Florence

I left Nice about 3 PM, in this bus service called BUDA bus, which I had never heard of before, which runs just once a week. It’s a miracle I even found this service as I didn’t find it on any bus search either! I was half scared that it was a scam, but well, I had no option but to go with it. Thankfully, it was one of the best bus services I’ve seen! Free refreshments and towels, I’m sold! This is even better than OUIBus! Haha. I felt slightly awkward as the entire bus was filled with Italians, but majorly excited : I was going to Italy!! I was determined to kill the awkwardness, and to learn the language. I didn’t want to speak English either. I struck up a conversation with my seat neighbour, and the most epic thing happened : I learnt italian through french. I asked him to teach me some basic important phrases, as well as some basic flirting. I’d be honest, that’s the first thing I like to learn in any language. Here’s why :

  1. It’s the best ice breaker! You see a beautiful girl who you’d like to approach but don’t know how? How about addressing her in her own language. Sei molto bella. Vous etes très jolie. You’re beautiful. sie sind sehr schone. Linda!
  2. It gives you confidence to speak the language, which is any day the best way to learn.
  3. You look forward to learning more.

Hmm, I forgot how to say it in spanish.

I reached Florence pretty excited, and left the city 5 minutes after I reached, for I was couchsurfing again! This time, in this town called Prato, right next to Florence. A small 20 minutes train ride away. This was the best decision I could have made, because I got to meet some awesome friends. Katja, Mirko, Michele and Alice( maybe I forgot the name of your girlfriend, Michele! . She’s awesome though 😉 ) I’ve never felt more welcome in a place! They came to pick me up at the train station, and that’s how it all began.

We went back home, where I got to taste some of the best authentic italian pasta. Now wasn’t that to die for! Some of the best pasta I’ve ever had.

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Heavenly.

I loved living here, to see an italian home, which I couldn’t have otherwise. No hostels aren’t the same, there’s a reason they are called hostels and not homes. Don’t get me wrong though, I love hostels too! Both have their pros, and I refuse to look at the cons.

One more thing Italy is famous for is : Its strong coffee.

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and their concentrated coffee maker.

Surely, it is really strong! Since I am not much of a coffee drinker, my experience with this was minimalist. However, I did have a coffee everywhere I went! Kind of needed it while travelling, and I could smell and taste the difference with this specific home brewn italian coffee.

Oh yes, another thing you’d notice is that Italy has gas stoves, like India, unlike France or Germany.

Fresh with this coffee in the morning, and this super cute “snack for the day” left for me by Katia, who had already left for work, I had breakfast with Michele and was off into the city of Firenze.

No wonder so many people are attracted to this city, it is so freaking beautiful!IMG_2357.JPG

I roamed around for a bit, taking in the beauty. This city was so full of character!IMG_2366.JPG

Sure enough, I was soon on a free tour. It was overwhelming, to hear so much about the city. There’s a lot of history here. A lot of art. Loads of artists! This occurred because of a very specific set of families who were generous enough to donate their private collections at the decline of their legacy. The most notable one being the Medici family.

We soon reached the main center, home to the Florence Cathedral, which boasts the 3rd largest dome in the world, after X and the Vatican City’s St. Peters Basilica. Yeah I don’t remember the second biggest.

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Wow.

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Yeah, the weather wasn’t perfect, but that just gives me another reason to return to Florence. What that simply means is : not a very clear day.

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View from Michelangelo Hill. Same view in Season 3 of Hannibal. Hell yeah!

En route this slightly steep climb, I was fervently looking for Pizza. Come on, Italy is supposed to have the best pizza. I wanted to have the best pizza in my life. I saw this pizzeria on the way up and I wouldn’t lie, I was disappointed. It tasted so.. normal. Hmm..

I wanted to get to know my hosts better, so just after sunset, I returned back to Prato. I was offered Pizza for dinner, and that’s when I shared the story about the earlier Pizza I had that day. Sadly, I was told that the best pizza is in Napoli, or Naples, which is south of Rome. Did this mean they didn’t enjoy their pizza? Hell no! They knew this guy from Naples who had moved to Florence to open his pizzeria. Traditional wood fired pizzas. YES, THIS PIZZA WAS OUT OF THE WORLD! So epic, that today, 3 months later, I still haven’t touched a pizza. I don’t want to destroy the taste in my mouth. ( which I am trying real hard to remember ) Haha, another epic observation : The italians like to cut their own pizza. They have these specific scissors to cut pizza, which I found pretty cool!

Michele is an aspiring musician, with some awesome singing and guitar skills. He had a meeting for a gig/competition, and wanted me to come along. Thanks a lot for inviting me with you, I get to add another memorable event to my life : crazy driving in the foggy night through winding roads by the hills, to a secluded recording studio.

I had never been to a recording studio. It was awesome to see so many musicians gathered around. And ofcourse, who can forget the PIZZA! I ended up talking a bit with the owner of the studio, which felt great. My vocabulary was pretty limited, so we evidently switched to English.

French, Italian, Spanish and Portugese, all share a common root, Latin. How does that benefit me? Well, I understand 30% of all these languages, and about 90% French.

Mind = Blown.

True, this wasn’t enough time to do everything I did. But I got to make the most with the time on my hands, and I’m getting extremely good at that. We got back home after that adventurous night, and soon we were off to bed. The next day, I’d leave Florence, to get to this city I’ve been dying to visit ever since I was a kid. Ever since I saw Jumper, and the actress wanting to go there really badly. Rome.

Nice

Now that I am back, sorry this break was way too long that I just can’t believe I am back into living where I know where I would sleep each night. Haha, I cant help but reiterate how amazing this trip was. Bear with me, because there is no way I am stopping!

Nice marks the start of my Couchsurfing spree. Did that sentence seem weird? It did when I read it again. Again, it’s the city “Nice” pronounced “Niece” 😉

I reached around 7 PM, to be greeted by Benoi at the train station, who would be my host for the night. We hit it off really well, and he seemed pretty impressed with my french, which made me like him even more. This stereotype about the French being snobs is really damning! We cooked some dinner and then he took me to visit the city. We rented a bicycle and were off! What made this trip really memorable, was going through the city at night, cycling on these endless curving roads that I could imagine coming out of a cool high speed car chase.

My knee soon started creating problems, for I had recently been ice skating, falling down head-knee first onto the ice, which apparently hadn’t healed. He asked me if I wanted to return, but told me it was going to be worth it going on. Well, you know me by now, I’d never turn down an adventure, and I’d really encourage you to do the same with your lives. Why? Because I got to visit this really epic hidden locals exclusive side of Nice, right on the sea! It was pretty dark, so this is the best I could do:IMG_2309.JPG

We were on the other side of the city. There’s a road, which you think is the edge, but then you cross it, then you go down a slightly concealed staircase, out into a side lower path, not visible by the road and walking on it, you come up to a quiet, almost sacred place. There are no people, just the sea and the sound of the water. The waves crashing on the rocks, and just the moonlight to guide your path. As the French call it, “Le bruit de la mer”.

The next morning, I was off exploring a bit, to see the character of the city during the day. Oh my, isn’t this city pretty!

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View on the way up Castle Hill
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I was somewhere on the farther edge last night, the one right behind the small light beacon.

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It’s a shame I forgot to click a photo with Benoi, I got one with almost all my hosts. Thanks a lot Benoi, for making my stay truly memorable.

And, just like that,  I left soon, for I had a bus to catch to Florence, or as the Italians call it, Firenze, the birthplace of the Renaissance.

Munich : Day 1

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.

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The green in the middle is the clockshow

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 :

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The green in the middle is the clockshow

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.
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The green in the middle is the clockshow
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:

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The green in the middle is the clockshow
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. IMG_1568

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 :
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The next morning, before leaving Munich, I managed to get into some of the nicer tents :
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The green in the middle is the clockshow
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.

Prost!

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.