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.

Marseille

I get goosebumps everytime I think about this epic last 3 week trip around Europe, right after having finished my exchange semester. Oh, and a blank mind too. Yes, my apologies, but this is why I haven’t been able to update my travelogue. So, allow me to start.

It was the morning of 19th December, having finished all my exams and saying the goodbyes, that I started to leave for Paris, having stored my luggage with my lovely helpful Professor. As you might have guessed, my first destination on this epic, was Marseille. I simply knew, starting this day, the next 3 weeks of my life would be inexplicably divine. The start, did not disappoint! For, I was lucky enough to be seated next to this really cute girl, on the 12 hour bus journey from Paris to Marseille. Truly, Einstein, time does travel faster in such company, and that’s the Theory of Relativity, folks!

I reached in the morning, shivering, for I did not expect Marseille to be cold! Layering up, and walking out of the train station( the bus station is next to the train station ), which is impressive in itself, this is what I saw:

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Basilica de Notre Dame
And I instantly knew what it was. How could I not, afterall I had read about the Basilica de Notre Dame, but had dismissed the idea of going uphill, as it was really far, and I had this heavy backpack with me. Looking at it, I could only think of one thing. There’s no way I’m not going up that hill!

I have a weird anecdote to share. The moral is this : Always go hunting for free toilets. Everytime I’ve felt the urge to pee, with no toilet in sight, I embark on this perilous voyage wherein I search for a toilet, and most of the times, it has led me to discovering something interesting. For Marseille, it was the slightly shady neighbourhood which I never would have visited otherwise, with every wall in sight being covered in graffitti. I loved the character it provided the city, like it’s not always rainbows and butterflies but compromise that moves us along.

Soon, I reached the port.

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Absolutely beautiful
The port boasted a huge ferris wheel, a grand Christmas market( Marché de Noel ) and a fresh seafood market! Truly, I had never seen so many different kinds of fish. The two most amazing ones, which I could connect to, were sharks and Lanternfish. Sardines are a given anywhere in the world, so ofcourse they were there too! Oh, and live octopus! I had fun watching the children trying to figure out the octopus.

Oh yes, that’s when I started moving towards the Basilica, and a sweaty hour later, I got to feast my eyes on this:

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Pretty damn fine!
Worth it? Totally. You realise how important ships were to this port town, when the church has a million ships inside. Paintings and models, both! I spent quite a bit of time up there. Afterall, I couldn’t carry my bag anymore and I wanted to rest. A few hours later, I was back on the old port, making my way to the bus station, where I’d grab my bus to Nice! ( Interestingly, Nice is a city in France, pronounced “Niece”, like the daughter of the bro/sis.)

On the way, the most epic Star Wars tribute caught my eye.

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Monsieur Yoda
This was a small enclosure, with the most epic Star Wars paintings I’ve seen till date! They even had a few PS4’s running Star Wars : Battlefront 2. Have you played that game? I’d love to. Battlefront 1 was pretty damn good. Coupled with the few lightsabers lying around, this place couldn’t have been better! Too bad I didn’t have enough time to spend in here.

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A sneak peek.
This concluded my short & sweet stay in Marseille.

 

On a final note, I’d like to tell you about OUIBus!

If you’re ever travelling around Europe, and looking for a luxurious bus service, this is the bus to go for! However, be warned, it is more expensive than MegaBus, but also covers a wider network. What I’d suggest is, taking a MegaBus where possible, and switching to OUIBus where not possible. However, check train prices before going for OUIBus, you might get a better deal!

Adios, amigos!

Bordeaux

When life gives you an extended weekend, what better way to make the most of it than travelling! Sure enough, I was dying to go somewhere! It had been almost a month since I went to Prague and Poland.

What was absolutely magical about this trip, was the fact that I stayed with my friend, Thomas’s family. A true french family, living in Bordeaux. Yes, that was as amazing as it sounds. Authentic french home-made cuisine! What could ever be better? I reached late at night, but still I was offered this heart-warming meal.

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Yes, I always take pictures after I’ve started eating. I’m always too hungry.

And ofcourse, next morning, I was off into the city! Surprisingly, I found out there aren’t any tours. However, I did find a .pdf for a tour, and you can imagine, it was slightly painful doing it like this, but I enjoyed navigating my way and having the freedom to spend as much time as I wanted in a place, and the freedom to break off and take on the tour again whenever I wanted, along with skipping what I didn’t want to do. That’s as flexible as it can get!

Fun fact : Bordeaux has Europe’s longest pedestrian street, called Rue St. Catherine.

This road is full of retail stores, some high end brands, and I guess you’d find anything you wanted to here. Me, I’m not much of a shopping freak, so I was more interested in this barometer on one of the huge shops.

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You know what’s really cool about this time? Christmas. France, is specially enthusiastic about Christmas! And with Christmas, come the famous Christmas markets. Which basically means, you get to witness something like this :

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Sweet heaven?

In one such stall, I found a local speciality, called the “ChiChi” ( pronounced Shee-Shee ) which is basically a french churro, slightly larger, and sprinkled with sugar / cinnamon. What I’m trying to say is, it is like an angel in heaven sprinkled with cinnamon, that you can eat. ( Do you know where this is coming from? It’s so epic, unrelated, but I got to mention it!

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LOL?

Anyways, I was also really surprised and excited to see an outdoor ice skating rink. You’ve got to be kidding me! How epic would it be to go for a ride on this?IMG_2156.JPG

This, was the 3rd time I went ice skating, ever. I’m proud to say, I’ve improved enough to do one lap at a decent speed without falling, which makes me excited, and I try going slightly faster, which ends up with my face in the ice. If you’re a beginner, like me, who doesn’t know how to skate, and want’s to ice-skate, here’s a pro tip:

Pro Tip : The more times you fall, the faster you learn.

However, don’t keep falling intentionally, unless there’s a pretty girl skating next to you who can stabilize you.

I spent quite a lot of time with the family, sharing stories, and cuisines! I managed to make some paranthas = (indian flat bread ), which went extremely well with the potato-omelettes. Infact, name one thing that paranthas don’t go well with! And, I was on the receiving end of some of the most amazing meals! Wine-marinated chicken, out on the authentic barbecue. Oh, my, god! Cheese, cheese, cheese! Shrimps, after all, it’s a port town! I learnt how to eat shrimps that just got of the sea. Interesting, I’d like to prepare those again, they taste nice.

An enchanting weekend at Bordeaux.

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Miroir d’eau / Water mirror

Ofcourse, you’re wondering about the wine! After all, I was in the world capital of wine, with all the castles and vineyards just next to the city center. The thing is, most castles are closed on weekends. ( And are kind of expensive to tour ).

Lastly, I want to talk about the budget. It has been unbelievable! I did an analysis once I got back, and here you go : Mind you, I shared this with my fellow frenchmen, and they almost cried. This was 10 times cheaper!

 

Douai – Lille :                                               3.8 €

Lille – Paris :                                                 1 €

Paris – Bordeaux :                                       5 €

Living in Bordeaux :                            Priceless

ChiChi :                                                          1 €

Ice-Skating :                                                4 €

Bordeaux – Paris :                                       1 €

Paris – Lille :                                                 5 €

Lille – Douai :                                               3.8 €

Total :                                           Priceless + 24.6 €

Could have been better, but I booked just a day in advance! True, the bus took longer than the train, it was a tough journey, but hey, it sure beats buying a 100 € one way train ticket!

To the next adventure!

 

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