Europe

{From the archives} Budapest

The moment we enter Budapest, I know why it is known as one of the most beautiful cities of Europe. This place IS beautiful. Nice roads, beautiful stone buildings, statues and castles and bridges. The normal buildings around the city area also look like historic buildings. The weather is pleasant – not nippy and cold.

In the morning, we have left at around 8 am from Prague by bus. The view isn’t very scenic; its just lots of fields and land. I pass my time by listening to music and chatting with A. We stop for lunch at a boat restaurant (a botel) in Bratislava, Slovakia. The food is greasy but the view and the weather is amazing. We walk along the river watching cyclists, joggers and people sitting at cafes enjoying beer (do these people ever drink water?). We cross over the Futuristic bridge and touch the highway again.

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We have to take ‘comfort stops’ in between because it is compulsory for driver to take rest after every 4 hours. There’s a tacometer fitted in all buses which keeps track of the time the bus has been continuously driven and how many breaks have been taken. Breaks in between are a must; so is the 11 hours rest per day.

We reach Budapest at 4.15 pm. Our hotel is located on Buda side of the city. I have a nice view of houses and churches, which are slightly uphill, from my room. We have half an hour before we go for a cruise over Danube.

On way to the cruise, we cross a tunnel, beautiful buildings and the grand Chain Bridge. Chain Bridge and many other bridges over the river Danube connect Buda with Pest. Chain bridge is a lovely piece of art. The walls of the bridge are mesmerizing and lion pillars greet on-comers on both sides of the bridge. We immediately decide to come back here to have a better look.

Its nice and sunny when we board the top most deck of our small cruise ship. On the Pest side of the river bank, are huge buildings of Intercontinental hotel and Mariott hotel and some other office buildings and educational institutions. As we begin the audio tour on the cruise, the temperature dips suddenly and I am shivering soon. The cruise takes us till the equally beautiful Elizabeth bridge, crossing many other pretty bridges. We go under them and wave out to pedestrians walking by. I can’t concentrate on the commentary because I am so busy looking at all the beautiful structures and clicking snaps.

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After clicking each other’s snaps, trying to handle our bags and stuff and the headphones and after the waiter accidently drops lots of beer/champagne/wine on me, I think I’ve had enough confusion to last for the coming 2 days and I ditch the audio commentary and sit back to enjoy the view and get lost in my thoughts. My 12 mp point-and-shoot camera can in no way do justice to the amazing scenery and I drop clicking snaps too. We cross the spectacular parliament building and it takes my breath away. It can easily be mistaken to be a king’s palace. We are later told that the expenditure that goes in maintaining the parliament is enough to build up an entire new city!

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I’ve had a glass of red wine (I don’t drink but thought I should try it out) and I feel dizzy and sleepy. Or I THINK that I feel dizzy. It was just a glass after all and it tasted horrible!

We have dinner in an Indian restaurant called Salaam Bombay. I feel really tired and cold but I still agree to walk back to the hotel with A and S instead of taking the bus. I don’t know what most of these buildings are but all of them are a piece of art. Each one out does the other. All of them have grey or beige stone walls, carved wrought iron balconies, doors and windows and statues put up on the top corners.

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The Chain Bridge and the river side looks dreamy at night with all the lighting. We click whatever photos our simple cameras will permit and cross several Japanese tourists to reach Buda. By the time we reach the tunnel, I’m half frozen by the cold. My nose is blocked and hands are ice cold. I’m dying to run into the warm blankets of the hotel. Roads in Buda are almost totally deserted barring a cafe-cum-bar with red lighting which has a couple of occupied tables. The church opposite it, which had looked so pretty in the morning, looks eerie during this time.

Its good that we have free Wi-Fi in rooms; gives me chance to connect with my friends in free time. Not that we have much free time, anyway, because we use up all the free time loitering in the streets, wherever we are!

I wonder how Budapest will look like during the day. Excited about touring the city tomorrow!

To sum up, I’ve had breakfast in Czech, lunch in Slovakia and dinner in Hungary. Not bad. Not bad at all!

(Written in Sept 2011)

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Categories: Europe, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Berlin – II

(Written in Sept 2011)

Breakfast is probably the best thing that could have happened to me on this tour. There’s salami and bacon and different breads, jams, spreads, salads, fruits, croissants and cereals. I couldn’t decide what to take. I want to try out everything. For today, I chose brown bread, scrambled eggs, sausage, tomatoes and coffee. I spend good 30 minutes devouring the contents of my plate sitting by the window. I am one of the first few people to come down for breakfast. Breakfast starts at 6 30 am and I was there by 6 40 am. Reason being? I got up at 6 30 am Istanbul time (oh fish!) which is one hour ahead of Berlin time. Anyway, it was good in a way because I could eat peacefully, spend some time on the net and go out for a walk.

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I walked around the peaceful locality of our hotel in the chill. The streets are quite deserted and I pass only a few passers by going for work. I walk around fascinated and muster up enough courage to ask a pretty girl, standing by the road, to click a picture of me and she happily did so. One thing I have already fallen in love with is the cobblestone path. Europe has them everywhere. Different texture and pattern of cobblestone roads.

By the time I came back, the group had started assembling near the reception area and I saw everyone interacting with everyone else. Looks like people had got friendly with one another! I joined them.

We get into the coach and begin our city tour at 9 am. We met our German guide, Walter who took us to our first stop Charlottenburg Palace. It was a replica, of course. I loved the wrought iron gates and the carvings.

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We drive around Berlin and see the various important buildings like embassies, stock exchange, theatres and shopping complexes. We get too much of information by our German guide and I have difficulty retaining the things he tells us. Anyway, I let the feel and aura of the place sink in. We take some quick stops at the Holocaust Memorial, the World clock, Check point Charlie, where I buy a Berlin souvenir bag, Deutscher Dom, Konzerthaus and the the Berlin wall (the sight I was so badly waiting for). The paintings on the wall leave me gaping. Some paintings are dark and some are pleasant but all of them have messages written on them which reveal the painters’ frustration, bitterness and often, hope.

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One thing that had troubled me before the tour was getting my pictures captured. Who would click my pictures? And for this reason, I had carried a light, cheap tripod along with me. I left it in my bag when we left for the city tour. Every time we got off at a locale, everyone got busy with their families clicking each other’s snaps and I was left feeling awkward. Bengali Aunty did offer to click me and I agreed but it was still awkward and formal.

This is the day the Pope is in the city and there’s police everywhere. We manage to see the Brandenberg gate and Reinstag minutes before the police sealed the area and moved 100s of tourists away. It’s cloudy and cold and the wind makes moving around a bit difficult. Brandenburg is right opposite Hotel Avalon, which is the most expensive hotel of the city and is the hotel from whose room MJ had dangled a kid from the balcony.

After a quick lunch, we leave for Potsdam to see the palace there. This small town is an hour away from Berlin and we drive down there. Potsdam has all the original palaces unlike Berlin which only has replicas. This town was destroyed in the Second World War when there was bombing over it and most people died because of the heat. It was later restored. Several original palaces are based here. The kings has made palace for various purposes of leisure – for self, for guests, for plants and for different seasons. Looks like they had a lot of money and time and resources to spare. I look around enthralled at the old walls with creepers, sidewalk cafes and small historical buildings. We visited the New Palace. There are several other beautiful palaces in Sanssouci Park and several of them were going through restoration work. I feel glad and impressed that the country takes so much care of their historical monuments.

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We return to Berlin and spend an hour in the shopping area in Kudamm amidst brands like Gucci, Porche, Benetton, Louis Vittion, Merc and Armani. I still can’t stop looking at all the well dressed people around me, whose aim in life seems to be sitting in cafes or roaming around the streets looking chic. We walk through cigarette smoke among the beautiful people feeling really content in this fantastic city.

I could hardly afford to buy anything, obviously – one of the disadvantages of coming from an under developed country. But yes, it was fun being a part of this crowd.

I have finally befriended the young guy (his correct age is 26) and 2 others in their twenties/thirties. This is going to be my gang for the next 10 days. We walk together into the lanes of Berlin after dinner till late night. We look at store displays and sigh that we are unable to buy anything. We pass stripping bars and beer bars and my guy companions look doe eyed at them. Fast cars pass us narrowly missing each other, the discipline and traffic rules totally forgotten.

Ah. This is how I have always wanted to travel. I’m loving each moment I’m spending on this part of Europe!

Categories: Europe, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Berlin–Arrival

This post was originally written on 23rd Sept 2011 when I was in Berlin as a part of my 10-day East Europe tour.

I went to Berlin via Istanbul. I was alone and spoke to no one all this while. I travelled to Istanbul, loitered around the airport during the 5 hours halt and took a long flight further to Berlin. I was almost fed up. No one to talk to. My shoes were hurting me. And I was fed up of lugging the backpack. I would sit at an available bench, stare at people, then take a short walk around, find an empty seat and sit again. It was so boring. I wished, waited and hoped for excitement to begin.

My excitement rocketed up when I came out of the airport at Berlin (after my sky high tension went down because my bag arrived so late and I thought it had got misplaced). I was about to meet my group and my real journey was beginning. I still couldn’t believe that I was in a foreign land!

I met my group at the arrival area. I was happy when the chubby tour manager Joe, who was in his late forties, found me on his list and warmly but sternly welcomed me to Berlin. As anticipated, all of them were senior couples and were travelling without children. There was only one guy who could be around 24. And then there was me, nearing 30’s and can no longer be called a youngster.

I got into the real mood when one of the ladies (a Bengali based in Bombay) started talking to me. She and a few others, who later spoke to me, were intrigued by the fact that I had travelled all alone. ‘Oh, don’t say you are alone now! We are all your friends’ she said cheerily and led me with her. I glowed with relief.

I warmed up towards them and instantly felt a sense of belonging. I introduced myself to some other nice ladies who spoke to me. One of them invited me over to sit with her in the coach and voila, I was happy to have made friends already!

The group is good. Most of them are seasoned and passionate travellers who have travelled Europe before and their love for food, history and art has brought them back here. History is on their fingertips and they blabber out names of treaties and important dates like it is their daily profession. They talk about “When I was in Rome last year’ and ‘Last time when I came to Germany, it was Frankfurt’. And I thought I was a passionate traveller who travelled every year and knew about places I was going to!

We reached Berlin at 5 pm Berlin time and reached our hotel is 15 minutes. Our tour manager turned out to be very knowledgeable and updated us with loads of information about Berlin. Though I had read a lot about each city and its history, I was blank there in the front seat of the bus – lost in the new sights, new people and new voices. I suppose the traffic we met on the way was the ‘traffic’ that we will be seeing throughout. Berlin is absolutely clean and scantily crowded. Swanky cars drive around at consistent speed giving me the impression that people are laidback and relaxed here. The modern buildings don’t impress me much; they are monotonous red or beige brick box like buildings with plain rectangular windows of the same size. The footpaths are as scantily populated as the roads. It’s pretty cool outside (maybe 22 degree Celsius) and girls are dressed in scarves, boots and stockings. Every girl seems to be walking on the runway here.

We checked into our quaint little rooms and staying alone turns out to be bliss. I shivered while getting off from the bus and wondered how I would survive the rest of the tour. Our hotel, Berlin Mercure Mitte is located on a street busy with shops and cafes. My room is facing the street. I absolutely love the huge glass windows and sheer white curtains. I can open the window a bit and hear music and laughing voices from the cafe on the opposite side or the sound of cars speeding by.

I have a quick bath, after happily prancing around the room, exploring it and taking photos, move for dinner with the rest of the group. I keep my eyes glued to the window and stare at everything wide-eyed.

We have dinner at a small, dimly lit Indian restaurant and I still feel lost among all the elderly. The young boy talks to his father behind me in the food line and says – There is no traffic here! I wanted to comment – This is traffic. But I didn’t. I felt too shy.

I am dying to get going. I am dying to hold my camera. i want to go out there. My. I can’t wait to see the rest of Berlin!

Categories: Europe, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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