Munich : Day 0

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.

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Getting to Paris

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.

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Small, but pretty!
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Really pretty

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.
: Oktoberfest!

Worked, because my host lived nearby. what insane luck!!!

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Not sure if the guy was looking at me..

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.

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En route to Muhammad’s.

Barcelona : Day 1

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.

With all my gear
With all my gear
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 Wedding
The Wedding
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.

Boats, boats everywhere but not one to climb
Boats, boats everywhere but not one to climb
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!!IMG_1363

Moving on, we were greeted by one of the best sights in Barcelona : Unloading of supercars on the port for super rich people.

Look at this beauty
Look at this beauty
I clicked this one ( not allowed to come any closer) but Sumit clicked them all! Here’s another awesome picture he got :

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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.

To the next adventure!

Barcelona : Day 0

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 :

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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!

The eternal flame to respect the dead
The eternal flame to respect the dead
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:

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I climbed up because it seemed like a cool place to see the city from. Indeed.

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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!

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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.

Intricate, kind of.
Intricate, kind of.
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!!

Walking back home, after the parades.
Walking back home, after the parades.

Paris : Day 0

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 :

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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.

Fountain just outside the garden.
Fountain just outside the garden.
and the Garden:

Gardens of Luxemborg
Gardens of Luxemborg
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 Great Pyramid of the Louvre
The Great Pyramid of the Louvre
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)

This is what I'm talking about
This is what I’m talking about
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.

A cool photo
A cool photo : That’s a groom waiting for his bride, who is on the right side of the frame.
And, after another half an hour, I reached the Tour de Eiffel.IMG_1097

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!

Almost underneath
Almost underneath
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! 😀 😀

For another day
For another day

Amsterdam : Day 0

When you pack for 4 months, keep in mind that you’d have about 50 kgs of luggage+hand luggage no matter how optimistic you want to be, and in such a case, going sightseeing first is not the best idea!
Haha, that’s how I ended up in Amsterdam in the first place! I booked straight to Amsterdam, primarily because it was slightly cheap, more so because I really wanted to visit the city. Oh, isn’t this a beauty!

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First disaster struck even before I started from my home. Wait, hold up. Let’s skip that. And the next one. And the next one. And the part where I got lost with my luggage. And the next part.
Finally, in my hostel, drenched in sweat, which seemed very weird to all the locals, since it was pretty cool at 18 degrees, I decided to rest my aching arms and legs.
The energy of the place soon took over. 45 minutes since, I was out, exploring the hostel first, learning about the way things work here, and then, out into the mysterious and beautiful streets of Amsterdam!

I decided to first track the way back to the Centraal, which is where I started towing my luggage from, so I could make the journey faster on my way back ( to Douai, France; after 2 days). The High Speed trains are very punctual and I’d be mortified to be late for it!

Half way through, it started raining snakes ( cats and dogs is overused now, isn’t it?) and I decided to leave it for another day, tracing my way back to the hostel.

A little bit more about the hostel : it’s called Shelter City, a christian hostel located in a central hub, Nieumarkt next to the Red Light district. It’s really clean and has a lot of amazing volunteers! In their own words, “We volunteer because we love Jesus. It may sound a bit cheesy to you, but for us, it isn’t. Not even the slightest! ” Also, the volunteers are from all over the world! I met a girl, from California, volunteering here for a year, deciding what to study next, to choose her specialisation. A lot of people from Germany as well, here just because they want to work. Pretty neat, I think!

Plonged on my bed, I checked out the maps I had acquired over the ordeals of getting here. Planning where to go, what to do?

When the rain stopped, I was out again, map in one hand, and jacket in the other. The weather was really weird, I had to keep taking off and putting my jacket every 15 minutes to stay comfortable. Where do you find weather like this? Awesomeness in it’s own right. 5 minutes off, I decided to put the map down and just explore! Go wherever I want, whichever canal looks the prettiest. It is a small enough place, and I had the map sans luggage, couldn’t be hard to find my way back. <= Best decision, ever! I went through the entire inner ring road area, exploring freely, admiring the beauty, of the people and the place alike, mesmerised by the symbiosis between the water and land. This city has truly embraced what it was given and made the most of it!

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Counting 16,000 steps on my iPhone, about 11 km, I headed back for a good nights sleep in my room! The room was pretty small, with 3 bunkbeds and a locker! Cosy, nevertheless. I was alone when I got into bed, but 5 guys checked in while i was in bed, and went out for a drink faster than they got here, leaving me in peace to sleep. They didn’t jet lag because they were from around here, Germany and Ireland!

A pretty eventful zeroth day.