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Sunday, November 29, 2015

14th Century Monument-Karnan tower, Helsingborg, Sweden!

Karnan is a tower in the heart of Helsingborg city. It is from the medieval times (14th century) and tells lots of stories. Karnan tower is part of a larger fortress, but except fortress entrance and this tower rest of the mighty constructions were destroyed by Danish and Swedish kings over wars

As I walked out of Helsingborg ferry terminal, at Radhuset I was trying to figure out where to head next. As I looked around, I saw this fort entrance and that helped decide which way to turn.

I climbed stairs and went up, I was greeted by a tower, known as Karnan (Literally translates to "The Keep" but means "The Core" or "Central point" in Swedish and Danish languages)

The stairs were inviting and I went inside. Inside I had to buy a ticket. I could either pay 50 SKK that is valid only for this attraction or could pay 120SKK which would be valid for 2 days and for 4 attractions in total. With some thinking I decided to go for 120 SKK pass and I am happy I made that decision. I also got a map of the city and audio guide. Audio guide was Swedish only. Lady at the counter also asked if I am really planning to go to Sofiero- she said it is bit far and closes early. I thanked her for the information.

There is a limitation on how many visitors can go on top at any given point of time, because of narrow staircases and security issues I guess. So if rush is more you will have to wait around the ticket counter (known as Guard floor or first floor) for few of the guests to come down.

I went upstairs on the narrow stairs. Not many visitors were there and a few who were around were extremely polite giving preference to others by giving way. It was difficult to convince the other party to proceed while you are willing to give way. I got "Thank You"s in different languages as I moved to a side and requested them to proceed.

I went to top directly. From the top you will get nice view of Helsingborg town.


After spending a few moments on top I went down. There are a couple of floors you can explore a bit. They showcase ancient items used by residents of Karnan and a bit of history of this tower.

Fourth floor of Karnan, which is immediately below the open terrace is an empty hall, was reportedly used for functions.

Third floor has a set of seats- believed to be used by the king when he and his team visited Karnan and some historic information
Second floor, known as Borg floor, has items used by Karnan's staff when it was operational. There are some ancient cloths which visitors are free to try on.

King Eric Menved (1274-1319) was the king who built the original Karnan tower. Original design can be seen in below painting. Helsingborg was part of Denmark back then and it was a vital town because of its proximity to sea trade route.

Chinese checker like game played by residents
Notice the light used to simulate fire.

Information displayed inside Karnan explains how guests were accommodated in medieval age, the concept of toilets, food habits, dress patterns and so on. It was interesting to learn that even in 14th century they had the concept of beds, food preservation through pickling/salting, idea of using pits for toilets and so on.

Overall, it was a very revealing experience visiting Karnan in Helsingborg. Karnan was one of the first key attraction I visited during my Europe visit this year, just that I took some time to compile this post.

Also in HelsingborgEuropeade 2015 * Tropikariet and Madagascar LemursDunkers Culture House *  Sofiero Castle, Garden * 

Kaunas, Lithuania-Cheapest place in Europe for Balloon Ride

I am not aware of any other place in Earth where you can have a balloon ride for 99 Euros. It is possible only in Kaunas, Lithuania.

In my post "Why Lithuania is an ideal weekend destination in Europe" one of the reasons were cheap balloon ride. This post has few more photos and information on the same,

After spending some time around Kaunas Castle, I walked towards a park nearby and spotted the balloon being readied for take off. Within next few minutes, it was in the air.

Just check with these guys if you want to book a slot! It costs only 99 Euros here. In Switzerland, it costs double (of course landscape below will be totally different). In India cost is about 8500 per person.
 Spotted the balloons next evening also. Spot the balloon at the centre of Bride tower

Unfortunately I couldn't try a ride. I have already experienced it earlier this year near Pune.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dhanushkodi: The great offroad ride adventure

Indian Bloggers
A visit to Dhanushkodi was pending since long time. It materialized recently. From my previous readings I knew that we can't go to Dhanushkodi in our own vehicles, so asked at my lodge in Rameshwaram about arrangements to go to Dhanushkodi. Hotel staff checked with a van driver and quoted Rs 2250. We were only 5 people, but he had quoted for an entire van (15 pax). Realizing that it is not economical, we drove in our rented Figo to Dhanushkodi entrance and from there boarded the van that would take us to Dhanushkodi.

From Dhanushkodi parking lot, charges are Rs 150 per person with Mahindra vans and jeeps waiting in line to ferry tourists to Dhanushkodi over a non existing road. The great ride to Dhanushkodi over sea and half wheel deep sand is an experience in itself as the driver skillfully negotiates aged and modified vehicle over the challenging terrain.
I asked the driver about the van- he confirmed that front two wheels are altered to make the van a four wheel drive. So it is able to traverse the sandy terrain to Dhanushkodi.

I made a 90 second video of the ride over ocean to Dhanushkodi- take a look below.

 Some more pictures of the off road journey to Dhanushkodi 
 Most vans are very aged and may breath its last any moment.

Automobile companies that want to demonstrate 4x4 capabilities of their vehicles should test them here, instead of some mild tracks.
Dhanushkodi on map
Overall, the journey takes about 15 minutes one way, we get 30 minutes at Dhanushkodi to explore the ruins and 15 mins return ride. I will write about Dhanushkodi in a separate post. I could see that nice roads are being laid connecting Dhanushkodi to mainland. The road was not open to public yet. If it opens then we can reach Dhanushkodi in our own car, without having to offroad like these vans. But then a few dozen van and jeep drivers who are earning money ferrying tourists to Dhanushkodi will have to find an alternate job. We will also miss the fun the ride offers.

Indiblogger #BNLF (Blog Now Live Forever) event in Mumbai

When I first learnt about BNLF (Stands for Blog Now Live Forever), I was in Europe and wasn’t very sure of my probability of attending it.  This event was by Indiblogger and usually their events will be good. It will be fun, some goodies to be won. But BNLF initially sounded too Hi-Fi.

Later I checked agenda and speaker profiles. It felt promising. But BNLF was in Mumbai- I had to spend on travel while Indiblogger promised accommodation with their partner Stayzilla. I had drained my savings in Europe and wasn’t very sure if I should spend again on this.  I asked myself I should attend or what will be my takeaway. Considering all that I got from Indiblogger this year (got to travel to Bangalore, Pune and Ahmadabad for Oyo rooms and Tata Nano events and one more coming up next week), and because of personalized mail from Renie, My expectations/objectives in attending BNLF were two fold- First-to take home some practical tips about blogging that I am not aware of yet or I am not doing it effectively so far. Second- to meet other bloggers I haven't met so far. Just about 10 days before the event I spotted a return ticket of Rs 6000+ on spicejet and took a decision to book on it and fly to Mumbai to attend BNLF. It has been over 5 years since I last visited Mumbai and finally I had an excuse. We had clear instruction not to take any photos when session is in progress- so didn't even carry my main cameras.
This post shares my notes from the event and what I felt.
In a nutshell-
  • Was the #BNLF event fun and sessions were interesting? Yes
  • Did I succeed in primary objective of learnt lots of tips and tricks I was never aware of? No. Almost everything speakers told was the same known stuff nicely repackaged. Just that we should be proactive in implementing them.(Can't blame IB for it- they wouldn't know what I know or don't know. I guess majority of the audience benefited from the tips shared by speaker, so we need to credit the team for putting it together. Also don't expect all speakers to share their secret sauce- we need to figure it out ourselves)
  • Did I succeed in my secondary objective of meeting lots of bloggers? Yes 100%
  • Would I attend this kind of event again? Yes, but only if travel cost is low enough.
BNLF was 2 day event. Day 1 was when maximum crowd was. I went to venue directly from airport- but gates were not open on time and those who came early had to wait outside- this gave a perfect excuse to try out Cleartrip Activities. I had to show my pass at the registration counter to get the tag with lunch coupon, someone asked for my age proof and gave me a drinks coupon for use during after even party (which I didn’t go to). Later once we went inside we were greeted to an aircraft like theme. Lots of thinking has gone into conceptualize the event, prepare materials and execute it. We took our seats and waited for program to begin. There were no sponsor logo on the stage-means IB could command enough respect that two sponsors didn't insist on having their logo everywhere.

Anoop began by stating that Indiblogger had more meets on shampoos and stuff than about blogging and this event is conceptualized to focus on Blogging. First event was a rock show. I am not a big music fan- made an attempt to interpret and understand the lyrics. Instead of using lights, well designed video/animation was played in the background,which had almost the same effect as real disco lights. Next was talk by Purba Ray, who was introduced to audience by BlogwatiG. Purba entertained audience by satire filled talks.
Next talk was from Arnab Ray. He spoke mentioned some principles bloggers should adhere to- such as
- Do not dilute your stand often just to suit popular public perception. Stick to what you believe in.
- Not making money from blog permits him to stay honest
- Mind your language. Criticism is OK but abusing anyone is NOT.
- He gave up better paying jobs because they were not accommodating of his passion for his blogging. Current job, though less paying, helps him maintain his blog in parallel to regular work.

Christop Trappe was next. He spoke about story telling. He mentioned the 60-30-10 Rule- Spend 60% of your time writing and researching posts, 30% time interacting with your audience, responding to comments, commenting on other blogs etc and spend 10% of the time on link sharing/promoting your blogs.

Anshul Tiwari spoke next on his experience running a blog on social cause (YouthKiAwaaz) and building a team and platform to support it.

Kannan Gill spoke next. He talked a bit about his failures & struggle and eventual success. His slides also had a bit of satire and humor, but I couldn't follow him fully.

Jeff Bullas came on stage next- he talked about using tools to automate stuff- like link sharing. He suggests sharing a link again and again at regular intervals, at various times. I don't fully agree with this though- it is a quantity vs quality debate- I am not in favor of dumping lots and lots of tweets with links on my followers with a blind home that someone will click on it. Most of my hard earned followers follow my blog regularly and are likely to have read a new post on its first few days. Bombarding them with links of old posts is very likely to spam and annoy them.

But other tips from Jeff were good
-Don't wait to be perfect. Publish regularly even if it is not fully perfect.
-Lots of people on this world are introverts. But introverts make great bloggers.
-Early morning before breakfast is a wonderful time to blog if you keep complaining about not getting time to blog
- Well written title, having few images, formatting & readability etc are important

Preeti Shenoy talked about her struggle as an upcoming author and how successful she is. Some audience asked dumb questions to her- like why not try self-publishing? To which Preeti gave right answer- if you go by an establish publisher, that automatically brings in lots of credibility, as someone has verified your work and decided that it is worth publishing. Plus lots of money is earned in advance and other loyalty from well-established publishers. Someone asked her how much Preeti makes per book. She replied 8 digits, which is 1 crore or above. That is pretty decent money to make.

But Preeti didn’t stress upon the importance of reading lots and lots before beginning to write. Author Kulpreet Yadav did a better job on that front in providing more practical tips to hopeful writers in one of his quick workshops I got to attend in Chennai.

Last session was very interesting. Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickenson spoke about his way of doing business- where he attempts to create 0+0=1. Though nothing specific to blogging, his ideas were good and talk was very interesting. He explained how European airlines will have idle planes in winter which can be rented for cheap and used for his world tour, how picking up a phone and talking is more effective than emails, how one should create fans and not customers and so on. He signed off stating he doesn't use twitter.

#BNLF trended on twitter on Day 1, marking its overall success. Got ClearTrip Coupon worth Rs 1500 at the end of the day and event T shirts.

Event ended by about 7PM. We were told after event party would start in an hour. Didn’t see a point hanging around for one hour, so went to my hotel Silver Inn) and slept.

Day 2 was supposed to begin at 10.30 AM. I woke up at 6.30, got ready, waited till 7 AM for breakfast to open, stepped out. My idea was to explore Sanjay Gandhi international park. But while the park boundary was pretty close, park main entrance was far. So after spending few moments at Panvel lake, I came back, hopped into Metro and took a return ticket to last station.

Audience for Day 2 was less than one third of Day 1- Few responded it is because of freezing AC, but real reason could be that most of local bloggers felt networking they did on Day 1 is enough and since the takeaway from sessions were not extra ordinary, visiting again Day 2 is not required.

Day 2 had two workshops- one each from Trappe and Jeff. Attending these workshops at best served as a refresher to whatever I already knew. As per agenda we are supposed to get a certificate for attending this event- we were told it will be sent later.

Several group photos were taken.

I was hoping that someone from Indiblogger core team will also talk about the insights they have learnt from running a platform for bloggers. Handling thousands of blogs and blog posts and campaigns, Indiblogger is sitting on a goldmine of data. If they can extract the essence of it and share some useful insights tips-may be at next edition of #BNLF it would have helped bloggers a lot. Example
  1. What kind of blog posts get maximum promotions vs what gets very little attention
  2. What are the tips from Indiblogger’s experience we bloggers can adapt to increase traffic or increase chances of acceptance at various campaigns/contests
  3. Which category is over crowded and which category has very less competition (Example: Campaigns related to food & travel get maximum responses, while campaigns on fitness or adventure doesn’t get too many responses- in which case you have higher chance of winning something in these categories
  4. What are the common mistakes blogger do that reduces their chances of success in a campaign/contest?
  5. And things like that
About an year ago Indiblogger did publish some insights. I request them to add this to the agenda of next BNLF event where Indiblogger team will share some insights.

Good work by Indiblogger putting together a massive show line BNLF. Met a few members of Indiblogger core team and lots of interesting bloggers. Left for airport by Sunday evening. I learnt that another BNLF will be held in 2016, probably in Chennai. Will be looking forward to that.

Hotel Silver Inn, Mumbai- When you can't afford the Lalit, Hilton or Leela

Silver Inn Mumbai is the hotel to stay when you want a room closer to International airport but can't afford the Lalits, Hiltons, Hyatts or the Leelas.

When I visited Mumbai for #BNLF, I was put up in this hotel, by Stayzilla, partners for the event. It was a shared accommodation, with another Bengaluru based blogger Naveen Mathew. While booking the room, stayzilla concierge service called me to confirm my check in, check out time. I raised an important point- that I would need a separate access card and can’t manage with one access card for 2 guests. Stayzilla lady spoke to hotel and told me that can be arranged by requesting at the reception.

But on 31st Oct evening when I went to hotel, reception staff said they can’t give me an access card, as other guest already has one. Even Agsana resort in Bangalore had same problem. I was upset with this stupid rule/process at hotels- they assume that both guests will always be together and one key card is enough. When both have different plans, timings coordinating with other person for keycard is total waste of time and energy. Despite anticipating this during booking and informing Stayzilla staff about this potential issue, in-spite of getting a confirmation that second access card will be given, I was put to inconvenience.

Staff opened the room with master key and gave me a dummy card to power the room. If I had my own card I would have taken a walk around the hotel etc. Without proper access I opted to sleep early, without dinner. Wasn’t keen to go back to The Lalit for after even party. Because it was just a night, I could manage. If one stays for several days under dual occupancy and both have different plans and timings, then we should avoid hotels that won’t give one access card per guest.

Apart from that, rest of the experience was standard. Rooms were decent and standard. Space is at premium in Mumbai, so we can't expect very spacious rooms in budget/medium range hotels. Room had multiple power outlets, AC and water heaters were working fine without any issues.
I checked out early next morning, earliest being 7 AM as breakfast won't be available before that. Restaurant has a few seats with view of the road outside. Breakfast items were standard and good enough.

Silver Inn is located very close to Marol Naka metro station and a km or two away from International airport. Thus Silver Inn is worth considering if you can't afford the tier 1 hotels near the Mumbai international airport- like The Lalit, The Leela, Hilton and others. Room rent in Silver Inn is usually in the range of Rs 4000 per night and gets sold out very fast.

No newspaper deliver to room, but you can read in reception. Parking space is limited to few cars only. Powai lake, Sanjeev Gandhi National Park are nearby attractions. Hotel's official website: but it is better to try on for more options on Mumbai hotels.


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