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? )

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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!

 

Prague : Day 3

This fine morning, I was greeted by the sun shining in my eyes, raising the ambiance temperature by a bit. I took a bath, checked out, and made my way through the city. To where? I didn’t know either. I hadn’t visited the Castle yet, so it made sense to do that. But, I wanted to enjoy the sun first, as I hadn’t checked out the beauty of the city on a sunny day. ( Yesterday, I wasn’t technically in the city 😉

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View from Charles Bridge

Great decision, I’d say! For the city looked like this.

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Prague
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Charles Bridge

Well, another reason why I was here was because I was looking for Electroshock. Would have been pretty awesome to hear them once again! But, no,sadly I didn’t run into them, so I started backtracking, to a wi-fi place, where I could search for the Castle Tours.

Just as I exited the bridge, guess who I saw coming onto the bridge, with their violins and cellos? Yes, haha, it was Electroshock! Ofcourse, I followed them back onto the bridge! and sat on the wall, right next to where they were setting up. This was followed by 10 minutes of musicgasm! Ah, definitely hear them once, if you’re in town! I got their card in the end, and that’s how I now know they were called Electroshock. Made my afternoon!

I left once they left, having chosen a tour, to Prague Castle, and St. Vitus Cathedral. Now would you look at that?

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St. Vitus Cathedral

We had to take a tram to go up, and our guide told us to be careful, as there are a lot of pickpockets on the tram. On the tram, I secured my satchel containing my wallet, when I realised it was slightly open. Funny, someone could have grabbed my wallet! I closed it, and carried on.

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St. Vitus Cathedral

We witnessed the changing of the guards, which I thought to be kind of funny. Why do people come from all over the world to see a guard replacing another guard for duty? That never happens for the security guard in my building. Sorry man, you should have worked at the castle. More interestingly, there is another man there, who shows himself after every such event, as the crowd is still there :

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2281 Days

He has been coming here for the past 2281 days, protesting peacefully for his home. The government forcefully took his home, based on, alleged endowments a few hundred years ago. I don’t know how much of it is true, but it was amazing to see his determination! I had a lot of questions for him, but we were short on time, and he didn’t speak English either. Here’s to you, buddy! I hope you find peace 🙂

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The city does look amazing from here

The tour took us through the Golden Lane,  where Franz Kafka, the (famous?) writer lived. I hadn’t heard about him before hand. There’s his museum next to Charles Bridge as well, but you can guess, I wasn’t too interested.

By the time the tour ended, it was night time and I had a few hours before my bus back to Wroclaw. I put on some good music and went on through the city. Just strolling through, I found this shop with a decent clock, which wasn’t too expensive, and I thought to myself, I should probably take this! I hadn’t taken anything for anyone back home yet, and it was time to start. I reached into my satchel to get my wallet and pay for it, and that’s when I realised that it isn’t there. I flashed back to the tram, when the zip was slightly open, and I had that funny feeling. That, was replaced by a sickening roaring in my gut, and I could feel the adrenaline pumping. Okay, this is a first. I checked my bag once again, to make sure it wasn’t just a funny panic-attack. Nopes.

I rushed back to the tour start point, panic almost taking over, to the place with wi-fi and googled “What to do if you’re pickpocketed?”. Haha, google refused to help, sending me to links showing me how not to get pickpocketed, and I exclaimed, to hell with you! ( Not necessarily the same words) I took a deep breath, and imagined what I had in my wallet. The bank cards, a lot of money, ( skydiving woes), subway coupons, my college ID card and my photograph. What would a thief do with all this? He’d take the cash, probably the bank cards too, but the rest, worthless. So, it would make sense to get rid of the rest. So, how do you do that? Trash can. Or the river. Oh shit, not the river!
Considering the fact that I was 4-5 hours late, I still searched the trash-cans around the area, looking like a maniac but concluded that he/she either threw it in the river, or the trashcans had been emptied out. I called back home, to cancel the Indian bank card, and tried calling my French bank, to no avail. So, I sent a mail to representatives of both the banks to do the needful, ASAP.

I went to the police station, where they told me to wait and give a statement, but I couldn’t wait, as I had to catch my bus. ( Paid for earlier, thankfully)

Pro Tip : When you get pickpocketed, don’t waste your time going to the police station. Make an online report, it is much easier, much faster, and you receive an online registration statement, which works as proof anywhere in the world.

I walked back, laughing, thinking, how could I be so confident that I would never get pickpocketed that I passed off that tiny incident on the tram as nothing, not even checking my bag for my wallet. Oh, and I didn’t have any spare money in my backpack, or on me.

Pro Tip : Always, always, always listen to your mother and have some back up money separated from the rest of your money!

This was, no doubt, one resounding experience of my life. For I reached Wroclaw, late at night, 1 AM, looking through the train station, if there was security barring people from sleeping inside and making my way to a hostel where I’d made a reservation. I had paid 10% advance, so I just went and explained the situation. I had read in the terms and conditions, that in case of no show, they deduct the first night’s stay from the card. That convinced her to let me stay, and she automatically deducted the money from the card, which worked, I have no clue how, as I had asked for the cards to be blocked.

You know the best part about the hostels I choose? There is always free breakfast! And my, I was so grateful to myself for choosing hostels like these. In case you’re wondering, this was Cinnamon Hostel. I’d absolutely recommend it. The receptionist wasn’t very helpful in my case, but on the whole, the hostel is absolutely amazing! A brilliant work of art. You could see that the owners put effort into the place.

I never thought my first proper job interview would be at McDonalds, but hey, that’s what you do when you need money! My mom gave me the idea, who was much more terrified than I was( I’m pretty sure about it, but she cooled down soon ) , and I thought it was brilliant! So, I went asking for work, standing next to the customers, which was kind of embarassing, as I had a flight in a few hours time, and I needed enough zloty to get to the airport. ( 3.80 to be precise, which was less than 1 Euro.). Also, English wasn’t the first or the second language, so in the end, talking with the manager, she told me I couldn’t work for a few hours there, as all employees need medical approval. What a shame. The florist, same result.

Finally, an Indian Restaurant owner, who also couldn’t let me work, offered me 5 zloty, which I reluctantly accepted. ( Afterall, I needed the money, and if he insisted I have it, after I’d said no, meant I should take it 😛 )

By this time, my family had arranged for a transfer as well, so I had enough to get back to Douai. I went around town, because well, “Il faut profiter!”. This pretty lil town, Wroclaw.

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What an amazing day. I reached Paris at night, slept at a friends place, and next morning, I was in Douai, in french class by 10 AM, sharing this epic adventure with my teacher.

I was extremely lucky, that the guy/gal didn’t get hands on my passport, nor could use my bankcards.

Prague : Day 2

I woke up about 11, which was soon considering I slept really late, washed up, got dressed and went on my way to earn my gift. Making my way throw Old Town Square, to this place through this tunnel.IMG_1935

and there it was. The Prague Skywalkers skydiving office. The next 6 hours passed in a second. No, wait, 60 seconds 😉 That’s the amount of freefall time I would be getting. The airport is an hour and 15 minutes away, so we got into a shuttle to take us there. A scenic ride, but I was more concerned about the butterflies in my stomach. Shouldn’t have eaten butterflies. LoL.

Do you know the drill? You get there, use the restroom, then you’re divided into groups ( 4 per turn on the small plane ) and given a briefing on what to do while up there and advised not to die 😀 Then comes the harness, which is pretty tight, afterall I’d be concerned if it wasn’t! Another Korean guy diving with me got his harness on too close to his groin, and I’m pretty sure he got his ball squeezed during the dive. Shit. Don’t let that happen to you! Speak up and tell them that it’s too close, not that it’s too tight!

Ofcourse, I was laughing my ass off when I realised this. Then, just before we get on the plane, we meet our tandem instructor, who has the parachute ( On a tandem jump, you have nothing, and you’re just connected to this guy/girl) and a photographer. Moving towards the plane, I was almost the last to get on, as I stopped to admire the sun, pretty close to dusk; and the others literally ran to be first to get on.

And my photographer captured all my emotions
And my photographer captured all my emotions
What this meant was, I was going to jump first! *Tell me how to feel!*. The plane took about 15 minutes to get up to 4000 m, I know this because I was checking the altimeter of my co-diver all the time. So cool, watching that needle go from the red area to the white ( reverse, because we were going up ) and with each kilometer gained, I was starting to breathe heavier. Do you remember I have a mild case of motion sickness? And that I don’t enjoy rollercoasters because well my body just doesn’t feel good afterwards? This was like the grand father of all those things!

Thinking through this, it was time, and this wingsuit diver next to me ( professional, alone) just jumped out. AAAHHH SHIT! I was next. We get to the side, I look down, and I think to myself, ” What the fuck was I thinking? ” and then a microsecond later, “Fuck it.”.

We jump. We do a somersault in the air. I then feel the air blowing into me. I feel the speed with which I am going down. Instead of looking down, I look straight, to see the horizon on all sides, with the sun just about to set, glinting off orange. It is freaking beautiful. I am still falling, my eyes start to water, my ears turn numb, I can’t hear a thing but I’m still screaming at the top of my voice. It’s difficult to breathe, so I try harder to take in the air and  it’s almost impossible to throw it out. It’s indescribable.

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The parachute opens, and the next 7-8 minutes, I’m cool-ly coming down, breathing easier now, taking in the scenery, the sun warming up my face. We land, and I’m left there, ecstatic and exhausted, not wanting to get up. Perfect.

Ofcourse, the next hour, my motion sickness kicked in, and the journey back to Prague, I was rolled up in a corner trying my best to control it. Thankfully, nothing came out of me! Haha, phew.

Do you know what’s more special about this day? It was Halloween, and I had just received a coupon for a 20 Euro free meal at Hard Rock Cafe, Prague!

Do you know what’s even more cooler? The Hard Rock Cafe in Prague is the biggest in Central Europe! The voucher said I had to make a compulsory reservation before hand, so I wasn’t pretty sure I’d get in that night. Looking for other avenues, Halloween plans with all my new friends didn’t work out, and my college friends were going back tonight. So, I decided it was worth a shot. And ofcourse, that shot paid off. Check out this insane interior:

Not a great pic, but a great place!
Not a great pic, but a great place!
This, was the first time I went to a high-end restaurant, alone, for a meal, and let me tell you, it was one of the best nights! I got the chance to eat my amazing meal in peace, think about all my birthdays, and this, my 20th birth-week! Couldn’t have been better! I spent a few hours there, ah, such an insightful night!

This got me thinking, and I came to this conclusion : I am extremely lucky!

A lot of things came together at the right place and the right time to make sure I could experience the day like I did. Firstly, when I made my bookings for the diving, the only slot available was the 2 PM. I wanted to do it in the morning, but I’m so glad I could not, as that would have hindered my last night clubbing and I probably would have been too tired in the morning to do the dive. But, 2 PM isn’t exactly sunset. Take the shuttle, 3 :15 PM. Not there yet either. Remember the division into groups? I got into the second group, meaning I would dive after the first group. The briefing + suiting up + the first group dives, and it’s 4:00 PM. We suit up, I get in last because I stopped to admire the sunset, and bam, I’m the first one to get out, no one blocking my view or my photos 😉 The plane takes 15 minutes, and I jump about 4:15 PM? Sunset at 4:25 PM. Perfect. Absolutely perfect! I choose the Hard Rock Cafe voucher, out of the 5 available, and get into the cafe on on of the busiest nights, Halloween. There’s a video DJ, playing live, and it is me eating some of the best food with some classic music, enjoying  every bit thinking about how awesome I am. How awesome this is.