High energy folklore spirit at Wenceslas festival

Witness pure Bohemian spirit at Cesky Krumlov…

No better place to kick start your Czech Republic trip than with the most delicious slice of the Bohemian region, Cesky Krumlov. And no better timing than autumn, when this fairyland is wrapped in cozy folds of russets, auburn, ambers and cornelians. But fall brings colours to more than just the foliage. You have barely taken the first few steps onto the cobbled roads, and you can sense the festivities in the air. St.Wenceslas Festival is painting the town red!

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28th September, the day that St. Wenceslas, patron saint of Czech lands, brewers and winemakers was murdered by his brother, marks Feast Day on the country’s calendar. Expect traditional food, drink, merriment, entertainment and cultural performances. So dump that luggage, blend into the colourful trail and join the euphoria. Doing a little jig already, aren’t you?

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Music wafting from the Seminární Zahrada (Seminar Garden) pulls you irresistibly. A bunch of girls dressed in vibrant layered skirts, glittering belly chains and gypsy head scarves hold the audience transfixed with their enthusiastic dance presentation. The star of the show is the little boy in a lemon shirt, candy pink necktie and a set of waist chains. They’re dancing like nobody’s watching. Treasured intangible heritage passed down generations and inculcated with much pride. Sway along with their uninhibited whirls, and if you can tear your hypnotised eyes away momentarily, just look at that view! 

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Back on the narrow street, the swarm of revellers thickens gradually until the space opens up dramatically into the lively town square, Namesti Svornosti. Here the tempo reaches its crescendo. Invisible wisps of the carnival spirit are everywhere…floating over the pastel gabled houses, wafting from the aromatic food grills, brightening the smiles of the artisans showcasing local crafts, sweets, wines and coating the cheerful faces of the red-and-white gingerbread hearts. 

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The stage is set. Steal a peek backstage and spot the performers queued up in elaborate, traditional Czech costumes. Bright colors, lavish embroideries, heavy accessories. Delicate flowers and satiny ribbons adorning elaborate hairdos. Pretty tasselled capes and fine lace-edged aprons. Lovely string corsets and extravagant buckle belts. Rich, heavy coats embellished with gold buttons, fancy braid and silk scarfs. Voluminous skirts, red stockinged feet, woollen pants and heavy boots. Styles distinctive to each region or even village, travelling down from generation to generation. Life-sized dolls in national costumes.  

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You’re hooked for hours, along with the rest of the jamboree. Perfectly synchronised group dance performances continue into the night, accompanied by cheerful, foot-tapping music by the live band. Girls shout ‘Eeyaahhh’ in abandon and boys whistle merrily. The expressions are joyful, the atmosphere is overflowing with high spirits and the mood is celebratory. Its high energy fun and frolic all the way…jumping, springing, bouncing, hopping, stomping, skipping, all the verbs you can possibly muster. Ladies are being skilfully whirled into the air. Men are bouncing like rubber balls. And a lot of lively chain dancing is pumping up the crowds. Are you reminded of fast-paced, jumpy polka dance (from Czech word ‘půlka’, meaning ‘half’)? Not surprising. It originated in Bohemia before spreading to ballrooms of the world in the 19th century.

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Standing there in the shadowy gala silhouette, contemplate on the deeply rooted music of the South-west Bohemian region. The steady rhythm of the violin and double bass and the effervescent beats of the bagpipes and trumpet are now filling your very core. That’s the power folk music has always had…as a universal medium for the community to express emotions and vent feelings during mournful occasions, celebratory events, feasts, onset of spring, successful harvest, or even addressing public issues. A unique oral tradition living on through the common people…helping recount ordinary stories and preserve history through the ages. Pure, unadulterated doses of culture. So give in to the infectious spirit. Drop your guard. Toss that head. Shake a leg. Hum along. You’re in Bohemia.

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Witness pure Bohemian spirits at St.Wenceslas Festival, Cesky Krumlov

 

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This is where you will find the best fish in Nazare

A traditional Portuguese meal to remember… 

From the rocky edge of Sítio, 300 meters above the endless, crescent-shaped sandy sea-front of the fishing village of Nazare, 120 kilometres from lively Lisbon, I held my breath at the scene. Scalloped waves curled against silky aquamarine waters and a riot of rust-roofed white houses pushed along a snaking Calcada promenade. An ordinary home in an extraordinary setting right here. Now that’s a life to aspire for!

Minutes later, we were down there with our guide, Sonia, weaving through narrow one-way streets, while I tried to disentangle my over-imaginative brain from a futile, albeit engaging web of mental pictures. She had no idea that I was predicting the floor plans of the cramped, but cute, whitewashed houses with blue and yellow borders, while she located a parking spot. As we headed to a small restaurant for an authentic meal experience, I was completely clueless that in addition to my appetite, my curiosity was about to be satiated too!

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Down one of stone-paved lanes that offered a distant, but enticing peek of the seafront, Sonia led us to Rosa do Ventos. A cobalt blue awning and a removable porch with a couple of tables were the only two features distinguishing the tiny restaurant from the row of neighbouring houses. I felt my eyebrows rise a micro-millimeter and my lips curve with undisguised delight. Layout, layout! Oh, and food.

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Inside the small space (originally a living room, maybe), lay 5-6 small tables dressed with pink-and-white checkered tablecloths. Modest crockery and cutlery were placed upside down. Protection from flies? Fishing nets hung casually from the ceiling. On the walls, several ropes were knotted in different nautical styles. Black & white framed photographs of village and fishing scenes, and a family in traditional Portuguese costumes, added a touch of vintage character. Definitely ancestral, no flea market finds here. Blue and white tiles decorated the bottom half of the walls and a faded sky-blue fan added to the seaside effect. We settled down onto the simple blue-painted wooden benches and gazed around. Rustic and adorable!

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It was just us…apart from a Japanese couple engaged in animated conversation with their guide. When the restaurant owner (we assumed) emerged from behind the open kitchen counter and Sonia hugged him with a warmth for an old friend, we knew this was a regular stopover for all her tour clients. She introduced us to him, recommended the fish soup and rushed off for a quick errand. Fish soup…hmmm. Or go with our gut feeling and order grilled fish instead? Gut feel, then.

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Raimundo brought us three varieties of raw fish to choose from and we picked the sole. Relishing the fresh bread slices dipped in flavoursome olive oil, we talked about the pretty villages we had seen along Portugal’s countryside all the way from Lisbon. But we weren’t alone for long. With the fish on the grill, he was back soon and the chit-chat began. We asked him about the proud portrayals of his family legacy on the walls (even his own childhood picture was up there). He flash-backed unabashed and we shadowed him down memory lane.   

In 10-15 minutes, the fish arrived on a steel plate, with raw juliennes of onions, sliced cucumber, chunks of tomatoes, shredded carrot and beetroot on a bed of lettuce and wedges of boiled potato with skin. Eyeballs locked hypnotically, as Raimundo expertly cleaned the fish, sliced off the head and tail, removed the bones and served neat portions onto our plates. The crunch of the crisp meat was sheer music and the fresh aroma was pure fragrance. Instinct boldly spelt it out…this would be a meal to remember. Instinct never lies. One bite and we were floored…it was divinely, crisply cooked to perfection! Two heads nodded enthusiastic in sync…and he smiled in glee. Great quality fish, lots of rock salt and grilling, he revealed. “And love”, we added. The simplest recipes are the best. We couldn’t agree more. Who needs Michelin stars, when you can savour this?

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Raimundo continued to season the meal with tales about Nazare’s famous winter waves. For evidence and effect, he replayed a video of the 100 feet tsunami-like wave surfing record. We listened intently as he opened his heart to us…his love affair with the sea, his passion for fishing in winters, his spiritual connect with Nazare and his lifelong commitment to his food business. We smiled in amusement at his innocent imitation of stressed-out Lisbon visitors from the ‘big village’. And we knew then, that this little corner of the world was his entire life, and he craved nothing else, not even an expansion of his precious family business. Raimundo was living his dream and he was content. We were taking back unforgettable memories of an afternoon spent with a friendly, simple, unaffected family man, who had served us one of the best meals of our lives! 

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

For dessert, we strolled the generous beachfront, watched laundry dangle from windows, counted colors of houses, took sneak pictures of local women selling chestnuts and wondered how many of their generations had lived here. Were they wearing seven skirts too? (Read my post on the seven skirts tradition of Portugal here.) No hustle-bustle of a touristy beach retreat, just the languorous calm of incessant waves, the gentle warmth of the coastal sun and the infectious pace of people-watching. Raimundo was right. Stay long enough and you’ll never want to leave!

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A traditional Portuguese meal to remember

Why you need to stop at these seven sweetest spots in Dubrovnik

Insta-worthy Dubrovnik beyond the wall walk

Entering the walled city of Dubrovnik through the impressive 13th century Pile Gate, four doors, two walkway bridges and a wooden drawbridge, remind yourself that Napoleon’s French army once stomped through this path with destructive, harmful intent. Shivers up your spine?

Continue reading “Why you need to stop at these seven sweetest spots in Dubrovnik”

Have you ever stepped in the fiery heart of Andalusia? Part 2

Melt into scintillating Seville…

Seville is home to two of the most magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Sites, two outstanding pieces of other-worldly architecture. Both will leave you reeling in disbelief with their grandeur and intricacy. Both are monumental tributes…one to the Lord, the other to royalty. If you were forced to explore just one, which would it be?

Continue reading “Have you ever stepped in the fiery heart of Andalusia? Part 2”

Have you ever stepped in the fiery heart of Andalusia? Part 1

Melt into scintillating Seville…

A 2.5 hours journey by high speed train from Madrid Atocha station will transport you to Seville, Spain’s fourth largest city located along the coast of the Guadalquivir River in the South. The dull sandy colour of the scorched countryside, though not refreshingly green, has an allure of its own. The sunbaked red earth is dotted by miles of olive trees, sunflowers, maize and corn.

Continue reading “Have you ever stepped in the fiery heart of Andalusia? Part 1”

This is a Van Gogh fan alert. You need to head to Arles now.

On the Van Gogh trail in Southern France…

Your search for France’s finest scenic beauty will lead you to rural Provence. Here, charming villages dot the fresh countryside. Undulating oceans of vineyards melt into sweeping, fragrant lavender fields. Summer sunflowers blend into lush olive groves. And canopies of plane trees border the long, winding roads…this magnificent legacy of Napoleon has been providing shade and shelter since centuries. These breathtaking vistas once fuelled the creative genius of legendary writers like Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and art masters like Cézanne, Picasso, including one of my personal favourites, Van Gogh. Follow the dreamy drive to the town of Arles, where the famed artist lived for a year and developed his inimitable style characterised by bold colours and dynamic brushstrokes.

Continue reading “This is a Van Gogh fan alert. You need to head to Arles now.”

Taste a slice of tranquil life on the Rhine

And why Cologne city should be on your list…

As the train crosses the Rhine, strain for a view of the iconic twin spires of the mammoth Cathedral towering over the narrow gables and high slated roofs of Germany’s 2000 year-old city, Cologne or Koln. You fight the urge to walk into its hallowed interiors directly from the station that’s just 20 meters away. But the moment your wheeled baggage is out of the way, you’re back. This is ground zero…all roads start and end here.

Continue reading “Taste a slice of tranquil life on the Rhine”