My Journey Through Europe - Travelogue
"If you are 22, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel- As far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out about how others live and cook. LEARN FROM THEM - WHEREVER YOU GO”
- Anthony Bourdain
If copyright infringement was not an issue, I would have probably summed up the entire experience of my trip in those three lines, but nevertheless that was the inspiration in a nutshell. A plan that started off with a in-the-moment farewell promise to a best friend, turned out to be the beginning of a journey of which the first halt was Europe. When I think of Europe, an entire visual library pops up in my head. Mostly it is an image of a beautiful white canvas that is covered with the footsteps of wandering souls and is ready to be painted by the colors of various nationalities. The more the colors, the brighter it becomes. With that image I started my planning for an Eurotrip.
Even though we hate to admit it, but clichés are something we live by. So, as a diehard SRK fan- the idea of loving Switzerland came to me very naturally. Also for me, my career plans do not alter according to my age, they alter according to the last movie that I watched. So for somebody who completely loved Yeh Jawaani hai deewani and Tamasha, how could travelling the world not be on top of my head. Fortunately for me, my better half (that is how I refer to my best friend of a decade) moved to France for her MBA. All she wanted was to celebrate her birthday in Paris at Eiffel Tower with people she loved and all I wanted was to see the most amazing countries in the World in the company of all these just-about-to-settle 20 somethings.
This is how a trail of sleepless nights planning each accommodation, finding the cheapest deals for hotels, flights, stripping through the documents for the adequate ones started. The turning of that trail into an Eurotrail was totally worth it. I had 2 friends fly in with me from Mumbai. The excitement did not let me sleep and that’s kind of the reason why I did not wake up for the flight myself. After the whole hassle of my friend rushing to my house to wake me up, we finally managed to swiftly pass through all the immigration formalities. Our next stop was Paris and we could not wait to land in the famous CDG. The idea of time zones changing has never gotten into my head. My father is in the merchant navy and he has made innumerable efforts to explain such concepts to his daughter whose last priority in life is logical reasoning and maths.
We got all our accommodation sorted in quite cheap. Thanks to the awesome hotel deals here.
OFF TO PARIS!
After a 9 hour flight in duration which was 6 hour on paper, Paris welcomed us with chilly arms wide open! The first evening did not see a lot of enthusiasm from our side and with our usual sleepy selves, we skipped the pain of jet lag completely. The next day was all about knowing the worth of the most expensive street in the world. While I was way too excited about the Paris hop-on-hop-off, the final stop on Champs Elysees was exactly what we needed for our eyes to twinkle with all our favorite brands placed there in a row. Considering it was the beginning of the trip and "Travel light” was still ringing in my head, we did not really end up buying anything. But my advice, never go to Champs Elysees on the first day of your trip- it requires an extremely strong willpower to not spend all the money that will accessorize your wardrobe more than it will ever accesorize you.
At Notre Dame Cathedral
My true love for Paris began on the second day. I have this thing for cathedrals. I feel the kind of tranquility you feel in a church or a cathedral is literally unattainable anywhere else. That is why Notre Dame was on top of my list of places to visit in Paris. After a line that lasted for about 45 minutes, the first footstep set into that cathedral was completely worth the journey across oceans. The paintings, the history, the architecture, the candles- everything lights up your soul. Also my father had very seriously taught me to soak in the idea of "When in Rome, do as the Romans do!”. With that thought process, I went on to the next shop which was selling hot wine(Even the wine wants to heat itself in the Parisian cold, Really!) along with banana nutella crepes. Being a vegetarian, your experimentation ability is reduced to it’s minimum potential in Europe. Which is why I settled for a simple mushroom cheese crepe. The crepe in the afternoon was a perfect continuity of my french cuisine exploration, after the Panini had already bowled me over in the morning. My affair with food did not last for very long in Europe, but it hardly mattered- the places we saw were satiating to the heart.
In the evening, we went to Eiffel Tower. After having the mandatory photo session, we got into the line of climbing on top of the most exquisite tower in the World. It is a good thing that the tower is so crowded, huddling and passing in between the people is the only thing that can probably make you survive the Parisian cold on an early evening in March. Honestly, reading about the amusing facts in your history books, or crying through all the love stories set here, seeing a million wallpapers of Paris all across desktops, nothing comes even slightly close to the life that this city has! I was not done with Paris ; there is no way you can be in a hundred years. I was more than excited to return here for the last lap of my trip.
By the way, we managed to see so much because we planned our trip through TripHobo itinerary planner. Check this out.
UNEXPECTED DIGRESSION TO GRENOBLE
On the way from Paris to Grenoble
If a trip has to remain as perfect as is planned on paper, then I think it will always only remain on the paper! If you do not digress a little, there is really no point travelling across lands. That is exactly what happened with our meticulous planning. The French airlines decided to go on a strike just on the day when we were supposed to travel to Barcelona and because of which our flight to Ibiza was also going to be impossible to catch. With a lot of argument, fights, tears, laughters, yelling- we decided to go where my friends were based- to Grenoble. Now let me give you an insight of people who were with me. 2 friends - a guy and a girl from Pune, my friend in Grenoble, her roommate and another friend from Dubai, all of different mindsets. Also, we did come close to a mugging experience and it was all the masala a bollywood film has- but those memories are better left behind.
At the Victor Hugo Square in Grenoble
The best part is that our resource allocation capabilities were at their highest display. Two of our friends who are staying in France are the only ones who know french fluently and also the only ones with phones. For us to buy a sim card did not make sense, because we were not going to stay in the same country for more then two- three days. So if we ever had to divide, it was a tug of war situation with us separating the two constantly. Even though the French are really warm, the language barrier ceases to disappear. We survived through, thanks to the two of them being really well versed with French. On the other hand, people in Barcelona were amazing with their English. Even Italy, it was much easier to converse. But maybe, we did not really have the chance to see the English speaking population of the French, because we constantly had someone to talk to them in their language! After minimalistic talks for 4 of us and the tired two, we headed to our next destination.
LAKE ANNECY AND BARCELONAAAA!
With no plan in mind but with a supporting Schengen, we proceeded to Grenoble. After a lot of eating from all the Indian and middle-eastern joints that Grenoble possibly has and also enjoying the view from the top of Bastille, we finally managed to convert this trip into a road-trip. Our first destination was Annecy. The Annecy Lake is definitely where all the mind blowing pictures of lakes come from. With ducks happily quacking, babies running all around with ice creams and with people putting coins in the wishing well with all sincerity, the perfect ending to my Annecy experience came with eating the Framboise ice cream. (Raspberry in french). Also, the cherry on the ice cream was the fact that India won against Bangladesh and whatever country we go to, cricket never leaves us. After all this excitement, the next day brought in the disheartening news of Brussels attack. But considering we were in the south of France and more importantly we had each other, this was a minor hindrance and even though our spirits were down, we realized that if terror attacks were to scare us, than taking a flight back home is all we should really do. Deciding against it, at 4:00 am in the morning, we embarked upon an 800 kilometer journey to continue with our plan to Barcelona.
Working for TripHobo, virtually going over my itinerary over and over again came to me along with my offer letter. I had been fascinated with Barcelona ever since I watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and even though Woody Allen managed to show an entanglement of romances in the city, the main romance that I had as a viewer was with the city. I feel - just like we created clay sculptures out of PlayDoh as a kid, is the way Antoni Gaudi went about creating the city. The amazing La Sagrada Familia, Placa Reial, Barri Gotic, Port Vell- nothing could stop us from covering all that we had to even though we had only 2 days in Barcelona. We started with the stadium, F.C Barcelona (Camp Nou) and as soon as we entered, we knew that this is the place where legends are made. After passing through Torre Agbar and with a brief glimpse of Parc Guell, we decided to end our day with just chilling by the beach. It literally was chilling by the beach. A stroll through the golden sands and with a version of live baywatch going on in front of us, sipping onto a chilli coconut malibu was all that I needed to completely absorb the experience of Barcelona.
La Sagrada Familia
With our tete-a-tete with Barcelona ending, we undertook our next long journey which was to Geneva. All our internal flights were booked, but because of the change in plans, a road trip through these 4 countries seemed like the most apt option. We stayed on the French side of Lake Geneva. The province was known as Evian- Les- Bains. Although tucked in a small corner of the country, the wooden chalet was enough to get the complete natural retreat kind of experience that we were looking for. Facing Lake Geneva, constant tapping on wooden flooring, windows shuttling in and out perpetually, this place turned to be more scary than beautiful for a person like me. I scare very easily and all these rustling of leaves at night did not really help.
On the way to Lausanne
The next day was about exploring Geneva. Right from being amazed at Jet d’Eau, to seeing the broken chair, to standing in front of the UN headquarters, to binging onto swiss chocolates, to buying the shot glasses, to taking back the cow as the souvenir, my urban Switzerland experience had just begun. So as Indians, we are exposed to one kind of Switzerland- the one that we see in Yash Chopra movies. Full of scenic beauty of Jungfrau, Saanen-Gstaad and all that makes you want to wear red and roam around in the snow clad roads of Switzerland. Then there is another Switzerland, which is full of watches, chocolates and vibrancy that gets camouflaged in the beauty.
The wooden cottage at Evians-Les-Bains (Also the place where Evian water is headquartered)
But 3 of the 6 of us were diehard SRK fans. So our next day was basically covering the DDLJ trail. We started with Saanen-Gstaad, where a part of a DDLJ song is shot. Then we went onto Zweisimmen, which is the station where they start their love story. As a crazy fan, I bought the famous bell from here and then went to Montbovon, where the famous church scene is shot. Long back I had come across the hometown of Charlie Chaplin- Vevey. It was such an amazing little town even virtually, that going to Vevey was something I had to do. Next day was about Lausanne, Montreux and Vevey. Thanks to our friend who drove diligently throughout, we saw a lot of places that no travel list in the world tells you to explore.
DDLJ Church at Montbovon
My short lived fling with Italy began the next day where we randomly decided to just go to Pisa. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is totally worth the hype, but unfortunately the beautiful cathedral and the monastery is often ignored. The best idea is to take the combined ticket and make the most of your trip. My highlight of the trip was the authentic Aglio Olio though. That pasta is easily my most favorite and to eat it in Italy was the best. So much so, that all my friends who live on meat, chicken(or should i call it poulet) beef gave up on what they were eating and were converted into Aglio Alio loyalists. We were staying at the foot of the alps throughout and on this journey we witnessed the magnificence of the snow clad Mount Blanc.
Aglio Olio at Pisa
Unfortunately, the last 2 days of the trip came really fast. But I made the most of the last 2 days. By this time, I had gotten really home-sick. So visiting Gare Du Nord, which is more like India Town in Paris gave me the energy to visit Louvre- explore all the Italian, French and Russian beauty under one roof and then admire Paris from the top of Rue De Paris. Rue De Paris is this slow moving giant wheel right by Champs Elysees which gives you an unparalleled panoramic view of Paris. I went crazy behind the hot wine and the various flavors of macarons that were there right by this place. The craziest macaron that I tried was the tomato-basil flavored one and surprisingly it was also the best of the lot.
The last time I went to Mumbai after the attacks, I loved how it had gotten up back on its feet right the next day. The same display of bravery can be seen in Paris. Here is our request- Rise and Shine Paris: We Love You
With tired feet and a luggage full of gifts, souvenirs and almost 20 extra kilograms worth of shopping, I headed to CDG for an overnight flight thinking of not succumbing to jet lag. Somehow, that is not what happened. Over a couple of authentic glasses of red wine, chatting with a really interesting Swedish lady who was all excited about visiting India and also catching up on various movies, the journey went by really fast. If I have to describe my journey in two lines, I would say that it was like the process of arranged marriage- you go meet various people and to various places just to find the right person whom you’d strike a chord with. Even though everybody you meet intrigues you or plain bores you, but there will always be some people whom you would remember forever even if you do not end up with them. For me everybody was Europe and that someone was Paris! With a life long memory-commitment to Paris and a special place for Barcelona in my heart, I am just more than grateful that Europe taught me and showed me a side of it that no amount of reading about it ever could!
Tell us about your favorite memory of Europe or any travel related memory for that matter, we always love to hear from you!
*All pictures are taken by and with the permission of Ketki Bhujbal, Loveleen Singh Aujla, Mihika Soman, Radhika Bhole, Snigdha Chaturvedi and Viraj Patil.