Thursday, June 29, 2006

Paris : Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and Quartier Latin

The second day in Paris is a bit hazier to remember than the first one. A lot more places were covered and not all of them very famous. Amongst the famous places we did were the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower and the Quartier Latin. Believe it or not we did almost the entire stretch on foot. Covering places on foot of course has its merits. Apart from the fact that you definitely save a lot of money you also experience a bit of the non-touristy side of a city. Walking along big avenues, occasionally taking the odd small lane (and more often than not getting lost) and stopping whenever you see something interesting is good in that sense. On the downside you can do all this only if you have a lot of time at your leisure. We were somewhere in the middle on that parameter. We didn’t have time to lazily stroll along everywhere, but three days were enough for covering the essential Paris (most other people who went on STEP gave only 1-2 days for Paris)

According to our Paris guide book we could easily go to a very good building called Hotel De Ville. We thought that for an hotel to become a tourist attraction it must be really beautiful and exclusive. As it turned out, Hotel in French dosent really mean a Hotel (??) This particular place was infact the City Town Hall !! Cool city! It was good looking no doubt, but the heavily guarded entrance dissuaded us from taking a look inside. I Wanted to see if the innards of their municipal buildings also resemble a 'raddi khana'.

The Hotel De Ville. The city town hall!!

From the Hotel De Ville we made our way towards the Notre Dame. On the way we saw many many beautiful structures all around us. Its amazing...finding a statue at any random corner, a fountain on any arbit circle, a spectacular domed building just out of nowhere...these are everyday things here!! We soon got numbed by the abundance of beauty around us (not just the stone and brick kind :-) )

We couldnt exactly figure out what this building was that time. Now I know it is the Institute De France. Thats me trying to find the place on the map!

This awesome whatever is where you will find the toll booth on most bridges

Moving on to the Notre Dame. The Notre Dame is on an island in the middle of the Seine. Thats the Ile de La Cite, shaped like a ship cutting thru the river. One of the amazing things about the Notre Dame church is that every few metres its facade seems to undergo a change. We were taking a stroll around its perimeter, and after every few steps we would go "hey this looks different, lets take a snap here" Following are three of the many snaps taken outside the Notre Dame

A pic of the inside of Notre Dame. We never missed churches. They are always free to enter. The high domes, hundreds of candles, scents, stained glass windows, frescoes, mosaics and other decorations always make it worth the while to go in. and the And the hush hush atmosphere immediately makes you speak in whispers.

After the Notre Dame we had our lunch sitting at the tip of the island , the prow of the ship. There was a nice garden there so the setting was good. But our food wasnt. We had learnt our lesson and taken food from the local supermarket. So our meal consisted of buns, chocolate flavoured bread rolls and milk to wash it down with. There is a finite number of bread rolls and buns that you can eat, even if they are chocolate flavoured. As we traveled more we got progressively better at eating tastier and healthier stuff while keeping the costs down. I will write separetely about that. The thing to remember is to not let urself get carried away by impulse and splurge on a 5 euro sandwich. You will just find yourself wondering how you ate Rs. 275 in 3 bites. (No, dont tell me not to convert, when you are paying with an SBI Card you are bloody well paying in rupees!!)

In the post-lunch session we wandered around the same area since there were some other interesting things to see according to the guide book. Out of those actually i remember only the following:

This is the Palais De Justice. You may not be able to see it, but there are three words above the entrance: 'Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite'. The slogan of the French revolution. Somebody has sarcastically said that what it actually meant was that everybody was equally likely to be beheaded. But very important words nonetheless.

Then we finally decided to pay homage to that giant erection of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. We went walking all the way instead of taking a bus or metro like other saner people did. A considerable part of the distance the river was our companion. The famous museum of Musee De Orsay was also on the way. But somehow we completely missed it though we thought we followed the map to the smallest turn and corner!

The Seine River

The Eiffel tower can be seen from almost anywhere in Paris I would think. But in spite of this the sight of the colossal structure from close quarters is awe inspiring. According to a small diagram at the site, we learnt that the height of the tower is about 325 mts. To think that this is about 2.5 times that of the London Eye is amazing. And to think we paid 12.5 pounds for the London Eye is even more amazing! :-)

Amongst the options of walking up and taking a lift, we decided to give our legs a bit of relief and took the lift. There are three levels of the Eiffel tower. You can go upto the 2nd level by taking the stairs. 3rd floor you can go only by the lift. If you want to save money, you can walk upto the 2nd level and then take the lift. If you really want to save money, you can entirely skip the 3rd level. To be honest nobody will miss the opportunity of a view from the top of the Eiffel tower. But once you go there you feel its too much of a good thing. You are really really high up no doubt, and you can see really really far. But its so high that it makes the surroundings dissolve into a homegenous mass. From the second level on the other hand you are high enough to see very far, but low enough to appreciate whetever you see around you. Anyway, everyone will go to the 3rd level. I would also say that the Eiffel tower should be last on your iternary in Paris. If you know a lot of the monuments and buildings and have visited them already it adds to the charm of spotting them.

The huge arches under the four pillars of the Eiffel give an idea of the massive size!

Really makes you crane your neck

A view of the Seine River and one of its many bridges. Taken from the second level of the Eiffel Tower

Its really cold and windy up there

The area under the shadow is Montmartre, and the white building atop the small hill there is the Cathedral of Sacre Couer

We had fun spotting some of the places we already knew. I almost missed the Arc De Triomphe, it seemed so tiny from the Eiffel tower!! As one can expect there are huge crowds everywhere at the Eiffel tower. One needs to stand in line to get a ticket and again to get into the lift, push and shove (as politely as you can) so that you can get close to the railing, patiently allow hordes of people to pass before your picture can be taken or wait to pass people whose picture is being taken, stand in line again to go between the levels and finally to go down. But its all worth it.

After drinking up as much as we could of the Eiffel tower we had to decide the next stop on the iternary. The guide book threw up Quartiere Latin and that is where we went. I dont remember too much about the Quartiere Latin. It is a very old area of Paris and one can find Roman ruins from the time when the city was called Lutetia (Asterix fans would immediately recognize Lutetia as the fashion capital of the Roman empire :-) ). There is also the Sorbonne University, one of the oldest universities in the world. We met an Indian newspaper seller in front of the Sorbonne. He claimed he couldnt speak French or English but had managed to stay there for 40 years. He had also supposedly sold newspapers to prominent French men and women, many of whom studied at Sorbonne. I also remember a film and comic book memorabilia shop, the first one of its kind I had seen. Small toy models of numerous comic and film characters, huge life sized replicas of Batman and Superman, artifacts like 'The Ring' from LOTR etc could be found there.

The other impressive structure in the Quartiere Latin is the Pantheon. The bigger and more famous one is of course in Rome. This one in Paris also looked very beautiful in the golden hues of the setting sun.

The Pantheon in Paris bathed in golden sunlight

Thus ended the sightseeing this second day in Paris. But the day was by no means over. We still had to buy some food for taking home. This was our small contribution to Chiru and gang for their help during our stay in Paris.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Paris: Louvre, Champs Elysees and the Arc De Triomphe

Obviously (for reasons given before :-) ) the day began fairly late. The apartment was fairly close to a host of Parisian attractions. The Seine river, the Louvre, the Notre Dame were all within walking distance. For anybody who came visiting, this apartment was a godsend. Our IIMC guys who lived there, didn’t have it quite so good though (we felt). Rawal, Chiru, Paritosh and Harsh had to travel about 1.5 hours one way every day to reach their college and spent 100 euro a month on traveling. In addition they also paid the monstrous rent of 1300 euro for a fairly small space. Maybe it looked small when Rawal and Chiru were both inside :-) But as I said, it was a great place for us to stay! And the six of spent some fun times there - chatting, cooking, eating and drinking :-)

We planned to cover 2-3 places that day itself. We had done a bit of homework before coming and we knew what places we wanted to see. A guide book and instructions from Celia (a Parisian from our class – the same one who told us about Reaumur Sebastopol) formed the basis of our iternary. The Louvre, Notredame, Arc De Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower were most certainly on the list. We also wanted to see a couple of other famous Parisian areas which were otherwise glossed over by Indian visitors. The Montmartre area (pronounced as mu-makhth, no kidding), a bustling beehive of artists, street performers and tourists was one of them. The elegant church of Sacre Coeur could also be found in Montmartre. Another charming area was the Quartiere Latin, a warren of old structures and small picturesque lanes. Since the apartment was so central, we could walk it up today. Little did we know that we would end up covering half of Paris on foot!!

The corner of Rue Reaumur and Rue Sebastopole. This is where our walking tour started

We decided to cover the Louvre first and then go to the Notredame. It was a cold, windy and gloomy day. The Louvre we knew would take us a while and that too if we really really curtailed our explorations. People take weeks and months to cover the Louvre. We of course didn’t have that kind of luxury. But I really wish we could have spent at least one whole day to ‘do’ the Louvre.

We reached a bit late, since we managed to get lost on the way. But once we reached it, the long façade of the majestic former royal palace was unmistakable. Also unmistakable was the controversial tall glass pyramid that graces the centre of the vast main courtyard. I still haven’t made up my mind about this pyramid. It looks fairly good when you see it in isolation, even spectacular when you see it against the backdrop of the Louvre courtyard, especially at night. Nevertheless I don’t know whether it fits into the whole image of the Louvre. Of course who gives a damn what I think.

The Louvre main courtyard with the glass pyramid. The entrance is through the pyramid.

The outer courtyard with the long snaking queue clearly visible. Thousands come everyday to visit the largest and most famous museum in the world, and that day entry was free!!

Another thing that we couldn’t have possibly missed was the long serpentine queue inching its way forward. It was then that we realized that the day (1st Sunday of the month) had free entry to the Louvre. The entrance to the museum is under the glass pyramid, via a vast underground hall. Since the Mona Lisa is in the Denon wing (Richelieu and Sully being the other two), we made our way there. We also knew that some other famous artistic treasures were in the vicinity. Other than the Mona Lisa the two most famous works in the Louvre are the Winged Victory of Samothrace and the Venus De Milo.

The 'Winged Victory of Samothrace' or the 'Nike of Samothrace' depicting the Greek goddess of victory, spreading her arms (missing, along with her head) with the sea wind and spray whipping her garments across her body

Your first reaction on seeing all three of them could well be just a ‘Hmmm’. Not to say that they don’t look good (actually in the case of the Mona Lisa even that is not true) but you wonder if you would have looked at them again had you not known that they were famous. In order to get a better perspective you need to know that the two sculptures in question were made over 2000 years ago. Against that back drop they are indeed big accomplishments. I remember seeing the Winged Victory of Samothrace or the Nike of Samothrace (honestly we couldnt miss it as it stood at the top of the massive staircase) The sculpture does have that amazing quality of being alive. The same delicate features and stationary yet moving form we would again see in the Pieta by Michelangelo. Enough has already been said about the Mona Lisa and all I can say is that it is small and can't be clearly seen through the thick glass and the thicker crowd around it!

We followed the directions given in the museum and using the free layout map we made our way to the Italian masters paintings section. As we made our way across the never ending hallway it was but natural to be overwhelmed. Partly because there is so much to see and partly because we felt grossly under equipped to appreciate anything! Our sense for art was rustic to the hilt.

The Italian masters section or the 'salle de something' :-) Overwhelming to say the least!

We used Tirthankar’s Louvre guide book to find some of the famous paintings. Some of them were fabulous and probably we would have spotted them without the guide book to help us. Many others left us with mixed feelings of our own deficiencies regarding art or bewilderment as to how such a work could ever become famous. But nevertheless we could still make out a gradual evolution in the style of the paintings and their subjects. Most of the earlier paintings had only one theme – Jesus Christ. And more often than not the subject would be crucifixion. Moreover the paintings seemed amateurish, with block like figures and 2-D scenes. Paintings which did not depict Christ, would be about the royalty. The latter era paintings also borrowed heavily on themes from the Bible but the paintings were increasingly sophisticated. There were some paintings depicting scenes from common everyday life, or uncommon moments of common people. One superb painting (‘Raft of the Medusa’) shows a raft full of shipwrecked sailors at the moment when they have sighted a saviour ship. Another amazing painting is the ‘Wedding Feast at Cana’ which occupies one whole wall of a room. The amount of detail put into it makes it truly spectacular. The event is that of Jesus’s first miracle when he turned water into wine.

The painting 'Wedding feast of Cana', showing the event of a nobleman's wedding feast when Christ performed his first miracle turning water to wine. To appreciate the size see the East Asian (or chinky, to be politically incorrect) girl posing in front of the painting

True art aficionados could spend a lifetime in the Louvre. We on our part just stopped and looked at whatever appealed to us and of course made the ritual darshan of Mona Lisa. I also checked out the Madonna on the Rocks, also by Leonardo Da Vinci. Unfortunately we could hardly take any pics as it was officially not allowed. Knowing that we had to be super selective we decided to set specific things to see before we would just boot out of the place. One of them was Napoleon’s chambers. These former residences of the French dictator are worth a visit all for themselves. All that you can possibly imagine of grandeur is spread out for you to walk through. The dining room in particular typifies the royal excesses on display.

One of the rooms in Napoleon's royal residence at the Louvre

Napoleon's dining room. Mind your table manners!!

Meandering through the labyrinthine galleries of the Louvre was turning out to be very tiring. Somehow museums are very tiring. It was not as if I didn’t enjoy what I was seeing, but at that point all I wanted to do was sit. Added to that was a gnawing hunger inside the tummy, which prevented sitting. We needed to find food, and find it quick. But one of the disadvantages of a whirlwind tour is that you have to do maximum when you reach one place. So we needed to check out as much as we could of the surroundings of the Louvre. That over, we left to find some grub. That’s when we started disliking some of attitude that this city showed. All affordable eateries were closed on Sunday!! Given out meager budget we couldn’t afford to eat at any of the inviting road side cafes. In hind sight we probably should have. So we wandered around the streets of Paris, searching for food.

We finally did find it at one small bakery, where we ate a ham baguette. The setting for our meal couldn’t have been more European. We were sitting under a tree on one of the beautiful wrought iron benches that you will find lazily strewn across all of Europe. Yellow brown autumn leaves blew around in the breeze. Beside us sat an artist sketching a wrought iron gate and lamppost. On the other side a young couple was getting cozy. In front of us was a stall dishing out stuffed crepes. Next to it was a musical group playing on the sidewalk and a small crowd cheering it on. Behind the group was an old stone building covered with creepers. And light drops of rain had just started.

The musical group performing on the pavement

The creeper covered stone building, the gate of which the artist was busy sketching

Much as we wanted to sit and enjoy, getting wet on a cold October evening in Paris is not desirable. We were not sure what to do next. During our hunger struck wanderings we were supposedly very close to the Notre Dame, but we couldnt find it. So we decided to chuck the Notre Dame for the day, instead voting to check out the famous Champs Elysees and the Arc De Triomphe. The beginning of the Champs Elysees was very close to the Louvre, so we went back to the Louvre.

There we had a mini-disappointment. At the end of a small garden outside the Louvre there is a small arch built and which according to the map was Arc De Triomphe. We couldn’t quite understand how such a small insignificant thing could be the famous Arc De triomphe. Tirthankar was especially adamant that this couldn’t be the real one. Nevertheless we did click snaps with it.

The small fake Arc De Triomphe :-)

We then proceeded to the magnificent Champs Elysees, the massive road that runs through the heart of the city and which is the venue for many a popular gathering. And then it was confirmed that the arc we had seen earlier was a tiny fake arc. The real Arc De Triomphe stands proudly at the end of the Champs Elysees and cannot possiblybe missed from there!

The magnificient Champs Elysees with the Arc De Triomphe visible right at the end

The tree lined footpath on both sides of the Champs Elysees is bigger than many Indian roads. Some distance ahead their appeared fancy shops on the sides. We checked out the showroom of one French car maker, Renault or Peugeot. We took the customary shots of us sitting inside a very fancy car. Also wandered through one or two upscale departmental stores, doing loads of window shopping.

The tree lined walking area by the side of Champs Elysees

Sitting in a fancy car in a fancy car showroom (Renault or Peugeot, dont remember which one), one among the many fancy shops along the Champs Elysees

When we did reach the Arc we realized that there was no way in the world that we should have ever got confused. This arch was in the middle of a huge circular road with 12 avenues leading into it. The arch itself stands more than 150 feet in height and seems massive, which ever way you look at it. It had been a very long walk down the Champs Elysees, but it had been worth the effort.

The real Arc De Triomphe! Maybe its not clear here, but this monument is massive

We subjected our poor feet to another round of torture by climbing up the stairs to the top of the Arc, just to save a few euros. Euros nevertheless were a commodity in short supply, and if we didn’t watch out we would end up splurging like crazy.

Climbing up the long winding staircase of the Arc De Triomphe

Going to the top of the Arc De Triomphe has two benefits. One is the amazing view, second is the museum dedicated to the Arc. Well, it’s actually a Napoleon museum since the Arc is a monument dedicated to his military victory. The view as I said is amazing. You can see the different roads leading into the central circular one. On one side you can see the Eiffel Tower towering into the sky.

Two of the twelve avenues converging towards the Arc De Triomphe with the Eiffel Tower in the background

The lighted Eiffel tower sending a huge floodlight across the rain soaked gray sky

At that time the lights on the Eiffel tower were just turning on and a giant floodlight atop it was making giant arcs into the gray sky. What the view from top of the Eiffel would be, we could just imagine. The sky was turning a menacing gray now, and black clouds loomed out over the horizon. It was funny, we could actually see the clouds progressing through the sky, and more amazingly we could also see the rain as it progressed! In a short while it was extremely windy up there and it started pelting down raindrops. It was very chilly and after braving some moments of it, we quickly made our way for the warmth of the museum below. The museum was instructive, more so because it was not a unilateral dedication to the virtues of Napoleon. It highlighted his foibles and failures as well. It was an attitude we don’t often see in Indian official stands on historical figures and events. Here it is either good or bad most of the time. From there it was straight home for us, by the underground metro this time.

That basically ended our first day of sight seeing in mainland Europe. It was tiring but very very satisfying.

Another (almost) miserable night in Paris!

We spent one miserable night in Paris on the very first day in France. We almost did it again a week later!!

On the first day of the session at EDHEC we got the timetable. The first thing we did was scan for contiguous days of no classes. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing… classes for the whole of next week? Woooah…this was awesome. We immediately set about planning a trip. The only thing to be decided was the places we would cover. We needn’t have bothered. Through out our trips, then and afterwards, our iternary would always be decided at the last moment, in spite of spending a generous time doing the planning. But plan we did, and starting from Paris was made definite.

The second journey to Paris, started eventfully enough, thanks to the Nice bus system which left us at the Gare SNCF train station just 2 mins before the scheduled departure. Running at full tilt with luggage, we got the train and sat down with a lot of huffing and puffing. Of yeah, one more thing, we had not managed to inform our folks at Paris whether we would be coming there or not. So they had an idea that we were planning a trip to Paris. But that was all. So there we were, sitting comfortably in the train, the famous TGV (te je ve), on our way to maybe another cold, sleepless night on some Paris train station, footpath (or jail??)

The TGV is the French super fast train and it duly deposited us at Paris Gare De Lyon around 11 in the night. We called up our friends’ place but were not getting an answer. We thought we would go their place and call them again. If they had gone out for dinner maybe they would be back by that time. Thankfully our experience with the London Tube metro had taught us well enough so that we could easily make our way to the Reaumur Sebastopol metro station. From there finding our way to the Rue De Caire was also simple enough, given the public maps and the clearly marked names at the beginning of each street. We even reached the apartment building quite comfortably. There we met our first stumbling block.

The entrance to the building was locked, with a password protection system. And of course we didn’t know the password. So back to the phone booth and again no response. This was not good. We didn’t want to spend another miserable night in Paris. For the moment we didn’t have any option but to sit outside the building. We wondered how suspicious we must be looking and whether somebody would call the police. The area was extremely seedy, with over flowing dustbins, dirty pavements and scruffy looking people shuffling about. One of the girls in our class had told us that Reaumur Sebastopol was a gay haven. That didn’t excite us too much. Plus the area was full of Asians, mostly Pakistanis. We weren’t exactly sure that this fact made us comfortable either.

We did some worst case sceanrio planning. Unwholesome thoughts entered our mind. I noted that there was a guy sleeping on the pavement in a sleeping bag. I had a sleeping bag. But what if there was a hafta system here too? Finally after numerous trips to the phone booth and ages spent in front of the door, we finally got lucky when a Pakistani living in the building helped us by giving Tirthankar the passwords to the place. He didn’t speak French or English and was very glad to find somebody who spoke the language he knew. So from the pavement to the inside of the building we had made a small step for us, and a giant leap for us. The apartments inside were not marked with numbers (and the flat number was what we had) and so we didn’t even know which door to knock once we were inside. With some astute detective work we narrowed it down to the apartment which our guys were supposed to be living in. This didn’t help coz nobody was answering the door. And we were afraid of going on knocking coz the apartment walls were so thin we were sure the whole building could hear us. We had no option but to sit on the stairs and wait. At least here it was warmer than outside on the pavement.

After what seemed like eons, we heard a lot of voices coming from outside the building door. And they sounded Indian. They were Indian. And they were IIMC voices. Words like 'lessliess' were not part of any other vocabulary!! At last we had been reunited with our IIMC brothers. So enough adventure had happened in Paris already and this was the first time we felt that the STEP program was not part of a conspiracy against us.

(Just for information, the reason why these guys were so late was because that night was a special night in Paris wherein the city stayed awake till the morning dawn. So you would have restaurants, bars, shops, etc open throughout the night. It’s a pity we just missed it, since every time after that we cursed the fact that Paris (and in general the whole of France) shuts down by 8:00. )

Paris - the very first day

I know that this is not how my trip began. The trip as such began in London and there was a whole agonizing period before we even stepped an inch towards it. The thing is that at the beginning of this blog, I want to have something to show. If I start writing about London and the pre-London stage it will take me ages to complete it! So I will start off with just after London. There will be a flashback, but right now we zoom into Charles DeDaulle airport where we have just landed off the British Midlands flight from Heathrow.

We went to Paris many times. But except from one time we didn’t see much of it apart from the waiting rooms at train stations, always on our way to Nice. But we covered one hell of a lot of Paris in the three full days that we did spend there. Our first time to Paris was from London enroute to Nice. Our plan was to spend 2-3 days in Paris and then make our way to Nice. It didn’t quite work out that way.

When we first landed in Paris, we found Charles De Gaulle airport to be a bit shabby and without the necessary class expected of an airport serving a city like Paris. On top of that we found the airport information desk, manned, or womanned, by one of the surliest women they could have found. As she gazed at us with haughty eyes and reluctantly dribbled out ‘der eess noo bus tu Nees . Ees der anything else I may elp yu weeth’ all our worst fears of French people were confirmed. Actually as it turned out she was an exception, and at all other places in France we were greeted with smiles and Bonjours, Bonsoires and what not. Why they would pick her to be there on that desk, facing the world so to speak, only the French would know. Maybe it was due to the Unions. France is big on trade unions.

Things started going a bit awry after that. We were supposed to put up with friends in their Paris hostel, but it was not certain whether they had found a place for us to stay. We tried calling up, but only got some automated message. We couldn’t understand a word of it, coz it was in French. We tried many times, thinking it was some voicemail recording. We even tried to leave a message. Finally getting frustrated, we approached, very carefully, a lady who looked like she could speak English. To our relief didn’t start screaming and calling the security to report Asian terrorists. She informed us that the message was that the number is invalid. Rechecking the number, we realized that we had been dialing a wrong number all this while. Aaaaaarggghhhh. With some hope we dialed the correct number this time, and to our great joy, we heard our friend’s voice on the other side. He unfortunately told us told us that he had not been able to arrange a place for us to stay as their hostel had refused to allow anybody else to stay there.

Our prospects at that point looked bleak…lets see, we were in a foreign city, without a place to stay, where we couldn’t speak the language, and it was getting late in the evening. Hmmm…and suddenly out of nowhere 4-5 plain clothed security guys swooped down on us and started questioning us. “Show your passport , why are you here, what are you doing, you call, you sit, you call again, what do you think you are doing?”. We were absolutely shaken, but tried our best to explain that we were Indian students on an exchange program to France. Tirthankar thinks it was the word ‘students’, I think it was ‘Indian’ that made them relaxed. And then they all started laughing and telling us to be careful and not look suspicious. But we didn’t think it was so cheerful, especially after we saw them completely take apart the luggage of an Arabic youth. Not exactly the brightest of beginnings!!

If we had a bit more experience of European cities and finding accomodation in one, we might not have been so utterly hopeless. But at that point we were standing in the airport, with tons of baggage, a growing fear of not being able to communicate in French and zero idea about how to find our way around the city. The only option we could think of was using one day of our precious Eurail pass, and make our way to Nice. We supposedly had a flat in Nice for which we had paid a 700 euro advance, but since all of this was done over mails we had no idea whether we had been royally looted or not. The story of that day in IIMC when Kathy (the landlady) sent me a mail saying she was very sorry but the apartment has gone to somebody else still sends shivers down my spine. Sahadeb Sarkar was partly (a big part) responsible for already scraping my nerves raw. It’s a long story. Maybe some other time.

Fortunately there was a train station right within the airport terminal. Bless Western development. We went there and enquired about taking a train to Nice. The gentleman at the counter in contrast to the info desk female was much more polite and helpful. We chose to take a train which left at around 6 in the morning and reached Nice in the afternoon at around 12:30.

We then set about settling ourselves for the long wait for the morning train. Waiting at travel stations and airports was soon to become quite common for us. Only problem was that the train station cum airport terminal seats were designed to dissuade people from sleeping on them. They were designed for three people to sit, and only sit. Partitions meant nobody could lie down on them. Steel construction meant that the cold would prick you wherever an exposed part of you skin touched the bench. In addition 2 euro or so for a packet of biscuits made us forget our deepening hunger for the time being. We had not even graduated to supermarket meals at that time. We explored the place a bit, being very careful not to look like terrorists planning their next strike. Finally somewhere in the wee hours of the morning we caught the train and made our first train journey in Europe, the first of many.

That was the story of our first day in Paris, the city of lights, romantic capital of the world.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Eurotrip begins

This is the start of a blog about the 3 month long self-paid travel and learn program in Europe also called the Student Exchange Program.

This series of blogs is primarily meant as an outlet for me to recount my memories from the wonderful trips when we went backpacking across Western Europe. Just saying ‘backpacking across Western Europe’ makes me so happy! I have always been fascinated with Europe. Nisha would readily agree to this. Infact going to Europe together has been one of our long cherished dreams. Nisha was not with me on this Europe trip, and how I wish she was.

As I said the main intent of this blog is personal. I couldn’t find a medium conducive enough to telling a story along with snaps. A blog seemed the most suitable for the purpose. Hence the blog. If somebody else also happens to read this, it would be a bonus! I would mostly write about my experiences. (In considerable detail about what I can remember) Tirthankar and I were together on every one of these trips. Many places I would use words like ‘we’, ‘our’ etc, which should be assumed to mean Tirthankar and myself unless mentioned otherwise. Though we had a lot of disagreements on specific practical issues, our basic philosophy about what it was to experience Europe was pretty closely aligned. Otherwise I don’t think we would have ended up spending more than a day in Naples (and loving every bit of it) or gone to Greece (a decision we deeply regretted later).

If anybody finds any mistakes or inconsistencies in what I have written please tell me about it. This blog has come at least 6 months too late, and I cant say I remember each and every detail as if it happened yesterday!!

For the record I went on the Student Exchange Program (STEP) from IIMC to EDHEC Business School, Nice (the French Riviera). Tirthankar and I planned the whole trip together, starting from getting visas to air tickets to Eurail pass to all the phenomenal goof ups as well. We spent three months from September to mid-December in Europe. We stayed for 10 days with my dad's friend in London and then went on to Nice. At Nice there were three of us from IIMC - TT, Chirag abd myself. Most of the time though only I and TT went on trips together. Whenever we got the chance we would pack our bags and go tripping across Europe. Enjoying Europe while saving every cent possible was not at all easy. All in all we went to London, Nice, Paris, Brussels, Leuven, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Cannes, Monaco, Rome, Naples, Athens, Venice, Vienna, Salzburg and Barcelona. Quite a haul what?

Following are pics taken on the move, capturing fleeting moments which in any case would have been etched in my memory. Modern technology of course allows me to publish them on a blog!

The Grande Canal in Venice, the city called La Serenissima or 'the most serene'. Captured at the only time during the day that the sun showed its face. A post card moment if ever there was one!!

An unknown monument somewhere in the narrow lanes of Napoli (Naples). The tall structure rising into the blue sky with the birds flying around, against the backdrop of the yellow and red brick building all adds up to this being one of my favourite pics!

The view from our apartment balcony was a source of perennial joy for us when we were there. In blazing yellow hues of bright sunshine, mellow orange of a sunrise, blood red or purple sunset or even in pale white moonlight...the memory still gives me goosebumps.

At the picturesque port of a small Greek island. Believe me, if you ever go to Greece, head for the islands, avoid Athens - atleast for another 2 years

A moment of quiet contemplation at Trafalgar Square. London is my pick for the model big city. Live life in the fastest lane, or relax in one of its many quiet spots!

This post-wedding photo shoot was thoroughly enjoyed by one and all! This open display of emotions and passions is something that is found in abundance all across Italy

Call us foolish adoloscent boys if you will, but there is no denying that this Aishwarya Rai billboard at the Paris Gare De Lyon train station sent us into starry eyed staring mode!

At Amsterdam, a city of bicycles and other earthly delights :-)

Vienna would leave you with an unmistakable feeling of 'man, these guys are rich!!' A pic of a gilded room in Belvedere Palace.

The Saltzkammergut region near Salzburg, Austria. This was our first brush with the Europe of spectacular natural beauty

Yes, this Belgian waffle is as delicious as it looks. For the record it has strawberry, banana, cream and chocolate sauce loaded onto a soft yet crispy waffle...ummmm, yummmy

The pub crawl in Barcelona had us realising a lot about Spanish culture as well as about ourselves. And also that my knowledge of British English was deficient in a few crucial areas!!

We could not do any justice to Germany, and I would always deeply regret it. But whatever little time we could spend there we made sure we sampled some of its famous beer (atop a river cruise to boot)

This pic has us proudly munching bread, our staple diet for many a trip!!
Taken with the Denmark guys at Monaco