Hotel Cour du Courbeau in Strasbourg

We left Germany on a dreary Friday afternoon and arrived in sunny Strasbourg three hours later. We got really lucky with the end of February weather.

We had booked the Classic Room online at half price for one night at the Hôtel Cour du Courbeau in Strasbourg. This hotel is most impressive: authentic 16th century on the outside, and completely 21st century on the inside.

Hotel Cour du Courbeau

This photo was taken from our room, looking out on the balcony which stretches along the whole front of the building. The thin wires are to keep the pigeons off.

We had a pleasant evening sitting outside on the balcony, gazing at Orion’s Belt. We moved the room’s little bench outside, and shared a bottle of wine on the balcony. This was so pleasant. For smokers, there is an ashtray on the wooden railing for your convenience.

We skipped the € 24 per person breakfast (offered by the receptionist), and headed to one of the cafés nearby for a smaller breakfast version.

This hotel is centrally located, next to the canal and very close to the cathedral. We only had to cross the bridge, and found ourselves at the Saturday farmers’ market, with the flea market right next to it. The flea market takes place Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

We found a few interesting articles at the flea market, ranging from a wooden spice box with pewter labels spelled out in French, an old postcard from Germany, a hand-carved wine bottle topper, etc.

Here we stopped for a second breakfast of croissants and coffee. In the back, you see parts of the farmers’ and flea market area.

We will do this again sometime soon. It was nice to get away for a couple of days.

London in Seven Hours

Yes, I saw quite a bit of London in seven hours. We had gone to London for my daughter to attend a concert and meet someone special, and not knowing what time the celebrity’s Meet & Greet would take place, we decided to take a taxi from Heathrow Airport to the Hammersmith Apollo.

I had read somewhere a black cab would take us from the airport to the Apollo for  £ 30. We ended up with a white cab, which cost us  £ 50. It was worth it, as getting there quickly was crucial, especially sitting next to a nervous teenager.

When we arrived at the Hammersmith Apollo at 4 p.m., the lines were already long.

Apollo queue

With nothing better to do, I looked up and took some photos.

London buildingThen I looked down.

London shoes

We got her ticket from two box-office employees, who were working their way down the line. As a matter of fact, we got two Meet & Greet tickets! I was neither in the mood for the concert, nor interested in meeting a 21-year-old pop singer. We ended up giving the ticket to a very lucky girl.

I can’t recall ever seeing anybody cry so much for happiness. What a beautiful reward, I thought.

My brother and I were free then to explore London. All this excitement got us old folks mighty hungry, whereas my daughter went without a bite to eat until 10:45 p.m.

We quickly checked into our Hotel Adria on 44-46 Glenthorne Road, and headed towards King Street (a two-minute walk). Kings Street has a big selection of ethnic restaurants to choose from. We had a good meal and excellent service at the Indian restaurant Shilpa (more in a separate post).

Dinner at Shilpa Restaurant

Dinner at Shilpa Restaurant

After dinner, we almost contemplated skipping the pub experience. We felt relaxed and had a full stomach at 9 p.m., but had to wait till 10:30 p.m. to pick up my daughter after the concert.

We thought of something really smart – why not stop at the pub Hop Poles, have a tiny drink and sip on it leisurely. Yeah, right.

Within two minutes, I met three British guys. 70 minutes later, we had downed three pints, two Jägermeister, I had taught my new friends how to say “Hau weg die Scheisse!” (instead of Prost) and I danced to Dancing Queen with a stranger. So glad my daughter was somewhere else having a good time.

I did thank the manager Angela (between hiccups), a woman my age from Poland, for the wonderful selection of 70s music they play there.

We only had to walk a few minutes to the Apollo and picked up my very excited daughter, who then had short bread for dinner in bed.

Apollo

Just before midnight, my brother and I stood outside the hotel in our pajamas to take in the London air. Just so glad no police officers came by.

London was very bright the next morning. We had to rise at 6:15, be at Hammersmith Station at 7:00 to catch the Piccadilly line to the airport.

London on a Sunday morning

London on a Sunday morning

Yes, one can do London in seven hours, and see/eat/drink/laugh much. It was worth it!

*Hop Poles Pub: http://www.hoppoleshammersmith.co.uk/FindUs.aspx

Review for Hotel&Spa S’Entrador Playa in Cap Ratjada, Mallorca

Through the German tour operator Neckermann, we booked our short trip to Mallorca, which included round-trip airfare with Air Berlin, 2 overnights with half board, single room, and airport – hotel transfers.

We did not expect much as it was only euro 277,– per person, but we were in for a real nice surprise.

This little arrangement welcomed us to the room.

Breakfast and dinner were buffet style. The breakfast selection was even more impressive than dinner. Even in late November, we were able to have breakfast outside and chose to have dinner inside.

breakfast area

The rooms were small and ours faced the tennis court, but even though it had a balcony, we did not have plans to spend much time in the room. We only had 48 hours to amuse ourselves on Mallorca.

Single room at the S’Entrador Playa in Cap Ratjada

By the afternoon, we could see some pale Germans sunbathing around the pool in about 20°C weather.

S’Entrador Playa pool

The hotel service (reception desk, restaurant staff, cleaning personal, etc.) was superb. The last thing I remember, is the maid wishing me a Tschüs und gute Reise! when I passed her with my suitcase. Guess I had been accustomed to maids usually looking the other way when passing them.

The hotel caters to mostly German patrons, therefore most of the staff speak German.

For more photos and information (in German), visit Hotel&Spa S’Entrador Playa on holidaycheck.de

Notes from Ajanta and Ellola, India

This is Nobuko’s latest travel update. Since I offered to let Nobuko post here, she has become an avid writer. Way to go, girl!

21 July 2012 – From Udaipur to

Flew from Udaipur to Aurangabad (via Mumbai). Aurangabad is a town near Ajanta and Ellola, two registered UNESCO sites for their temples curved out of rocks and early Buddhist paintings. And to make this visit a specially happy one, Pratik, one of the six students from Pune, whom I met within the first days of my trip, also joined me there.

We settled on a hostel around 6pm. Pratik is full of energy, so while I was thinking about just lazying around, he was ready to hit the ground right away. So we took a rickshaw right away and went to see the Poor Men’s Taj. Such an unfortunate name for a tomb built by a prince for his mother.

Never mind the nickname, it is a beautiful building fancied up by curved marble walls – how could they make such uniformed and identical carvings without powered tools? According to Pratik, who has been to Taj, this one is a miniature of  the Taj. On the way back to the hostel, I had my eyes on a grilled sweet corn – this one was grilled on charcoal wood and finished with lime juice and masala powder.It was so good.

The following day we went to Ajanta, some 2.5 hours away from Aurangabad by bus. The side wall inside the bus had stains of streaks that looked like someone had violently puked red vomit. Pratik told me this is from people spitting paan, a kind of chewing tobacco.

Ajanta is set in a beautiful place alongside a river running in a U-shape. The caves themselves, columns and figures were carved out of single rocks. They started chiseling from the front-top section of the cave, and continued in and downward, in the process carving out columns and decorations. Impressive, isn’t it? We found a group with a guide in Cave #2 and joined them.

The paintings are badly damaged from the passage of time, weather, CO2 from our breath, as well as from people touching them. Now there are rails that prohibit people from getting close to the remaining intact paintings. The figures are amazingly well painted – very realistic depictions in regards to proportion and details. Many caves had paintings all over the ceilings as well, leaving no blank space.

Some ceilings looked like a Persian carpet – designs so beautiful and intricate. Through studying the paintings, we realized what a cosmopolitan and international place this one was: we saw figures that looked Far East Asian and African, and people carrying umbrellas that had designs from China as well as the Middle East.

After a guided tour, we climbed to a picnic area/look out point on the hill top across the river. There was a waterfall with seven cascading pools. It was a serene place. We managed to enjoy the view for a while and started our descend back to the caves to admire the paintings once more. But my touristy fate had another happening waiting for me just to puncture the day. A young guy we passed was stupid enough to make an indecent verbal assault in English. He probably thought I did not understand English, and that I was alone.

Are you getting tired of hearing about stories of such incidents?  I am – tired of it happening and retelling in emails. But I am telling it to you this time because I want to acknowledge an heroic act by Pratik. I wanted to ignore the remark, but it was the most distasteful of all that I have heard so far, so I confronted the stupid jerk. After Pratik learned what was going on, he took over and defended my honor, so to speak.

There was a bunch of other people watching the scene, and cheered Pratik and encouraged him to keep going. Pratik said it was probably entertaining for them. Good, at least somebody enjoyed it and got a laugh out of it!  And bless Pratik, he will receive an honorable citizen status in Japan if I ever become the prime minister.

Our second round proved to be worthwhile. We found details that we had missed the first time around.

For example, cave #5 is open to the public, but is also used as an administrative office and houses a small artifacts museum. A Buddha statue is in the sanctum in the back. The guard there showed us that this Buddha smiles! It was true. Depending on where we stand and how the shadow is crated, the corners of his mouth go up and you can see that Buddha is smiling.

The following day we visited Ellola, which is only about 40 minutes away. This one is known for its sculptures, caves, columns and figures, carved out of single rocks. We toured the whole site without a guide. The earlier caves are Buddhist, and a style progressing to Hindu, and eventually to Jain. Buddhist caves are simple and minimalist. Hindu caves are more elaborate and decorative. In place of Buddha, you see Vishnu and Shiva as celebrated Gods. The poses are also much more expressive and somewhat provocative.

Cave # 16 is located in the center of the series, and the grandest of all. It has an extensive amount of decoration carved onto any surface people could get to. Pratik told me that Shiva is always accompanied by a bull which is situated directly in front of Shiva, facing him. The bull takes Shiva for a ride, anywhere he needs to go. And Vishnu is depicted reclined with pillows under his head and a lotus flower emerging from his belly button, which capsules his incarnation. Jain figures are nude, but their poses are not so provocative.

After Ellola, we stopped at Daulatabad Fort. We got there at the perfect time, around 5pm, to enjoy the dusk. The crumbled fort looks authentic, because it was largely left to decay, or so it seemed like. There was a dark secret passage way which Pratik wanted to go through. I was enthusiastic in the beginning, but only after a few minutes, light completely disappeared – I mean, pitch dark without a trace of any light.

Bats were flying over our heads. They looked cute, sort of a cross between a piglet and a rat, and they even sound cute. But I am scared of them and their smelly feces. I could not figure how wide or tall the passage way was, so it felt like the walls and ceiling were closing in on me. I felt a shiver of panic run through my body and became breathless. I begged Pratik to take me back to the entrance.

There were a few other Indian guys in the passage way as well and they all encouraged me to continue. But I was so scared.  Pratik took me back to the entrance and went back into that dark tunnel. When I finally got to the exit, Pratik had already beaten me to it and was waiting. Apparently I had only mastered one third of the way.

Once at the top, we went up into the octagonal building. Pratik is so fearless that I envy his guts. He just walked on, out to the beam that protruded from the wall, in his normal stride, and sat himself on the edge of it with a straight face. I managed to get on the beam, but my butt was tingling from the fear of falling, and I sat glued to the wall. While Pratik shifted his body to get the camera out of his back pocket, I almost freaked out just seeing his body sway sideways, on that edge of the beam.  Even afterwards I had a cold sweat running down my back. I am such a coward.

We took a late bus to Pune and arrived past 2 a.m. Pratik was such a gentleman and left me only after I had checked into a hotel (Hotel Surya Villa, nice & clean place).  After getting to know Pratik better, I decided to give him (without his consent) a new nickname. Initially, I could not remember the six students’ names, so I gave nicknames to help me remember each one. Pratik was “Fluffy Hair” because he has lots of lively hair. But after learning how he, despite his young age, carries himself and speaks with such a sense of authority and confidence, his new nickname became “Prince”.

You should see him in dealing with rickshaw drivers and such. I just let him do the negotiations, which he never stretches to more than a minute or two. Then I hop in the rickshaws after the deals are done. And while I don’t understand Hindi or Maharathi, it seemed that rickshaw drivers just end up accepting Pratik’s offer – watching this I got the sense of victory and satisfaction that I so rarely attain on my own.

He should really consider offering workshops for tourists: “How to become a Successful Haggler with Poise and Style in Three Days”.

Notes from Bhuj, Gujarat and Rajasthan in India

Guest blog from my Japanese friend, Nobuko, who seems forever traveling.

22 June 2012

Still in Bhuj. It is a small town, but people are very nice and smiley.  Shop keepers are friendly, but not aggressive at all. Many times I have to wake them up from snoozing to buy something. Or, they invite me in to have a Chai and chat even if I don’t buy anything from them. How nice.

I went to another small town called Mandvi. Its by the ocean, where ship making is the main craft. An Indian guy named Shahid and his friend I met at the guest house had some things to take care of in Mandvi, and invited me to tag along. They are in the textile business, so I got to see Batik and tie dyed. Before heading back to Bhuj, we stopped at a beach where one can ride a camel or a horse if desired. Shahid insisted, so we rode on a camel. It is so tall when it stands that I was a bit scared.

23 June 2012

I went to get a hair cut. There I met a 20-year-old girl name Boomi. She invited me to her  house for a Chai. I met her parents and grandpa (who spoke very fluent English). The family invited me again for a home-cooked Thaali lunch the next day. Needless to say, I went.  It was like a version of  All You Can Eat at someone’s home. They stuffed me with all sorts of great Indian food. I tried butter milk, which is sour, but helps to sooth the fired tongue. After lunch it was insisted I lie down. It first felt kind of rude to lie down after eating so much of their food, but I did. I think the family was pleased that I ate a lot. If that is the key to making friends in India, I’ve got what it takes – I love food!

24 June 2012

In the evening,  Shahid and I went to see a Bollywood film called Teri Meri Kahaani. The story line was very simple, so I kind of got what was going on.

25 June 2012

I took the train from Bhuj to Abu Road to go to Mount Abu. It was a second class (not fancy) sleeper. The route it took was so hot, that my body did not stop sweating for the whole 12 hours I was on it. I was given an upper berth, which is out of traffic in the corridor, but also the hottest place. After several hours I could bear it no longer, and went to a lower berth by the open windows.

Indian people stare at me pretty intensely, but once I get to within their reach proximity, they are very friendly and strike conversations. Some even offered me food (One of the best Chapatti I have ever eaten). I was used to going to a bathroom on the moving train in Japan, but the idea of doing the same on second class train intimidated me for many reasons – until I finally had to go. Actually it was not bad at all. I think the toilet bowl design is pretty good, so minimal to none, hardly any “splashing” occurs… an important factor when you squat with long pants.

26 June 2012

Just after midnight, I arrived at Abu Road. From there, to ascend to Mount Abu is only 30 minutes, but there was no taxi that would take me with lower than 800R (a night at the hostel is 300 – 400 R, and a meal is 30-80R, so 800 R seems outrageous). A tuk tuk driver was nice and took me to several hotels to find one that won’t charge me an arm and leg. I ended up at Hotel Kanul. This morning, I took a collective taxi and finally arrived at Mount Abu. The town sits at a 2000-meter altitude, so it is very cool – a nice change from the hot weather down below.

Gujarat people are very nice and friendly. People I pass on the street sometimes want to take a picture with me. The only other place this happened to me was in Colombia. I have not received any insulting slurs,  or it could be because I don’t understand the language… And just because I am from another place, people invite me to their house and want to sit and sip Chai with me. Now I am in Rajasthan, I will get to see if people here are different from the Gujarattis. I love India so far!!