Our time in Pisa was just one day, which was just enough to stroll around the city and visit the famous Leaning tower of Pisa. We decided that we will only spend our time there so that we won’t be rushed to fit in too many attractions into the one day.
The tower- It’s one of those places, like the great wall of China which you grow up hearing and wondering how it will be to see it. The tower actually is leaning a full 5.5 degrees which is clearly very visible. It is a bit daunting to see a 55-meter tower look as if it may topple over any second. The tower is the campanile or bell tower of the Pisa Cathedral. The tilt, which was unintended happened during its construction due to faulty foundation. The tower is just one building out of four in the cathedral complex which is known as Campo dei Miracoli or Piazza dei Miracoli, which means Field of Miracles. The construction took an amazing 199 years to complete, while of course trying to fix the tilting. Apparently, at one point the tower was leaning in the opposite direction. The reversal in the tilt occurred when additional stories were put up which affected the center of gravity of the building moving the tilt on the opposite direction. The history is just amazing and the architecture was majestic. To our pleasure the day turned out to be so beautiful hence adding to its magnificence.
We did few poses of the obligatory Pisa pusher and walked around the Field of Miracles just enchanted to be there. We had pizza for lunch (obviously), which was mouthwateringly soft and thin. I still cannot eat a pizza without comparing it to the pizza we had there, sitting outside a pizzeria enjoying the bustle of tourists visiting the Tower of Pisa.
Europes most romantic city- Venice!
Consisting of 117 islands, Venice is one of the most beautiful cities that we visited. Few fun facts about this “Floating City” connected by canals and bridges:
-According to tradition, a couple stays in love forever if they kiss under the bridges while riding a gondola
– Water from fountains which is actually all over Italy is safe for drinking.
– Also, Venice is sinking at the rate of 1-2 millimeters a year.
We rode a gondola on our very first night but sadly we only found out about the kiss tradition after we got off. The time we spent in Venice was just not enough and I’m not sure how long it will take to enjoy this city. Most of all we absolutely loved our strolls along the Grand canal watching the busy life around, the canal filled with gondola’s and water taxi’s while the surrounding buildings were classical and unique. There were Venetian masks at every corner, colorful and so beautiful. Some were quite daunting but mostly they were all so unique.
After a lovely farewell dinner with my colleagues and tearful good bye to them, we started our Europe Tour. From Exeter to London by train was a quiet one where I spent time reflecting on the past months spent with friends. My thoughts on the good times spent with extraordinary friends were equalled only by the sadness I felt on parting ways. But life goes on.
From the train station in London we took a taxi to Lockaway where we stored our luggage. It was such a relief to be free of our heavy bags. The front desk guy Steve was very friendly and helpful, all the more safer we felt keeping our bags their storage units. We travelled to Canada Water Station and took a bus towards YHA Thameside. However we got off few stops early by mistake and had to walk about half a mile to reach the hostel.
When we reached the hostel we were extremely tired. Stupidly, in order to economize we had booked separate rooms (girls and boys separate rooms) when we should have taken our own private room. (Note to self: never compromise on safety/comfort no matter how economical). After a disturbed and sleepless night separate, we checked out the next day, took a bus to Canada Water Station. The meeting point was directly across the station. At this point we were energized and looking forward to the trip. We got introduced to others who joined the tour. Our tour guide Holly, was a funky British girl who was very firm and equally fun. Our bus driver Shaun was from Scotland and was equally high spirited and fun loving.
From the meeting point we travelled on the Expat Explore bus which was designed with moderately comfortable seats, air condition and TV! Our destination was Dover, which is the port from London to France. Our adventure in Europe started here, stay tuned!
What we called tracking, serious trackers would bow their heads in shame. But who cares! We had such an amazing time.
Totnes is known for its bohemian style; could this be somewhat related to the story of the legendary and mythical founder of Britain, Brutus of Troy who stepped on to land and said ‘Here I stand and here I rest. And this town shall be called Totnes’. Well, such legends have a way of influencing how a culture forms. Anyway, we arrived in the magical Totnes somewhere around mid-morning. It was a beautiful day, the sun was out but still as it goes without saying it was pretty cool.
After walking around town and having lunch we went to see the Totnes castle. It seemed as if we were looking at Rapunzel’s tower. We saw a curtain wall up on the hill which was apparently the castle ruins we came to see. Climbing up a long stone stairway we walk into an empty area, surrounded by the wall. So we think ‘huh, is this it?’, the kid from the family who were right behind us shouts out ‘THIS IS IT?’. How nice to voice out whatever you feel when ever you feel it!. Well so much for seeing castles, but the view from up the wall was amazing. We could see the whole town and more. The sky was spectacular, not in the sense that it was all sun and blue sky. But it had really dark clouds by then which looked as if it would give away any minutes, and then right next to that was a very white cloud, which was followed by the clear blue sky. This was good indication of the weather for the rest of the day.
While exploring we had an ‘aha moment’. We imagined people living right there, but in the 14th century. People walking, working and laughing probably right where we stood in a faraway time. We imagined the number of lives, number of feelings, thoughts that must have passed by. For all we know, a very melodramatic murder took place right on the spot we stood. I suppose its true when my friends say that I have an unhealthy attachment to murderous stories.
After this we decided, very spontaneously to go to the Sharpham Estate. Now this is where magic begins. Forget the destination, enjoy the journey; this fits completely with the rest of the trip. This was a 2.5 mile walk, and we begin it through a narrow path with greenery on either side. Walking through nature, we met few of Mother Nature’s teasing. First it was amazingly bright with sunshine, and then it started drizzling, which was followed by hail. So this circle repeats a couple of times before, thank God, it settles with sunny. As we went ahead we saw amazing green lush over the hills where the sheep were grazing. On top of the hill we could see barren autumn trees. This made a lovely wallpaper picture. What we decided to do it climb the hills, to get the best view. Now I am a professed and confessed acrophobic, but how could I miss a chance like this. And the hills had the sheep, was I going to lose face to a bunch of sheep? No way. So squatting here and there, holding hands and shoulders, I manage to climb all the way up. Well, needless to say, it was very rewarding. We could see over the river, the green grazing pastures, red ploughed fields, beautiful marshlands and this was highlighted by the beautiful blue sky. This was the colors of nature, blue, green and brown. And all this was serenaded by the howling of the wind and the sound of Devons birds. We met horses, cows, and more sheep on the way. At a point we sort of got lost, but we managed to get back on track although it took a lot of walking back and forth. Finally, Sharpham estate, on the top of the world. It had a small but beautifully designed cafe’/restaurant that serves English cheese and wine. The wine is produced at the Sharpham vineyard and cheese at the Sharpham House. The milk for the cheese is taken from organically farmed cattle and made using rennet (enzyme from animal stomach).
There were flowering trees all over the farm along with farmland, ancient woodland, streams and ponds which made the place so naturally beautiful. This is a place where you can reconnect with the natural world and possibly reconnect with ourselves. We spent hours here, just exploring, and having a good time. Unfortunately, this like all other good times was coming to an end. We walked back into Totnes, where we went to have Indian food at a restaurant where the waiters were from Bangladesh and the Indian food was definitely not of Indian taste. Well British-Indian I suppose is the closest we can get in the UK.
It was a lovely experience, connecting with the nature, connecting with friends and creating stories that will last hopefully forever.
The beautiful blue sky, amazing green color of grass, sound of laughter, diversity of culture, taste of Sally Lunn’s buns could not numb out the cold of the winter. But amazingly it did not bother me. I was having way too much fun. We were visiting Stonehenge and the Roman Baths as the first out of Exeter experience with friends.
I had seen Stonehenge from a distance traveling from London to Plymouth and was very curious to see it up close and understand the story behind it. To my slight disappointment visually it was a bunch of rocks, stacked in a curious way. But the history was definitely very interesting, the monument is said to be built somewhere around 3000-2000 BC but no one is really sure what it was built for. So there are theories ranging from it being built as an astronomical calendar, religious site to it being burial grounds. For us, it honestly was a pile of rocks, but the age of the rocks did impress us so much. It’s not every day we come across something from the BC.
Our second stop of the day was the old Sarum, this was the first site of settlement in Salisbury. This is one of the most historically important sites in Southern England.
Climbing up the hill to the site we met a pony and horse. The interesting this is that they were dressed, due to the cold. They were very cute; especially the pony dressed in a very pretty flowery dress. We had some laughs up the hill, stories that even if we tried we will not forget. We took pictures, jumping up, crouching down, holding up, and any other creative way we could think of. I clicked couple of pictures to send home, hair waving in the wind, making sure I gave the best smile I could.
The next stop; Salisbury cathedral, mind blowing! The most amazing architecture I have ever laid my eyes on. As we entered I saw this writing on the wall, “In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” and I suppose it is what I felt all through. It was so beautiful inside, the windows were mosaics designed as angels and the floors were inlaid and designed as burial chambers. This was pretty freaky; to be walking on burial chambers and not being sure if there were dead people inside. I was taken back somehow just imagining the number of people who would have come there with prayers. I felt that all the prayers, all the wishes, mourning’s and then the happiness and the sorrow would somehow leave their mark in the essence of the cathedral. This overwhelmed me, because I thought of the dead and how amazing our life is. So blessed we are and we should take time to acknowledge this every now and then.
We traveled to Bath from Salisbury, where we had booked a hotel to stay the night. We started the day with tea at the Oldest house in Bath, 1482 famous for Sally Lunn Buns. Obviously we all ordered the Sally buns, which was quite tasty. The streets of Bath were the most incredible, it is a world heritage site and named after the Baths and spa’s the Romans built somewhere in the really early AD’s. For us this looked like what we assumed all parts of England would be like before we came and settled in Exeter.
We visited the Roman Baths which was a public bathing site for the Romans back in the day. The pool as I call it comes from geothermal energy so it’s actually steaming. It was a beautiful sight. We then visited the Bath Abbey and the Royal Crescent. Royal crescent is a series of houses built in a crescent shape again a long time back, but this was also such an amazing sight. It had a big open space infront with beautiful flowering trees.
For me the aura of Bath was astonishing, it was full of colors and creativity. The showcases in the shops were full of colors, the street vendors sold paintings and handicrafts which were amazingly simple and beautiful.
At last we went to visit author Jane Austen’s centre. She lived in Bath for sometime, and I liked her from what I read about her and by her. I wanted to buy her book collection which was available there but one of my friends in the end suggested I should look up the internet to get a copy cheaper and this was the deciding factor. Well, so far I have not even looked it up. That is why I need to be Spontaneous!
We all were dead tired, but immensely excited and so looking forward to another trip. I can absolutely imagine why Jane Austen wanted to live in this city, its where inspiration is born and creativity can thrive.