Tarun and Yogita's Travel Blog

Let the world change you, so you can change the world!

My Photo
Location: New Delhi, India

Prep Talk is SimplyLearnt's way to connect with students who are preparing for their exams. We share their fears, anxieties, excitement and give great suggestions on being their best. The author is Founder and CEO of simplylearnt.com and has a passion for helping students excel in their lives. Follow us on Google Plus!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Barcelona to Nice, Oct. 16, 2006 from Tarun

We have to undertake a train travel of whole day to reach Nice from Barcelona. The total train travel time will be nine hours (4.5 hours from Barcelona to Montpellier and another 4.5 hours from Montpellier to Nice Ville) with two hours waiting for the transfer. We had to wake up early in the morning to get to the station on time and this caused a lot of trouble to all our dorm-mates, however, as another sign of accommodation from the residents of Sweden, Brazil, Germany, Italy and England, they never demonstrated any inconveniences.

In the train, we met a very kind lady of Spanish origin living in Switzerland, traveling with her son to France. The sign language was in work again and we came to know about their names Mariana and Ravi (I am sure I heard it wrong) . Ravi likes to play soccer in the school and roots for RC Madrid.

Sagrada Dances and Krishna Consciousness in Barcelona, Oct. 15, 2006

We had to leave for Nice, France on Sunday but visting Sagrada Familia, participating in Sardana Dances and attending the Sunday gathering at the ISKCON temple in Barcelona were planned for Sunday so we cancelled one day from Nice and spent in Barcelona. Sagrada Familia is a huge cathedral which was started by Gaudi but has not been finished till date and the work is still on. We visited this on our way to Sardana Dances. Frankly, I was expecting some fast paced tap dances by people in nice costumes but it was more a slow dance in a circle holding hands as symbol of solidarity between the Catalans. We entered the circle and made a failed attempt at the dance and actually got a scornful look from a Catalan lady, while another nice lady showed how we should have done it.

All this while we had come across a Western couple dressed in Indian clothes and seemed to be the followers of Krishna. Little did we realize then that they were in Barcelona to address a gathering at the ISKCON temple. We were lucky to have them give the address in English. Many Spanish people have come to believe in Krishna and have become devout followers of Krishna’s teachings. It was very humbling to see them come at the temple and sing along Krishna’s name with full devotion. We sang many bhajans and had some really nice food there.

At the end of our tenth day, we both realized that our trip has been really enlightening and enjoyable so far. Living in hostels, meeting and interacting with people with only the sign language as a means to communicate and of course, my favorite, trying different food, we have realized that despite the diversity it is one world family and people accept other people from different part of the world with love.

Day trip to Montserrat by Tarun

We also took a day trip to Montserrat, which has the holiest Catalan pilgrimage of (Black) Virgin Mary. It’s a very beautiful place with a magnificent church on top of a hill. The church seemed to be quite a hit with couples trying to get married. We must have seen atleast 3 weddings within a span of couple of hours hosted in the church. A real interesting thing happened when we were waiting in the queue to visit the sacred statue of black virgin, we ended up a meeting a guy who copy writes Rick Steves guide books. Tarun was so happy to meet this guy that he decided to ask for a picture with him. Matthew was generous enough to oblige.

In addition to going to the church and visiting the holy pilgrimage, we decided to hike down to Santa Cova (the statue of the black virgin was originally kept at this small cave). The hike was short and sweet, we ended up meeting another Indian family on our hike, (Arvind, Arti were on a week’s trip to Spain along with their daughter Anjali). They were settled in the Netherlands and were kind enough to extend an invitation to us when we are there. Let’s see if we get a chance to trouble them with our visit :).

Barcelona, October 12 - 15th, 2006

The tourists’ city…

Our hostel was little off the La Rambla, the most popular street in Barcelona. From top to bottom the Ramblas decreases in affluence and class. We both were amazed by the number of tourists in Barcelona by the density of people strolling up and down on the La Rambla. But again we realized that all the tourist flock to the La Rambla the moment we stepped out of it and found not as many people elsewhere. We had landed up in Barcelona on the Spanish Day which was a holiday so we were pleasantly surprised the next day to see several excellent mime artists dressed in different personas, small bird shops and several artists performing there.

In one café our host was a nice Catalan (btw, Barcelona is not in Spain it is Catalunya, acquired by Spain) guy. He spoke English and we used him as our guide to Barcelona and so for a South African girl. He suggested we should go to a dance and music club, Jamboree and we did. There enjoyed some Tango music, met a Swiss guy who had come there to participate in the ultimate Frisbee championship and shook our legs and hand a bit to the music. It was good fun.

The food in Barcelona was great and distinct. Sitting on tapas bar you could enjoy different tapas (usually standard set of items, we tried the indulgingly delicious patatas bravas) or have the (so costly L) paella, or savor the oh-so-sinful Spanish chocolate with whipped cream with churros (chocolat con churros). One note for the vegetarians of the world, Barcelona has many options for the vegetarians and vegans of this world.

We decided for our trip to be for mostly exploring the nooks and crannies of Barcelona rather than visiting museums but we did see the block of discord and Casa Mila, La Padrera. This extraordinary architecture by Gaudi seemingly did not have straight lines, interestingly described in a guide book as giving the effect of melting ice cream.

Port Bou to Barcelona Train by Tarun

A strange incident happened in the train. There were few Chinese folks who were playing cards in the train; it seems as if it’s not allowed to do that in the train so the ticket checker asked the Chinese folks to stop doing that. The scenery visible from the train window is very pleasing. Port Bou is supposedly the North Eastern tip of Spain and this allowed us some really beautiful scenery from our train window. The view of Mediterranean Sea was amazing. The weather was overcast and cloudy reminding me of the typical Seattle winter weather.

Our station is three stops from Port Bou and around 1:45 minutes train ride.

Wait at the Port Bou train station by Tarun

Following of the teachings of our travel guide Rick Steves, I do not hesitate to interject (alright! Overinterject) into the local conversations or banters. And, if turns out to be desi, it’s very hard for me to stop. A digression -- I am convinced of one fact now that there is desi presence in every part of the world. I have met the desi settlers in all the varied and remotest places I have been to (US, China, Korea, Paris, Singapore to name a few).

Coming back to interjection during the local banter, I ended up talking to a French National of Pakistani origin Syed Mujahideen. He was settled in France for last twenty years and still had the thoughts and ideas of Pakistan in his heart and mind. He hailed from Rawalpindi, Pakistan. My grand father’s hometown in Pakistan before they were forced to move to India in 1947 after the partition.

The interaction made it easier for the time to pass. It was 9.52 am the time when our train was expected. We reached the platform 1 and waited for the train for 10 minutes, it was really chilly contrasting to the weather in Paris. BTW, the delay in trains is not a common phenomenon to India, it happens in Spain as well ;).

What’s more to Paris?

We visited the Palace of Versailles, Napolean’s tomb, Rodin Museum and Orsay Museum. The second name to Paris is art. To be tete-a-tete with works of Vincent Van Gaugh, Claude Monet, Rodin (oh the “kiss”) and other well known figures was quite humbling. At many moments we ran into people who would help us get around in France and helping us coordinate with people who could not speak French.

Youth Hostel in Paris

It was a nice experience to live in a hostel. Our fellow dorm mates, Brian and Barney, were a nice newly wed couple and gave us good tips from their experience in Paris. Barney was a big time traveler and had traveled to many different parts. We met quite a few people in the hostel and the best part was these people’s effort to communicate in English and our communicating with them by showing them phrases in our book of French. We met a person from ArgentinaUS. Also we met a French person born and brought up in India. It was quite a revelation for us as he was from Pondicherry and his family had accepted French citizenship when French gave up Pondicherry as their colony. and another one from the

The hostel was clean and had a nicely equipped kitchen and we made dinner at the hostel 3 times. Living in a hostel is hard though. I am sure we will feel in heaven when we reach home.

Saint Michel and the Champs-Elysees in Paris

This is real Paris. A small drift from Saint Michel and you would end up into streets with seemingly endless restaurants, cafés and brasseries. We roamed about there quite a bit and found the neighborhood to be an interesting mix of cuisines from many places in the world, including Indian. Although when we wanted to eat the Indian food there, the restaurant was closed. The usual seating facing the streets was true for all the restaurants there. This place is popular and we seemed to be at somewhat ease to start a conversation for asking for directions. Tarun seemed to have mastered this art and this has led us to meet some nice friendly French people. People eat here all the time. There is no standard time to have food. Anyway a snack with a coffee never hurts.

Champs-Elysees is the Paris’ grand boulevard. We walked over this area a little bit and were instantly made aware of the stature of Paris in the world of fashion. All the big classy stores are here and so are the classy people. I would not hesitate to say that we watched a lot of people and the different styles of dresses they donned such styles not yet out in the world. Fashion sees dawn here, I guess.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Saint Chapelle, Paris, Sunday Oct. 08, 2006

By this time I have started taking for granted the exclusive art in anything Parisian especially the buildings. Saint Chapelle is yet another one, still distinctly beautiful. The embellished dark blue ceilings and 15 huge windows decorating the chapel instantly please the eye with their stunning beauty. These huge windows depict stories from the bible and are painted on glass. The interplay of light in the chapel is also awe-inspiring. There was a guide to the paintings on these windows but to me these were not so clearly discernible. Nevertheless this did not stop me from admiring the sheer beauty.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Notre Dame, Sunday Oct. 08, 2006

It was nice to be there on a Sunday and catch a fleeting glimpse of the Sunday Mass. Notre Dame Cathderal is not only a place of worship but a incredibly beautiful work of art. The Cathedral facade is worth a look. The glimmering candles everywhere in the cathedral creates an aura of serenity. Several altars around the cathedral place idols from the bible and the walls depicts scenes from the bible.

In the center stage is the statue of Notre Dame and the priests are conducting the mass, in french of course :(. We both studied the cathedral facade a bit following "Rick Steves". This was probably my first rendezvous with christianity and the bible and all was very intriguing. We decided against doing the 400 steps climb into the Cathedral just watching the enormous line for the tickets. Instead we went on one of the many bridges of Seine river to enjoy some good street music and a street show.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Eiffel Tower, Paris, Saturday Oct. 07, 2006

This was one popular tourist destination. The crowd there reflected that. It was a long line for the tickets and there are no crowd beating tips in Rick Steves for a weekend visit. While we waited in the line pondering about the 2 of the 3 floors we will be able to visit (3rd one was closed), we saw quite a few Indians around and met a few Americans. Paris is really full of tourists. The long wait for the entry was worthwhile and only a few steps away from the tickets counter the entry to the 3rd floor opened up. Inside the tower it is inexplicable crowd not an inch to set a foot, but the view was all worth it. From up the tower, dazzling Paris night beauty and the full moon completes to a breathtaking view.

We decided to take the stairs down the tower. As we were descending we read a few interesting facts about the Eiffel tower. It dawned on me gradually that the lighting was somewhat different than before. So, as we came and looked at the tower from the outside at a distance it was a rare spectacle that I had never contemplated about. The whole tower bedazzled with sparkling lights and was a really beauty.

We ended our day with enjoying a nutella crepe sitting by the side of the Seine river.

Rue Cler, Paris, Saturday Oct. 07, 2006

We are following our Rick Steves religiously and traveling cheaply. The Eurail pass was a great idea; it works here in the Subway (but not unfortunately on the metro). On our second day, we got ready for the day quite late and missed our hostel breakfast. But, we roamed around a bit in local marché (market) and bought a croissant and a pain au chocolat for breakfast. If you ask for caffé au lait (café latte), go for a big cup if you like light (relatively) coffee. It is the same amount of coffee in a big and small cup but more milk.

We then went to Rue cler neighborhood for lunch. In Paris many roads are named as “rue”. Step by step the Parisian culture unfolds. The cafés do not have front doors (symbolically). People sit on the outside alongside the roads and enjoy their food and coffee as they watch people go by. The bricked streets give the streets antique look. We finished our lunch and walked around a little more. This was our rendezvous with Paris. People here dress up very well, especially females. In a few minutes I saw some never-seen-before dress styles. Next to Saint-Pierre, around the corner church, we saw another rare activity, a fashion show or dress display from a clothing store.

Then we stopped for another coffee since our morning coffee was a disaster and we met at a café close by a fine lady who could speak English and a very friendly tour guide who would be upset if we did not visit places he recommended. We really had a good time there chatting for quite a while. The bar owner was from Normandy and recommended places to visit there. The lady, Frederique, insisted on paying for our coffee but we decided against it. Nevertheless, she gave us her e-mail address and asked us to call her in case we would need any help.

Next on our roster was the Eiffel tower.

Arrived in Paris

Here in Parisaeroporte” things are not as chic as in the US. The airport looks ordinary (at least the arrival terminal). I struggled with French and was wondering what I learned all these days. Well French is hard so I consoled myself. With much hard work and plenty of “bonjour”, “parlez vous anglais?” and “merci” we were able to find the right train to our hostel. It was Friday night and Paris was alive. It was almost midnight when we reached our destination (but not the hostel itself), but Paris was still alive. A minuit (at midnight) we had a pizza for dinner. Here, pizza is not sliced into pieces and it is automatically the thinnest crust possible. We had still long way to go after that and pizza was the much needed energy for us. Anyway after much walking and finally ending up in a taxi we managed to reach our hostel. We were late and we disturbed our fellow dorm mates (Barney and Brian) so slept in the clothes we arrived in.

At the Copenhagen Airport

Thought would be a good idea to publish our complete itinerary for the trip. Since, we are talking about fixed itinerary or planning, I guess it’s important to mention about our continued inability to etch our plans in stone. Based on last five to six years of our travel experience, we definitely cannot be bound to traveling on a fixed schedule or an exact itinerary. In addition to all the logistical issues that can crop up, there is so much fun and excitement in the ability to modify the plans at the last minute. Doing the two day uphill hike in one day instead of two at Grand Canyon, getting hooked into the local music scene in San Francisco are few examples of many random plans that we have done.

In any case, we did need to have a fixed itinerary to get our VISA from the French consulate and it was as:

October 6th to October 13th: Paris, France

October 14th to October 17th: Barcelona, Spain

October 18th to October 21st: Nice, France

October 22nd to October 26th: Rome, Italy

October 27th to October 30th: Florence, Italy

October 31st to November 2nd: Venice, Italy

November 3rd to November 5th: Salzburg, Austria

November 6th to November 8th: Vienna, Austria

November 9th to November 12th: Munich, Germany

November 13th to November 15th: Dresden, Germany

November 16th to November 18th: Berlin, Germany

November 18th to November 21st: Amsterdam, Netherlands

November 21st to November 23rd: Brussels, Belgium

November 23rd to November 24th: Flight to India.

November 24th to December 15th: Travel in Northern India.

BTW, Yogita always used to tell me that Scandinavian countries are very expensive and I always used to brush this aside. However, buying couple lattes and garlic bread totally made me aware how expensive Scandinavian countries are. May be we will have to rely on the motorcycle diaries philosophy of traveling once we are done with cash in our pocket.

Last Day in Seattle, Washington

Mausam hosted us the last day (it was quite a coincidence that Mausam was Tarun’s host when he came to Seattle the first time and also the last time). We opened up one of the movies in his collection of movie masterpieces, Anupama. He was generous enough to make two dishes for the lunch. It was a strange feeling to be leaving Seattle, similar to that when leaving Delhi in 2003 for the US. Nevertheless, we left for the airport one last time on the Seattle Metro (transit bus system). With a few hiccups of a small fight between a Mexican and an American and a protest march against Bush and Iraq war on the way we reached fine and on time for our flight to Paris.