Sunday, December 31, 2017

A snowy day in Zurich


I think I have been to the city of Zurich at least three times till now, if not more. But I somehow never stayed long in the city or get time to explore it till now. This winter, I went there again on a short work trip but thankfully, I got to see a bit of the city at least.

I landed late on a Sunday evening and it was already dark given it was winter. I wanted to explore the city in the evening but the long immigration line didn't help, as it delayed me by an hour already. It was nice to see though that there was Uber in Zurich even though I took a quick local taxi to my hotel.

The drive to the hotel was through the main city and I got a glimpse of some of the Christmas lighting put up in the main streets. Also the architecture felt very German at least in the outskirts, with very straight-line kind of buildings, very basic. I was almost hoping to see the typical Swiss alpine wooden houses on the way, but I think I may have to go to the Alps to see that view.

After checking in to my hotel - I was staying at the Sheraton near the city centre - I thought I would get out and go for a walk around. There were two options, either to walk along the lake to the Christmas market, or go towards the Old Town, both the walks were only 20-30 minutes. I chose the Old Town as I wanted to have a nice dinner as soon as possible and not be out in the cold for too long.

Twinkling city centre
I used the map to walk to the main city and somehow the city felt quite stark. There were a few old typical European stone buildings but most of them felt very serious and basic. And it was so cold, my face and hands were all freezing. I think that added to the feeling of starkness to the town. Most of the streets were quite empty, other than the trams crossing by every few minutes. I crossed a small river and then a big river and reached the Munsterbruche bridge which was decorated with Christmas lights all around. With the twinkling in the cold night, these lights looked even more enchanting. And their reflections in the river added to the charm of the view . I walked by a few churches on the way and reached the main shopping area.

It was very cold that night and even with boots and a thick jacket, I could feel the cold through my jeans. I was wondering what kind of clothes should you wear in such a chilly weather 😏? Anyways the main street, Munstergasse was a lot more lively than the rest of the places. It was a narrow cobbled street with loads of christmas lights, restaurants and small shops everywhere.

There were also a lot of small Christmas markets all along the way, with the typical decoration and music all around. I walked along the road a bit and then stopped soon at Pulcino, an Italian restaurant which felt warm and inviting. Italian food is such a life saver in meat friendly places!.The food and ambience at the restaurant was nice but so expensive. I got a good taste of how expensive Zurich could be!

After dinner, I took a roundabout route and came back to the hotel from the lake side. There was a lot of lighting all the way there. And once at the lake, the view all around was spectacular. On the one side there was the Christmas market with a lot of small stalls, all lighted up and people standing and chatting away late in the night. And the other side of the lake it looked like there was a mountain with a lot of twinkling lights in small houses all around. And I could see lights going up the mountain everywhere. It was quite an enchanting sight, making the cold winter evening a lot warmer!

On the way I crossed a huge watch set in the ground, overlooking the lake - I guess it’s a sign that you’re in Switzerland . I walked all the way along the lake but it was so cold that I wanted to get back to my hotel as soon as possible. I think Zurich might not be as fun in winter without the Christmas markets, but at least with the Christmas lighting felt very charming at night.

Zurich in the snow
In the morning it started snowing, and the whole city almost transformed into something else! I was busy all day at work but got a chance in the morning to take a walk in the snow. I walked along the same route as the previous day and everything looked so serence and calm in the white...

Zurich in the snow
The snow did not last much and melted very soon afterwards. So by the evening, it was back to the same except some snow left on the roofs of the houses. We had dinner at an Indian place called the Thali House which did not have the best decor around but served very tasty Indian food and the hot fare felt amazing in all the cold around!



Lake Zurich
The next day, I went for a short walk around the same area in the evening light and was impressed with the view around the lake. The lake is huge and extends forever, surrounded by snow covered mountains on both sides. There were loads of boats moored on it and many birds and seagulls flying around. And now I could see the villages on the edges of the lake even far off - I guess those are all suburbs of Zurich.

Christmas market
I also visited the Christmas market during the day, it had loads of small huts and all kinds of things to eat and buy - bags, sweaters, lamps, jams and so on. There were loads of people there and it felt very lively and Christmas-ey. There was a shop there selling Christmas decorations and I loved the whole vibe inside, the Christmas colours and music. I think that was my favourite in the market.

View of the city centre
Walking back to the main city through the Munsterbruche bridge, the area around looked completely different in the light and even more fascinating now, given I was now able to see the buildings around and the lights slowly coming on. I took a few more photos of the central city all lighting up. And by then, it was getting too cold to be out. So I very quickly took a cab to the airport, saying goodbye to the city.

The whole Zurich centre is quite small - a 20 mins round walk and I think I repeated the walk threee time - at night, during daylight just before dusk and then during the snow. It looked different everytime. And thats when I realised that even though Zurich doesnt have much to offer to tourists, there is a cosy romantic feeling about it which is inexplicable.

There are so many churches around the central area, with the sharp spires on the sides. And lot of small rivers and the lake to add to the pretty landscape. There were also a lot of trams all around the old city. They seemed like a convenient way to get around. Especially going up the mountain given half the city is on uneven ground. The sky though is full of the tram wires which takes away from the look.

Most of the people speak English and were very friendly and helpful. Overall the city felt quite convenient and easy to live in, but a bit cold. Also Zurich is ridiculously expensive, for no reason at all! Food is out of the charts. And the taxis are expensive too. Wonder why? My trip was quite short and cold outside. I think it might be a different experience to visit in winter, someday...


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Munich in the summer - Oktoberfest, Starnberg See and a random day in Munich


I haven't travelled much in Germany, only to Blackforest, Frankfurt and Cologne for a day. But somehow I end up going to Munich so much more, I have been there at least 20 times! Sometimes for work, sometimes vacation and sometimes even weddings. In fact I think half of all my European trips have been to Munich. Between this and last year, I made 3 (more) trips and not on work, so I got to see at least some of the sights this time. Am writing down about my experiences on these trips...

Oktoberfest again

In Sep 2016, I was in Munich for a weekend during Oktoberfest. This time at least the weather was better - sunny and warm, so I got to see the city too. We landed from London in the morning and took the public transport to our hotel. First we took a metro train, then we had to get off at a random stop in between and take a bus from the middle of nowhere to our hotel. I have always taken a cab or driven in Munich, so this was a different experience altogether. We saw some of the suburban houses and they all seemed very warm and convenient to live in.

We were staying at the Westinn, and after checking in, we wore our dirndls and were off to the greatest fairs of our times 😜. The fair grounds were about 20-30 mins walking from the hotel, so we decided to walk there. As expected, there were huge crowds and queues at the grounds. The recent attacks in Germany had just occurred and there was massive security all around. The police was not allowing anyone to carry big bags, even women’s purses were being asked to be deposited outside! So I just hid my purse inside my big coat and walked in.

Our tent in Oktoberfest
We first walked around a bit in the fair, around all the rides and shops. It was so sunny and hot that day that it felt lovely. Very different from the Munich that I know otherwise. And then we went into our tents where our table mates were already there. This was a trip with work colleagues where they had already booked a table in the tents for both the days. Once inside, we spent most of the day in the ArmbrustschΓΌtzen-Festhalle tent. The first half we had seats and the second we moved into the neighbouring tent (maybe it was SchΓΌtzen-Festzelt but I am not sure), where we found some places due to friendly waitresses.

The whole day was so much fun, enjoying with friends, chatting, dancing to the German music and generally having fun. I would say though, that the food was still the same as my last visit - quite average. This time I tried the chicken and salad which was definitely better than the cheese and macaroni I had tried earlier. The salted schnitzels were worth snacking on too.

A place for tea
The ambience in the tents
The ambience in the tents
The ambience in the tents
The ambience in the tents
The ambience in the tents



In between, we also walked through to some of the other tents and saw all the different music, ambience and decor. It was quite interesting to see how each of the tent had a different ambience and feel to it. The artworks and colour schemes were different, the music was different, the age group and type of people were different and so on. I can imagine people coming here regularly and having a different experience based on the tent they are in. Anyways, after a long day at the fair, we called it a night quite early and walked back to our hotel.

View on Munich roads
The whole ambience of Munich changes during this weekend. There were so many people on the roads, dressed up and walking around having fun. It felt like a whole big party! Like the view on the right where people were partying on a huge cycle.

Monument in English Garden
The second day we thought we would explore Munich a bit and walked from our hotels to the tents. On the way we explored the town - it being a sunny and warm day helped too. We walked past huge buildings and gardens that I had not yet seen in my 20 visits to Munich before!

View of English Garden
And then I finally went to the English Garden. I had heard about it for ages but never managed to visit it. It was a huge garden with lot of stuff to do and different landscaping at different places. There were green grass parks, streams, woods, cafes, small monuments atop hills, rock landscapes and so on. It was a nice walk around and we just walked under the trees for long.

A picturesque stream in the Garden
There was a Chinese Garden where we had lunch and it reiterated the fact that getting good vegetarian food in Germany is still a faraway dream 😏.





Surfing in the English Garden
At the end of our walk, we came to a stream which has waves at one location and this is used to practice surfing. Imagine being able to practice surfing in the middle of the city, without any sea in sight! I had heard about this place years ago but only now got to see it. It was fun to see people go one after another on this short stretch of water and practise their skills.

Then we walked by the Marienplatz area which was full of tourists and very lively. Anyways we went back to the tents for some more time. It was very quiet on a Sunday. And we stayed there only a few hours and got out to explore the rest of the fair. There were loads of rides like any other fair and we did a few rides in the evening. By then everyone left to go back to London. I didn’t realise how much tired I was till I came back and crashed completely. It was a nice weekend and I was happy to have finally got to see Munich in the summer.

A day in Munich at the Bayern Munich stadium

I was in Munich for a day in Nov 2016 and got to visit the Bayern Munich stadium (also known as Allianz arena) for the first time, after having seen it every time to and from the airport. I learnt a lot about the stadium which was a first for me for any football stadium. And I was intrigued by how much details and pride goes into all of it. It was an interesting trip and I learnt a lot of trivia about the stadium, most of which I don’t even remember.

Allianz stadium
The Allianz arena was built relatively recently and with a huge capacity of 75 thousand spectators. The previous Bayern Munich stadium was never sold out, so they had forecasted a lower capacity for the stadium. However, now even with 75 thousand, it was always fully sold out and they have to sell standing tickets for some of the games to accomodate more fans. The stadium has two huge monitors, of 100 metre square size. They are bigger than most of the two bedroom flats in London 😜.

Solarium in the stadium
One of the most interesting part of this trip was to see how they made the grass grow. Given the shape of the stadium, there is limited light that comes inside the stadium So there were solariums used all the time to give artificial light to the grass so that it grows. Another interesting fact was that the Bayern Munich boss was currently in jai, but he used to get out during the day, visit the stadium sometimes but went back to sleep in the prison every time. It felt so much like people in India would do!

There are many types of seats in the stadium - sponsor booths, business seats, cheaper seats for people in wheelchair and so on. We tried out the seats in the 'well' of the grouns where the players sit during the match. And realised that the seats were heated! I think its a good thing for Munich winters. And the acoustics inside the stadium are great. You can hear small sounds from the ground, all the way back in the seats on top.

We also went to the locker rooms and apparently the entire gear of the players is decided and cannot be chosen. It has to be what the team management picks up, except the shoes which the players can choose themselves. We went into one of the kicking practice room to try some of our football kicks too

Apparently, the same stadium is used for games by two teams - the Bayern Munich and TSV - and TSV pays rental for its game at the stadium. There is a full well oiled machinery to ensure the whole decor of the stadium is changed every time there is a game by the other team. So all the posters, pictures and logos are replaced regularly based on who is playing.

While going back to the airport, it was so foggy and cold all the way. Not at all like the summer visit earlier in the year. I also noticed that Munich airport was already changing. There was more checking and security at the airport, both while coming in and while leaving. I spent much more longer at the immigration than ever before, sign of changing times?

A wedding near Starnberg See

I visited Munich again in the summer of 2017 to attend one of my colleagues’s wedding. The venue was near Munich, in a resort called La Villa, near the village of Pocking. The venue overlooked a huge lake called Starnberg See and is one of the most picturesque locations I have been to.

The venue was about 200 kms away from the airport, all the way across Munich. So I took the train there, first S8 to the middle of Munich and then changed at Pasing for another train, S6 going to Feldafing. During the trip, I realised how efficient the whole Munich local train system was (I hadn't used it much before and so was pleasantly surprised). I also again realised how much our life has been made easy with smartphones and Google. You can easily land up in a new place and take the public transport to go from one place to another.

The second train very quickly reached the Starnberg area which was a suburb of Munich but very close to nature with a huge lake and view of the Alps across the lake. The train ran through green woods, small villages and people walking their dogs on the side. It was so green everywhere, it felt like spring was already here. Also luckily, it was supposed to be a rainy day but all I saw was sunshine everywhere which made it look even more beautiful.

View of Starnberg lake
The first view of the Starnberg See lake was at the town of Starnberg and it was majestic. Crystal blue waters lined with green trees; wooden houses dotting the edges and snow covered white peaks at a distance, all under the sky blue skies laced with dark clouds. What a view that was, and then the train ran next to this view all the way till Feldafing, giving short glimpses time and again of the lake and its surroundings.

I was staying at a small boutique hotel called Kaiserin Elisabeth, in the village of Feldafing. Once I got down from the train, I walked to the hotel from the station. And the views of the lake and beyond were breathtaking. Blue waters with the snow covered mountains behind, and a clouded sky providing texture to the painting... There were also lots of alpine houses overlooking the lake. And right in front of my hotel and between the lake, there was a golf course. It was such an impressive walk, and I was already loving the weekend 😊.

View from my hotel room
The hotel was small and average but its location was amazing. Also apparently the German queen had once stayed there and hence the name. I initially got a lake view room on the second floor where you could see both the lake and the Alps beyond. But it wasn’t ready in the morning, so I got a room with a different view, which wasn't too bad either. Surprisingly, they did not ask for any ID for the room, just gave me the key. Thats something I haven’t experienced for a long time. The hotel felt a bit rusty and old. But it had nice rooms and very comfortable eating and sitting places. I wish I had got some time to spend in and around the hotel too.

Starnberg See
Very quickly, we got ready for the wedding and left for La Villa. I wore a sari and was surprised by the number of Germans in the hotel who knew what a sari was and complimented it on 😊. As expected, there were no Ubers here and I had to call a cab. The drive along the lake to the wedding venue was lovely, and I spotted lot of luxurious holiday homes on the water. And the wedding was of course spectacular.

Wedding venue
It was at a wedding venue called La Villa in the village of Pocking, located right on the lake. It had a nice villa, a beautiful boathouse on the water, an outdoor place for the wedding ceremony and an indoor area - the Orangerie - for dinner.

Wedding venue
The wedding ceremony next to the lake was very romantic and the fact it did not rain at all was very lucky! The wind, the sun and the clouds were playing games all through the ceremony. And the background was charming, with green in all shades, the crystal blue of the lake, the snow covered mountains beyond and people sailing in the middle 😊.

Wedding setting
The evening dinner was heavenly especially when at night, the full moon came out which was reflecting on the lake. There were also fireworks from a boat on the lake which was very enchanting. The wedding was very enjoyable but don’t think we need the details for this travel blog:). All in all, it was a day spent at a beautiful location, and being part of a special day for a friend.

Golf course next to the lake and Alps
I spent the next day exploring the area around the lake. I walked from La Villa all the way till the village I was staying in, Feldafing. The whole path was next to the lake and full of people down there enjoying a nice day out in the sun. Some were fishing, some boating, some diving, some sailing in the lake and some just picnicking on the shore. It didn’t feel touristy at all, I think it was a place where locals came from Munich just to spend their weekends and not many tourists would know about this place.

View on the walk
The walk was beautiful too, walking through tree covered pathways with majestic views across the lake. It was all full of striking green everywhere - bright fluorescent green for the new leaves, dark green for the old and dark red for some! There were a couple of villages I passed through as well as a local palace. The whole walk was about 5 kms along the lake and very peaceful.

View on the walk
While on the trail, I realised I did not have enough cash on me, and decided to go and find an ATM. I asked a few people on the way but they did not know English well. So I just thought of walking to the next village station looking for cash but that turned out to be the wrong call. There were so few ATMs around that it ended up being a very long route just to get some money 😏.

Pier on the lake
I took a turn to go to the station in Possenhofen village but there was no ATM at the station, the nearest ATM was a further 15 mins ahead. So I stopped for lunch in the Museum Kaiserin Elisabeth cafe at the station. And then it started raining a bit. Anyways I walked in the rain through the random village to get the to ATM and this village did not feel picturesque at all. So all of Europe is not a picture perfect postcard it turns out 😜. But thankfully I got to the ATM and some cash to pay for the taxi to the station. But my adventure wasn't finished yet. While walking back to the wedding venue, I got stuck in pouring rain, and a very bad rainfall at that! Anyways I took shelter under some trees but finally had to walk back in the rain to the venue.

View of the lake at Starnberg
I took a cab from there to the Starnberg train station, to then take a train to Munich and the airport. The view at Starnberg station was so captivating that I decided to let the next train go and just spend time there next to the lake. Right next to the station was the lake and the place for ferry launches. It was looking so enchanting, especially right after the rains when the sunlight was coming out and the dark clouds added a lot of colour to the picture perfect view. I just sat there enjoying the beauty and calm of the place for some time. It was a view I could have stayed with for some time.

Anyways thanks to a great train system, I was still in time to make it to the Munich airport on time. On the train, I was in hearing distance of some American ladies who had travelled to Germany and were raving about how pretty the place was. It made for some interesting observations to listen to.

And again it turns out that the Munich airport is constantly undergoing change. The checkin time is now 45 mins before the flight rather than 20 mins that was the norm earlier. I was so worried I would miss my flight but somehow made it in time. And I was back in London soon.

The weekend was so short but felt so very refreshing, it was wonderful. And it was also one of those trips which make me feel that I should once stay in mainland Europe for a couple of years. Being so close to the Alps, skiing and trekking would definitely be a different experience.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

The dramatic landscape of Dartmoor National Park, Devon


This year, I spent the long Easter weekend in Dartmoor National Park in Devon. I had heard a lot about Devon from friends, so I just booked the accommodation and car, and was all set to go. I did not do any research on what to expect or do there, just trusting so many reviews I had heard about the place.

And very soon I was mind-blown by what I experienced. With no plan in mind, everything happened as it did, and it was perfect! The landscape and the feeling you get from being there is out of this world. I loved my stay there and Devon has now been added to my favourite destinations list in the UK 😊. 

My itinerary on the trip was quite simple:

Day 1: Drive to Dartmoor National Park from London; stop at Castle Drogo and walk to Fingle Gorge; stop at Lustleigh village; dinner at Warren House Inn; drive till Buckland Abbey; stay at Cider House
Day 2: Explore Buckland Abbey; 'Red' walk in the Abbey grounds; dinner in Buckland Monachorum village at Drake Manor inn
Day 3: Drive to Widecombe in the Moor (a market village); trek part of the Two Moors Way trail; dinner in Milton Coombe village, at Who Would Have Thought It inn
Day 4: Drive to Postbridge village; walk up Bellever Tor; drive back to London


Day 1: London -> Castle Drogo -> Fingle Gorge -> Lustleigh -> Warren House -> Buckland Abbey Inn -> Cider House

On the Friday morning, I left quite early from London and started the drive towards Dartmoor. I took the M4 up to Bristol and then the M5 route towards Devon, mostly driving on the motorway. Even though it should have taken me 4 hours, it actually took me about 6 hours. But the drive by itself was enjoyable, especially as soon as you leave London when it very quickly turns into the lush green and open countryside.

It was Easter weekend, so spring was just starting out and the weather was getting better but not there yet. But the plants were almost there - there was a lot of bright green on both sides as soon as I left the city. The grass was fluorescent green and the trees in all hues from light to dark green. There were also lot of yellow flowers all along the route, almost like the sarson ke khet in India πŸ˜‰. And I crossed so many of those countryside views of houses built next to streams and surrounded by mountains that the long drive did not feel too boring.

The roads as expected on a long weekend were all full of cars. Everyone was driving fast, in fact above the speed limit too, at 80km/hr. Initially at least it was all moving, but as soon as I got out of the city, there were loads of traffic jams as everyone was off somewhere. It was also very difficult to drive and cruise control as the traffic was never very predictable. The weather had started out sunny but turned cold, cloudy and overcast soon after. But the interesting views outside made the drive pleasant and refreshing. 

Dartmoor views
My first stop within Dartmoor National Park was closer to the North East side entrance near Exeter, at the Castle Drogo. The drive towards the Castle was my first experience of driving in Dartmoor and how tough it could be. The road to the Castle was so narrow and there were hedges of up to 10 feet on both sides, that I had to be very very slow and careful in driving. Driving in the Park is definitely not for the faint hearted. It also made me realize that its not a good idea to drive in the Park at night, with the narrow roads and the high hedges on both sides!

The Castle was not actually an old castle, in fact it was a modern version of a castle built by a rich businessman. So I missed going inside and instead, went for a short 2 hour trek towards Finkle Gorge. The path goes down from the Castle towards Finkle Bridge, with views of the hills on the other side, all the way down to the Teign river and then comes back up to the castle through a roundabout route. It was a fun trek with pleasant views of the gorge below.

Inn on River Teign
While going down, I walked on one side of the hills, with wide-angle views of the hills across, and the river calmly flowing down below. The trees there did not have too many leaves, still dry from the winters but the grass was already very green. At the bottom of the trek, there was a picturesque inn located right next to the river where a lot of people had driven directly and were having a nice afternoon tea. It had got a bit dark too by this time, so I turned around to go back towards the Castle, taking a roundabout route.

Woods on the walk
The way back was along the river for some time, and then turned left up the mountain to come back to where my car was parked. On the way, there was an old turbine house on the right, and an old bridge to cross the river. I also walked around a very pretty house on the way, which I still remember vividly. It was an old farmhouse in white, with a thatched hay roof and a bright garden with multicoloured flowers already blooming - one of the most cost and picturesque homes I saw in the Park.

Anyways after this pleasant trek, I left the Castle around 4 and then started driving towards Buckland Abbey, which was all across the Dartmoor park. It was a long and enjoyable drive. There are loads of fascinating villages in the area, and driving through them was a pleasure.

I stopped at one of the villages, Lustleigh, but found it quite empty. It didn’t feel as fascinating as some of the other villages I had driven through, and there were too many cars parked on the road too. It looks like all the tourists leave quite early and so by the evening, there was no one left walking around! I tried to have dinner at the local pub - Cleaves but turned out it was all booked out! That was quite a big surprise for me, to have no place for dinner in this small village in the middle of nowhere 😏. But that is UK on a long weekend for you!

Sheep on the moors
The drive as I had mentioned was through such narrow paths and villages, that it required a lot of concentration all the time. And on both sides would be either wild landscape, moors or farms with sheep (with black faces!), horses and other animals. And I also for the first time (after reading in countless English classics about moors) realised what moors really are - vast and empty hills, till wherever the eye can see, with only a little bit of grass growing on them! Now the descriptions from Great Expectations and Tess of D’urbevilles make sense. Even though in spring it was all quite bright, I can imagine the moors becoming very depressing during the dark and gloomy days of winter.

Moors from the Warren House Inn
While driving towards Buckland Abbey, I drove past an inn in the middle of nowhere, on top of a hill, called the Warren House Inn. It felt so quaint, a single small building located right in the middle of the moors that I had to stop there to explore it, and maybe even have dinner 😊. And then I slowly realised it has such an old history, that it was worth stopping at. It was built in 1850s and even though it is far away from civilisation, people have been coming here regularly, even in the winters and snow time. It has so many stories about it, of the fire there burning continuously since the 1850s, of being cut off for 12 weeks due to snow, of being the loneliest inn on the moor and so on… In fact, there is even a book written about it. You can read some of its history on its website - the Warren House Inn.

After having dinner at the loneliest inn in the moors, I drove towards my bnb near Buckland Abbey - the Cider House. It was located near the town of Yelverton which is outside of the moors. It was a lovely little town too but I never got a chance to explore it.

View outside the Cider House
I reached my accommodation while it was still light. The Abbey was closed by then, and the Cider House turned out to be a lovely little old stone house located in the gardens of the Abbey. The view outside of the Abbey gardens was striking and I kept looking outside from my room for most of the evening. The hosts were very very friendly and helpful and shared a lot of details about the areas around. After the long day of driving and walks, I called it an early evening and slept off soon enough.

Day 2: Buckland Abbey -> Tea at Grange restaurant ->’Red’ walk in the Abbey grounds -> Buckland Monachorum village, Drake Manor inn

The next day, I woke up a bit late and decided not to drive back to Dartmoor but spend the day exploring the Abbey and its grounds. The weather kept shifting from warm to cold and rainy, so it was a good idea to keep it relaxed. The first thing I figured out that day was that this abbey was Buckland, and not Buckfast which I had been calling it till then 😝. The Buckfast Abbey is also located in Dartmoor but on the Eastern side of the park and was a much older and bigger Abbey.

Buckland Abbey
After figuring this out, I walked towards the Abbey which was located right next to Cider House. The Abbey and its grounds have enough to keep you occupied for some time. There were loads of people there, spending the day in and around the compound. It started out as a sunny day and the Abbey and its grounds looked captivating from the outside. It had a large estate, with a barn, a flower garden and a kitchen garden all located right next to it and open to explore. The gardens had been planted with colourful flowers which were just blooming at that time. And its grounds had many different walks within the estate.

It had a long history too - of about 800 years old. It was built by monks but then bought by Francis Drake who converted it into his home. Francis Drake belonged to the nearby Devon town of Plymouth and is a well known historical figure in English history. He rose from a local boy, sailed around the earth and defeated (and looted) many Spanish armadas to bring riches and gifts for the Queen.

Inside the Buckland Abbey kitchen
There are loads of stories and legends about him and the house had now been converted into a museum dedicated to Francis Drake and his stories from the Elizabethan age. It also includes displays of his ship and how it would have worked to take him around the world, of how a kitchen and dining room from Elizabethan times would have worked (a la Downton Abbey) and some displays of Francis Drake’s belongings. I did find the Abbey a bit overhyped, but given it was free entrance, did not mind it much.

On the Red walk
There were some cafes and restaurants within the Abbey, so I had tea at the Grange restaurant. After a quick stop there, I went for one of the walks in the grounds, the red one. It was a circular walk in the woods with stunning views of the hills across the valley, of the farms and grasslands across, sheep grazing in their closed areas and a river flowing deep in the valley below. This area was located between two rivers, the river Tavy and the river Tamar, one of which I could see on the walk. I also took one of the best photos of the trip on this walk itself.

Blooming bluebells on the walk
I did not encounter too many people on my walk, and it was very calming and peaceful to walk through the woods. I also came across some of the bluebells filled areas with the first set of flowers just blooming. When I came back, I checked online and in summer, this area gets covered with the blue flowers everywhere you see - in fact I could already imagine how amazing it would look once they all bloom fully.

More of the views from the walk
And then I walked through the Cider House gardens, coming back to Cider House and enjoying the setting sun from the living room. It felt like a totally relaxed countryside evening, living like the English do 😊.

The village of Buckland Monachorum
For dinner, I walked to the nearest village which was about 20 minutes away - Buckland Monachorum. The village was small and quite cute in itself, with its very own church and history and of course a pub (as every village in the UK does!). The church was called the St Andrews Church and dated back to the 1200s. The Church had a posting about Israel and how what was happening to them was wrong. Reading that, I realised that the world beyond the educated cities is always a very different world.

Drake Manor Inn
I then walked to the local pub, the Drake Manor Inn but the restaurant was all booked, and so I had to eat at the bar! The whole ambience was very cosy and there were lot of the local residents there already at 630 pm, eating and chatting away loudly! I had a dinner of chicken wings with onion bhaji and mango chutney! I was quite impressed by the combination, and that too finding Indian food components is a middle-of-nowhere pub like this! The food was average though, but the ambience totally fun. And funnily enough, the book I was reading at that time also included parts of Buckfast Abbey in it, what a coincidence:).

Narrow walk to Buckland Monachorum
The walk back home was through the same narrow hedged roads which are so typical of the Park. Even walking through them felt claustrophobic, I still can’t imagine how two cars would drive and cross regularly in so sparse a space. Also there was no phone signal in this area, either in the pub or the walk back. That 20 mins walk back made me feel I had come back to a different time altogether. Walking from one village to another through narrow lanes, with no phone or GPS to guide you - I am sure there would be such descriptions in countless old classics.

On the way, the sky turned into different hues of pink and red. There were many white and yellow flowers on the side grass. I also caught a view of the abbey compound in a ‘new light’, a group of grand buildings in the middle of the grounds, twinkling away. This is how it must have been 100s of years ago, right?

The view of the garden outside
While walking back to the Cider House, I also could see a far off village next to a lake with twinkling lights. I never figured out what village that was but it looked mesmerising from so far off. Back at the Cider house by 9 pm it felt early and late at same time! Early because it was just 9 pm and by city time, that was always too early to have finished dinner. But all around, the lights had shut down and everyone had gone to sleep. And so in keeping with my environs, I also called it an early night.

Day 3: Widecombe in the Moor (a market village) -> Two Moors Way trail -> Milton Coombe village, Who Would Have Thought It inn

My third day in the park turned out to be much more active and satisfying than the previous day. And I think it was also the day I fell in love with Dartmoor. There are many picturesque villages in the Park where you can go to explore them, buy wares at the local stores, eat at the local inn and go for walks around. There were loads of museums and similar activities to do around too. I however chose to go for one of the trails and be as close to nature as possible.

The prison at Princetown
After a heavy breakfast, I left for the moorland in the morning and drove to the village of Widecombe in the Moor. My neighbours at the Cider House had gone there the previous day and were raving about it, so I thought might as well go and checkout the place. The drive till there was through the moorlands, crossing villages and farms on the way. Quite close to entering the park is the town of Princetown which has a huge stone prison. A prison doesn’t sound a very happy place but if you are in prison, I don’t think there would be more picturesque places to stay!

A random stop on the way
The drive till the village had stunning vistas at every turn and you could stop anywhere and have a walk or a picnic. It is desolate bare moorland sometimes, and sometimes green. Streams somewhere and small little villages elsewhere. But very dramatic at every turn. And there were loads of wild ponies running in the wild everywhere. Its a very difficult thing to explain, the views you see and feelings you experience when being close to nature so raw and wild. And the drives in Dartmoor were as much fun as the stops themselves.

The village of Widecombe
The last stretch to Widecombe was through a very narrow road. There were so many cars on the road and I kept getting stuck in the narrow roads, with everyone trying to figure out how to get out! Once in the village, it was nice to walk around. There were a couple of stone houses, and a St Pancras church in the main area. I then walked down to the Rumblestone inn next to the river, which was about 5 mins away. It was a nice place to sit but it was too crowded with the tourists. So I walked back to the village centre and then started to walk up the trail to the Two Moors Way.

You first have to walk towards the next village and then take a detour up the hill, and keep walking till it meets the Two Moors Way which is a multi-day trail across the park. The views once up there were breathtaking - of green meadows with ponies; of deep valleys and undulating hills; of moorland dotted with houses and so all. And then the trail keeps going on all up and down the hills, from one to another and so on.

View on the Two Moors trail
There are many small landmarks on the way as you keep walking. And there were loads of people with maps who I encountered on the way too. There was a stone beacon (called Hamels Down) and then a barrow and then cross - all made of stone and standing strong on top of the hills. As I walked on, I also encountered many tors, which are dramatic stone structures built naturally on the very top of the hills. And then I reached an iron age settlement, which apparently are very common in Dartmoor. This one was called the Grimespound, and had rocks arranged in multiple wall structures all around.

Typical moorland
The whole vegetation kept changing from one to another - from green fields to nothing at all. All around you is so desolate, with just shrubs and bogs all around, with strong winds, till wherever you can see. No civilisation, just raw nature. The weather also had suddenly turned cold and overcast. It felt so alone, so dramatic, so lost! It almost became misty and desolate. Almost scary! This felt so much like the books I had read of the moors. I almost started feeling as if I had come to a different century altogether, in one of those books. And at one point it also got a bit tough to find my way. I think I was lost, even with a map in my hand! All the grass and the hills looked all the same… Thankfully there were a few other people I met and we kept on walking to find our way.

The views from the trail
Finally the Sun also came out and I started going down towards what felt like civilisation - the village of Ashworthy. And when I saw the Ashworthy Manor, it felt better at once. I soon reached the meadows with the sheep and the ponies and slowly came out from the moor world to the normal world. Once there, I started walking towards the village of Widecombe, when a lady driving on that road asked me if I wanted a lift. I took it anyways, and she was travelling with her son and daughter who had got lost on the same trail as me 😜. We shared our lost stories on the way and they finally dropped me to my car in the village parking lot.

The whole walk was about 3 hours and I totally loved it. It was a bit tough, a bit easy; a bit fun and a bit scary! While coming back it felt amazing! I think it was this moment when I realised how much I had enjoyed being in Dartmoor. I think Devon is now my second favourite place in UK, after Scotland. It's a perfect place for a weekend out, go for a few walks, cycle, enjoy the countryside and enjoy its majestic and dramatic views. I hope to come here again soon, and many more times…

After the trek, I started driving back towards Cider House and stopped on the way at the village of Postbridge as it appeared so magnetic. It was right on the road back, next to a small stream flowing peacefully with yellow flowers dotting its bank. I stopped there for a bit, deciding to come there again the next day.

Sheep on the way
The drives in the Park were all so very interesting. With spectacular views at every turn, narrow roads to maneovur and nature to enjoy. I saw a lot of people cycling rather than driving which seems fun and more adventurous. The Speed limit in the park was only 40 kmph (also called the Moor Care driving within the Park) which was quite rigorously implemented and for good measure. And there were many farms on the way too, in between the bare moors.

Even though the day had been decently sunny and warm, by 6 or so, it had got very cold and you don’t want to be out anymore! It would have been a bit better if I had gloves. The day had already been so long but still, by the time I came back to Cider House, it was still light. This time I decided to go to the village on the other side of the Abbey for dinner - Milton Combe. And the pub’s name was Who Would Have Thought It. This pub had opened very recently, was again next to the village church and was full with people chatting and catching up with their neighbours. I had a nice dinner and again went off to sleep at an early countryside hour.

Day 4: Postbridge village -> Bellever Tor -> London

On my last day in Devon, I had planned to visit the English Riviera - the villages of Torquay, Brixham, Babbacombe and Paignton - which are located on the sea in Devon and apparently worth visiting. However, I was so impressed with Dartmoor, that I wanted to spend some more time in the Park itself. I changed my itinerary and drove back into the Park to do some more trails before I leave. And since I had to drive back to London, I kept it a light day too.

This time, I drove a bit through the town of Yelverton and found it quite flat, with ponies, sheep and golfing next to streams. It was quite in contrast to its more undulating Park. It might be a good place to come and stay too. Anyways once in the Park. I randomly stopped at a place just to walk up to one of the Tors (there are loads of them everyone in the Park).

A wild Dartmoor pony
On the way there was a wild pony who started moving towards me. To be honest I would have run away from him but one of the families nearby walked towards it and started patting its neck! So even I tried the same and found it very cool, but I must say, I was very much scared of doing that. The ponies here are wild and walk around in the open, but are still quite friendly with strangers and let them pet them! I found this quite interesting and tried it even when coming back from the Tor, The walk up was nice and short. While going up, I noticed the beautiful bluebell flowers just coming out as spring was arriving. But I also realised, it gets cold and windy very quickly, the moment you are out on the Moor, away from the comfort of the car.

The Bellever trail
There were many other villages to visit in Devon, Moretonhampstead, Tavistock, Bovey Tracey, Chagford, Okehampton and so on. But I decided to keep it simple and drove to the Postbridge village of the previous day. And then went for a small trek to the Bellever Tor.






On top of the Tor, with Haldiram:)
There was a very pretty path leading up to the tor. It was a 2.5 miles walk through green woods, with coniferous trees and lots of moss and lichens all around. And then I came to a clear path leading up the Bellever Tor, with ponies lazily grazing on the sides. Once up the tor, it felt like quite a stark landscape. Huge straight rocks, shaped by centuries of winds, standing guard atop hilltops, like sentinels of the woods. There is something very mystical about these structures which I am sure has been mentioned in some or the other literature over the years.

Woods on the way back
Coming back was like a relaxed walk in the park, and I passed through the Bellever village and then a dense forest. The forest was lovely, and I think not natural. Then I ran into a river which had trout and people were fishing. On this trail too, I lost my directions but then got onto the right but longer path. And then again, I took a lift for the walk back to the road. It took me about 2.5 hours to go round this trail and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also then figured out that Dartmoor is part of of the Duchy of Cornwall, so it is owned by Prince Charles and you need to buy a license if you want to fish in any of its rivers πŸ˜‡.

Typical moorland
After finishing this trek, it was time to head back to London. I started driving back and almost felt bad leaving the place. I found it similar but then very different than a lot of the places I have visited in the UK. As I have said many times in this blog article already, I found it a very dramatic and stark landscape, something interesting and scary at the same time.

The Park was very convenient to navigate and explore. There were loads of signs of villages, enough parking spaces for cars and overall well setup. A definite place to come back again.

I had recently read a story on why Cornwall became a separate country - when the Romans took over the UK, they were unable to get through Dartmoor. And so the original inhabitants of UK, the Picts crossed Dartmoor, went over to Cornwall and stayed there forever. That is one of the reasons why they like to consider themselves a separate country and don’t like the English at all. And now having been to Dartmoor, I can see why the Romans may not have been able to cross it. It can be so strong, so desolate at times, that crossing it is not for the fainthearted!

The drive back to London was fine, I encountered a bit of traffic but not too much. This time I drove through small roads through Andover. It was beautiful to drive through the sunny and green countryside. And this time there was actually a lot of sarson on the way. The drive took 5 hours, though returning the car once within London took a further 1 hour πŸ˜‚. And so it was, my trip to Dartmoor, till the next time am back in Devon…

Accommodation

Cider House is amazing. Its one of the best places I have stayed, in terms of rooms, decor, location, service, everything! The rooms in Cider House are few but very well done up. Even the rooms I was in actually were 3 separate rooms with a beautiful window to enjoy the views outside. And the common living room was so cosily setup, again with impressive views of the garden outside. It was so well done up that you don’t feel like spoiling anything, in the room or the common areas:). The hosts were very friendly, it was easy to walk up the nearby villages for dinner and a great place to stay if you didn’t want to go out. A definite recommend.

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