One step closer

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!

My room with a kick ass view
My room with a kick ass view

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!

Mom would be proud :')
Mom would be proud :’)

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!

Don't go by the looks of it.
Don’t go by the looks of it.

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!

That’s all, folks! Catch you around!

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Frankfurt

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 :

Jenny and Patrick
Jenny and Patrick

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. IMG_1627

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.

Pass me the pot, brah!
Pass me the pot, brah!

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.

Headquarters of the Free masons!
Headquarters of the 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.

Ronin, Town Hall square
Ronin, Town Hall square

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!

I haven't gotten a better click like that in another place!
I haven’t gotten a better click in another place!

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.

Hello there
Hello there

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.!!

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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.IMG_1684 IMG_1701

Oh, and another thing : This day was the super-moon day. Could it get any better than this!?

The moon! This is where the iPhone's camera starts to falter. Not enough light.
The moon! This is where the iPhone’s camera starts to falter. Not enough light.

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.

Paris-encore : Day 1

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 :

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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.

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Where are you all going?

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.

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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.

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Where are you all going?

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.

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Where are you all going?

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!

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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!

Happy Weekend!

Paris encore : Day 0

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.

Sacre Coeur
Sacre Coeur

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!

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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? 😛 )

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And one with all of us :

With Puskar : The Selfie Expert
With Puskar : The Selfie Expert

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 :

Barcelona!
Barcelona!

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!

Paris : Day 1

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?

FIAP Jean Monnet
FIAP Jean Monnet

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.

The Grand Cathedral de Notre Dame
The Grand Cathedral de Notre Dame

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.

The Gardens Outside
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)

I don't know who you are, I don't know where you are.  What? It's just a statement.
I don’t know who you are, I don’t know where you are.
What? It’s just a statement.


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.

Magic
Magic

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.

Douai

Damn it, I sped too fast! It kind of broke the flow, how did I end up in Paris straight from Amsterdam, but I was too excited and I had to write about Paris before I forget. But well, I am going to delete it and add it again, when the time is right.

Douai is a small town, next to Lille and Paris, with this grand ecole, or school, Mines Douai, which would be my home for the next 4 months. As of this moment, I’ve been here for 9 days, been introduced to a new culture and a new schooling system that doesn’t focus entirely on grades. I really like the idea of it, but let’s see how it fares. Since I’ve got here, there has been a party every night, and an after party after every party every night on one of the residence floors, which makes two things very clear : People here like to party hard, and they love their booze! Douai even has it’s own signature beer, called the Goudale!

Even though I don’t drink, and have never had the energy to stay for the after party, I think these parties are really amazing, because they help you meet new people, to mix in!

Another really amazing thing is the presence of other foreigners. I’ve met people from all over the world now! And, just like me, they are learning French. This epic realisation occurred when I was talking to a Chinese girl, with French being the only common language between us. It gives you a lot of power, to be able to talk to people like that, who don’t know your language even remotely! We were two foreigners talking in a foreign language. That sounds perfect.

Another peculiar thing I learnt is, there are 3 kingdoms in China, and their languages are slightly different. These dialects are so different that they don’t understand each other sometimes! ( when from different regions, ofcourse! )

This makes me realise, that I haven’t talked to the Brazillians much. I don’t know much about them 😮 . I should get on it, soon!

Oh, and I ought to mention, I’m not alone here. There are 4 other kids with me from India, from IIT itself. It’s nice to be able to talk in Hindi once in a while, oh and very helpful when it comes to understanding shiz in French!

The French speak fast. It takes a lot of mental prowess to comprehend what they are trying to say. But in the end, I believe I’d get used to it. I really love the fact that I’ve been learning for only one month, and I love to flaunt it! Why? Because it’s just been one month and I can say that in French! B) haha, this builds a lot of confidence. I can learn any language. Also, it has been a great relaxant. I’ve been coding and studying mathematics since a long time, and the past summer vacation, I turned down all internship opportunities because I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to take a break. Stimulate my brain with something else. I think this has proven to be the best way to do so! Thanks Bade Bhaiya for the advice! 😉 that reminds me, it’s teachers day, I should wish him!

To another 4 eventful months in Douai!

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Amsterdam : Day 2

Waking up early, at 8, whilst the others sleep in my room, I packed my bag ( just a sling, I’ve fallen in love with these! So practical and easy enough to carry anywhere! ) and headed out for the long walk to the Rijksmuseum, which opens at 9. I could have rented a bike, but that was just unnecessary for me.

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can’t see the ticket line from here, it’s inside the 4 arches.

When I reached at about 8:50, I was surprised to see a small line outside, because it’s generally packed and Kor advised me to go through Rijks first. Well, more space for me, I guess! I already had a ticket, so it was much faster. i could just go in without standing in the ticket line! I got a map of the museum and thought about the best way to go through all of it. I soon realised it was too big to go through everything in a day, let alone the 3 hours I had estimated for Rijks.

Pro Tip : there’s an app for the Rijksmuseum that has the same tours as the iPods being rented at the museum for 2 euros each! Save money just by downloading the app! Even if you forget to download it before hand, there’s free wifi in Rijks to do the same.

Moving on, I first decided to see the special collections on the 0th floor, moving up to the 3rd floor. The special collections included Ship models, which really caught my attention, as well as the gun collection from the XXth Century. I can’t remember the number. It suffices to say, it was big enough to take up one entire room! I skipped the clothing and porcelain and delftware. Not interested.

What a beauty!
What a beauty!

This is just how long I could wait. I skipped floor 1 and went directly to what you have been waiting to hear about. The painting(s). Rembrant. Vermeer. It’s placed in a Hall called the gallery of honour, overlooked by the great hall, called Voorhal with tinted glass paintings, the kind you see in ancient churches and cathedrals. Only, these had painters instead of the saints. Amazing.

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I used my phone for the tour of this gallery as I didn’t want to miss anything important. And boy, what I saw left me spellbound! You could tell where the famous paintings were, simply by the number of people standing in front of them! I decided that in order to judge how great a painting really is, I would compare the nuances and the little things that the guide was telling me about the painting with the painting next to it. Not the best way to go about it because some neighbours were starkly different, but it worked most of the time! I got to train my artistic eye and learn a bit about the history. The floors are divided by centuries, and after having explored the floors, After 3 hours, I decided to call it an afternoon.( Get it? 😉

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The NightWatch

I ventured forward to the Van Gogh, which is close by to meet a line 1 hour long! Ah, damnit! At this point, I started to regret buying the ticket for Van Gogh as it’s just another painting museum. I’d already seen Van Gogh’s self portrait, the most famous one, in Rijks. ( He drew a total of 13 self portraits to practice various techniques) The line soon ended and I was inside. 3 floors, 1000 paintings( I think? ) but more than that, it was a life story that engulfed me completely! This was a totally different experience, the museum is thought out really well! You can see the difference, when he started and how he ended up where he is, and how his last painting is not his best, and how he painted the most in his last year. Who inspired him, where all he went to seek inspiration and ofcourse, his most famous works. Sadly, I was not allowed to take pictures inside. So, I can’t show you. If you get the chance to go, don’t miss it! It’s well worth the 17 euros!

Tired beyond measure, I decided to first grab lunch at an eatery next to the famous I AmSterdam sign, followed by a relaxing walk in Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s version of New York’s Central Park! Less skyscrapers around, more birds and ducks! I even got to see a sweet purple heron. After an hour or so, I decided to make the long walk back home.

Vondelpark
Vondelpark

since this day would be my last day in Amsterdam, and I had already purchased the RLD tour, I decided to get home, rest for a while and go out for this tour! I reached on time for the tour, thankfully sans rain, at the famous Dam Square. I got lucky with the iPhone:

Dam Square
Dam Square : Nearing the storm.

The places this tour covers, are mostly where you would have already been, if you’ve ever ventured into the Red Light District. However, just by looking around, you can’t find out about what’s going on and how it works. After all, there aren’t any sign boards like in museums explaining whats happening; just pretty and some not so pretty women all around. I found it to be really insightful. Interesting stuff going on here. It’s 100% legal, all have proper work permits and there are systems in place to ensure that they aren’t forced into it. They rent the “windows” for 8-12 hours, for about 100 euros, and earn about 20-50 euros per customer, meaning they need atleast 5 customers to break even, which may not sound like much, but consider the fact that there are 400 such windows in a small area. Tough competition.

Towards the end of my tour, it started raining snakes. This time, pythons and anacondas! Damn it, I had the wind resistant jacket, but even that couldn’t save me. Drenched to the core, cold, I ran back to my hostel, once we parted. I forgot to get dinner, which I realised when I got in. Ah, f**k it. I made do with some dry fruits. Took a bath. Hanged the clothes to dry, and checked the route for – after I take the TGV to Douai, the route to my university.
The hostel was nice enough to pack me a decent early breakfast. So, off to college!

Amsterdam : Day 1

What’s really amazing about Shelter City is, free breakfast and free wifi!

The menu for breakfast looked good, until they asked us to choose one of the three things. I chose ham and cheese sandwich, which was filling but dry. Let’s go with pancakes tomorrow. ( Yes, I didn’t choose pancakes, sigh, I wanted something filling!)

I had booked the free Sandeman Tours for 10 AM, which I must recommend! Our guide Kor, was really amazing! And we went over a lot of places in the city, learning a lot about it.

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Kor with us on a short break. We walked a lot!

Explicit content : if you’re bringing kids on the tour, be warned.

Almost all houses here have gabels ( fancy top characteristic of houses in Amsterdam) with a hook on top. This is really interesting. Taxes were paid as per the width of the houses, hence they were kept slim, leading to smaller doors and staircases, which meant furniture wouldn’t pass through it. This hook is the pulley system to take everything up! Furthermore, the houses lean forward, to make this easier and to prevent the furniture crashing into the windows. Brilliant! I couldn’t capture a decent enough picture to justify putting it here! Ah, c’est dommage!

After the tour, I bid goodbye to the new friends I made on the tour ( apparently there were a lot of students! Free stuff is attractive to us, I guess! ) and headed back to my hostel. I had bought the tickets for the Red Light District tour, simply because I was a little apprehensive venturing into this enchanting modern brothel. <= weirdest expression I’ve ever used! But this tour starts only at 7. And it was about 2 when I finished the walking tour.

Feeling famished, I decided to follow Kors’ recommendation! Try the raw herring at “harings!” Not sure if that’s dutch for herring. It’s a staple here in Amsterdam, available on every corner! Click here to see it. This was the first time I had raw fillet fish. With onion and pickels as condiments, the fish tasted amazing! Sadly, not enough for a lunch, which I realised 10 minutes later, sitting in my hostel. Go out again for food? Oh god, please no!

I texted back home for a bit, talking to my friend, who pushed me out of bed! Haha, she’s awesome 😉 i had the dutch speciality right on the corner of my street : waffles with maple syrup, sitting on a bench by the canal, with ducks, beautiful ducks : mallards and coots roaming about. ( I recognised them because I’m a bit into birdwatching. The Mallard is really beautiful, Check here )

I headed back to my hostel, sat in the cafe for a while, talked with the people over there, and then decided to take the canal cruise at about 5, so I finish by 6, and then head over for the RLD tour.I ended up missing the 5 PM cruise, so I had to take the 5:30 one! Kinda better, I guess. Less waiting in between.

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Pro Tip: buy the cruise tickets beforehand and not from the place where the cruise leaves from. ( there are 3 cruise start points right in front of Centraal) generally, hostels / hotels have deals which are cheaper!

I bought the tickets for the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh and RLD in a combo. 4 Euros saved 😛 Cheaper than the I Amsterdam Card as well.

One aspect of Amsterdam I haven’t touched upon yet, is the weather. It rains almost everyday and the locals told me, ” it’s the same f***ing thing throughout the year” I experienced this after the cruise, it started raining heavily and I was stuck, deciding whether to go for the tour or back to the hostel! I decided to go to the start point of the tour, asked them if they are running, and then went back to the hostel to get the umbrella ( all close by. I was on Nieumarkt and the tour starts at National Monument, Dam square)

But, when I got to my hostel, I decided to just stay in. Who wants to go out in this weather? Best. Decision. Ever.

I had dinner in the hostel cafe and played the piano placed here. Ah, I’ve forgotten most of what I knew. Damn it! Should have listened when mom told me to practice a bit. I met this girl from Istanbul ( I really want to visit this place, it’s so beautiful! ) who would start studying here. ( Hey there 😉 ). After an hour or so, I met the first Italian ever. All the myths about them being the most flirtatious kinds ever, TRUE! To the last bit! Hahaha, this was such an eye opener! I admired his free going attitude.

Let’s just stop it at that.

The Journey

And, it begins! I leave in < 24 hours for Amsterdam! To spend a total of 4 months 12 days in Europe, on an Exchange Programme in Douai, which is about an hour away from Paris!

It took long to write the last post, simply because I couldn’t find the right time to do so! Apparently, last day while packing hits the spot.

So, without further ado, I’m off! Hopefully I can document experiences as they happen. Considering the amount of time it takes to write down, I’m not sure if I’d be updating regularly. Rest assured, I should have everything down by the time I get back!

Au revoir!

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, June 2015 : Port Blair

This is a follow up post to Heaven on Havelock!

On Port Blair, we were booked in the Sinclair Bay View Hotel, which is one of the better hotels on the coast. Not the beach, just the coast! The Makruzz( Ferry from Havelock) reaches at about 5:30 PM. Needless to say, we headed straight to the hotel, with an auto-wale bhaiya having convinced us to not take a taxi ( That’s 50% off.). How he managed to fit us and our 3 suit cases in that single auto is still a mystery to me.

What you need to know about Port Blair is, there is not much you can do over there. Also, the Wi-Fi doesn’t work, even at hotels that offer free wifi services. However, it didn’t matter much to me as I had decided before hand not to use any form of data connection at all. The only time I used my phone in the 7 day long trip was one fine evening when I got a call from my friend asking me to help her with her US Visa Application. I was quick to mention that I was not in town, and the call lasted much shorter than she or I would like. 😉

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What’s really amazing about Sinclair Bay View is that, there’s a pool table and a Pool!( Not sure if you were expecting to hear that after the amazing stuff in Havelock 😛 ) Dev and I spent all our evenings honing our billiards skill and bonding over Snakes-and-Ladders. If you can call fighting, bonding. We also met quite a few visitors, discussing our travels : This is where and how I found out what a majority of tourists do, the staying in Port Blair first part. Also, I was not looking forward to going to the cliched “Sound and Laser” show at Cellular Jail, it seemed so overrated. These talks confirmed my view and we decided to skip it altogether!

So, the next day, we ventured to Ross Island, the highlight of Port Blair according to me! The island had been a strategic military base for the British as well as the Japanese when they invaded, and still has quite a few bunkers intact, as well as the buildings built during that time. An interesting water boiler, among other things. There are a billion trails ( 7, to be precise) on the island, 2 of which had been wiped off by the Tsunami. That is a touchy subject for people here, and I would not want to get into it.

The place is a very small island, probably just 2km across, with deers and peacocks that haven’t seen much of mankind, resulting in a somewhat curious attitude from their side. You could easily come close to either, but try putting your hand forward, and you’ve quenched their curiosity, they make a run for it! Sadly ( Not really), I was too intrigued to think about taking photos! Photos have never been my first priority, but I think I should make it my third atleast, for now.

Here’s a not very good map of Ross Island! My brother and I, both unanimously decided when we saw it, we are going to the Light House. Epic stuff.

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The Light House, apparently, was out of bounds. The bridge that leads to it, submerges during high tide. Now isn’t that scary!? We decided to go, it wasn’t high tide time anyways, but incase we felt the water rising, we were supposed to make a run for it. On the bridge, there were quite a few dead crabs, reaffirming the thought that yes, water does get this high during high tide! The view was worth it.

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Looking back to Ross Island,

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I hope we have made clear who is the better photographer 😉

We covered the whole island, and in that humid climate, that was enough for the both of us. Our mother( I didn’t forget about you, mom! ) decided to rest halfway, treating herself to some coconut water in the shade! She was ready to go back by the time we got back to her, and so were we!

Next up, taking the small ferry back to Port Blair from Ross Island, famished, we went to this local famous restaurant next to the ferry. Sadly, I don’t remember the name! But it’s right there, next to the ferry which takes you to Ross Island, ask any of the locals/ Police officers!

It was at this precise moment, that it started raining very heavily, and I realised how lucky we had been. This is why it’s called off-season, because people don’t get to do all that they want to because of the rains! Visibility underwater goes down to a bare minimum, and it does become uncomfortable to snorkel as well! There’s rain water going down your breathing pipe! (I imagine). Lucky, very lucky! 😀

Feeling adventurous, I decided to have a Crab for the first time! Checking before hand with mom and Dev, if they had any problem with me eating Crab. The waiter, took me to a small aquarium filled with live crabs just out of the sea. I was mortified! I asked him to choose the one he would have for himself.

Pro Tip : When unsure of what to have, ask the waiter what he would have, they hesitate at first, but insist, and you would probably get the best of the lot!

P.s : If it isn’t good, don’t blame the waiter 😛 , Afterall, his tastes might be different from yours.

The Crab was the best piece of meat I’ve ever had! Not that I have had many, but well. The only problem was that, it takes a lot of effort to break open the crab, and the amount of meat inside is as little as the amount the cat would get once he does manage to catch Tweety. ( Remember the yellow bird?) . That guy puts in a lot of effort, like me, but well atleast I got the meat!

Haha, bad comparison, much? (<= Not a gramatical error. <= Spelling Error. )

I did ask my friend, Karina to teach me how to eat a crab! I’m still waiting on that. Maybe next year? By the way, check out her blog too! She’s an amazing chef! Kay’s Kitchen <= Go here ( Opens in new tab)

Well, that’s all folks! The next day, we took the safari to catch a glimpse of the Jarwa tribes, the locals of Andamans. Simply put, I didn’t like it, and I would not suggest going for it! If you want detailed explanations, let me know!

That’s it for Andamans! Over and Out!

-Neil

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