Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Day 13, (Continued)

Wonderful Vatican

After lunch there was no scope for a siesta in the bus as we were at the Vatican within minutes. Our guide was with us throughout the day's tour holding the 'Kesari' flag aloft. As we walked around, we trailed close behind him so that we could hear him well.

As we entered we were greeted by sprawling green lawns ...

As we proceeded farther we were overawed by the sprawling area of St. Peter's Square. The ancient sculptures credited to legends - the towering Egyptian Obelisk in the centre and the two fountains on either sides (Bernini's contribution) and the semi-circular arms on either side mark St. Peter's Square. The Pope's weekly address to the audience assembled here is on Wednesdays. So our group was joking that there was no possibility of having a glimpse of the Pope or Kuttappan!

The intricately sculpted figures everywhere are superbly fascinating - and to think they are so ancient! 

We got to see a Swiss guard too.

There were several groups being briefed by their respective guides before entering St. Peter's Basilica for the scintillating aesthetically enthralling experience. Sushant had specifically warned us that we stick to our group, follow the 'Kesari' flag which would be held high to be seen high above the heads and not stray away and get lost in the thronging crowds. Every day witnessed an average of thirty thousand visitors to the Vatican. So we were extra careful to be quick and vigilant even as we stopped to and click pictures of ...

the fascinating frescoes on the ceilings and ...

on the walls ......

the superb sculptures in various colors lined all over.

I managed to click pictures of the famed 'Pieta' by Michael Angelo....

..... Bernini's Holy Water Stoup .....      

Most of the male statues were nude ..... 

 but thankfully the female statues had robes on - the pleats of the clothes were beautifully sculpted in marble.

There were embalmed bodies of earlier Pope's dressed in their rich robes . 

I could trust my husband to set me back on track if ever I had a tendency to go overboard with my fad for clicks. We came out feeling elated with the experience.

Now it was time to enter the Sistine Chapel. We were warned that photography was strictly prohibited inside. So it was goodbye to our cameras for the time being. Sushant also reiterated the warning that we stick to the group and not stray away and get lost. 

Astoundingly life-like paintings, most of them still in bright and brilliant colors adorned the walls and ceilings of the Sistine Chapel which was built in 1473. The frescoes represent the life of Moses (Old Testament) on one side and the life of Christ (New Testament) on the other. We were particularly excited to see the famed frescoes depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and 'The Last Judgement' (Michael Angelo) and 'The Last Supper' (Rosselli).

As we came to the end of the tour of the Chapel, Sushant instructed our group to turn right for the exit and follow our guide and the red 'Kesari' flag held high. 

Soon we were out of the Chapel. Sushant took the head count - we were only 33 - two less! So we had to answer the roll call and came to know who were missing. We were worried about the two ladies as we were wondering how they could be found in the sea of tourists. Sushant tried to announce instructions on our guide's 'two-way' walkie-talkie hoping it would reach the ladies if they were within the range. All of us had Sushant's Europe cell number and he was hoping the ladies would / could contact him. After a few tense moments, he left the group in the custody of the guide and tried to search for them.

We cooled our heels sitting on the sprawling paved area in a depressed mood. This was the last day of our tour and we had been rejoicing that there was not a single hiccup all through the tour and that had to happen at the fag end!

Finally Sushant was able to contact the ladies who had reached the 'entrance' side of the Chapel while we were at the exit - at the end they had turned left instead of right! Sushant wanted the group to continue the drive in the bus to Trevi Fountain, Rome along with our local guide while he went to the entrance side to pick up the ladies and take a cab to join us there. Our spirits soared once again. 

When we got down at Trevi Fountain, the trio was already there. As we surrounded the ladies and bombarded them with questions about their emotions on finding themselves 'lost', we were surprised to hear they never panicked and to see them cool as cucumber! Guess they were made of different mettle! Anyway everything ended well.
The Trevi Fountain was undergoing renovation, so we missed the grandeur of the place. 

A temporary 'pond' was made, so that visitors could stand at a particular spot and toss a coin backwards into the pond. Popular belief is that these persons assure that they will be back in Rome some day.

We left the place at 7 pm. During the drive, we saw Rome's 'aqua ducts' due to which they have plenty of water.

We reached hotel Best Western Triangoli after 8.

For dinner we had special bread-sandwich-bajji along with our Indian meal at the hotel.

We finished our packing and retired to bed as early as we could as we had to leave for Rome airport before 5 the next morning to take our flight back to India. 

Day 14

Goodbye Europe!

We had to wake up super early - at 3.30 am. We boarded our bus at 4.45 with packed breakfast from the hotel. We thanked our Coach Captains for their wonderful services. 

After completing the formalities at Rome airport and after checking in our bags we had our breakfast. Then after security check, as we relaxed in the lounge, we were exchanging pleasantries with our group members and reminiscing and recounting our Europe-experiences.

As we flew to Mumbai via Frankfurt it was goodbye to the Alps! Also it was smooth sailing till the end, thanks to Sushant. We said our goodbyes with a heavy heart. We had become a family in these 14 days. We promised to keep in touch - of course we had formed our group on 'What's App'.

And we had been thoroughly pampered by our Tour Manager Sushant who was the epitome of unruffled patience, quiet calmness, good cheer, and amiability. His effective communication and managerial skills and sense of humor helped us sail through the entire tour without the slightest bump. It is tough managing the limited number of members of a single family at home. Imagine managing 35 strangers for 14 days in unknown lands! Not a joke, definitely! Hats off to Sushant and Tour Managers like him! Big Thank you to Sushant - we won't forget you for making our Europe tour so wonderful.

Of course Kesari Tours deserve all the credit for pampering their tour participants and providing excellent services for all the numerous packages they undertake. Keep up the good work, Kesari! Thank you for our memorable Europe experience!!


Day 11, Vibrant Venice, Italy
We left Innsbruck, Austria for Italy at 8 am. The next three nights we were to stay in three different cities in Italy - Padova, Arezzo and Rome. Our Coach Captain Henry got two day's rest after 8 days' driving and a substitute captain Albert took to the wheel driving us around Italy. 

This part of the Alps is not covered with snow. 
We could see a lot vineyards all along the route.

Once again we entertained ourselves with fun activities. As usual singers from our group went up to the front row of the bus and took the cordless mike to present a couple of songs. 

We had a toilet break - this time it was a free toilet; I specially liked the board there .... Wonder whether this will work in India!

As we resumed the drive, the kids wanted to see the second half of DDLJ. And so it was played.... 

After a long drive we arrived in Venice, went straight to Indian restaurant 'Maharani' where ....

.... we had a sit-down dinner of piping hot tasty dishes served in quaint bowls /  cute kadhais. Dessert was 'sonpapdi'. 
We left at 2 pm for the jetty for the Vaporetto Water Bus Ride to Venice Island.

As we sat in the boat we got a good glimpse of the fantastic views.

The beauty of the monuments all around ...

.... and ferries / cruise ships of different sizes moving around were beyond description.

After reaching Isle of San Giorgio Maggiore (Venice Island) .... 
.... we went in groups of 5 / 6 in separate gondolas for the unforgettable Gondola ride on the Grand Canal. As the gondola glided gracefully along the waters ..... 

we looked around at the quaint buildings lining the banks ...

.... one of the most popular spots, Realto Bridge lined with ....

...  exotic shops ....

flower-decked balconies ..... 

.... and the canals under which we rowed through even as the passersby walking on the bridge above waved to us. In fact we didn't want the experience to end. 

After the ride we took a round of the beautiful island. 

First we went to the Glass Blowing factory and were greatly impressed by the demo by an artist - making a horse by heating and blowing a piece of glass. After that we did some shopping at their store - for glass items / crystals.

Then we proceeded to the Walking City Orientation tour from the warrior-on-horseback statue in front of the Clock Tower. Sushant called  that Shivaji Maharaj statue and wanted us to return to that point after looking around the place for an hour. 

The highlights of the place were ...

the fascinating St.Mark's Square and Basilica of St. mark's, 

Doge's Palace, 
Bell Tower,

Clock Tower ....

Bridge of Sighs ..... 

As we were walking back to 'Shivaji Maharaj's statue', we couldn't but notice the place looked very much like an Indian tourist centre, complete with street vendors.

It was a sunny day (for the first time during our tour). We had had a long day and wanted to sit but there was no place to sit: the restaurant chairs were meant only for their customers... We got to eat Venice Cream (ice cream) but again no place to sit.

Suddenly grey clouds pervaded the sky. It was time to leave the island and take the boat ride back to our parked bus. The boat was crowded. Suddenly out of the blue it started pouring.  Every time we got out of the bus for an outing, Sushant's standard warning- "The weather in Europe is unpredictable. Keep your ponchos with you every time we are out." Some of us had not been paying heed to it. I'd tell myself, "Who wants to be bogged down with an extra 'load' when the weather is so clear and sunny? Sushant must be crazy!" This time I paid the price for defying his instructions unlike the majority in the group. I got wet in the downpour but it being short-lived, it wasn't a great bother.

We started for Padova. 

On the way to the Indian restarant 'Rangoli' for dinner ..... 

.... I spotted an Ikea store.

We reached A C Hotel, Padova after 8. I liked our room . 

The bathroom was an impressive glassy n'classy one with unique 'double pots' for 'you-know-what'.

It was the end of another long yet interesting and eventful day!

Day 12 

Fascinating Ferrari Museum, Maranello

The day began with greetings to all the ladies - it was Mother's Day. 

We had an early breakfast at 6.30 and left the hotel at 7.30 am for Maranello to visit the Ferrari Museum. The weather was good at 17 degree Celcius. 
After a couple of hours' drive, we were at the Ferrari Museum. The youngsters were enthusiastically studying the various sleek models / sports cars. 

We also clicked our photos posing with cars that caught our fancy - we didn't have to shell out money for that! 

I clicked pics of most of the cars exhibited there to send to my car-crazy grandson.

There were jazzy sports cars .....

and sleek shiny models .....

We left the place at 11 - the temperature was 25 degree C.

During the two-hour drive to Pisa, Sushant conducted Kesari Tombola, promising BIG prizes - surprise gifts - possibly even tickets to exotic destinations! As usual I didn't win any. 

Then it was my turn to conduct Musical Tombola - I distributed the tickets I had made and brought with me: they had names from Hindi film songs instead of numbers. As I sang each song's 'mukhda', particular names mentioned in it were to be struck off from the tickets. The ticket which has all the names struck off first would be the winning ticket. Everyone enjoyed the innovative Tombola. I had a small memento to gift to the winner; Sushant also gave a gift from Kesari. 

At Pisa, our bus had a tough time taking some turns as the roads are so narrow. After multiple reversing and maneuvering, our Coach Captain was successful in negotiating the turn. After getting down from the bus, 

as we were walking towards the Indian restaurant 'Rajasthan'

we saw a couple of yogis in saffron clothes in an incredible pose. 

For lunch there were a couple of surprise special items. Yes - pizza and pasta. When Ms. Sangeeta Patil of Kesari Travels had met our group a couple of days earlier, the youngsters had complained that they hadn't got to taste any Western meals. She had assured them of a surprise and we enjoyed it in Italy. But the pizza was a 'desi' version, not the authentic Italian pizza.

Again we got into the bus and reached the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It was hot and we got to use our 'Kesari' caps.

From a distance we could get a good view of the four monuments seen together - the Square of Miracles, comprising 


Churchyard and 

Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

We enjoyed this world wonder as we took a nice stroll around the place. 

The white marble structures, the green lawns and the azure sky looked like a soothing painting.

Fabulous Florence

After this, we enjoyed ice cream and then we drove to Florence. We had a photo spot at Piazzale Michael Angelo Point - 

the statue of David was the highlight of the place. 

From there we had a good panoramic view of the Red Roof City as well as 
Brunelleschi's Dome of the Florence Cathedral, the largest dome ever built in the world which towers over the landscape. We were told there is a similar one in the Vatican. The Arno river flowing through Florence divides it into two parts.

Then we started on the one hour drive to Arezzo. Sushant presented the prizes (books) to the winners of the 'Tombola' game conducted earlier. I was given a special prize (Kesari Patil's book 'A Journey Called Life') for entertaining the group with various programs. My husband and I were declared 'the couple of the tour'. But there was a traffic jam which resulted in a delay and it was 9 pm by the time we checked in at HP Planet hotel where we had our Indian dinner too - for the first time we had to do with tortillas instead of naan / lachcha parathas.

Day 13

Ravishing Rome

We had Continental breakfast at our hotel and set off for Rome at 8 am. During the three hour drive, our group members entertained everyone with funny anecdotes and jokes. Everyone enjoyed a particular joke on 'Kuttappan' and the Pope in the Vatican - it was presented by my husband. As we were visiting the Vatican it was particularly relevant. Then I donned the mantle of Annu Kapoor and conducted special rounds of 'Antakshari' which was well played by the enthusiastic participants. In fact so engrossed was everyone in the game that we didn't realize the delay due to the traffic jam. Italy is famous for its electric cars and of course the narrow roads.

We were in Rome at 11.30 am. During the drive through the city, we enjoyed the sights of the ancient city and its monuments - 

the Roman Forum, 
 Piazza Venezia,

the Capitol ,

Basilica of San Maria Maggiore ..... 

In many places we also saw  statues of the 'she-wolf' nursing Romulus and Remus when they were babies in several places - a symbol of Rome. 
When we reached the famous Colosseum, 

we were joined by our local guide - a man not less than 70. He spoke decent English. We could use the walkie-talkie provided to each of us to listen to him.

It filled us with awe to look around the dilapidated ancient structure - such a huge stadium! 

A part of it had collapsed; another part of it was being renovated.

Adjacent to it is the Arch of Constantine.

Then we drove through the city savoring more of the ancient city,

some of the monuments in a dilapidated state ....

others still standing majestic. 

Then we got down from the bus and started walking towards the restaurant. 

As we saw the parked vehicles while walking around, we were reminded of our own Indian cities.  

In fact when I saw a scooter parked on the roadside, secured with chain and lock, I was reminded of the incident Sushant had narrated to us - years ago, a bus hired by Kesari Travels for a tour had been robbed from the parking lot in Italy! So notorious is Italy's security!

We had a sit-down dinner at the Indian restaurant 'Maharaja' and specially enjoyed the Punjabi kadhi there. 

After this we proceeded to The Vatican, the smallest country in the world.