Sunday, 26 February 2012

People, Places and Me

As we boarded the flight, we were scared. We were supposed to spend a month with each other. We'd been lifelong friends but we always used to squabble, and at that point of time, we were in another one. We didn't know if we could survive each other for one whole month. We reached Rome the next afternoon. The wheels of my suitcase broke. And miraculously that made us stop. As we both dragged the heap across the airport, I knew everything would be alright. I met my best friend, in my friend that day.

We reached the railway station, and were struggling with the address of the hostel. We didn't know where to go. I called the Hostel. The owner answered the call. He was the sweetest man, he came down and carried my suitcase till my room. I met a helpful man in that Italian.

We freshened up and opened the window. I couldn't believe I was in Rome, in Europe. We went out into the lounge. An Indian girl was using the laptop. We couldn't believe it. It was true, Indians are everywhere. She said that she and her friends, three girls were there on a 40 day trip. They invited us for dinner with them. We were less nervous after meeting them. I met three daredevils in those girls.

One of our roommates was a 15 yr old Australian girl who had taken six months off, after school to travel the world. She'd lie down reading the Lonely Planet guide, and eating stuff she got from the grocery store. She was beautiful. I met my envy in that girl.

Another roommate was a Malaysian Muslim Lawyer, a 31 yr old woman who was travelling Italy alone. She had just returned from Venice and excitedly explained to us about an island near Venice. We asked her if women travelling alone was frowned upon in conservative society like theirs. She said it was, but she wore her hijab wherever she went. I met a brave woman in her.

From Rome, we went to Frankfurt, where we had planned to stay with a friend of mine. He picked us up at the station, opened up his home, shopped, cooked and took amazing care of us. He was a friend, but that day I met someone who I could always count on.

Being Vegetarians, we hadn't eaten properly for days. My friend suggested we find out where the Gurudwara is in Amsterdam and have langar there. We found the place, it was already late, almost 6 in the evening. It was closed. We were so disappointed. We were about to turn back when a Sardar who was walking on the opposite side stopped and asked us. We told him that we were there to see the Gurdwara. He called up a person inside, made them open the place and served us food, food so good. I met my culinary saviour in the Sardar that day.

Next day, we went to the Keukenhoff gardens. An Indian family was in the bus with us. A typical family, the parents asked us what we did and got very excited when we said we're engineers, somehow the word itself awakens all the dreams in Indian middle class parents and nightmares in their children. They gave us their cruise tickets because they didn't have time to go. I met a cliched family and free 60€ that day :)

We wanted to go to the ATM, we asked for directions. We had to go near the Herengracht canal. We were asking people how do we get to "Heren-great". A Dutch man we spoke to, taught us how to use our throats to make the "Heren-GraaCHt"  sound. It was pretty funny.

Our next stop was Brussels. We were supposed to stay with another friend but she ditched us at the last moment. She met us the next day, and was very apologetic. She had changed, a lot. She was alternatively rude, and sugary sweet. I met a homesick, slightly depressed soul in my friend that day.

Our final destination was Paris. We had booked ourselves into a hotel. The only hotel on our whole Itinerary. We were paying 70€ per night. At that price, we were expecting a nice surprise. Surprise it was, more like a shock. The hotel was in one of the most crime ridden areas of Paris,and the owner told us to take a cab and directly get down in front of the hotel if we were running late. Our room didn't have a toilet for shit's sake, and the common toilet had a chain instead of a flush. We were conned royally. That day I met a hustler in that stupid Hotel owner.

We went to the Palace of Versailles the next day. An Indian guy asked us to take his solo picture posing in front of the palace. We asked him if he'd gone in. He told us that it'd take a long time and he had to get back to his office. Office!, we gasped. Yes, he'd been deployed onsite for one month and he was so bloody overburdened with work that he'd seen only the inside of his office and hotel room from the past week. He went out for half day every sunday and took pictures in front of famous places and uploaded pics on facebook so that his family won't be disappointed. He was of course, a software engineer. I met my OMG!-I'll-turn-into-this-guy scary future myself in him.

We met a lot of people in that trip and everyone was different. In a way, I met myself in that trip. I was changing from a confused, troubled girl into a confused, troubled girl who could do anything that she wanted to. The important thing is to want something. And that trip, it solidified my WANT to travel, to travel alone, to plan excitedly, to go off the beaten track. After getting back from Europe, I have made impromptu trips to places closer home, and every time I come back, I am all set to go again.

This is my entry to the Indiblogger- Around the world with Expedia contest  :)

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Bon Jour Brussels!

So, Next stop in our Europe tour....Brussels! :)

Brussels is the capital of Belgium and very close to the diamond haven of the world, Antwerp.

By the way, I've got to tell you this, before leaving Amsterdam, we made some dough by selling our remaining passes in IAmsterdam Card and some spare canal cruise tickets that an Indian family gave to us as they had other plans.  70€ :)

We took an ICE train from Amsterdam to Brussels which cost us around 38€ per head. The train journey from Amsterdam to Brussels took us around 2.5 hours. You can take the Thalys too :)

Brussels Gyan:

1) We went to Brussels without booking any accommodation! and unlike other tourist cities, Brussels has  very few hostels, even those are not listed in the popular websites:

Click on the link below:

HiHostels Brussels

Hihostels is an international Hostel group, their hostels are very clean and they provide excellent breakfast. But its a tad pricey.

2) We got an amazing map at the hostel. Check out the below website. You'll love it, they have an online version:

3) Belgium has a go-pass for 50€ using which you can make 10 separate trips inside the country, whats more? you can use the same pass for your companion as well, but there's a catch, you should be under 26.

Check out their website:

Go Pass

4) Coming back to our trip. I was a little apprehensive about going to Brussels because it didn't sound as exciting as Amsterdam or as famous as Paris, but since we had three unplanned days and one of our friends stayed in Brussels, we went. Thank god,we did, because till date if someone asks me which is your favorite place you visited in Europe, I say it is Brussels.

It is beautiful.

The roads are so wide and so clean. Brussels is the place where I felt that 'Yes! I am in a developed country'. The classical architecture of the buildings, the manicured gardens, the chocolate, my god! How can I forget it!

5) We had the best waffles at a place near the city centre. I don't remember the name of the shop though :(.
I forgot to mention this, Haagendas icecream. Amazing!

6) If you want to shop anywhere in Europe, make sure you do it before 6:00 PM otherwise everything is closed. Rain,shine and European shopkeepers wait for none, that's what I've understood. I bought pretty ballys in Brussels, and after coming back to the room, I turned it over to see, "Made in China", so be careful, not dumb like me.

7) Brussels has a pretty simple metro layout and the hour ticket costs 2€, day ticket costs 4.5€, and the three day ticket 9.5€. The same pass can be used for metro, bus and tram. This goes for all European cities.

8) There is a one of a kind comics museum in Brussels which is quite famous. We didn't make it there :|, but I heard its quite good. The entry is 7.5€.

9) The Mannekin piss is are-you-kidding-me-what-the-fuck kinda sight. Its too overhyped!

10) The atomium which is not so well known is a sight to see. It is magnanimous and also called the Eiffel of Belgium. It is crazily beautiful. You've got to visit it. It is basically an atomic structure magnified maybe a gazillion times. There's a museum inside the atomium, the ticket costs around 10€.

11) Near the atomium, there's a tourist trap called "Little Europe" which is miniature versions of all other tourist traps. Thankfully, we had the brains not to waste money on it!

12) Beware of all the chocolate sellers! They sell chocolates in all these attractive boxes and its such a waste. Don't buy any chocolates until you taste them. We wasted more than 20€ on worthless chocolates.

Hmmm..thats it for now!

Go to Brussels! :)

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Amsterdam :)

Okay, I've been neglecting this blog for a while now, mostly because I'd submitted it to Indiblogger and was waiting for the approval. Well, now its done! So, yeah!! :)

Coming back to my list...

Next on our agenda was Amsterdam!

Amsterdam, the devil's paradise. Drugs are legal, prostitution is legal. For fucks sake, the red light area is their main tourist attraction. I was jumping to go there. Did it live up to the hype?..

Before I tell you about Amsterdam, let me tell you about what happened on our way back from Cologne to Frankfurt. The great German train was late due to which we missed a connecting train and we were stranded in a village where they were around ten houses at 11 o clock in the night. Not one soul knew english and the next train to FF was at 8 AM next morning! It was freezing like hell.

Fortunately, one of my friends who studies in Germany was with us, and he'd learnt some broken German (I stress on "Broken") and thanks to him, we got to know that there's a fast train from cologne to FF at around 12:30 AM so we had to go back to Cologne and take another train to FF. We reached FF at 5 in the morning and we slept in the railway station.

The moral of the story is: Don't blame Indian railways and next time, someone praises the German Bahn, throw this story at their face.

Ok so, next night, we took a Eurolines bus to Amsterdam from FF.

Number 1 thing to remember:

DO NOT take the Eurolines bus. It is horrible, it looks like a Volvo, but it is not! It is congested, absolutely no leg space, and very very bad.

2) There are lots of discount cards like I Amsterdam card, museumkaart card etc. Buy it only if you are into museum, art and stuff like that. We bought it for around 50€ and it was a big waste as we just went to the Van Gogh museum and yawned all over the place.

3) Amsterdam is a bloody sex haven. Women beckoned to us when we were walking in the Red light area, sex shops all over the place, sex museums, an exciting place to be.

4) Drugs are legal!! We bought weed for around 4€, but it was a waste. I didn't get high at all even after smoking that and stuffing myself with a hash brownie.

5) Yes, cycling is very popular in Amsterdam as it is very flat city, but we preferred trams. The IAmsterdam card comes with a transport pass and that covered our expenses.

6) We gawked at a woman performing a table dance. 

7) There are a lot of canal cruises, this is also included in the IAmsterdam card. If not, it can be bought from the ticket counters.

8) Keukenhoff or the famous tulip gardens (Yes, the Silsila gardens). Go there only in April, because we wasted 34€ on it. It was like Lalbagh!

9) If you are a football fan, visit the Ajax Arena. There's a walking tour for 12€, I guess. Its fun.

10) This point had to be on the top, but I forgot. So here it is. We stayed at a hostel called Damrak Inn, it is
bang in the centre of the main Damrak street, very convenient, cheap (we paid only 15 €) per night. The only drawback is the narrow staircase, its a little difficult to pull your bags up. Check the link below:

Damrak Inn

Amsterdam is a very nice place. More than all the darker stuff, I loved the liveliness of the place. People here were friendlier than all the other places we went to.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Guten Tag Germany!

Stop Number 2 on our trip was Frankfurt!

Before I get talking about Frankfurt and all the stuff there, I want to tell you about Ryanair.
Ryanair is this super cheap, ultraeconomic carrier. You can fly across Europe for prices as less as 10€. Yes, again there is the charm of travelling by a train and all that, but I'm talking way cheaper and lesser time.

Check out their website:

Okay, Now back to Germany:

1) Most important:
Do not go to Frankfurt on weekends, Every damn thing is closed!
Plan so that you do not end up here on a saturday/sunday. You can only sit and sulk.

Zeil Mall in Frankfurt

2) We stayed at a friend's place here thinking that we'll save money. Guess what, we ended up spending double the amount. If, in case, you are planning to do this, first find out where they live. 'Cos god knows, they may live in a town "just" outside frankfurt and it may take only half an hour to reach, but damn, the train tickets may be priced at 14€! So, can stay in a decent hostel in the city centre for that price.

3) Frankfurt is a place of business, not so touristy and all. It has amazing buildings and an even amazing skyline. So if you are expecting colonial architecture like the rest of Europe, you will be disappointed. But, it is beautiful.
Deutsche Bank Building, FF

4) There is a group ticket that DB (Deutsche Bahn) offers, 5 people can travel the whole of Germany for one single day at 38€. 
Yacht in Cologne

This ticket is a steal if you are travelling in a group. Even otherwise, buy the ticket and make some extra money by convincing some fellow traveller to travel with you. You can inquire and buy this ticket in Frankfurt Hauftbahnhof(Main train station).
But this ticket does not include ICE trains i.e fast trains, they include only RB and SB which are the slower trains.

We used this ticket to go to Cologne.The journey from Frankfurt to Cologne along the Rhine river is simply splendid. Stay in one of the hamlets along the way..There are castles, a river, bridges..heavenly!

Koln Cathedral

5) One more thing, there is "Carpooling" offered by this website:
You can post your requirement here and pay the person who offers to carpool. It is a convenient and
safe method of travelling for cheap.

Happy Visiting Germany!


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Ciao Rome!

Starting today, I will embark on the sole purpose for which I started this blog, and that is to list out all the things that I learnt while backpacking across Europe exactly 8 months ago.

We left on 10th May, Summer, the ideal time to go to Europe. Long hours of daylight, just perfect to pack a zillion things in a day if you are on a tight time leash.

Our first destination Rome:

1) The airport express- Please please do not waste 14 € on the Leonardo Express that takes you from Fiumicino to the city centre. It is a waste of precious money. We made the mistake. Instead of that, take the COTRAL which costs almost 10 € lesser.
 You may think that a train journey will be more appealing, I'm saying this 'cos my friend did but I'll tell you it just disappointed us.

Check out COTRAL's link here:


2) We stayed in Termini, which is like the central station of Rome. The area was little bit creepy but for the price we were paying, it was good. We stayed in a women's hostel called Coconuts hostel. I would really recommend this hostel for all-women groups. It is clean, the staff is helpful especially the owner Giancarlo who drops in sometimes. The area outside is a little shady, but when you are confident, no one's going to bother you.

Termini is a good place to stay, well connected by every area in Rome. It may not be as beautiful as Trastevere, but we are backpackers here remember.

3) Unless and until you are a fully blown museum and art history enthusiast, which I'm sure most of us are not, Do not buy the ROMA pass. It costs 30 €, and includes the colloseum, roman forum, vatican and most museums. Also, it includes bus fares for 2 whole days.

Yes, It does sound like a deal. It is, if you are serious about seeing everything in Rome. However, if you are just staying for 3 days and you want to cover the important things i.e Colloseum, Roman Forum and Vatican, it is not worth it. 2 problems:

a) If you need a guide, you will have to shell out extra which is not included in the Pass. Believe me, it is no fun to see things if you don't know head or tail about it. We ended up shelling out 6€ for an audio guide in colloseum, and we didn't have the liberty to take a guide in the Vatican because we couldn't afford it.

b) You do not need to buy it because of the free transport.Even otherwise, it is cheap. It costs 4 € for a day pass.

I want to suggest an alternative here:

a) Buy the integrated Colloseum ticket, which includes the Roman Forum and the Palantine hill as well for 13.5€+audio guide(6.5€)
b) Go to the Vatican city and take a guided tour. It is required unless you are this nerdy expert. There are a lot of agents trying to lure you into it, just find out good ones and strike a bargain. Do not prebook anything online. We made that mistake.

Yes, in this process you may end up paying a tad more, but the experience will be worthwhile.

4) Yes, Rome is a foodie's paradise, but sadly, I didn't even enjoy one scrumptious meal. We were ripped off in one of Piazza Navona's streetside restaurants and it wasn't even good. Please check online, do your research about the good restaurants, after all who wouldn't want to taste a heavenly pizza in its motherland. And, yes, gelato!

5) Do not overplan, keep 2 days extra for the places in and around Rome and go there without doing any over-research. There are a looot of places to see which we haven't heard about, believe me.

6) If you are taking Ryanair or any such low cost airlines to fly out of Rome, use the COTRAL or Terravision buses to reach the airport, best bet.

Enjoy! If you have any more questions, please let me know I'll try my best to help :)