Rome

The most hyped city in Italy. Home to the Roman Empire.

11:05 AM, I was finally here. I exited the train station, and made way to my hostel. Yes, the only part of this journey I wasn’t couchsurfing. The thing is, this was around Christmas and I would be spending Christmas in Rome, so I couldn’t find a host. My hostel, was on the eastern edge of the city, closest to the Colosseum. This meant, I’d have to walk more to everything else on the eastern side. As a result, over the span of 3 days, I walked a total of 90 Kilometers!

I was blown away the minute I stepped into the city. It is so full of character! You see ruins and masterpieces almost everywhere you look.IMG_2433

I reached my hostel, dropped off my bags and was straight out! There was no way I was going to let this Wonder of the World elude me anymore! As I drew closer, my heart started beating faster. I was finally going to see this. I could never be prepared for what happened next. I knew it was big. But, I never imagined it to be this gigantic! All the pictures make it look so small! To keep up with the tradition, here’s a good pic, that also fails to capture the scale.

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The Colosseum

Oh my god. Just imagine the audience as the gladiators would fight to the death inside! I spent a while just taking it all in.

Starting from here,  I made my way into the rest of the city, through the Roman Forum. This is truly an open air museum! I have never seen a city quite like Rome.IMG_2454.JPG

I made my way through these magnificent ruins, to the largest monument in Rome, The National Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, which stands for the unification of Italy. It is a sight to behold, much like the whole of Rome. Haha.

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I love this picture. I took it later in the day.

Pro Tip : The monument features a view point from the top! There’s a paid elevator or a staircase. I’d recommend taking the staircase. The view is pretty decent.

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There’s the Colosseum on the right!

As tradition goes, I looked up free tours in the evening. Here, even more so! You were literally breathing in the history, so you better find out all there is about it! Ofcourse, it’s also a great way to meet new people, and like all of my travels, I have never been disappointed! I made some great friends here and completed my circle of influence : Today, I know someone on every continent on this planet, except Antarctica! How freaking cool!!

This tour took us through some more major sites, starting from the Spanish steps, which sadly at this time were under maintenance, apparently losing all the grandiosity. Now, having heard about the Trevi fountain, walking through quite a few short alleys, again, I did not expect this to be as tall as the neighbouring buildings. A fountain! No, I don’t mean the water jets that were higher than the buildings ( this is the 18th century, folks! ) but simply the intricate facade, made of pure white stone. Absolutely magnificent!

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Trevi Fountain

Oh and it’s always full of people. The only time it was slightly less crowded was at 2 AM.

Soon enough, I started making my way back to the hostel, having exhausted myself to the brink. Oh, doesn’t Rome look even prettier at night?

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One of the most epic pictures in low lighting

One of the best things about my hostel was that we had free dinner. Ah, doesn’t that make you feel good! Coupled with the fact that it was a cheap place to stay, going out at 5 Euros a night on Christmas,  I was definitely sold!

The story doesn’t end there. I met everyone at my hostel for dinner, and we went out exploring again at night. This was also the first time I crossed a country border walking, but we’d keep that for the next post! ( Hint : Which country could possibly share a border with 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.

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!