Friday, November 27, 2015

Zaanse Schans and it's Windmills

On the outskirts of Amsterdam is this very interesting village of Zaanse Schans. With some planning and research, I skipped taking a guided tour to this charming village and managed to bus down to this village of windmills.
ZaanseSchan3522acmThe Windmills of Zaanse Schans
Dating to the 18th and early 19th century, Zaanse Schans has a collection of historic windmills and houses and is a major tourist attraction. These wooden windmills are built in the typically Dutch wooden architecture and have been relocated here in bits and pieces from all over Holland since 1961
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Some of the windmills of Zaanse Schans are still functioning and for a fee one can take a tour of the windmill from inside and get an opportunity to climb to the upper level to get a great view of the surrounding landscape.
Windmills3644m ZaanseSchans3567mThe beautiful village

Zaanse Schans is a very popular tourist destination and hordes of visitors descend on the village when the weather is good. One can easily spend 3 to 4 hours here admiring the windmills, the surrounding landscape and lake and shopping at the many souvenir shops. Nearly a million visitors come here in a year. The best time to visit the village is in the summer months when it is clear.

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Whereas, entrance to the village is free of charge, a fee is charged to visit the museums and to go inside the windmills.
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The mill in one of the windmills
To see my portfolio of photographs please do visit my website Pravine Chester Photography

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Amsterdam - the city of Canals

Amsterdam, the city of canals is the largest city of Netherlands. It is truly a biker’s city, although pedaling along the labyrinthine streets can get a little chaotic. Stick to walking and you won’t be disappointed. The gentle canals make a perfect backdrop for exploring the Jordaan and Rembrandtplein Square. Pop into the Red Light District if you must—if only so you can say you’ve been there. It is also a city of museums most notable of them being the Rijksmuseum that boasts a sensational collection of works. The Anne Frank House is one of the most moving experiences a traveller can have, and the Van Gogh Museum is another must visit.
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Some sights of Amsterdam -
The Royal Palace, Amsterdam
Built in 1665 during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th Century , the Royal Palace dominates the Dam Square in the center of the town. This was originally conceived as the Town Hall of Amsterdam and when built was the largest and most expensive town hall in entire Europe. It was only in 1808 when Napoleon’s brother crowned himself King of The Netherlands that the Palace transformed itself into a Royal Residence. Currently, the Royal Family of Netherlands uses the palace only for official ceremonies.
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Prinsengracht
Amsterdam is a city with over 150 kms of canals and 1500 bridges over them Prinsengracht is one of the 3 main canals and is the most popular with a number of historical buildings on its banks most of which were built during the Dutch Golden Age. This 17th century canal ring area is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Amsterdam4490cmAmsterdam4485mWaag
The Waag was one of the medieval gates of Amsterdam known as St Anthony’s Gate. This is a 15th century building on Nieuwmarkt square in Amsterdam. The ground floor is now a café and restaurant.
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Rijksmuseum
This is a museum with some outstanding works of art. Amongst others, there is a great collection of Rembrandt, Steen, Vermeer and Van Gogh. I took the the audio guide ( costs 5 Euros) which is a perfect way to understand the artists and the story behind the paintings .
Rembrant4038mPainting by Rembrandt at the Museum
The museum is large and spread out making it possible to enjoy the paintings without getting cramped . You can easily cover the museum at your own pace and if you get tired, there is ample seating where you can rest and listen to the detailed audio commentary. At least 3 to 4 hours are needed for a visit
An easy way to reach the museum is to take the tram (No 5) from the Centraal station or the Dam Square if that is closer which takes about 15 to 20 minutes and drops you just minutes away from the museum. Close by is the Van Gogh museum which is also certainly worth a visit.There is a nice café as well as a shop to pick up souvenirs as you exit from the museum.
Basilica of Saint Nicholas
This 125-year-old church is a major Roman Catholic Church in Amsterdam. The architecture is Neo-Baroque and Neo-Renaissance
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Nieuwe Kerk
This is a 15th-century church in Amsterdam, located on Dam Square, next to the Royal Palace
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Another interesting building is the Centraal Station in Amsterdam. This station handles over 2,50,000 people every day. The station was opened in 1889 and is a Gothic/renaisance buidling.
CentralStn3786mCentraal Station of Amsterdam
If you are a first time visitor to Amsterdam, it is a good idea to stay near the Centraal Station as this is convenient and easy for transportation. All tours take off from Damrak - the road in front of the station. We found the Park Plaza Victoria Hotel in front of the station to be comfortable and convenient.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Antwerp and its Beauty


We arrive in Antwerp at the beautiful Central Station , one of the world’s most impressive railway stations. Just in front of the station was our  hotel, the Radisson Blu – another interesting building. 

Antwerp, the second largest city of Belgium is one of Europe’s most important cities and home to the famous superstar artist Pieter Rubens.  Antwerp is a splendid city with numerous architectural highlights that date from the 16th and 17th century. It is also the diamond centre of the world. We spend the next few days monument-hopping, drinking Belgium beer and enjoying Rubens’ paintings in the impressive cathedral. 


ANTWERP CENTRALL STATION

One of the main landmarks of Antwerp is its railway station. Dubbed the ‘Railway Cathedral’ , it is one of the world’s most impressive railway stations. 

The station was completed in 1905 and replaced an earlier wooden one.
The main building has a huge dome over the main waiting hall and the platforms are covered by a huge iron and glass vaulted ceiling.

In 2009  the magazine Newsweek judged Antwerpen-Centraal the world's fourth greatest train station. In 2014 the British-American magazine Mashable awarded Antwerpen-Centraal the first place for the most beautiful railway stations of the world.

The rich interior of the station is lavishly decorated with more than twenty different kinds of marble and stone. The main hall and the railway cafeteria can match the interiors of many palaces. Not a single square meter either inside or outside the building is not decorated.
 
CATHEDRAL OF OUR LADY  IN ANTWERP

This historic cathedral that dominates the city of Antwerp was built between 1352 and 1521 and is listed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List.
This is a masterpiece of Gothic Architecture and is the largest church in Benelux. The 123 mtrs tall spire is the tallest in the city. Forty seven bells hang in the tower



Antwerp Cathedral's interior is an impressive sight, with sweeping Gothic lines and soaring vaults, all in gleaming white. It has an amazing collection of wood carved items – largest of which are the monumental choir stalls.

 


A major attraction for visitors to the Antwerp Cathedral are the four masterpieces  by Rubens -  the ‘Descent from the Cross (1632) being the most notable .
 

ANTWERP CITY HALL

The city hall in Antwerp is one of the most important tourist destinations in Antwerp. Built in 1561, the facade is richly decorated with statues, ornaments and coat of arms. 
Throughout most of the year, the main façade of the city hall is decorated with 87 flags. The central flags on the bottom row represent Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium, Europe and the United Nations. The other flags represent countries that are member of the European Union and nations that have a consulate in Antwerp.
 
The Grote Market and Brabo Fountain

Antwerps main square is the Grote Markt . This compact square is pedestrianized and surrounded by beautiful Guild houses . The centerpiece of the square is a large fountain built in 1887. The statue represents the legend according to which , a giant Antigoon   demanded a high toll for each ship that wanted to enter the city. If the ship's crew did not want to pay the toll, their hands were cut off. The hero Brabo fought the giant, cut its hand and head and threw the hand in the river. 

The fountain's statue depicts Brabo throwing the giant's hand in the river Scheldt and symbolizes the free passage through the river. 
 
Het Steen

The oldest building in Antwerp is a medieval fortress made of stone. This 800 year old fortress was built  around the year 1200. It was named Steen ( the Dutch word Steen means stone) as this was the first large building constructed in stone. What remains today is just 1/6th of the original castle along with the imposing entrance gate. An inclined ramp leads to a small inner courtyard.

At the entrance bridge to the castle is a statue of a giant and two humans. It depicts the giant Lange Wapper who used to terrorise the inhabitants of the city in medieval times.

To see my portfolio of photographs please do visit my website Pravine Chester Photography


Monday, November 2, 2015

Tanzanian Experience

From the time we first visited Africa in 2013, we knew we had to visit this amazing continent again  so this year we headed towards Tanzania with the spectacular Serengeti and its bountiful wildlife being our main destination. In preparation I got myself a new Nikon full frame camera and a 600 mm telephoto lens to capture both animals and small birds on my camera.

Tanzania is one wonderful package of wildlife, fascinating cultures, smiling and friendly people, beaches and of course Kilimanjaro – the highest peak on the African continent as well as the tallest freestanding mountain in the world.

Our visit started with the city of Dar es Salaam , Tanzania’s largest and richest city. This multicultural city is located along a natural harbor on the Indian Ocean and besides Africans, is home to Arabic and South Asian communities and British and German expats. Its diversity in culture is reflected in the different cuisines and restaurants that exist in the city. We move on from here to Mwanza , Tanzania’s second-largest city. Known for it’s strong Indian influence, the city is set on the shore of Lake Victoria. This is also the starting or finishing point for safaris through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
From Mwanza we embark on our 7-day safari covering the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, Lake Manyara,  Arusha national Park and finally Arusha from where we return to Dar and back home. We drove over a 1200 kms in a land cruiser through the savannah and bush of East Africa in our search of wildlife in their natural habitat.

 Sunset in Dar es Salaam

Dar es Salaam

After a long 9 hour flight from Delhi via Doha , we land in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest and richest city and the largest city in eastern Africa by population. Known simply as Dar, the city’s name literally means ‘the residence of peace. Even though the city  is not a tourist destination, it  get’s its importance as the main arrival and departure point for tourists visiting Zanzibar and the famous wildlife parks of Serengeti for safaris. Dar es Salaam is located on a natural harbor on the Eastern coast of Africa.

Kivukoni Fish Market

One of the places that one must visit is the Kivukoni Fish Market in downtown Dar. There is an auction every morning at 7.00 AM of the fresh catch that is bought in boats. Unfortunately missed this as I reached at 9.30, but there still was still plenty of action there. The place is dirty and the stench of fish fills the air with both traders and customers bargaining for the best price.
The place is an interesting melt of culture and business. Since the market is on the waterfront, one can see colorful boats unloading fish. The market has all types of fish that the locals come to buy. The place is great for photography though my guide advised me not to – I still managed some great shots.



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Azania Front Lutheran Church

One of the best-known landmarks and tourist attractions of Dar is this Lutheran church located in the city center and close to the ocean facing the harbor. This Bavarian style church was built in 1898 by German Missionaries.

Visited in June 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Bandhavgarh National Park

One of the best places in India to see tigers in the wild is the Bandhavgarh National Park. This was declared a national park in 1968 and has an area of 105 sq kms. Reaching the park is easy – it is a four-hour drive from Jabalpur, which is the nearest point if you are arriving by air.
Tiger Emerging from the Forest
The park is open from mid October to mid June. Safaris need to be booked in advance either directly or through the hotel one is staying in – and there are plenty of resorts and hotels around Bandhavgarh to take care of everything. Limited numbers of vehicles are allowed into the park at fixed times and fixed routes – 6.00 to 10.30 in the morning and 2.30 to 5.30 in the evening. You cannot get out of the jeep once in the park.

The Tigress of Rajbehera on the move
The park is most famous for it’s tigers, which very often can be very elusive. We were lucky to have 2 sightings of the majestic animals. Other animals in plenty are the Sāmbhar deer, spotted deer, langurs and baboons. Leopards too can be seen at times. The park has a variety of birds that can be spotted. When we visited in November, it was lush green with some great scenery and landscapes. Sunrise in the morning is a treat to watch.
In the park is the famous 10th century Bandhavgarh fort on a hilltop. Visitors are not allowed there but one can go to the man made caves lower on the hill. There is also a historic 10th century statue of Lord Vishnu, which should not be missed.

If you love wildlife and are fond of nature, then a visit here is a must. Remember to book in advance and to go for at least 4 safaris to ensure a tiger sighting

 
Tigress on the dam crossing over

 For more images of animals in Badhavgarh, please visit my website at 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bruges


Bruges is a beautiful city in Belgium. It is the capital and largest city of the province of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country. The city has some beautiful houses lining the canals of the city.
This famous tourist spot is just an hour away form Antwerp or Brussels and there are a number of trains that you can catch to reach here.
Be sure to take a boat ride on the canals of the city to get  great views of the town.

One of the Canals
July 2014

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Lions of Gir

Besides Africa, the only place where lions exist is the Gir National Park in Gujarat in West India. This is the sole home of the Asiatic Lions and is a protected national park. LionGir1020mLioness on the lookout

Though there are no direct air connections to this place, it is easy to fly down to Rajkot from Mumbai and drive down to Sasan Gir ( approx. 160kms / 3.5 Hrs) . It is estimated that there are over 400 lions today in Gir.
LionGir1239mWatchful Young Lion

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The Lazy One (Top ) and Lioness on the Prowl ( Bottom)

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The Gir forest is a deciduous scrub forest which is ideal as a habitat for the Asiatic Lions. It differs from the African Lion in having a smaller mane and a larger tail tuft. They are also smaller than the African Lion.
These photgraphs were taken on my visit to the Gir Forest in April 2014.

Please do visit my website of  at Pravine Chester's Photo Portfolio

Reunification Palace in Ho Chi Minh City

The Reunification Palace is an important destination for all tourists visiting Ho Chi Minh City. However, as a palace it is a disappointment. The original building was destroyed in 1962 by two rebel South Vietnamese Pilots in an assassination bid on the then President Diem who ordered the remaining building to be completely demolished and a new Palace to be built.RePalace2425m
View of the Palace from the Front

There isn't much to see except rooms which you cannot enter but only see through the doors. An interesting place is the basement with its telecommunications centre, war room and the numerous tunnels leading to the bunkers. However unbearably hot and humid in there and if you are claustrophobic then best to avoid.
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Two of the main rooms of the Palace

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 On the roof is displayed the helicopter which was used by the president. Two spots have been highlighted where another rebel of the South Vietnam army tried to bomb the palace.
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The Helipad on the Roof and the 2 spots where bombs were dropped

The main attraction are the 2 tanks on the right as one enters the Palace grounds. These were the tanks that smashed through the gates when the North took over the South.
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One of the Tanks that were used to Capture the Palace

The Reunification Palace in Saigon is an important destination to visit if you  in the city. It gives one a perspective of the history and of Vietnam.  

Please also visit my webiste Pravine Chester's Photography

Friday, April 11, 2014

Cathedral of Peter & Paul in St Petersburg

If you are in St Petersburg, visit to the Peter and Paul Fortress is a must. Inside the Fortress, the most important structure is the Sts Peter and Paul cathedral. 
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View of the Cathedral
This is the oldest church in St Petersburg and was consecrated on June 29, 1733. The cathedral is closely linked to both the history of the city and to the Romanov dynasty and is home to the graves of nearly all the rulers of Russia since Peter the Great. It is located within the Peter & Paul Fortress on an island near the bank of the river Neva and  built under the direction of Tsar Peter I .
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The Main Pulpit of the Church
TPet&PalCath6108m One of the Beautiful Chandeliers in the church 

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View of the Cathedral from the front

Visited St Petersburg in August 2013

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