I thought last year was a good year for travel, but this year has been exceptional. While the first half was a bit ‘dull’, comprising of only short weekend trips or one-day bus trips to nearby towns, the second half really picked up the pace, with two major trips to North America. I’ll get right into these:
January: right after the winter holidays ended, I returned from India to rejoin work. Our annual ski trip-cum-conference was scheduled during the second week of January, which meant that I was off again. Last year we visited Chamonix, and this year we chose a less frequented Club Med resort in Villars-sur-Ollons. This tiny, sleepy town is an hour-ride from Geneva, and was the only place left that could accommodate such a large group at a moment’s notice. While there were multiple things to do in and around Chamonix, there wasn’t much here apart from the slopes. Plus, it hadn’t really snowed much by the time we arrived so the slopes were not that busy. However, we still managed to have a great time. There are just one or two local bars/pubs, which cater to huge crowds every evening with great music and a dance floor. I would recommend Villars-sur-Ollons to skiers who would like to avoid the crowds; but check the weather before going.
May: I had a few major health scares this year, which kept me from moving around for a few months. When I finally started to regain my strength, I decided to take it easy for a couple of months. First, I went to Disneyland, right outside Paris. This was something I kept postponing since my arrival in France. While most of the rides were fun, I really wanted to go on Space Mountain, which was closed for repairs. However, my overall experience was not at all good, mostly due to the French staff. I had a much better experience in Universal Studios in August.
In May, I also visited the Mont Saint Michel. There are multiple tour operators with one-day tours from Paris. Granted, the 4-hour bus ride seems long, but the visit was worth it. The place looks magical from afar. There are free shuttles that take you to the ‘Mont’ from the bus stop, but walking is the best option to get amazing views. The town itself is like any other, but viewed in its entirety from the outside, it is marvellous. I would like to visit again and stay the night. I’ve heard that the lighting is spectacular.
Mont Saint Michel
June: In June, I headed to Brussels again for the weekend to meet some of my school friends. It was quite chilled out. We relaxed under the sun at a café while enjoying Belgium’s finest brews. We checked out a Iambic brewery, one of the few that remain in that area. The short, guided tour took us through the traditional brewing process which is still followed to this day. And I also took this opportunity to visit the Atomium, which I couldn’t manage to fit in during any of my previous visits.
Around this time of the year, I came across an organisation that conducts guided tours, pub crawls etc in Paris. They were looking for volunteers to run the show, and I signed up. My first trip as a ‘guide’ was to the Champagne region of France. Seeing that I was planning to go anyway, it was a good opportunity to visit and guide foreigners. The trip was beautiful. We passed through Reims, one of the main cities in the region. Its cathedral is probably the most famous in France, where at least 33 kings were crowned back in the day. No wonder they have good Champagne 😊 Next, we headed to Epernay, a small town not far from Reims. Epernay boasts of having the aptly named “avenue de la champagne”, which, by some accounts, is the most expensive street in the world. The street is lined with Champagne ‘Maisons’, each having their own distilleries and caves, tasting experiences and boutiques. The caves run to around 100 KM underground, and it is a 45-minute guided tour, so have plenty of time on hand before visiting (we didn’t). A bottle of Champagne here will cost you around €12, less per bottle if you buy more. In comparison, a good Champagne starts at around €45 in Paris’ supermarkets.
Cheers to the awesome tour guide 😉
In August, we held our annual family reunion in California. My parents and I flew out to join our sister there. I’ve posted a separate entry here.
September: While I was in California, I got a job offer from an American company, based in their Paris office. I was able to negotiate some time off between the two jobs, and decided to make the most of it. First, I met one of my oldest friends in Amsterdam. He lives and works in the US and this was his first time in Europe. He couldn’t be in Paris due to his work commitments so he asked me to join him in Amsterdam. We hung out with a Couchsurfing group we met while attending an event. Our unplanned and unexpected weekend turned out to be quite fun.
Amsterdam and Couchsurfing
The next week I wrapped up with previous job. I have a friend from Canada who completed one of her semesters with me in Lyon, and had been inviting me to visit since ages. I finally took her on her offer, rushed to the embassy for a fast-track visa and was off. Probably the best trip of this year. You can read about it here.
October: Right after Canada, I went back to Delhi for a religious festival. I wasn’t able to attend said festival for the last 3 years. It also gave me a chance to relax a bit at home before embarking on my new professional adventure.
On my return from India, I left for Milan. Another exchange student, now friend, had invited me over for a weekend at his place. The weekend was rainy and stormy, yet we made the most of it. Roamed around the pretty streets, saw the Duomo, tried authentic Italian food at a great restaurant, and went for a short hike/day trip to Bergamo, a small town nearby.
December: I started my new job in November. It was time to get back to real life, but I kept itching to head out again. But while all my colleagues were planning their end of the year holidays, I didn’t have any, as I had recently joined. In France, holidays work a bit differently. Unless you accumulate enough of them, it is not wise to take them. I shall thus be spending Christmas and New Year’s alone in Paris (even my roommates are off).
However, we do get the day before Christmas, which meant that I had 4 consecutive days, including the weekend. I was off again 😊. This time to Cologne, to catch the Christmas markets. France has recently been hit by waves of protests, which have shut down the possibility of having (safe) Christmas markets. Paris was hit the hardest. On top of that, the one in Strasbourg, famous in Europe, was hit by a terrorist attack. I decided to check out the ones in Germany as a last hope.
Cologne is a small city when compared to Paris, but retains its charm. In 8 hours, I was able to see the Cathedral, visit 3 Christmas markets, climb on top of the newly constructed Koln-Triangle (twice) and get a view of the city, and walk along the river in the new town. Architecturally, Cologne is beautiful. The Christmas mood was in the air. Walking through the crowded markets, one could smell fresh food being prepared. Definitely recommended for a weekend visit! Once there, try Kölsch, their local brew. Pretty light, and that’s why I liked it (I didn’t like the beers in Stuttgart last year). I also met a German friend who was with me during my Montreal hike/hostel days. It was good catching up with her.
Cologne by night – view from the Koln-Triangle
Christmas markets and Glühwein (mulled wine)
Cologne by day
Fragnance museum – where ‘Eau de Cologne’ was invented in 1709
Book your tours way in advance
Hohenzollern Bridge (Love Lock Bridge) – Locks put up by couples who want to seal their love – nothing for singles, though 😉
Meeting my fellow hiker from Montreal
I hope this year has been eventful for you as well. Thank you once again for stopping by. Here’s wishing all of you a warm, healthy, happy and prosperous new year, with more travels, adventures and memories.