6 weeks and 3 days ago, I left home. Feels more like 2 days ago, and this relaxed Sunday morning calls for a bit of reflection and preparation for my birthday / next voyage. Haven’t left Douai for the past two weeks ( not entirely true ), simply because I could not figure out where to go. Most of the places close by have been visited, and well, can’t go very far just for a weekend. It also serves an ulterior motive : I get to save for my extravagant 20th birthday! Sorry folks, I’m spending all that money on me. On what exactly? You’d find out soon enough, and I bet you’d be as excited to see it as I am in planning it! Woohoo!
So, last Thursday, I went to this really amazing “International Students Welcome” at Lille, for all the students in the Northern-France region. This gala, was so pretty amazing that I was so upset when it ended, not being able to do even half of the things I wanted! But hey, whatever I did, made me really happy! I made some new, awesome friends from all over the world, and that’s the best thing that can happen at any such meeting!
Edit : This year’s video with me in it! 😀 0:34 and 1:25!
Yes. That. Awe. Some.
Another interesting thing that has happened is, I’ve finally started cooking! I enjoyed it, but never really did it back home. But here, I was proud to roll out my first batch of paranthas ( Indian bread ) for my French and Chinese friends, who were, at first, shocked at the idea of eating this with plain yogurt, but melted into sheer appreciation just after the first bite. Haha! Go, Paranthas! I’m looking forward to going back home and cooking with mom on weekends, as well as cooking for myself. That should be interesting!
There’s a mess/ restaurant here for the weekdays, which, I have to admit, is simply the best! Not taste wise, mind you, but it is so freaking healthy, and being the freak that I am, I love it to the core! 2 fruits, everyday! Meat, everyday! Salad, everyday! What more do you need? And it’s dearly missed on the weekends. Like today, I’m really craving Indian food : which I can’t cook or can’t find the ingredients for. Hence, sticking to a baguette with tomatoes for now. Tomorrow is Monday. Good food, soon!
Oh, and I tried Mussels for the first time! So much win!
Enough with the food. Next bit : Language! How come I never heard this before? It’s so incredulous! The word ‘cheap’ doesn’t exist in French! Now what does that tell you about the French and the shops? There is just one word : “Chere” which means expensive. Then there is “pas chere”, which means not expensive. Haha, funny how it works. I’m progressing with my French, but not as much as I would have liked. I guess it’s a logarithmic learning curve right now, with me coming closer and closer to saturation. Another aspect is that I’m not devoting enough hours to French, which is another factor why I’m not progressing as fast as possible. But well, I guess it is what it is. Everyone I meet still teaches me something new in French!
The morning I managed to check out the Beer tents in Munich, was the morning I was on my way back, to Frankfurt! Bus at 12 Noon, weird timing, I know, means I spend the day on the road, I know. But you know exactly why I chose this bus! ( Hint :Munich : Day 0 : second para). Thankfully, I had another sliver of good luck! I found a host in Frankfurt as well : And, I was pretty much walking into one of the best experiences with Couchsurfing in my life! The second one per se, but you get the idea. Say Hi to my awesome hosts :
I was with them for the night, which was pretty eventful! We cooked, discussed religion a bit : everyone I’ve met anyplace is always interested to know why the cow is sacred, and why we don’t eat beef. You only realise how peculiar it is to the rest of the world when you meet them like this! Oh, and I finally got to play a Ukulele! Not that I’m great at it, but thanks Jenny for trying to teach me! I was kind of apprehensive that it might break 😛 Glad I got to try it 🙂 I was really touched by their hospitality. I’m relatively new to this concept, but damn, I really love it! Hopefully I’d get to host someone soon as well!
The next morning, I was off. I bade good bye to my new friends, and was off to discover the city. I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do, because there isn’t really a lot to do here, and the earlier stop in Frankfurt was enough to look at the city highlights. There was a small chinese garden close by, which I decided to check out.
There was also a model-shot of sorts going on inside, to a corner. It was pretty hilarious as the models tried to change clothes trying their best to not be seen by curious on lookers. Haha, first time I’ve seen something like this!
There were 2 main mutually exclusive things I could have done this time : a 2 PM free tour ( Not Sandemans, not this time 😛 ) or the IAA : 27th September was the last day for the Frankfurt Auto Exposition. I had started the day thinking I’d go to the IAA, but around 1 PM, I changed my mind and went for the tour! After all, I had just seen the city, but hadn’t understood it. This tour was decent. Slightly boring in between, but majorly informative.
What’s interesting about Frankfurt : There are certain sectors where it is legal to do drugs. You see everyone on these streets, with a needle in their hands and the other arm stretched out. I clicked a photo, from a distance, as I wasn’t very comfortable going to them and asking for a picture. I don’t know if you can see them, but they’re on the right side of the street, and that’s tourists on the left side.
Oh and on the left is the Casino, next to the most famous brothel in all of Frankfurt! You remember the rules from Amsterdam, right? No photos! We then transitioned from the story on this side of the town to the city center : Passing by this really cool building. It’s cool because, one word : Free-Masons.
The sign on the arch is the Free masons logo! Damn, I felt fantastic looking at it and thinking about all the conspiracy theories surrounding it. I wonder why they declared this so openly though.
Pretty cool art installation, isn’t it? The green men symbolise ‘travelling without borders’ referring to the unification of Germany. In today’s time, possibly referring to the Immigrant situation. I don’t know for sure.
One thing, really characteristic of Frankfurt is that it is really pretty!
At the end of the tour, I went south of the river to explore this side of town, as I hadn’t been here yet. This side is much more happening. There are a lot of bars in a very small place and there’s good music all around! I also found my very first Hooters bar : Yes, the waitress was smoking hot. Wasn’t looking for a drink, so I didn’t stay long! The south side, was the right place to be this time! Simply because, the sun was setting in the North-west, and you could sit by the river, watching it go down. However, this wouldn’t have been possible from the other side of the shore!
I bought a pizza-brot : Which is essentially just garlic bread in the form of Pizza, but half as expensive. I thought it was a bargain! And, sat by the river, watching the sunset, to be greeted by a couple of swans.
And here’s something crazy : I don’t know how it got there, I just realised it while going through the photos. Please be a U.F.O.!!
See the peculiar green spot?
I went on, to the bridge, and I was pretty much on top of it for the next two hours with good music thanks to my earphones. It was a truly magical moment! So beautiful, and so happy. I was standing on the bridge, by the side and onlookers would pass by. We would share a glance, nod and they’d move on. I just couldn’t get myself to move, it was so pretty.
Oh, and another thing : This day was the super-moon day. Could it get any better than this!?
But, I had a fantastic time, nevertheless! The camera was just secondary. One minute in between, get it done with, and restart looking into the beauty of the night. Finally, about 8 PM, the cold forced me to find shelter. Also, my bus for Paris left at 9:30, so I figured it was time to get to the station, and get some dinner, before I boarded the bus.
There was something magical about this day that I can’t just put in words. My seat, I could extend it back slightly more than the others. There was no one sitting next to me, so I had the whole seat to myself. ( Important if you’ve ever travelled by bus for > 6 hours ). There was no one behind me. I had the most amazing music playing into my ears. I relaxed back, put my hands behind my head, the kind with elbows sticking out, looked to the left, out of the window, with nothing blocking my view, the window was spotless, and out into the light* was the moon, looking so huge, shining brightly, and the moonlight was enough to light the landscape down below. The trees, the bushes, the crops. I could see it all, just because of the moon. Then my thoughts wandered off to this girl I don’t know, who is even more beautiful and magical than this day I was witnessing, and hopefully, sometime soon, I’d get to write more about her.
After a good night’s sleep, I was off to explore the city, and like the ritual goes, what better way to do it than with another Sandemans Tour!? Haha, yes, again! 10 AM, Marienplatz, arguably the most famous spot in Munich, with the clocktower, the townhall and the 2nd most highly overrated attraction in Europe : Glockenspiel, or the clock show! I was here, right underneath the gold and bronze statue of Mary, waiting for the tour to start.
I got to discover the other side of Munich. How hitler influenced this town, which was actually the birthplace of his movement. The third reich. Bavaria(which is something like the “state” containing munich), the importance of beer here, the ludwig kings and loads of other things. Here’s one really interesting pillar, in the markt ( marketplace) that symbolises all that is going on here :
Bottom most : The father and son towing barrels of beer, with the 6 breweries in town, all producing different kinds of beer, with the 7th barrel holding the sign of purity : The beer is pure, and no adulteration has taken place.
On top : Oktoberfest! Left side, the swings, and right side, the beer!
On top :The schafflers, or the munich barrel makers. They dance every 7 years in the townhall. The story behind this is also pretty interesting! It was, in fact, started after the Plague in 1517, to renew the joy of life in the city, to attract the people back to the beer, so that the barrel makers don’t run out of business. Bloody brilliant!
Higher up : Not sure what that stands for.
The flag is the flag of Munich. Yes, there are a lot of flags here! The blue and white one in Marienplatz is for Bavaria.
And on top, is the monk, with wheat, going to brew some beer. You see? That’s how important beer is to Bavaria!
Following on, I met the second Juliet : the idol of love in Munich. This is actually a romantic city, and I didn’t have trouble believing it.
Ofcourse, I did that 😀
*A lot of other things on the tour, but if I go into everything, what is Michelle going to tell you next time you’re in Munich?*
By the end of the tour, it was about 1. I wanted to go to Oktoberfest, but not so soon! Michelle, the tour guide was really nice and pointed me out to the cool eating spots and I tried one of them for traditional German food : brotwurst and weisswurst. Which is really a sausage in bread. Sadly, can’t eat beef and the pork one tastes like shit, unless there’s cheese in it. ( käsebrotwurst / käsewurst) wurst means sausage in German!
It was really cool to use German here, I could pretty much understand what was written everywhere, but not when they spoke! But that’s okay, I’d brush up on it some other time.
I decided to go up up St. Peter’s church, to a really cool view of Munich. At first, it looked a lot like Russia to me. I haven’t been there, but I imagined it to be like this:
Incidentally, I met a girl from Russia on top! Haha, I asked her the same question, to which she replied that there’s not so much red in Russia. Ah, so this is Germany! The characteristic red buildings. I wonder why I thought red was characteristic of Russia. Hmm.
We spent a lot of time up there. It was really pretty and I was really tired climbing those 300 steps to the top.(Don’t know about her, I didn’t ask 😛 ) Ugh. It just costed 1 euro, so that’s pretty cool! We bade goodbye once we went down ( thanks a lot for inviting me to Vienna! 😀 ) and I went again to Marienplatz for the Glockenspiel. 2nd most overrated attraction in Europe. I forgot to ask Michelle about the most overrated one, damn!
Well, I guess you can watch it once.
Later that night, I went to Oktoberfest. Finally.
So, something that might strike you as weird is that : I don’t drink Beer. Hence, I didn’t try anything beer related at Oktoberfest. So, I can’t comment on the quality of the beer. All I can tell you is this : This was pretty much the craziest convention of beer drinkers from around the world! All the 12 tents were full of people, some really amazing music, dancing with the enormous 1L beer mugs in their hands! The lines for the tents are incredulous! It’s almost impossible to get in. I waited around for a while, and slipped in when the security guard wasn’t looking. Both days. I think it’s the easiest in this tent :
The next morning, before leaving Munich, I managed to get into some of the nicer tents :
Another thing that this experience exposed me to, was “Picking Up Women, 101.” Let’s just say, like many guys, I’m an idiot when it comes to understanding signals given by women. Shit. Damn it. Let’s just leave it at that.
Having spent the last weekend in Douai, I was determined to go somewhere this weekend. Specially so when you realise you don’t have classes on Thursday or Friday! Now, if you tell anyone in Europe that you want to go to Munich, during Oktoberfest on a 3 days notice, on a tight budget, they’d most definitely call you crazy, and rightly so! People plan anywhere from 1 month to 8 months in advance! That’s how you get the best deals, but well, I made do with what I had…
I started with the most important thing : transportation. Combining EuroLines and Megabus, I could go to Munich via Frankfurt, with a 5 hour layover in Frankfurt, which was pretty nice to tour Frankfurt. However, there was a catch with the return: Saturday afternoon : 3 Euros, Sunday afternoon: 30 Euros. So, well you can see what I chose! Saturday ofcourse!
I then chose to stay a day in Frankfurt as well. This covered my journey from Paris to Frankfurt to Munich in a cool 65 Euros, return included! Sounds very good on paper.
Next : Accomodation. Where I almost lost hope and was kind of close to cancelling my plan. But the fact that I had already put in a few hours wanted me to keep going. Any hostel in any place in Munich: sold out. The minimum I found was 70 euros per night! THATS INSANE!
This is when, for the first time, I turned to Couchsurfing for help. How counter intuitive is that? If you have something that costs 20 Euros normally ( hostel) and something free ( Couchsurfing host) , you’re going to go for the free stuff first, right!? Turns out, you pay in terms of time for CS. There’s a chemistry, a chord you need to strike with the hosts for an acceptance. 8 hours of work later, with a very bright streak of luck, I found a host for my first day. Phew. Thanks so much, Muhammad! I planned to sleep in McDonalds for the second night, it couldn’t be that bad, right? And renting a hostel for the night in Frankfurt.
That pretty much covers it. Transportation and Accomodation.
Wednesday afternoon, after an exam in college, I completed my packing and left for the train station at Douai, at about 4:30 PM. You know the story, buy tickets for Paris, ( 20 euros each time. Sigh.)get to Paris and then onwards! I reached Frankfurt, an hour before scheduled time, at 5 AM! What was I going to do here, so early, in that cold? I helped a fellow traveller, who met me on the bus to find a hotel, as he couldn’t speak English / German, but we spoke Hindi. Worked for me as I didn’t have much to do. We parted ways soon after, and I went on to get some breakfast.
The first thing that struck me as odd about Germany was that the shopkeepers were really rude and arrogant! He literally waved his hand and said Go, bye to me while I was in the middle of ordering. Unbelievable! ( I saw the same thing at many shops with foreigners) probably because they don’t accept cards anywhere, only cash and I had asked if I could pay by card. Having a small breakfast with the sunrise, I decided to go see the city.
I’d cover Frankfurt on my return, that’s better! Otherwise I risk making this post too long to read 😛 ( I didn’t do much anyways during these 5 hours. )
Onto Munich! In the bus, at about 5:30 PM, I started to get restless. It had been more than 24 hours, I was on the road, hadn’t slept properly at all, didn’t have a lot of energy or a lot of water left and I felt like going back. Like that’s it, I’m tired! I felt like calling grandma, and my ‘marrain’ here in France, Juliette. But well, airplane mode was on, conserving battery, and I decided against it. That’s when I thought to myself, it’s going to be worth it, it always is. And I thought about this blog, about writing this, about how beautiful this journey is. That was a sickly sweet moment. At 7, I finally reached munich! Woohoo! Looking at so many pretty faces( and other stuff) already gave me the energy to venture on! Haha! The number of people here was incredulous! I followed everyone, knowing there was only one place they could be going, wearing that lederhosen and Dirndl.
Worked, because my host lived nearby. what insane luck!!!
Okay, I’ve been to Disneyland in the states, ocean world in Hong Kong, but this was insanely more awesome, as a theme park and a beer garden! Albeit much smaller. What’s really crazy is that they built rollercoasters in this temporary installation! German engineering :’)
There are 12 major tents, hosting about 5000 people each, and ofcourse the rides for everyone 🙂 The energy is amazing! It takes you over! I toured the place a bit, moving in the direction of my host.
I went on to Muhammads place, for my first ever Couchsurfing experience. I was instantly touched by his hospitality! Here I was, a stranger, at his place, and here he was, offering me milk and a bed for the night! We talked a bit, about how open the culture in Germany is, and a bit about our religions: which I’m not very well versed with. Probably because I am agnostic. Also, today was Id, a muslim festival, so he had to go to his fest, while I thought this was a great time to check out Oktoberfest, sans my heavy backpack! I’d probably go over more details in the next post, as I did more the next day!
That night, I requested Muhammad to hopefully extend my stay by a night, to which he agreed, and I am forever grateful for that! I could rest in peace, knowing I had a place for tomorrow night as well.
Reaching Paris at 6:45 AM, 15 minutes earlier than the scheduled time ( Kudos, MegaBus! ) we were greeted by a deserted town. Too early for the working people to be out, save a few fitness freaks and too late for the drunken to be wandering the streets. However, the best time to catch the Arc de Triomph, sans all the traffic it is subjected to during any normal day! I am proud of this picture :
Oh, another thing : Paris is not Barcelona. It isn’t cool to arrive in Paris wearing shorts and a shirt! ( Beach mode, remember? ) Haha, desperately searching for a public free toilet to change into warmer clothes, we found one after a 10 minutes walk, followed by an interesting maneuver : To change my shorts without letting my bare feet touch the ground. They claimed it was cleaned after every use, but I wasn’t taking any chances. Because of all this “automated cleaning”, it becomes really slow for 5 people to use it turn by turn, and we ended up spending 35 minutes waiting for everyone to finish.
We continued towards the Eiffel Tower, after all if you are coming to Paris, you have to visit it once and probably get disappointed by how small it is. ( Reaction of atleast 2 out of 5 people in our group: “Mere ghar ke peeche waala TV tower isse badha hai”. Translation : The TV tower behind my house is taller). I was interested in what was happening next to it.
Sunday morning, half marathon! The number of people here was just incredulous! I sat down on the bridge just watching people run by! I saw a group of girls dressed as vikings, and another group as storm troopers! Talk about running in style.
Formerly, we had decided that we would go up Eiffel Tower, but seeing that it wasn’t free for us, and it wasn’t really that tall, we decided to skip it! ( Kick ass reasoning : On top of Arc de Triomph, we got our photo clicked with Eiffel Tower, now, on top of this, same view, with the Arc de Triomph. What’s the point? ) Hehe. By this time, we had all become really hungry, and began our search for the next Subway, which was pretty far away. To make things worse, it started raining and I didn’t have my umbrella. Just as we got into Subway, the rain got worse, pouring heavily, and we stayed in for about 2-3 hours till it subsided.( Free Wi-Fi, no complains! ). After this, we parted ways : I wanted to go to the Louvre, as that was the only thing missing, while the others wanted to take a bigger round to cover the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which I had experienced completely already. I had made plans with Dorothy to meet her at Louvre in an hour.
Now, just as I left, I felt this very sudden urge to pee. Haha, it’s like I wasn’t paying attention to it earlier. Well, with no toilet in sight, I ventured on till I reached Invalides and I just happened to glance at the ticket rates.
Free for me! It’s a really big place, and so I figured there must be a toilet inside. So, I went in, showed my visa, got the free ticket and entered into a very awesome war museum. The toilets were right there after the first gallery, and I got to relieve myself, finally. Ah, what a relief! The gallery was really interesting, with real armour and weapons used in the wars! I found it so interesting, that I actually went through the entire museum ( much quickly though! As I had a r.d.v. with Dorothy! ) They said it would take me 2.5 hours, but I did it in one hour. In fact, Napoleons tomb is also present here! Just right beneath the golden dome.
Out, and to the Louvre! I called Dorothy, but her phone is a fucktard. She couldn’t call me and I couldn’t call her. I didn’t get to contact her, so I went and stood in the line on my own, which starts right at the characteristic pyramid! 30 minutes hence, I was inside the Louvre, admiring it’s sheer enormity! So, the first thing that struck me to be different from Rijks was this: I can’t do this in one day. Let alone 3 hours.
The amount of paintings and sculptures inside is insane! I think there are 3 floors and a basement, and I only got to explore one floor. I made a detour to see Mona Lisa on the 2nd floor, but that doesn’t count. Mona Lisa. Aphrodite. Original Egyptian Sacrophagus and Heiroglyphics! I had just heard about them, but I got to saw the real deal! Ah, so amazing! Definitely going there again soon. There’s too much to discover!
However, if you’re paying to go in, it might make sense to download the museum app beforehand, and decided what all you want to see, and then go see it! I was in this gallery, while all that you see is the Louvre. 3 main sections, truly grand!
It closes at 6 P.M, and I got out about 5:30 PM. At the exit, there’s free Wi-Fi! That’s when I got to see Dorothy’s message, that she was here the whole time. Haha, damn. Met her for 10 minutes,<skips writing about the awkward part> then had to bid goodbye to catch my train back to Douai!
Waking up to the alarm of my room mate, I got up, got dressed, all ready to venture forth for our last (and sadly first proper day ) in Barcelona. We had the bus for Paris leaving at 4:30 PM. Haha, yes, I know, not a lot of time, but that’s how it is. On the other hand, the 28 hours in Barcelona were so full of experiences! I don’t think I would have been able to keep up had we stayed longer.
This day, I was determined to attend the tour, to find out the true story behind yesterday’s spectacle. This was the only aim for the day. Sumit, the same college-mate who went out with me last night, decided to join me; while Puskar followed his calling : Camp Nou, Barcelona! ( Football stadium, for the ones not into football ) and while the rest 2 were creating a hilarious story, which you’d hear about soon enough.
So, we made the reservations ( not taking chances today!) and checked out at 9 AM, to reach the tour point at about 9:40 AM. We got our tickets and waited for the tour to start. Haha, my tour guide turned out to Tommy! I thanked him for his advice last afternoon and we went on to cover quite a bit of history. Starting at the Barcelona Cathedral, to the eternal flame, to the infamous La Rambla! He talked a bit about the Catalonian movement, the million flags, Aragon and the Prince of Madrid and the sieges. The Catalonian flag, with 4 red stripes, actually comes from a symbol during the war. <Some important guy> fell, and <another important guy> dug his hand into the other’s wound, and used the blood on his 4 fingers to draw 4 lines on his shield, paying his respects, which came to be known as the coat of arms! <Sorry, don’t remember the names of the guys>.
We stopped in a pretty indoor garden of the Viceroy’s Palace.
Oh, and it’s moderately hot in Spain! Hence the t-shirt and shorts. En route, we also apparently crashed a wedding. ( Technically not, the church is open to the public. But it was fun to catch a glimpse of it)
The tour soon ended, and we consulted the map for our next destination : The famous Barcelona aquarium, which was slightly far, but we had about 3.5 hours to get to the bus. So we might as well go. On reaching there, we saw that the ticket was 20 Euros. Haha, we went back faster than we got here! ( Not really.) We ditched the idea of the aquarium, reasoning, that there should be a cheaper aquarium somewhere someplace, and I chipped in, I’ve seen these fish live, in the ocean, in their habitat. This can’t beat that any day. Interesting how the mind spins things off to suit your needs. Anyways, we moved on, checked out the harbour which had a lot of really cool ships! The kind with sails, not the modern ( slightly ugly?) ones.
Not really, there was a really huge one specifically for the public to check out! Ahaaan, the number of ropes on these is just incredible!!
Moving on, we were greeted by one of the best sights in Barcelona : Unloading of supercars on the port for super rich people.
I clicked this one ( not allowed to come any closer) but Sumit clicked them all! Here’s another awesome picture he got :
Feeling tired, I wanted to go back, but on Sumit’s persistence and that awesome quiche, we decided to go to the beach! Thanks a lot, Sumit, for helping me acquire this experience as well! The beach here, was entirely different! I loved it. Even with all that gear, we got out our swimming trunks, prayed that no one took our bags while we changed and were into the water! Crazily enough, just an hour before our bus left for Paris. ( If we missed it, we would have been completely stranded!) This, almost completed my Barcelona experience. Almost? what else is left? Just one small thing. When we packed up, took a shower, and started moving back, I was on the look out for restaurants serving the Barcelona speciality : seafood. Tommy told me that they got the best seafood here, and wasn’t he right! In a little restaurant around the corner, in an unknown street ( We were just walking in the general direction : I have a good sense of direction) Wait, that reminds me!
Pro Tip : Whenever you’re going to a new place, try and memorize as much of the map as you can, mainly important monuments and your hostel. It usually just takes one glance to obtain a general idea, but very helpful in navigation!
Oops, yes, so, there was this store selling fried codfish with lemon : 8 pieces, 2.95 Euros. That sounded like a bargain, and we went ahead to have the most amazing fish I have ever had in my life! Wow, those 4 pieces I had were simply extravagant! Haha, I wish I’d taken more! Yes, Barcelona experience, complete.
We reached the bus, to hear about Puskar’s Camp Nou experience and ofcourse, the hilarious story: The other two, unaware of the legend of La Rambla, ventured in to find someone throw paint all over their bag, point them to a place to clean it, and, then elope with that bag. Okay, probably not hilarious for them 😛 But the good part is, they found their bag again, with nothing missing. We think that was because there was nothing inside to steal. We decided, not to let Animek and Tulika venture out on their own ever again.
After that insane bus journey, we emerged next to the Arc de Triomf in Barcelona. ( There are quite a few around the world! There’s one in India too, in New Delhi! That’s what I thought when I saw the Arc de Triomph in Paris. Ha! That’s just like the one back home ) Just as I entered the city, I could feel something was up. There were a lot of people on the streets, waving this peculiar flag that I had seen before, but I knew that it didn’t belong to Spain. Something like this :
It was really energizing to see such a crowd! My first reaction was : maybe this place is even more lively than Paris! We moved to our hostel, which was about a half an hour walk, checked in, utilized the free Wi-Fi to search for the Sandeman’s Free Tour in Barcelona! (Ha Ha, yes, again! ) The time right now was 1:00 PM, and the tour started at 2. Good timing, man! The others wanted to rest in the room for a while, so I was off again, solo, map in hand, to the start point of the tour! Reaching at 1:55 PM, without a prior booking, I saw about 90 people in line for the tour. Reservations only. What? Seriously? I literally ran all the way here so I could be on time. I talked again to see if they would let me join in, but unfortunately not. Still not welcoming the idea, I followed one of the guides to the first spot on the tour, about a minute from where we started, keeping my distance, but I could feel that this wasn’t the experience I was looking for. So I went back to the start point and talked to the representative standing there. He was nice enough to tell me what was going on : It was 11th September ( Now I know two 9/11 s ) which is the National Day of Catalonia. The day they lost in the Spanish Siege of Barcelona, 1886. Right now, they are protesting for their independence from Spain. It felt really exciting to hear this, and the representative, Tommy pointed me to the general direction of the crowd, where all the action was. That’s where you’d find the most number of people, that is where it’s all going on.
The disappointment of not being able to attend the tour this day didn’t last very long! I figured, today is the National Day! I should be experiencing it while it happens, I can find out all about the city the next day, on the same tour! ( Right now, I feel really grateful for this, that I couldn’t find a place in the tour. ) So, “on y va!” Let’s go there. The flag? Catalonia. The people? Speak Catalan. This was an entirely different experience I hadn’t been exposed to, yet!
En route, I ventured into Citadel Park, as well as El Born, a preserved ancient market here in Barcelona. The park had a really huge fountain, which looked something like this:
I climbed up because it seemed like a cool place to see the city from. Indeed.
Moving on, I again reached the Arc de Triomf. I would later find out, that it looked like this only on this day. Glad I got a photo!
On other, regular days, sans the white stalls, sans the flag of Catalonia in the middle. Here, I checked out the stalls to find something to eat, as I was famished! Hadn’t had lunch, yet. It was slightly difficult to communicate, as my vocabulary in Spanish was limited to “Gracias, Por favour, Hasta la vista, Chickos!” Haha, I tried this amazing chicken pizza, and tried to ask them their speciality, was pointed to the most expensive item, and I had to pass 😛
I went to where all the crowd was heading. This busy boulevard to the north east, at the place with the Wavy building. En route, I could feel the energy, the music and the chants of the catalanians! Someone handed me a flag, I joined in! I still have it, safely tucked in my suitcase! Ah, I just realised wordpress doesn’t let me upload videos. But you got to see this. Youtube, to the rescue!
I didn’t realise how far I’d walked, and when I did, I was like oh, crap! I’d have to go back a long way, and my phone was about to die. 1%. (There was no working charging port on the bus) The tiredness was starting to kick in, and I wanted to go back, rest for a while and venture out again during the night for round 2. There was a concert scheduled at the Arc de Triomf for the night. No way I was missing that!
Consulting the map, I realised that the Sagria Familia would fall on the way. Why not check it out as well? Contrary to what I’ve heard about it, seeing it, I wasn’t impressed.
True, that design is very intricate, the detailing is insane, it is a construction marvel; but why are there cranes on top? Why are you still building it? I don’t think it’s useful, building it now. It’s like, going back to the ages using the modern tech to complete what was left unfinished. But what’s the point of it? What are you going to achieve out of it? I’d have preferred watching it without the cranes, left the way it was when the chief architect, Antoni Gaudi, died. ( Or maybe a hundred years later, because that was a long time ago)
Moving on, I finally reached my hostel! Sat down in the common room, charged my phone and interacted with the people over there. It’s always fun to do this. Making new friends. This time, I met a girl from Iran, who was also on vacation. It was really nice talking to her ( and solving that Sudoku together 😉 ), learning a bit about her story. ( Do you remember this site? I’m not sure if I mentioned it 😛 )
She left after a while, and I finally met my college mates. They had gone out to the beach and had just returned! I wasn’t very much in the mood for beaches as I’d been to Andamans just a little while back. After resting for a while, I decided to leave again, and only one other guy decided to come with me.
The concert was awesome! There were a lot of people, a lot of bands lined up, the only catch being : they were spanish / catalanian. I didn’t understand what they were saying. But judging by the number of people that were singing along, I would say the band was really famous. Or they were doing a cover. Oh, and there were a lot of pretty girls around. 😀 In between artists, there would be certain quotes for Independence by various political leaders. Have you ever seen such a mix of political cause and music? Fantastic!
We decided to check out the Barcelona Casino, as we had a voucher for a free drink in it, thanks to the hostel. What we didn’t know was that, it was way too far. We stopped mid way to witness a true sense of the city : A street soccer match. Oh my, that was just like playing street fifa! I loved watching that a lot. A real taste of Barcelona. After about half an hour, we walked back home, for a much needed good night’s sleep. Extremely eventful Day 0. Thanks, Barcelona!!
What happens when one fine wednesday, you realise that Thursday and Friday is a holiday?
I don’t know about you, but I spent the entire day figuring out how to leave tomorrow for a cheap vacation! Yes, that’s what happens when you’re travelling, unlike when in a “normal” college. 20 hours later, at 11:50 AM, having considered 7 crazy options, I found myself with my 4 college-mates waiting at the platform for a train scheduled to leave at 12:54, to Paris.( What? Again? Paris? Why?… Hold on! )
Getting a bit hungry, we decided to go back to the hostel ( 20 minutes walk), have lunch, take any stuff we had forgotten, and come back. That would give us about 20 minutes for lunch? Ambitious, but it meant we were going to save on paying for lunch in Paris. ( Phew!) If only, all of us could eat in time. Having heard about the punctuality of the trains here, we finally got to experience it. Only 3 of us made it to the train on time. Damn, the other 2 had to take the next train, but it also meant they would not be able to the extra bit of sight seeing that we would be doing.( For the others, this was the first time to Paris)
Moving on, I decided to do what I had left the last time : Sacre Coeur ( Sacred Heart, a Cathedral to the North) which is pretty impressive! Really grand, situated on top of a hill. However, it pales in comparison to Notre Dame.
We roamed around a bit, and then decided to check out the red light district here, and the famous Moulin Rouge. Oh, this was the first time I entered a sex shop. Mixed reactions, let’s just say I would have tried to figure out what people do with the stuff if the scent in the shop hadn’t been so suffocating. Haha, some other time perhaps!
Moving on, we walked to the Arc de Triomph. If you trace this journey, you’d see that we never ventured into the city center. From the Gare du Nord, we simply walked west. To Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge, and finally Arc de Triomph. It’s a long and tiring walk, but there’s a very specific reason why we chose this route. ( Hold on.)
This time, the line to venture to the top of the Arc de Triomph was pretty small! Oh, and it’s free for me! Simply because I’m a legal resident in France with < 26 years of age.
Pro Tip : When you buy the tickets for Arc de Triomph, Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Invalides, show your visa to see if you’re eligible for a reduction in prices! My entry was free to the Arc de Triomph, the Louvre as well as the Museum of Invalides.
We ascended to the top, where we spent about 2 hours, taking in the atmosphere and getting ourselves clicked with the Eiffel Tower! This is also where we finally met the others. They walked directly from the station to Arc de Triomph. ( Why buy a metro ticket when you can walk? 😛 )
And one with all of us :
Okay, now for the real reason why we took this peculiar route. Another kilometer to the west of the Arc de Triomph, is the bus stand. The bus stand for buses going all sorts of far off places, like London, the South of France, and the even more southern countries. We were to take one of these buses, at a reasonable 40 Euros, considering we booked it a night ago, to :
A 14 hour bus journey, but we were prepared for it. Prepared to sleep through the night as the bus got us to Barcelona at noon. See you over there!
After that very eventful and tiring day, and a broken nights sleep, which was weird as I woke up because my legs were aching. What the? It is kinda nice, that feeling. Have you ever felt it?
Getting out of bed, bidding goodbye to my hostelmate, I ventured down, had breakfast, checked out and sat down in the lobby, using the wifi and figuring out the days plan. It didn’t take very long as I already had a faint idea in mind. The girl I met yesterday and I had made plans to go to the Catacombs, during the afternoon. She isn’t a morning person, but I wasn’t going to spend my morning in bed ( because I had 1 day and she had 1000). So, I decided to explore the Cathedral of Notre Dame in further depth. Come back for the Catacombs and then see how it goes.
Remember how my timing had been so perfect? Well, add another perfect to it! That’s how lucky I got. Just as I reached the Cathedral, I realised there was something on. It was a Sunday morning. What do Christians do on a sunday morning? Mass. Yes, that’s what I witnessed. The high priest followed by his 4 disciples advancing slowly through the path, cleansing their surroundings, to reach the podium from where the high priest performs the sermon. Correct me if I’ve used the wrong word somewhere, I’m not very well versed with the terms. I sat through it all, which was in French(duh!). Understood bits and pieces, and was so amazed by the beauty of it that I forgot / decided not to take any photos. In the middle I took a short video just for souvenirs sake. There were a lot of complicated procedures in between, involving the Golden Bible and a Chalice. (Judas Chalice?). In the end, I was offered the serving, a weird circular disc, which I ate seeing others do it. Interesting.
Energised with the experience, I left to explore the gardens outside.
Pro Tip : There’s a public toilet (free) right inside the garden next to the Cathedral. Fulfill all your city center needs.
Oh, look at what I found on this bridge! ( not the love lock bridge)
Moving back, I reached the Catacombs at 3, standing in line waiting for Dorothy. She arrived at 3:45 (sigh) and our turn arrived at 4. It was decent-ish. Pretty boring after you see the first few bodies, because it’s simply the same thing over and over again for 1.2 km. Well, we did get to go into the catacombs, so there’s that for the 8€ ticket.
It was about 4:30 or 5, and we hadn’t had lunch! Famished and tired as hell, we took the metro to the subway next to Cathedral de Notre Dame. When you don’t know what to eat and don’t want to spend much, go to subway! We took our subs on the go, sat on the bridge over the water, next to the cathedral. During this time, the place transforms! The Cathedral closes, and performers take over the square to showcase their talents! Roller skaters, dancers, musicians! I witnessed them all. Bloody brilliant! Soon after this, we parted ways and I was sitting at the Cathedral, listening to some amazing music, looking at the beautiful sky and the beautiful monument next to me. Oh, and the million tourists trying to get a nice photo clicked.
At 8:45, it was time for me to take the metro to the train station, and again I reached pretty fast. I prefered being earlier than late. This was the last train to Douai. Not. Taking. Any.Chances.
Since I had a lot of time, I played the free piano on the station, which felt really nice. I got a place to rest my aching legs and exercise my fingers. Over the course of these 2 days, I’d walked 50 kms! That’s right, fifty!
Budget tip: This whole trip, including travel to and from Douai, took me 100€. 20€ to go, 20€ to come back, 20€ for the night stay, 8€ for the catacomb trip, 20€ on (unnecesary but worth it(that’s what I’ve been telling myself)) cullinary experiences and 12€ for breakfast, lunch on Day 0 and Day 1. So, if you want to experience Paris like I did, once you get here, all it takes is about 35€ for 2 days! Some people pay that much just to get their photo photoshopped next to the Eiffel Tower 😉
Cullinary Experience #1 : That late night dinner at a chinese restaurant with tricky prices. Ah, well. Be careful about what you order! Confirm prices before hand to be extra sure 🙂
Cullinary Experience #2 : waffles and ice cream at Häagen Dazs.
I would call this Day -1, but I think that would get increasingly problematic as it isn’t a very definite convention. I was woken up with a loud banging on my door, which turned out to be my neighbour who had lost his room key, at 6 AM, en route to Brussels. Due to some complicated and not-interesting stuff, I couldn’t go with them ( 4 of them ), and I was here in my room, at 6 AM, still deliberating whether I could go to Paris. The earlier day, Friday, I’d tried to book a hostel and the train tickets, but to no avail. So, I had virtually nothing, and I was slightly apprehensive about going on such a journey.
I packed my bags, ate the apple I had saved from last night’s dinner and figured, I might as well go to the train station ( a 20 minutes walk), see if I get the ticket, and we can see how it goes? Once I reached the station, all my apprehensions vanished during the 2 minutes I was talking to the lady at the ticket counter. I purchased a ticket for 15 minutes from now ( I checked the timetable before hand, my timing was awesome) and also an nonexchangeable return ticket for the next night at 10 P.M. Haha, talk about fighting fears!
In short, this was the best decision, ever!
The voyage lasted 1 hour 17 minutes, and I was in Paris at 9:08 AM. So exhilarating! So, the hostel I had decided to check for a room was on the other side of the River Seine, and if you know where Gare du Nord ( Train station) is, let’s just say it is very far! 1.5 hours walking, but 20 minutes by the metro (which I found out later). Since I wanted to experience the city rather than just taking the metro, I decided to walk. From north to south, covering pretty much all the differences in between the two parts of town. The premier walk from the station till the river was pretty shady. I wasn’t sure if I made the right decision walking through it, but I realised it finished pretty soon, commemorated by this :
A little further, I found the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which is on the River Siene. I went past it, and onwards to my hostel, as I thought it was important to first find a room to stay for the night. The earlier I reach => More chances to find a room. I would have had to try somewhere else otherwise. As luck would have it, I found a room right there, in FIAP Jean Monnet hostel, 30 Rue Cabanis. And yes, I would recommend it any day! It really is an amazing hostel, I loved it! ( More on this later). I was told that I could check in by 12, and at that time it was 11. I used the irritatingly slow Wi-Fi over there, thinking out my day, when a stroke of brilliance hit me! Remember the Sandeman’s Free Tours in Amsterdam? Yes, they are here in Paris as well. And yes, the next tour left at 1. Yes, the starting point of the tour was an hour away. Yes, the Garden of Luxemborg falls in between the hostel and the start point of the tour, (which is St. Michel Fountain, right next to the Cathedral of Notre Dame,if you want to go. Tours leave every day at 10:00, 11:00 and 1:00.) Even more good timing.
Filled with excitement about the plan, I got up and told the reception I’d be coming back late to check in, stowed my bag over there and was off. Say hello to the entrance of the entrance to the garden.
and the Garden:
I sat here for a while, and then was off to reach just in time for the tour. This tour was, just like the previous one, very amazing! Bruce covered a lot about the history and the war, and how it affected Paris, or rather, how it didn’t. We went through most of the amazing sights in Paris, starting with the Cathedral of Notre Dame, to the Louvre, to Place de la Concorde. The most amazing bit was, that I could understand French! Learning a new language is truly the best way to immerse in the culture! The names of the streets, the buildings, the jokes in French, the inscriptions, felt really cool. It could also be the fact that I was the only one who understood even a bit of French in the tour group. I practiced a bit with Bruce, who was nice enough to help me out. He even clicked a photo of me at the Louvre! ( I’m not much into selfies)
The tour ended at Place de la Concorde, at about 3:30 P.M. Now, I hadn’t had lunch and was very hungry. Bruce was selling tickets for their other tour of Montmarte, in a cafe where I found decent enough food, next to the Place.(pronounced Pl-aaa-ce : Meaning Square in French, because Place de la Concorde, is a square. Look carefully! The biggest in fact, with the characteristic Obelisk, which was gifted by Egypt, and the gold on top added by the French)
Oh, and you can see the famous Tour de Eiffel from here! I sat here for a while because I was tired, and yes, you can easily guess where my next stop was going to be! I could see it from here! The Tour de Eiffel.
And, after another half an hour, I reached the Tour de Eiffel.
Too tired to do anything, I sat on the first bench I could find, and I think I was there for about 2 hours. After about 1 hour, a girl came and sat next to me on the bench, while I was contemplating how beautiful this is, and how right I was to have come here and earned this experience. She looked kinda French to me and I thought about asking her something in French, ( “Are you French? 😛 “) but I forgot about it after about 5 minutes ( which is a long time) because she seemed occupied, and I was back to my comtemplations. Half an hour later, she got up to through something in the trash can, and I realised she was still here. I smiled at her and was about to ask her the question when she asked me the same question xD. (“Where are you from? “) and that started a pretty amazing friendship. Turns out, she’s from Scotland ( and she’s not a redhead 😉 ). We grabbed something to eat, and ended up at the Arc de Triomphe. Haha, exactly like India Gate in India! Except a few beautiful statues in front. Even the flame underneath the Arc, exists in India. We stayed there for a bit, didn’t go up because the line was too long, went to Place de la Concorde, encore, and after that, ended up at Eiffel Tower again. It was night time, and seeing it light up was even more amazing!
We spent an hour( or two?) here, looking at all the people and taking in the atmosphere. It really left me spellbound. After that, we parted ways for tonight, and I had already walked 30 kms today, I couldn’t anymore, so I took the Metro, which I might add is very convenient and super fast! I was surprised when we traversed 12 stations in 12 minutes. Oh well, I had dinner in a small restaurant close to my place. This had you choose what you want, with price per 100 gms written, which made it seem cheap, but when he filled the plate, I had had 11 Euros worth of food. Sigh. It tasted good though, so can’t complain!
Another piece of awesomeness awaited me when I went to the hostel, to check in at 11:30 PM. I was upgraded because the room that I’d earlier booked for had been filled. Personal bathrooms, personal washrooms, complete with towels and a personal charging port. Ah, is this even a hostel anymore!? I reverted my decision of not taking a bath ( because I didn’t bring my towel, I packed really light! ) because of the welcoming hot shower, which I needed after all that walking.
Best end to the best damn day!
…. I just re read it again. It isn’t even half of what I experienced! There’s so much, but damn it, I can’t write it all here! 😀 😀