Sadhana Forest

Every now and then, you visit a place so different from what you’re used to, so out of your comfort zone that the end result simply blows you away. Sadhana Forest was without a doubt one of those kinds of places!

70 acres of ex-barren land, located in South Western Auroville, the universal city next to Pondicherry, India. One main goal : Water conservation and Reforestation of the endangered Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest in the area. I could go on and on about what the project is all about, but that is much better explained here.

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Current planting corridor

My brother and I volunteered here for one week. A week full of a radically different lifestyle, in the middle of the forest with some amazing people, all in a closed knit community based on love and caring: for each other and the non human life around us. Life in the forest begins and ends with the sunlight. So, we wake up about 5:30 AM everyday, meeting at the Morning Circle, the warm up to the work to come. It ends with a really cute “Sadhana Stretch” wherein everyone hugs everyone good morning! This is followed by the first seva ( selfless service ), breakfast, second seva, ending with lunch at 12:30 PM.

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Dev ( black jeans) digging a hole in the Corridor

Hearing about the different kind of sevas I could do, I realised the amount of work that goes into running a community. Almost everyday, I had the option to do something new and ofcourse I sprang at the opportunity! Owing to a new seva everyday, I learnt something new everday, ranging from all kinds of survival skills : how to chop firewood, to healing skills like how to properly plant and care for a tree. In retrospect, I can now feel my view of what I receive and take for granted expanding. I can understand better what goes into the food, water and shelter that comes to me. This realisation is a beautiful feeling. It gives a certain emotion to everything that I do and eat, a strong feeling of love and thankfulness to everyone unknown who had a hand in making it happen.

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A hand wash station at SF

Another beautiful aspect is the No Waste Policy. We recycle everything that we can. That involves human waste too. It just makes using the toilet slightly tricky, but all’s well that ends well. Haha! Everything ranging from toothpaste to soap here is biodegradable. Now isn’t that something!

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The recycling station

Oh, but it isn’t just about the work. There’s so much more to the community! Post lunch, is the free constructive time to use however one wants to. There’s a small technology area with wifi for the connection to the outside world, and a main technology free hut for all activities! This gets translated into loads of workshops and community events, ranging from Sharing Circles to Non-Talent Shows.

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How we power the wifi amoung other things

 

There also exists the ultra famed mud pool. Mud so smooth and soft it can put silk to shame. I enjoyed using this shamelessly as soap all over my body and hair. Anything to get out of taking a proper shower!

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The mud pool

 

We rented bicycles to travel to and fro Auroville and Pondi ( I’ll cover Pondi in a different post), which is the less popular idea compared to renting mobikes, which seem much faster and effortless, but boy did we have the time of our lives on the bicycles! The road leading to Sadhana Forest is all downhill, so we almost cried getting the bicycles to the mainroad enroute Auroville from Sadhana. This was during daytime. Things get much more interesting at night, when there is absolutely no light at all. We were at the mercy of the measly light from our headlamps. Coming back to Sadhana at night, with visibility reduced to 2 meters, it felt exactly like playing NeedForSpeed at nightmode. You have no idea whether the road curves left or right. At this point, on this rocky mud road leading downhill, our bicycles’ speed and adrenaline both shot up through the roof! Braking wasn’t an option. Oh, what a feeling! Riding in the middle of the night in pitch black darkness on a bicycle with nothing but a headlamp? Off the bucketlist!

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Rest stop on the way to Auroville. ( It’s a 20-22 km cycle ride )

This is just the tip of the iceberg! I can’t fathom how I could possibly write about everything in this one short post. So, I’ll just say you’ve got to go there to experience it. It’s one hell of an experience! Crazily enough, I got to practice my French, German and learn some Japanese and Hebrew, all in the small community of 40-50 people.

Thank you to every person I met and had a conversation with. It truly shaped my experience at Sadhana Forest.

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Not the best quality photo, but it will do  🙂

There’s Aviram, the founder of Sadhana Forest, quietly sitting on the left ( in the blue tee). What a down to earth person! Funnily, his shirt says “Le retour à le terre” which means “The return to the ground”  😀

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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? )

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.

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.