On our Euro-trip

I shared the story of our planning in the first part. Here's some details and my review of the hotels we stayed at, the modes of transport that we used and travel cards we bought. 
IBIS Budget Amsterdam - source: IBIS website
Except Antwerp, where we booked a couple room in a youth hostel at city center, everywhere else we stayed at IBIS hotels at price range of Rs.5000- Rs.6000 including food.
IBIS Budget, Amsterdam City South - We got a fantastic view of quintessential suburban society from our room at the 14th floor, about 13 km from the city center. But the tram/metro station was just 50 meters away and thanks to the super-fast public transport we could reach all important places in the city within 20 minutes. (4/5)
Antwerp  Central Youth Hostel - 2.5 km from the Antwerpen Centraal railway station, this large beautiful hostel is located at the heart of the city at the fashion district, close to all the major points of interest at Antwerp. Loved the fun ambience, spacious double-bed room and delicious breakfast spread here. Slightly noisy at night, we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.(4/5)
IBIS Style, DeHaan - This one looked and felt like a resort, with spacious rooms,beautiful garden, outdoor dining and even a swimming pool. Amazing place to relax and rewind in lap of nature, at the price of any budget hotel in Europe. Only problem is reaching the place as there is only 1 tram every 30 minutes leaving from Oostend to DeHaan (4.5/5)
IBIS Style, Montmartre- Excellent location close to metro station, 300 meters from the glamorous Moulin Rouge and 1.2 km from the spiritual Sacre Coeur. The hotel room was too small to qualify for IBIS Style and the breakfast space was congested, although given the location advantage and complementary breakfast the price was perfectly reasonable.  (4/5)
IBIS Style, Casteldefells - 2km from the beach,10 minute walk from the RENFE train station, and an additional 30 minutes on train to Barcelona, this place is clearly not for someone who wants to spend all day at Barcelona. But Casteldefells itself is a gorgeous city famous for being home to Barcelona football stars like Messi and Suarez. I loved the spacious room here and also the location in an upscale society near a Carrefour supermarket and a large shopping & entertainment complex. (5/5)
IBIS Budget Calle, MadridLocated in a busy part of the city very close to the metro station , restaurants and even a Carrefour market, this was the last hotel we booked, almost a month after we had booked everything else. Prices by that time had already soared and all other hotels in the same budget was booked. The room was minimalist as expected, but what we really disliked was the absurd restroom arrangement. (3.5/5)

Things that we didn't get in any of the above hotels/hostels-
- No electric kettle or tea bags in the room. Yeah, that's something we have come to take for granted in any hotel in India but you don't get it here at that budget. So if you plan to carry ready-to-cook noodles or soup, plan accordingly
- No dental kit or moisturizers
Things that we got in all the places
- Free Wifi with unlimited and good enough speed even for video calling


Iamsterdam city card -  Available in denominations of 24hours upto 120 hours, this is just one small card that gives you unlimited free access to all public transport within the city and free entry to most of the important attractions in and around Amsterdam- more than you'd have time to see. 
While in Amsterdam we returned to our hotel every evening to freshen up and tread out again, all thanks to the unlimited transport. Read more 
The goodies that came with Iamsterdam Card
Places we used the card, besides transport where we saved at least €17.5 (72-hour transport ticket price)
- Audio guided 100 attraction canal cruise for sightseeing (€20)
- Van Gogh's Museum including audio guide (€18)
- Tulip museum including audio guide (€5)
- Inside the Windmill tour at Zaanse Sachs (€4)
- Audio guided tour to the awe-inspiring Zaans Museum, Zaanse Sachs (€10)
- Rijk's museum (€17.5) - well, museum got closed as soon as we went inside.
Add to this the free transport, the travel magazine, map and guide to all of Amsterdam's neighborhood, this wasn't a bad deal for us. Well there are a lot more you can cover if you plan your travels properly. 
Some of the things we missed but you shouldn't-
Entry to atleast one of the castles in Amsterdam neighborhood, Maritime museum, Diamond museum and boat ride at Maarken . 

#Tip 1: All the museums except Anne Frank house close by 5-6 pm, so keep save canal cruise for the evening, and get back to hotel for rest only after the museums are all closed :D
A beautiful view of a series of bridges- photo taken from behind the glass windows of Canal Cruise

Paris Pass - I'd recommend buying the Paris Pass only if you are want to visit a large number of monuments and are ready to roam around from early morning to midnight. The 3 day pass comes at 160 Euros, almost double the price of the 72 hour Amsterdam card, but given that you are in Paris- the world's biggest tourist destination, I'd say it's worth it. This time, I actually stayed awake late planning our tour every day so that we could make the most out of this card, something honestly we could not do at Amsterdam.

Paris Pass cards
With this you get 3 cards - one for transport(3 days) , one for museum (2 days) and one more for attractions (3 days) (slightly inconvenient but it comes in a single fold-able plastic jacket). Paris is a city packed with more iconic monuments and must-see attractions than one can see in even seven days. Here's what we did with the card, apart from the incessant travelling on metros and buses.
  • The Bateaux Parisiens River Cruise €15
  • 1 Day ticket for hop-on hop-off Big Bus tour €35
  • Aquarium de Paris - a state of the art aquarium wit over 500 species €20.5
  • Guided tour of the iconic Opera Garnier €15.5
  • 56th Floor, Montparnesse tower €18
  • Louvre Museum - €15 for 1 day, with Paris pass you can visit it as many times you want in 2 days + save atleast 1 hour with skip the line
  • Orsey Museum €11
  • Rodin Museum €10
  • Notre Dame Crypt €6 and Tower €8.5
  • Roof of Arc De Triompe €12
There you go, without the pass we would have spent €160 on just these attractions, forget the intra-city transport. Just to give a rough idea of the amount we would have spent on transport- any one-way metro ticket costs €1.9 in Paris and we used the metros at least 4 times a day (bare minimum), so we saved atleast €23 on travel. 
Important museums we missed due to time constraints were the wax museum,Palace of Versailles, Pantheon and Conciergerie to name a few,but we saw most of them from outside atop the open-hooded big bus
Notredame Cathedral from atop the hop-on hop-off  tourist bus

Barcelona card With 10% discount online we got a 96 hour Barcelona card at 45 Euros only. This gave us free intra-city transport including (thankfully) transport between Casteldefells and Barcelona, as well as to the airport. There are two cards - one only for transport and one for all the discount and free offers. We got another discount booklet from Barcelona bus touristic which we took using our Barcelona card 😏
There are very few free attractions covered by the Barcelona card but they have great discount coupons for food, hop-on hop-off Bus touristic, and most of the major attractions. However, the top 2 tourist destinations- CampNou and Sagrada Familia are excluded :(
Barcelona Card and Bus touristic booklet
The train fare from Barcelona airport to Casteldefells would be about €4, and the daily rail fare from our hotel to Barcelona was €2.5 - €3. Also include bus fare to Tibidabo, La Rambla and other places within Barcelona, we had easily saved at least €40 only on intra-city travel. Add to that the discounts we took on the places we visited using the card, we easily surpassed the value of the card by over €20.
These are where we used for free or discounted entry-
Skip line and Free entry to CCCB - A dynamic visitor attraction which organises a wide range of exhibitions and activities every day. saved €8 for two exhibitions
Skip line and Free entry to National Art Museum of Catalunya - saved €12 
50% off on Casa de le Punxes - saved €5
20% off on Barcelona bus touristc, the hop-on hop-off tourist bus of Barcelona - saved €8 
€4 off on funicular ride to Tibidabo amusement park -  saved €4
€4 off on 40 minute cruise in the Mediterranean sea from Barcelona port
We also got ridiculous discount at Subway and McDonalds that reduced our joint expenditure on food to less than €15 per day!

The Olympic racing track AFAIR, across the Mediterranean, as seen from bus touristic

Madrid transport card - There are one or two private passes for Madrid city tour that you would find online but its almost as expensive as Paris, and honestly didn't look promising. So the first thing we did when we stepped into Madrid was purchase the 3 day Madrid city transport card at 18.5 Euros. This gave us unlimited access to the intra-city transport netowrk including airport transfer, and.. well that's about it. Not only is it a cheaper alternative to buying tickets, it also saves the time in queue or even on the self-help kiosks.
Plaza de Espana at Marid

Well, I did spend a hell lot of time and effort in scanning all our cards and trying to recalculate the expenses and savings we did with those. Hope it helps someone in planning their travel. Please tell me in the comments and pin the image below for your next trip. Happy travelling!

Roadtrip- Bangalore to Bekal

Bekal is a beautiful fortified town in Kasargod, Kerala. Famous for the Bekal fort and sand beaches this is still among the lesser known jewels in the crown of God's own country. About 380 km from Bangalore, this is a road trip that you'd remember forever. During the journey you'll pass through the beautiful hills stations of Madikeri and Kushalnagar in Coorg district of Karnataka. The roads are mostly in great condition except for the last stretch along the hills of Kerala.

Our Plan

This was one of those whimsical trips where we decided on the day, duration and destination just a day before the trip. With the football worldcup fever on we didn't want to miss out on the matches, hence chose to set off on Friday morning (29th June) - an off day before the round of 16. My husband longed for the hills and I was craving for some beach time, so I looked up the internet and found this amazing place called Bekal Fort. This is famous for being the location where the popular Hindi song "tu hi re" in the movie Bombay was shot. This is a place where you have hills, the sea , the rock beaches and the sandy ones, and a glimpse of history.
The distance was long for spending just one night there, so we booked a luxury beach resort, unlike most of our trips where we prefer standard hotels in town area. The weather forecast said it would rain throughout the day, but to our pleasant surprise we got to see the Nilgiris if monsoon, summer and spring all in the same journey.

The Journey

Map from Bangalore to Kasargod

Thanks to google timeline I could add the exact route we followed on the map above. The drive from Bangalore to Kasargod is the most beautiful road trip I have had for years. We started at around 6:00 am from electronic city in Bangalore and took the NH275 route where almost three-fourth of the route was on national highways NH48 and NH275. The roads were in great condition with breathtaking landscapes on both sides- ideal for long drives. We had a delicious south Indian breakfast at Kamat upachar on the way at 9am (inked on the map above) after which we almost drove continuously halting at few viewpoints. in Coorg. Once we left Karnataka and took the Thekkil-Aletty road, the width of the road almost reduced to half and the drive got an extra bit of thrill that we were not looking for. This part needs to be driven with caution - there are lots of blind turns and some badly damaged parts in between. This road cuts through the well forested hilly range and runs parallel to a river ( don't remember the name, will be happy if someone can help in the comments section). The road ends on NH66 in Kasargod from where our resort was about 20 minutes away. The colorful flags of all popular world cup teams were enough to say you have stepped into Kerala, without even looking at Google maps. It felt like home to the nostalgic Bengalis settled in Bangalore.

The Destination

We stayed at the Malabar Ocean front Resort and Spa, a beautiful beach resort at Kasargod. It's a small area with well maintained garden, pools and fountain. At off-season discount we got the rooms at roughly Rs.6000 per night and it was a luxury experience at that budget. (Quick update: one of my colleagues actually got 2 nights at Rs.9600 after hearing from me and booking just 2 weeks in advance). The room was larger and better than some of the highly priced top resorts I have stayed in during our corporate trips. Its a place where you can literally wake up to the sound of waves and view of  coconut groves along the sea side. It was 2:00pm when we reached our resort and the first thing we did was to head to the restaurant where we had some authentic Kerala Cuisine - Grilled kingfish, Kerala porota and rara chicken.
As usual, make sure you have checked best prices on makemytrip, booking.com, agoda before booking.

After this we spent the entire day walking and chatting at the beach. The sea on this side, as well as at the Bekal fort is rough, unlike the usual calm Arabian sea in Goa or Mumbai, hence not much option for water adventure. Personally I love this rugged face of the sea more than the calm - it's like watching the wild in the wild rather than the zoo. Due to cloudy weather, we couldn't really take Facebook-profile-picture-worthy photos here, but I have included some of the shots that capture the mood in the short video.
Next morning, we headed to Bekal fort at 9am, right after a wholsome breakfast with dosa, bread, eggs, sausages ,cereals and juice. The fort is about fifteen minutes drive from the resort, located just across the Bekal beach. Built in the seventeenth century, spread over 40 acres, this is the largest fort in Kerala. It was built by the Nayakas of Keladi, one of the prominent Kannada dynasties that rose after the decline of the Great Vijayanagara empire in the 16th century. It's easy to appreciate the strategic location of this fort looming upon the rough Arabian Sea. Another aspect that's hard not to notice are the prominent old temple and mosque around the same place bearing testimony to the religious harmony that existed for centuries.
We were pressed for time, since we had to reach home to watch the match at 7:30pm, so we reserved just one hour for the fort and Bekal beach. I'd suggest keeping at least 2.5 hours for enjoying this place if not more. Another attraction of this place are the hoards of peahens living here - strangely enough we spotted a group of 5-6 peahens but no peacock.

Note: I'd recommend this place for a two night stay especially if you choose to drive, so that you can explore the other ruined forts built during the same era, take a boat trip on the backwaters and get time to rest. It took us a little over 8 hours on each side, but that is thanks to minimal traffic on a working Friday morning, and a non-working Saturday evening. Any Bangalorean would know that you can easily add two more hours each side if you decide to travel on Saturday early morning and return on Sunday evening instead.
So are you excited for the trip? Share your thoughts in comments. Happy travelling!

Bekal Fort, Kerala, India
Can you hear the horses galloping from far?

FIFA, football, worldcup, fever, in, Kerala
Football fever in Kerala

Malabar Ocean-front resort and Spa, Kasargod, Bekal
Malabar Ocean-front beach resort & Spa

Beach resort, Swimming pool, Bekal, Malabar ocean-front resort and spa
Swimming pool at beach resort

Bekal Fort, Kasargod, Kerala
Bekal Fort, Kasargod, Kerala