

We had reserved our permits through the tour company some 8 months in advance of our trek. Although each daily permit is quite expensive at USD 750/person, there is heavy demand for it. There are only 80 permits given per day and name on the permit needs to match that on the passport. The tourists are allocated to various mountain gorilla families – 8 tourists maximum to each family, either randomly or depending on preference mentioned for easy, medium or difficult treks.

Since AM wanted an easy trek we got allocated to a family which was supposedly located closeby that day. It was the Ntambara family for us – a family with one Silverback (alpha male and head of family) and around 9-10 other members including 1-2 little ones.

After patiently listening to a briefing by our guide Patience at park HQ we were off again in our own vehicles to a specific start point. The last 500 metres to the start point was an intense session of “African massage” – the 4WD just trundled through rocks then, with us getting well shaken up inside the car.

The start point was a village where we got a porter to help AM during the hike and to carry his backpack and RNS got one. We were given walking sticks which were beautifully carved on a single piece of wood – I bought mine at the end of the trek and brought it back as a souvenir.


Porters wait in line to be allocated; there was a lady porter as well.



Amongst the three of us, RNS aged 60, who incidentally has Type 2 diabetes but doesn’t need any insulin or other medication, was the fittest. He was off to a flying start at the beginning of the trek when I (in mid-30s) was still acclimatizing with walking uphill at a higher than normal altitude. It took me a good 5-10 minutes to get used to the thin air and lack of humidity and after that it was an easy trek up the mountain especially because the guide allowed us a lot of rest. AM, aged 62, had a difficult time, but helped by his porter, by the welcome rest breaks and by his own will, he made it ok. It was a 1.5 hour climb with the breaks. There were two other ladies in the 60-69 age bracket and one of them had broken an arm and had it in a plaster cast. It was the 2nd day of tracking for both of them and they did very well.



I loved the hike up the mountain through the dense jungle – the porters hacked away at the trees in places to make way for us.


Our guide Patience allowed frequent breaks and answered all the questions very patiently.


After the 1.5 hour climb, we had to leave everything (backpacks, water bottles, walking sticks, etc) except camera and wallet with our porters. A few metres up, we met with the tracker and ranger who had been up in the mountains since early morning following the family.

And then we came upon a juvenile male gorilla who was keeping a close watch as we advanced. The gorilla was all black – so black that there was hardly any contrast between the fur and the face. It was difficult to use auto-focus and take photos!



A juvenile male gorilla keeps a watchful eye on the human visitors…


A few more metres up and we came to a small clearing where the Silverback was taking a nap along with a female gorilla. It was clearly their nap time after what must have been a hearty breakfast of leaves and branches and other raw vegetarian delicacies. We made a quarter-circle around the dozing couple and the cameras started going off clicking relentlessly. Our guide Patience also started making some odd throaty noises which he said was gorilla-speak. Due to this, first the female gorilla was up, and then gradually the Silverback got up and sat dazed for a while.



And the 450 pound Silverback is up – I noticed that he is a “Silverchest” as well 🙂


A loooong yawn reveals dentures and tongue that is badly in need of some brushing!


These beings share 98% of our DNA – so clearly, they are like humans in a lot of ways. One of them is the uneasiness of being stared at by 8 strangers making a continuous and odd tschick-tschik-tschik noises with their odd looking cameras. Even though these 10 families have been habituated with humans for one hour every day, still, this daily routine of being stared at and photographed must be a pain for even the most seasoned of gorillas. The Silverback finally got fed up and did something which apparently only happens a few times in front of tourists – he got up, stretched out full length, beat his chest to let out a quick, low bass, hollow dum-dum-dum-dum beat and then ran 5 metres away from the gawking horde breaking off branches like they were twigs and then sat down next to another female gorilla. All of that was over in 5 seconds so I couldn’t capture any of it in my camera.

There wasn’t much activity shown by the group after that. Only one hour is allowed with the gorilla family – beyond this they become irritated, and this was up quite quickly. We started back down and got to the start point in half hour.

I have read in a lot of reviews that meeting a gorilla for the first time can be a life changing experience but sadly it wasn’t so in my case. But I enjoyed seeing these beautiful creatures in their habitat and also loved the trek through the dense jungles of Africa which are so alluring on their own.


Hiking through the jungle was a new experience for me and I loved it…


Found these beautiful wild flowers on the way down – I would have loved some more time to take photos but the group was moving quite quickly…

This is a logical place to break for the last post – Part 3, so I will write about the Golden Monkey Trek, Conservation and Some Notes on Rwanda in Part 3 which will be put up on Saturday 22nd October 2016.