Sunday, October 11, 2020

Driving from Edinburgh to Isle of Skye through scenic roads- Amazing Scotland

In this episode of Amazing Scotland series, we invite you to join us on this scenic drive to Isle Skye from Edinburgh. There are several routes to Isle of Syke from Edinburgh. We have travelled through some of those highlands roads during our previous visits. This time, we decided to take the most scenic routes of them all which will take us through Cairngorms National Park and Snow Road. You can see the video of our trip here (if you liked what you saw, please subscribe the channel and show your support)

The 90 mile stretch of Snow Road is said to be an amazing sight in the winter. We read that it is no less beautiful during the summer as well. As we are never tired of beautiful sights, we jumped at the opportunity to see new sights and explore new routes.

You'll see that our decision was right. As we left Edinburgh behind, we were treated with some amazing scenery - it was literally feast for our eyes and soul. We couldn't have asked for more (except, perhaps a better weather :) ) On the way, we passed through some lovely towns and villages. Stopped a couple of times to enjoy the views of Cairngorms National Park. Breathing in that fresh crispy air felt heavenly. The heart was filled with joy.

We drove on through the valleys, enjoying the sights of small rivers and rivulets flowing by, clouds kissing the mountains, rains making it all disappear and sunshine bringing rainbows. It was a rollercoaster ride of a different kind. Nature can be such a good entertainer... We stopped near Balmoral Castle gates and enjoyed some views befitting the royals. We knew we couldn't get a view of the Queen's private residence even from afar. We would've loved to get a glimpse of it at least from far. But her majesty was in residence there at that time and so there was no way we could have managed that.
Spending some time by the side of River Dee was refreshing. It felt really nice to be able to see and feel nature up close. It was both a poignant and relaxing moment at the same time.

We then went on to the next item on our itinerary for the day - a distillery tour. You can catch the details of that visit next week. Stay tuned...

Friday, October 2, 2020

Royal Mile Walk Part -2|| Edinburgh || Amazing Scotland

If someone asks us 'what to see in Edinburgh Scotland', we would say 'Royal Mile without any hesitation. Well, you want to know why, check out the earlier blog here.

Here is the second part of the Vlog where you can enjoy these sights on our YouTube Channel Wanderscapes. Don't forget to subscribe and show your support while you are there.

In this second part, we continue from where we left off last week- we bring sights from the Edinburgh Castle ( Although we didn't go inside this time due to the pandemic situation, we had been inside a couple of times and so we know what's inside.

Edinburgh Castle

If you are in Edinburgh and go in, make sure your time your visit to see the daily gun shot which happens precisely at 1 PM. This happens daily, except on Sundays, Christmas and Easter.
The other attractions include the Scottish Crown Jewels - the crown, sceptre and sword used during the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots. There are several towers, museums and a small chapel. A detailed visit will take 3-4 hours. The view is fabulous from the top - a rewarding sight once you climb up the small hills.

Once you've seen everything the castle has to offer, it is time to walk back. As you go down Castlehill, you may try the Scotch Whiskey Experience ( to understand how whiskey is made. Enjoy the tasting session and you can even buy some whiskey if you liked what you tasted.

The Harry Potter connection
As you walk down the castle hill, you will see and hear the bagpiper stationed at the bottom of Castlehill playing the bagpipe. Listen to him and enjoy the Scottish music to your heart's fill. At Lawnmarket, take a diversion towards the George IV bridge for some unique views of the city. marvel at the architecture of this elevated street. It is really awe inspiring to see the buildings on the so called bridge, including the Scottish National Library. And as you walk past the Scottish National Library, you'll find a small cafe painted in red. Harry Potter fans, that's elephant house ( for you - J K Rowling spent many a days writing Harry Potter in this small cafe. If you go in, don't forget to visit the toilet - the graffiti on walls by Harry Potter fans are said to be very interesting.
If you walk further on towards the candle makers row, you will see the Greyfrairs Bobby. Somewhere in the vicinity is the graveyard from where J K Rowling is said to have got inspiration for the names used in Harry Potter series.
Adam Smith's Grave 
Walk to the opposite direction, towards the Princes Garden. There, a tall structure would attract your immediate attention. That's Scott Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. This 200-feet tall structure is said to be world's second largest monument dedicated to a writer. ( Back on Royal Mile, pause to look at the Heart of Midlothian. It was the site of a prison in the old days and so don't be surprised if the locals look at it with disgust. One you look around the place again, enjoy the stroll back to Canongate - this might be a good time to remember all those famous Scots - Alexander Fleming, Alexander Graham Bell, James Watt, Arthur Conan Doyle, R L Stevenson, Adam Smith, Sir Walter Scott and others.

At Canongate church, you can visit the grave of Adam Smith. Further down the road is the house he lived in.

Queens Gallery
Soon we will be back at Holyrood after experiencing the unique sights and sounds of Edinburgh. There is more to see in this beautiful city. We shall leave those for some other time, shall we?

#wanderscapes #amazingscotland #royalmilewalkmalayalam

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Royall Mile Walk Part #1 - Edinburgh - Amazing Scotland

Royall Mile Walk Part #1 - Edinburgh - Amazing Scotland 

Ok, so before anything, let me lay down the cards - this is a travelogue based on our trip to Scotland. We are making a vlog series of it. So, if you would rather watch it than read it here, click here to watch on our YouTube channel, Wanderscapes (and while you are there, consider subscribing to the channel too) 

Royal Mile

Now, this is the second episode of our Amazing Scotland Series. We have just reached Edinburgh. In this blog, I tell you about some of the must see sights of Edinburgh. In the video, you'll get a glimpse of Holyrood Palace and Scottish Parliament before we go on one of the amazing walks through the city. Since this blog is about Royal Mile, I don't intend to go into the details of the palace and parliament. 

Holyrood Palace - Front View

Royal Mile is a one mile stretch of road extending from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace.
It is a collection of five streets - Castlehill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canongate and Abbey Stand. Royal mile is the busiest and most favoured destination of the tourists. Royal Mile walk is a favorite activity of tourists visiting Edinburgh.

This walk is like no other. Here we can see an amazing blend of the old with the new. As we walk along the clobbered street after a quick look at the symbols of both monarchy and democracy, we are ushered into a magical world - truly one of its kind.

Inside the Scottish Parliament 
First, we see the 'close's and 'wynd's and learn the reason behind the strange names. Close was closed to the public - as it led to private, gated properties which could not be accessed without permission. Wynd was a thoroughfare used freely by the public. As we descend thorough the closes and wynds we will be astonished to find unexpected sights - it is like discovering a world within a world. For, beyond the steep descend, sometimes through steps, we will find homes, streets, offices, garden, park and what not. Climb down the unsuspecting flight of stairs to land in a completely different set up. You'll feel you left Royal Mile and entered another world altogether.

'Wynd'ing down 
Once you have explored enough closes and wynds that they cease to be a novelty (although the temptation to walk down a close is too strong to ignore), proceed along the royal mile to enjoy some window shopping. There are dozens of shops selling curios, mementos, gifts and other little (and big) things you would love to take home as a reminder of your visit to this amazing city.

 What a view!
A road to somewhere
If you feel you need something to energise you, pop in to one of the numerous eateries along the way. Better still, pop in to one of the pub or tavern to enjoy a drink or two along with some fascinating stories of its origin. Some, like Old Tolbooth Tavern are rumoured to be haunted - look up the stories and enjoy some good old tales.

Not into myths and tales? No worries - there are numerous museums to quench your thirst of knowledge and facts. Visit Museum of Edinburgh to know more about this fascinating city or pop in to Museum of Childhood - first of its kind in the whole world- to satisfy your urge to know more. Writers museum, People's museum and if you don't mind wandering off a bit from Royal Mile, The Dynamic Earth and the National Museum of Scotland is worth a visit - say hi to Dolly the sheep from us if you happen to visit the national museum :)

Nether bow Wellhead with a view of Royal Mile at the backdrop

Are you looking for some traditional clothing? well, there are so many shops specialising in kilts and tartans that you will have trouble choosing. You can buy some tweeds, cashmere and more from some of these iconic and long standing establishments. If you are low on energy, head to fudge house and enjoy some of their delicious fudges - they have a wide range of flavours from traditional to some innovative. If you are a chocolate lover, the milk chocolate one is a must - our chocolate loving son couldn't have enough of it!

Hey, don't rush off - that's not just a random collection of stone in front of you - it is the oldest surviving well head. People used to line up here to collect water for their daily needs. If you were rich enough, you could pay the urchins to collect water on your behalf - that way you don't have to wake up in the middle of the night to collect precious water.

The mouth that quenched the thirst?
Moubray house is the oldest residential building and John Knox house is not so new either. Both have stood the test of time. So make sure your pause and take a good look at them.

John Knox House
It is never too early to do Christmas shopping when you are at the Nutcracker Christmas shop. Tardis, you said? Nah, that old police box is the ticket counter of Edinburgh City Tours. Not a cheap box though - someone paid more than 100000 pounds for that! Can you believe that?

St Giles Cathedral
Stop at the St Giles Cathedral to admire the building - the inside is even more pretty. Don't forget to see Adam Smith's statue near by. Explore the premise and you'll find more interesting stuff here.
Camera Obscura

Adam Smith

Ok Ok, time to walk ahead - no that's not a church. It is the Hub. Yes, it is the highest point in central Edinburgh. Yes, Camera Obscura is a must visit. At least have fun looking at those installations outside... And finally, go on and enjoy the awesome sight of Edinburgh castle perched upon the hill. Worthy of royalty, isn't it? #wanderscapes #royalmilewalk #edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #8

Update on Weeks 8, 9,10

As it is obvious from the lack of posts here, not much reading happened during these weeks. All I read was a bit from Ivory Throne, which is progressing painfully slow. So, there is not much to write about on the reading front.

I had been busy with other things like my Vlog (Wanderscapes), which turned one recently, my drawing pursuits, writing and more. Sadly, reading has taken a back seat in all this. But I hope to bounce back in a week or so.

Until then, keep reading and discovering joy of letters... Cheers! 

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #7

This week also saw me reading less than I had wanted to. A lot was happening around me and the week was one wherein I couldn't do everything I set out to... 

However, the good news is that I finished reading Heads You Win and did speed reading of another book too. Here's a quick round-up:

Heads You Win – Jeffrey Archer

So, this was a typical story by Archer - the underdog making it big in life against all odds. If I remember correctly, all his protagonists are ordinary people who rise above others and become extraordinary.

What makes Heads You Win is the parallel narrative, which he seems to handle quite easily. The same character with different lives in two different countries. After reading Archer's short stories, which by the way I rate higher than his novels, I am not surprised he can tell the two stories convincingly. If he had to come up with a few more versions, I am sure he would have done that with much elan.

It was nice to follow Alex and Sasha to their different destinations - while they wonder what would have happened if they had climbed into the other crate, the readers don't wonder about it. The writer lays down the two different lives that leave no room for asking what if...

I guessed the identity of the childhood friend and it was oddly satisfying to know my guess was correct. 

Although this cant be termed as the best of his works, Archer definitely keeps the readers engaged and amused. A good read, to say the least.

Do it Today - Darius Foroux 

This was kind of reading in bits and pieces for me. I read this book in between my chores and other free times I managed during the week. This is not a book I would have read from cover to cover at one go.

It was good to read - I am a procrastinator when it comes to some tasks and it was interesting to read about the reason for such behaviour. I should say the author is right. Will it help me overcome procrastination? I am not sure.

There are few other insights that I received from this book and I think overall it made a nice read. I love to read personal development books and this one has its merits. The language is easy and understandable - no jargon or wordplays. That for me made this a good choice for some light reading.

And thus ended another week of not so much of reading. I have not been able to catch up with the Ivory Throne this week because I didn't feel I had it in me to invest time and attention for serious reading - so probably I will come back to it at a later date.

I hope all of you had a good time reading what you love. Keep reading and enjoy the world of letters.. until next time, bye...

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #6

So, this week I literally read very little. All I can say is I have read a few more pages of the Ivory Throne and started reading a book on procrastination (which is halfway through) and finally started reading Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer.

I enjoyed reading all of them and I hope to write a better review of these books next week. 

Although this was one of those weeks where I couldn't get enough reading done, I can't say I am hugely disappointed. On the contrary, I am at peace with myself - I knew a slump will occur sometime. Especially when I read non-fiction and on days when I am really busy with work, I knew reading would take a back seat. However, I don't intend to leave it there and so, this is not a failure or disappointment.

The main thing to remember is that like life, reading is also a journey - sometimes up, sometimes down. The key is not to remain stationary or think it is a lost cause. So, in that sense, this week has been a learning experience too.

That's all for now. Hope to be back next week with a better performance :)

Until then, you enjoy your reading journey... 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Books I read in 2020 # 5

February Week #1  

The first week of February saw me reading a little less than I would have loved to. Yet, I read a couple of books and continued my tryst with the Ivory Throne.

Tell Tale – Jeffrey Archer

I had taken this book on loan from the library and loved reading it. I enjoy reading Archer because his writing is easy and enjoyable. Yet it stands out from the ordinary because of the way he treats every storyline/subject. I enjoyed almost every book I read and Tell Tale was no different. I particularly enjoyed the 100 word short stories and the three different scenarios he presented in the story – a holiday of a lifetime.

‘A Road to Damascus’ was a profound story and so was the ‘A Good Toss to Lose’. The way Archer portrays the characters in the story is wonderful and one can picture them in one’s mind. ‘A Gentleman and a Scholar’ made a unique read and ‘Who killed the mayor’ was intriguing, to say the least.

The beauty of Archer’s writing is the clarity and simplicity he brings to the board. And yet, the stories are captivating like a thriller or so. Needless to say, the flair and command over writing are excellent. I have enjoyed all of his books – except perhaps ‘First Among Equals’, which I read when I was too young to understand UK politics and the way it functions. Ironically, it was one of the books I took ages to finish and was relieved when I finally read the last pages. (I don’t remember the story well and so, I might re-read it one of these days). 

The Essential Collection For Young Readers – Ruskin Bond

I love to read Ruskin Bond. He is an amazing storyteller and I absolutely enjoy reading his stories. That’s why I re-read this book now. It has a lot of stories – The Room of Many Colours, Last Tonga Ride, The Girl on the Train, Coming Home to Dehra, Four Feathers, Blue Umbrella and many more. It fills a certain degree of nostalgia in the reader.

Again, the language and premises are as simple as they can be. The characters are portrayed vividly and the story is told in such an endearing fashion that the reader feels one with it all. Also, the agony of losing the only parent who cared for you, the pain of losing friends, and such things never fail to touch you deeply. Your heart aches for the little boy…

I particularly love the way he writes about the nature around him and also about the people in and around Dehra. A delightful read without any doubt. Ruskin Bond is one of the few writers even the children can read and enjoy. His language is simple and easy to understand. More importantly, it connects you with the story and the storyteller.  If you have a child at home that you wish to initiate into reading, gift a few books by Ruskin Bond. It is highly likely he/she would be hooked.

That’s more or less what I read this week. Apart from finishing the Dead Man’s Shoes and progressing very slowly through Ivory Throne, I haven’t read much. I hope to start Heads You Win by Jeffrey Archer sometime this week and finish it soon as well.

So, that’s all from me folks… until next time… enjoy reading! 

Image courtesy: Google 

Monday, February 3, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #4

Books I read in 2020

Review of Week 4 ending on 29/1/2020

This week saw me reading lesser than the past two weeks.

The Ivory Throne - Chronicles of the House of Travancore – Manu S Pillai

I had heard great reviews of the book from many corners. It was on my wish list for a long time but could manage to find a copy only now. I knew it was going to be a long read because reading non-fiction is always time-consuming for me.  

I have managed to read only about 20% of the book in the past week because of the nature of the topics. I absolutely loved reading the history of Travancore, of which, I must confess, my knowledge is very poor. The book helped me understand the Kerala society of the earlier times better and I hope that by the time I finish the book, I will be better informed.

The author has taken a lot of effort to research and validate his writings and it shows in the writing. As far as I know, I don’t think there are many books on Kerala history with such an in-depth portrayal of people and events. Although it is too early to say, I think all the characters are portrayed as they are and without any favour or opposition.

I have often wondered what would be the state of the world if we lived in a matrilineal society instead of a patriarchal one… I got a glimpse of it while reading about the Ranis and their reign.

Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies – J K Rowling

It must have been almost twenty years since I read Harry Potter for the first time. Since then, I have re-read the books, seen the movies many times and been fascinated by what I saw and read. I watched some of J K Rowling’s interviews too. In those interviews, she mentioned how she developed each character with their own backstories.

So, it was interesting to read about the other sides of the normally impassive ‘Prof. McGonagall’, Remus ‘Moony’ Lupin, ‘dramatic’ Sybil Trelawney and ‘reckless’ Silvanus Kettleburn.  

Although the Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies was published some time ago, I read it only now. I loved reading this short book and hope to read the remaining books in the series in the days to come.

This certainly was a quick and light read, and it was a welcome change from reading the Ivory throne.

A Dead Man's Shoes: and Other Strange Tales - C.J. Wright

I had downloaded this book on kindle thinking it was a detective story or something like that. Instead, I found it was all spooky stories. It dealt with mind, spirit and all the supernatural stuff.
I can’t say I particularly enjoyed reading them. But as a book that offered an entirely different subject, the book was a welcome change. I haven’t finished it yet though. 

Of the 13 stories, I liked the first, A Dead Man's Shoes and Lay Me Down To Sleep better. The story Love Bite reminded me of Dracula, although there is nothing similar in the content other than the vampire.

I think I have two more stories left in the book, which I might finish at leisure.

So, that’s it for the week. I don’t think I have read as much as I liked. Still, I am happy that I have been able to keep the wheel running… I paid a quick visit to the library and have borrowed two titles by Jeffrey Archer, who is one of my favourite authors. I look forward to reading Head you win in the coming days. The other book, Tell tale is a collection of short stories and I have finished a couple of the stories by now. More on will follow in a detailed review.

So, that’s all folks… I hope you all are reading loads of books and enjoying them. Until next time, keep reading!!!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Books I read in 2020 #3

Review of Week 3 ending on 22/1/2020

Week 1 review can be found here
Week 2 review can be found here
Ok, so I finished the book, Scion of Ikshvaku this week. The feeling is mixed. As mentioned earlier, I liked the premise of the novel, but can’t say I was too thrilled to read.
One of the things I felt was that the author was superimposing the events of the present into the narrative. Especially the killing of Roshni after cruel gang rape led by a minor and the accused being spared by law because he was a minor alludes to the infamous rape case that happened in Delhi a few years ago.
Also, mentioning of Vyomkesh (undoubtedly referring to Byomkesh Bakshi, the famous fictional detective created by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay) also was so unnecessary. It didn’t add to the narrative, I thought.
Although the book, much like the Shiva trilogy, we can see reference to actual places of today. And yet, the very concept of India was much different then as compared to what it was in those ancient times. It felt a bit forced – like a conscious effort to tie the past and present together.
Having said that, the idea that Ram wasn’t the favoured child was indeed a bold premise to develop the story. As expected, it depicts the protagonist as a normal human being (with idealistic views and ways) who elevates himself to a higher stature through his words and deeds. Of course, we will have to wait and see how it all ends…
Sita – Amish 
This can be termed as Sitayana or the journey of Sita. Much like Ram, she is also troubled with many things – her birth and status as she grows up. Amish advocates gender equality in his books and hence his Sita is not the typical all enduring, servitude type woman. Instead, she has a will and opinion of her own, which is one of the reasons Ram falls in love with her. He bows his head to her with respect and admiration.
Their union is much of completion of each other - unlike a usual marriage where the husband is the master and supreme power, and the wife is nothing but his glorified servant catering to his needs. One is not entirely surprised by this treatment because it was seen in the Shiva trilogy too where Parvati was portrayed as an independent person.   
Although the author tries to reveal the underlying layers of the society and the characters, most of the time he comes up with a justification why things are the way they are – or at least that’s what I felt.
This was a quick read because many of the passages were sort of repetition from the first book – the story being told in a linear narrative from the point of view of the three main characters, Ram, Sita, and Ravana.
The constant reference to Vayuputras and Malayaputras gets a bit too tedious – I don’t know why the author needed to explain who are they now and then. Likewise, the presentation of some of the central characters (as well as the absence of a few) like Hanuman, Jatayu, is so entirely different from the original that the reader is somewhat curious to see how their story develops.
I had trouble visualising the elaborate settings of the places described – the Mithila bee quarters, Agastsyakoodam mountain, etc being some of them.
Ravan – Amish
I could finish Sita a lot quicker than I expected – thanks to some extra reading during bedtime – and hence proceeded to the third book of the series. Ravan is usually portrayed as a villain and it is not easy to write about someone like him in a positive light.
Even so, it is not surprising to find that a troubled past led him to what he became in the future. Although the author wasn’t justifying or glorifying the protagonist, one couldn’t help thinking of numerous instances narrated in history where troubled childhood has been stated as a reason for someone turning into the beast they’ve become later in life.
The premise sounds common – a child walking out of his father’s home with the pain and grudge for the constant ill-treatment meted out to him by the parent. The only difference here could be that Ravan was forced to flee with his mom, newly born brother and uncle to save their lives.
Life was hard and although he loved his brother Kumbhakarna more than anything else in the world, Ravan was more of a loner all his life. There are parts of Ravan’s mind even Kumbhakarna couldn’t reach. The brothers shared a very strong bond and at times it felt like reading a modern TV series on two brothers because it is difficult to picture Ravan and Kumbhakarna as bosom buddies… however, Kumbha was to Ravan what Laxman was to Ram.
Having read the two books of the series, it was easy to guess where the story will lead to. The undisclosed love of Ravan towards Kanyakumari and how that urged him to be the best version of himself, how her death changed him and made him worse were all on the expected lines. Even the so-called suspense ceased to be – I could rightly guess the identity of Sita and Kanyakumari even before the author revealed it.   
As with the earlier books, the author seems to try to intertwine present with the past. The mention of Sabarimala and the traditions associated didn’t add any value to the plot, I felt. Why did the author feel compelled to use a burning topic of present times (this book was published recently, after the Sabarimala verdict and all the controversies around it) to the story of Ravan?
Of course the portrayal of Ravan, the protagonist was good as with the protagonists of other books. The reader feels for him when he suffers. Most of his actions could be justified too. However, the portrayal of Kumbakarna was more interesting and intriguing to me. The way he changes – from hero-worshipping his brother, to helping him achieve his greatness and then to try and put some sense in his mind when he chooses the wrong path – all these are layers of the character which I haven’t seen before. There is more to Kumbakarna than his usual portrayal as a giant that loves to eat and sleep all the time.
And yet, overall the book wasn’t that exciting to read. I found it tiring and boring to read the same passages for the third time (of the instances common to all three books). So, I am not waiting for the next book with bated breath. I still might read it if I happen to come across it. But, I am not too excited about it.
So, that’s the end of the week and I have already started reading Ivory Throne by Manu S Pillai and you can hear from me about it in the next blog. Since it is nonfiction, I am sure it will take me longer to finish. Yet I hope to finish it at the earliest and go on to read the next book.
Until then, enjoy your reading and share your thoughts too…

Of Little Trips and Great Learnings

The other day, we (some staff, volunteers and service users of Mary Seacole House, Liverpool) went on a day trip to Llangollen. This wasn&#...