Travel

Dubrovnik

Continued from Split + Hvar

Our bus to Dubrovnik was at 9.15, so breakfast went exactly like the previous day. The hotel folks dropped us off at the bus station in their little electric car. As we boarded the bus, we heard an elderly man complain about having to pay 7 kunas for storing the luggage in the compartment. His co-traveler, presumably his wife, replied, “Ha! Wait till you reach Dubrovnik”. It is true though, the prices kept increasing as we moved south. Not a coincidence that the places became more touristy too.

The internet had advised me to sit on the right side of the bus. The view was fantastic, especially the Makarska stretch, but the mountains on the left were fantastic too! However, the journey took almost 6 hours instead of the 4 that it was supposed to. The attitude of the driver and conductor indicated that this was always the case. The bus stopped for their lunch and we had a pastry to stop the grumbling – ours and the stomachs.

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Split & Hvar

Continued from Zadar

The Boutique Hostel Forum folks had arranged for a cab to drop us at the bus station. Now is a good time to note that toilets in bus stations are pay and use, carry change – usually 3 kunas. The trip to Split took us close to 3.5 hours. The only irritation was that since the luggage compartment was full, the bags had to be kept inside the bus. Thankfully, there were enough vacant seats so it didn’t bother us much. The tourism quotient at Split was markedly higher. Our stay was at Diocletian Palace Experience, and they had said they could pick us up from the bus station if we called them once we had reached. Unfortunately, the only pay phone we could find wasn’t working, but the hotel was only a 10 minute walk away, so we decided to do just that. We were a couple of hours early for a check in (3 PM) but they obliged. Another place without an elevator, but we were on the first floor. In the room, we saw brochures with tours of all kinds, including food and wine tours. We wondered whether we should have planned the next day in a different way.

Our lunch plan was at Bajamonti, a short walk away. Must say that Google Maps is a boon! Rose wine, risotto and veal with a view of the promenade. Life was good. :)

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Zadar

Continued from Zagreb & Plitvice Lakes

We reached Zadar in just over a couple of hours. Our stay in Zadar was to be at the Boutique Hostel Forum, and they had told us not to pay more than 6 euros from the bus station to the city gates. We ended up paying slightly more, and despite some reasonably good directions, lost our way a bit before a ‘duh’ moment of realisation that Google Maps could help even when offline. The hostel is right next to the forum, and its only drawback is that there is no elevator. But even given that we were on the third floor, that was only a one time problem at check in. This, I must say, was a completely cool outfit – superb branding – especially the booklet that comes with the key, the most optimal use of space I have seen, and very helpful staff. Most importantly, we got the view we had requested – sea facing. The beds were on a raised platform, and you could have a fantastic view lying down!

We rested a bit before walking to the Sea Organ to catch the sunset that Alfred Hitchcock described as the most beautiful one in the world. The Sea Organ itself is quite a contraption – it exists below the steps you can sit on to watch the sunset, and plays ‘keys’ according to the rise and fall of waves. Surreal experience. The sun played a bit of hide and seek before quickly appearing in full glory just before its set. Have I seen better? Probably – Boracay and Oia immediately come to mind, but the overall experience thanks to the unique Sea Organ is something you shouldn’t miss. Right next to it, there’s also something called Greetings to the Sun, but that required more darkness to fall, and we were too hungry to wait!

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Zagreb & Plitvice Lakes

Continued from Prague

When we landed at the Franjo Tuđman Airport in Zagreb, it turned out that our driver, arranged for a price by the hotel, was equally worried. Apparently, the last time he had waited for the last flight and it had been delayed, the passengers he was scheduled to pick up weren’t on the flight! In half an hour, we were dropped off a few steps from Hotel Dubrovnik, which was practically on the Ban Jelačić Square, the central square of Zagreb. And what a pretty one it was, visible from our hotel window. A good time to note that the hotel staff was really helpful.

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Praha

Prague was an afterthought. After we had decided on Croatia as this year’s ‘big’ vacation, and realised the intricacies of non-Schengen visas, we needed a nearby place in Europe to land, and the proximity along with the huge number of microbreweries made it the favourite. After starting at an insanely early time (3 AM), sleeping through the uncomfortable Lufthansa flight and sleepwalking through Frankfurt’s cold airport (and staff, except two – one who pointed us to a faster way to go through immigration and the other, who gave us a spot in the line) we landed at the Vaclav Havel airport. We’d arranged a shared pick up by Prague Airport Transfers, and were met by an extremely jovial guy who kept up a steady flow of information – facts and opinion -throughout the trip as he dropped off two sets of passengers before us. Every alternate sentence was closed with a “like this”. We were dropped last and that meant an hour for the trip.

Our stay was at Iron Gate, very close to the Old Town Square. In its dim lit but stylish lobby with medieval style decor elements, we exchanged euros to korunas. (we had read that the airport rates were not so great and the hotel rates were close to what our driver had said was a good rate for the day) We also learned that the check out was 12 PM, which meant we would have about 6 hours to kill the next day before we left Prague – 2 of them was nap time! Our room was compact and neat, and after a quick refresh, we stepped out for lunch.

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A Kerala Holi Day!

This wasn’t really a planned holiday, but thanks to my AmEx card, we had a Taj voucher to use. That sum being reasonably insignificant in the Taj scheme of things, we wanted to limit the amount we spent for a ‘free voucher’, and that was how Kovalam was chosen as a destination. That, and a chance to see relatives we hadn’t met in over a decade! In line with our miserly approach to this trip, we decided to get there by train. Through some excellent inattention to detail, we ended up in a 2nd Class Sleeper and not the A/C ‘Garib Rath’. It had been a while since we made a summer train journey, and the lack of practice showed! Meanwhile, train journeys are an excellent discovery process – of towns one never knew existed – and this one was no exception. But to cut a long story short, Kerala in the morning was quite a welcome sight!

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 4)

Contd from Day 12, 3

A wonderful late start to the day. We just about made the breakfast deadline! The first task was to add currency to our Octopus – that was easily done at the customer desk in the East Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. We then walked through the subway to get to the Star Ferry Pier. After some excitement, thanks to me dropping the hotel access card on the ferry waiting bench and the gates getting locked, we hopped on to the ferry to cross from the Kowloon to the Hong Kong side of Victoria Harbour. Getting to IFC mall from there was easy, thanks to the directions on the way, but inside the mall was a different story!

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 3)

Contd from Day 1, 2

Disneyland! The day D was most excited for! Our route and the time taken was pretty much a replica of the previous day, except we got out at Sunny Bay and took the special MTR rail to Disneyland – the one which had Mickey Mouse handles as D had been excitedly mentioning since the day before. We had booked our tickets earlier  – directly on the site, because for a change the deal was better than Klook. (lunch was included) D had done her research well, and we hurried through Main Street soon as the park opened directly to Hyperspace Mountain in Tomorrowland. This was all Star Wars, so I had nothing to complain about. D isn’t really a fan of rides, but she help up very well and actually enjoyed it. The next ride we went on was Grizzly Gulch, mine cars and this time, unlike the dark tunnel of the previous ride, we could actually see what was happening. I quite liked this one. Mystic Manor was next, and I really liked this too, since it had a magical innocence to it. After we got out, we got lucky with a small line and D got her main wish – a photo with Mickey and Minnie!

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 2)

Contd from Day 1

We got up at around 7.30 with an aim to leave the hotel in an hour and a half. The standard Continental breakfast at Xi was absolutely good enough to begin the day. Mandy at the reception promised to help us follow up on the lost baggage. Ngong Ping was the plan for most of the day. The journey including MTR transfers and the walk took less than an hour. Might have been lesser if we’d known about the passage directly from the Tung Chung MTR to the cable car. We’d bought tickets for a guided tour via Klook and could therefore bypass the queue. If you reach early, you could probably wait in the queue a bit and buy. The instructions were clear and after a short wait, we boarded the crystal cabin- this one has a glass bottom – a real one which is cleaned after each trip. D remained poker faced and refused to comment on her previous experience with such things. The views from the cable car were spectacular – we could catch the giant bridge to Kowloon that was under construction, the airport, and as we neared the Ngong Ping end (20 mins) the Tian Tan Buddha (aka the Big Buddha).

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Néih hóu Hong Kong! (Day 1)

My introduction to Hong Kong beyond just a name was thanks to James Clavell and Noble House. But that was more than a decade and a half back. As we were making the arrangements for the trip, I finished reading Flood of Fire, the final book in Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy. It makes references to many real life characters, one of whom is William Jardine, of Jardine Matheson & Co., most eminent among Hong Kong business conglomerates from the time of the First Opium War to this day. The final pages of the book deal with the auction of land lots in Hong Kong, and the origin of what is now one of the most important nerve centres of the system of the world. Reminded me of the Amitav Ghosh book connection during our Penang trip in 2014, and set up the trip very well.

We ditched Meru for Uber this time and it did turn out cheaper. Surprisingly Malaysian Airlines had worked out better than Air Asia in terms of time and cost, and given the chances of adventure with the former(!), we took the midnight flight to Kuala Lumpur, which was delayed. We just about made the second flight and finally reached Hong Kong almost an hour later than scheduled. The good news was that we weren’t lost in transit, the bad news was that one of our bags was – the one with the clothes for the first couple of days! The delay also meant that our special lunch plan was sabotaged. We made peace with that, and after getting the currency exchanged, proceeded to make the first and most important transaction – the Airport Express Octopus Card. The Octopus is a payment card with tentacles everywhere – restaurants, transport, shopping and so on. We chose this particular card because our plans included a lot of MTR (mass transit rail, not South Indian dishes!) but you could buy a card of lesser value and use buses, trams etc too.

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