Germany and Belgium

Country Counter: 8, 9          

Cities Visited: Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, Antwerp

Timeframe: Dec 2012

2012 was quite an eventful year. The year started with me graduating from my Masters program (no more studies, I rejoiced). My parents celebrated their 25th anniversary in May, which kept me busy for a month. I landed my first job in June and moved to Mumbai, among other things. It was my first time in Europe and, as I mentioned in my first blog post, the first time I witnessed snowfall. I purchased my first digital camera right before the trip and was still getting used to it. It was also the year when I had decided to get an unnecessary surgery performed on myself, so I had to limp and skimp throughout the euro-trip with 14 stitches on me.

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Frankfurt is one of the only four direct destinations in Europe which are accessible by Air India from Delhi. We had been through a lot of ‘mis-adventures’ whenever we took connecting flights (more on that later). My father had already been to Frankfurt three times and he found the German way of doing things quite impressive. Hence we chose the city for our first trip to Europe as a family. While booking our hotels, we stumbled upon the best rates, but as nobody understood German in our family, we ended up booking our stay in the red-light district. It wasn’t so bad, especially for me, but I could sense that my father was trying to steer us away from the ‘obvious attractions’ of the place, lest my mother starts judging him for poor decision making skills!

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On our first morning there, we woke up to heavy snowfall and everything was covered in white. Buildings all around had been decorated with a lot of creative stuff, like live models of Spiderman and Santa Claus. The Bockenheimer Warte station is also a must see. On my first glance from a speeding bus, I really thought one of the trains had a bad accident.

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Heidelberg Castle

Not knowing where to start, we booked a day trip from Frankfurt which included Heidelberg and the Rhine Valley. Before the Rhine Valley tour, there was an excellent wine tasting session offered by the tour operators, at a very cosy and charming restaurant. When the instructor was educating us about their wines and their production, she kept mentioning to the group not to gulp down the entire contents of the glass. After three iterations, she grew tired of saying “sip it, roll it, and let it go inside slowly” to some of the tourists, so she let them proceed anyway. My mom was giving me puzzling looks – “why do we have to roll it on our tongues? Can’t we just drink the wine and get it over with?” No amount of explanation could make her believe that wine tasting is actually an art here, and not an alcoholic pastime.

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Marksburg Castle viewed from the Rhine River

The Rhine Valley tour was conducted on an elegant power boat, complete with restaurant style seating for all the guests. The colourful houses on the river banks really stood out among all the white (picture). On the way, you get a glimpse of the wonderful Marksburg Castle atop a hill and the tour ends in the town of Rudesheim. Next stop, Heidelberg. An 80 KM drive leads you to what is often described as Germany’s most beautiful city. The bridge on the river Neckar provides amazing views of the castle, perched on a hill (in picture) and the castle boasts of having the world’s largest wine barrel (193 litres).

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Euro sign outside the European Central Bank in Frankfurt am Main

While my parents were off to sleep at night, I would go out and explore the neighbourhood by myself. This was my first time in Europe and the city was beautifully lit up during the night. As I passed by the numerous strip clubs, the local ‘managers’ tried to lure me in with a friendly smile. “Hello sir, where are you from? Oh India. Why don’t you come on in and have a pint of beer? 5 Euros.” As much as I would have loved to, I didn’t go in as any kind of ‘excitement’ would hamper the stitches and my recovery from the surgery. In the end, I ended up waiting outside a coffee place, leaning against a wall and a call girl started speaking to me, in French. When I told her I’d love to join her but can’t, using my rusty French, she started shouting and telling me to move away from the place as I was ‘ruining her chances of getting other clients.’ What a night!

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As much as I was enjoying my time, the fact that I didn’t speak German annoyed me a bit. Sure, English comes in handy almost all the time, but not being able to understand what locals around me were constantly talking about was a bit disarming at times. That’s why when we entered Belgium, I breathed a little easy. All around I could see signs of French, a language I was familiar with.

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Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp

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We stayed in a hotel just minutes from St. Mary’s Royal Church, which loomed over the entire neighbourhood. We spent the first day exploring the city. I especially liked the Atomium, being a science nerd, which is shaped like a unit cell of an Iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times! Nearby, the headquarters of the European Commission had a large banner hanging in front noting that the European Union was the recipient of the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. At the centre of the Royal Square, there is a statue of Godfrey of Bouillon, who was the leader of the first crusade in 1096 and is considered a hero.

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The Atomium

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Headquarters of the European Commission

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Statue of Godfrey of Bouillon on the Brussels Royal Square

For the next two days, we booked day trips. The first one covered Bruges and Ghent, a UNESCO World Heritage city. Notable mentions are St. Bavo’s Cathedral and the Gravensteen castle. We walked to Graslei, one of the most beautiful medieval ports in Ghent. The second trip was towards Antwerp. The plaza outside the Cathedral of Our Lady Antwerp was packed with people as it was a Sunday. It is located right opposite to Het Steen, which has a statue depicting a giant looking down at tiny mortals and scaring them. I don’t know why I found that really fascinating.

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With dad outside Gravensteen castle in Ghent

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Graslei

This was also around the time when I was getting frustrated about a few things in my life. For one, all my friends were abroad, studying or working, and they could easily access places like this. For me, being the traveller I am, this wasn’t enough. One international trip every two years just wasn’t quite cutting it, even though I was really grateful and appreciated what my parents did for us. As we rested outside the Cathedral in Antwerp, I saw a few students standing a few feet away from us. One of them seemed strangely familiar. Before I could recall who and how, she saw me, came running towards and ended up hugging me in front of my mom, which I found a bit embarrassing. Turns out, we used to be in the same class in school, and we got enrolled in the same university for our undergraduate degree in Chemistry, a subject that I adored. I didn’t continue though, and instead ‘chose’ to undertake engineering while she pursued our common love. I hadn’t seen her for six years and although I was really happy, I felt angry at myself for not taking enough steps to do what I wanted and loved, including studying abroad. That meeting left a profound impact on me and ever since I returned home, I started my two year long journey which has helped me reach where I am today. Looking back, I realise had I not met my friend in Belgium, I would’ve become too lazy to leave my comfort zone back home.

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Statue of the giant Lange Wapper at the entrance of Het Steen in Antwerp

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Like I said, 2012 was quite an eventful year for me. It was prophesized that the world would end on December the 21st and I was really looking forward to some Hollywood-style action in my life, but sadly everyone I hate is still alive.

Adi

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Spain and Italy

Country Counter: 5, 6, 7 (Vatican City) 

Cities Visited: Barcelona, Rome, Pisa, Vatican City

Timeframe: Feb 2016

I left for Spain and Italy immediately after I returned from Finland. I had a week off after months and didn’t want it to go waste. There are many direct routes from Lyon to Barcelona, and the airfare from Barcelona to Rome was around 27 Euros. On the way back, there was a direct route from Rome to Lyon, with a change of buses in Milan. All in all this seemed like the perfect budget trip with the perfect destinations, so I unpacked and repacked and got my tickets.

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The Sagrada Familia

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I reached Barcelona early morning with a piece of paper in my hand with all the places I wanted to see written on it. The Sagrada Família is one of the most well-known tourist attractions in Spain and the world, so I headed out there first. Google Maps suggested that I can reach there within fifteen minutes on foot AND my Airbnb is located right next to it. I was hoping to avoid the queues as it was still pretty early for the hordes of tourists but I still had to wait for forty five minutes to get in. I spent the time taking pictures from outside. While in queue, I met an Indian group and we had a nice chat. The inside of the still under construction basilica was as beautiful as the outside.

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Park Güell

I reached my Airbnb, located adjacent to an Indian restaurant. That’s two signs in two hours, which I though was a bit odd, as I’ve grown accustomed to not seeing too many Indians or restaurants in Lyon. I got to know that there is a large group of Indians living in Spain, definitely much larger than France. Practically every convenience store I came across was run by an Indian or a Pakistani. This was actually the first time I heard and spoke Hindi outside India. I was starting to think I’d never be able to speak languages from my country in Europe.

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Casa Milà

I left my bag and headed out immediately towards the next locations. The public transportation system has these amazing, and really convenient, 1, 2 and 5 day passes for tourists who come for brief stays. I went through almost all the major attractions on day one and the evening was spent at Las Ramblas eating Paella.

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Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor

The next morning I was off again, this time to Tibidabo hill and Montjuïc Castle. The castle provides breath-taking views of the sea and the seaport. En route, I found Plaça d’Espanya to be charming as well, with its giant columns and the central statues. I loved the fact that the city has the whole package – from beaches to the bustle of the city to the quiet hills. Taking the funicular down, I reached the beach and got another great view of the hills behind me.

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Plaça d’Espanya

Something worth mentioning. Before coming to Barcelona, I was a bit sceptical as I was traveling alone, did not speak Spanish and almost every forum I read had some mention of the ever-growing menace of pickpockets. My flight to Rome was at 6 am, which meant that I had to leave my Airbnb by at most 3 am. I reached the night-bus stop but didn’t know how long it would take me to get to the airport at this hour. So I asked the driver of the next bus that arrived if he was going towards the airport. He said get on, in Spanish, and I was quite sure this wasn’t going to end well. Along the bus lanes he drove and suddenly I saw, a bit ahead of me, the bus I was intending to take in the first place. I used all the Spanish I could muster in the middle of the night and requested him to drop me off so that I can catch the (speeding) bus in front of us. He made a calm hand gesture and said “Relax, I’ll get you to the airport.”

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View from Montjuïc Castle

This wasn’t helping me as I knew this bus wasn’t going to the airport, but there wasn’t much I could do. So I waited while he drove left and right. With a sudden jolt, I realised what he was trying to do. Being mindful not to jump lanes or lights and not to break any traffic rules, he was trying to lawfully overtake the other bus and drop me off in front so that I could board it. After 30 minutes of sort of a bus chase, he finally did manage to drop me in front. I shouted muchos gracias while running towards my bus. The two buses went on the same route and parted ways at Plaça d’Espanya, where I looked back at the driver from the window, and saw him waving goodbye to me with a smile. I have rarely felt such a sense of gratitude. For one, I didn’t expect anyone to help random strangers in the middle of the night in an unknown city. And two, he didn’t break any rules, even though he had empty streets at his disposal. I think he didn’t even stop for a few of the other passengers, and they didn’t seem to mind at all. I am ashamed to say that this is not how people behave and are treated in my country (mostly!) Trust me, I’ve seen things back home.

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At Barcelona airport, you are informed that the city of Rome is quite far from the airport and the ‘best’ way to reach there is to take a direct bus to the Termini station, and to avoid the queue on landing, we could buy the bus tickets here. Quite convenient I must say. However, it turned out that everyone got the tickets in Barcelona airport itself so we all ended up queuing again in Rome. Quite convenient, I must say!

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The Colosseum

The Roma Pass, equivalent to the Barcelona tourist passes, turned out to be pretty useful but a little inconvenient to access. For one thing, you needed to have the exact change in coins. First stop was the Colosseum, brilliant in the morning sun, and the adjacent Roman Forum. During the entire time, I kept hearing a bit of French from here and there. Usually when I hear the occasional English word or two from other tourists, amongst all the Spanish and Italian, I feel a bit relieved. This time, it was with the same with French. For some weird and delightful reason, I was instantly picking up on the conversations of the French tourists. I even helped translate the directions by the security guards to a French family, and felt almost like a hero.

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The Roman Forum

Next were the Pantheon, the Gothic Quarters and the Spanish Steps. Almost every street you walk on has some statue or a historic site worth mentioning. The Piazza Venezia, which has a central location connecting all other streets, is especially beautiful, and within walking distance of the Colosseum. I had kept aside the next day for Vatican City. That evening, I met a really nice woman from Buenos Aires in my Airbnb. We didn’t have any language in common, but we got around and had an amazing stroll on the beautiful streets of Rome at night, courtesy some beers and Google Translate.

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Piazza Venezia

Our Airbnb was ideally located just fifteen minutes from the Vatican City so we decided to head out there together the next morning. Vatican City, and especially St. Peter’s Square, was exactly as I had pictured it, having watched the numerous movies shot there. You can’t help but get a grandeur sense of beauty when you walk in. We were extremely lucky to have avoided all the crowds as we decided to start really early. When I climbed up the basilica to get a view of the square (see picture), even the staircase looked so historically and aesthetically pleasing (there is an elevator as well). After that, we headed out to the Vatican Museums, which was not quite as large as the Louvre, but still very impressive.

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The Pantheon

Early next morning, I reached Pisa. The Leaning Tower was about 10 minutes from where the bus dropped me. After a quick bite at one of the traditional Italian cafes set up right outside the entrance to the grounds, I headed in. The small group of people outside, selling models of the Tower in various sizes, somehow figured out that I am Bengali and started offering me ‘their best rates’ for a model, in Bengali. To be honest, I had never expected to find a lot of Indians in Spain and Italy and was so involved in learning French and their ways that I could not imagine that major European cities could also have a sizeable Indian population. The owner of the restaurant where I had lunch (Indian, again) told me that there are around four thousand Bengalis living in Pisa alone. What came as a surprise slowly dawned into realisation. We are everywhere, second only to the Chinese!

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St. Peter’s Basilica. Make sure to climb to the top (take the stairs, not the elevator) to get this amazing view below

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Due to some bad planning and cheap tickets, I was forced to be out on the streets of Pisa for eight whole hours. Little did I know that there wouldn’t be much to see in Pisa. And that’s not even the worst part. On the way back to Lyon, I had a stopover in Milan for six hours. I reached Milan at 11 pm and the next bus was at 5 am. Not wanted to pay for a whole night at a hotel and spend only a few hours, I decided to stay at Lampugnano station, with all the other groups who were huddled there waiting for their buses. I didn’t feel bad at first, but as the night progressed, we were told that the station had to be closed and we should all wait outside. So there I was, outside a station in Milan, with incessant rain and temperatures of 3-4 degrees, waiting for my bus, and with nowhere to go. And while everyone was keeping warm in groups, I just had my backpack to comfort me. I’ve done some stupid things in my life, but this might be among the top ones on my list. The only redemption came when I started taking in the beautiful view of the snowy mountains on the France-Italy border. I would highly recommend the route in winter via roadways just for the views.

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The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Lessons learnt: Planning is everything, and cheap tickets don’t turn out to be so cheap in the end!

Adi

France

Country Counter: 4               Cities Visited: Lyon, Paris          Timeframe: From Aug 2015

My love for France started to develop when I was around 10 years old. I had just finished listening to my first French song on a CD player (yes those old things). I honestly don’t remember how I got hold of the CD, but I do remember it was at my aunt’s place and the song was called Inch ‘Allah by M. C. Solaar, the Senegalese rap artist. Most of you reading this might not have heard about it or him, unless you grew up in France in that period. I know this because no one is able to recognise the song when I mention it here. To this day, when I listen to it, it brings back fond memories of my first tryst with the French language. And it has a catchy tune to it.

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View of Eiffel Tower from Tour Montparnasse

By the time I reached the sixth grade, foreign languages were starting to be introduced in the curriculum. Most schools introduced French, including mine, and some of them went with German. However, our teachers told us that since everyone wants to be enrolled in foreign language classes, the seats were kept limited. They wanted to do a trial run first before inducting entire cohorts. The condition to be enrolled in French class was to get above ninety percent in your final exams. I don’t think I’ve ever studied so much for my exams as I did back then. Starting from sixth grade, we were instructed to use books by G. Mauger (cours de langue et de civilisation francaises, le francais et la vie etc.) While others lost interest as time went by, I was really fascinated by the language and motivated to learn it. I think the main reason was that these books did not just teach the language, but also gave a glimpse on the French way of living. In tenth grade, only 15 of us remained from the original 40 something and I was part of the first batch of my school to have passed out with French as a foreign language.

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Notre Dame cathedral

School paved way for college and although I didn’t have any more French classes, I was determined to be in touch with what I had learnt. So I started giving private lessons to sixth-and-above graders from different schools. The demand for French home tutors was really high at that time as more and more schools had started introducing foreign languages and not every kid was motivated to put an effort in learning a new language they might never use again. After two years of tutoring, I next came in contact with the language when I was in enrolled for my Masters program.

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When the movie Ratatouille was released in 2007, I was in love again. The portrayal of the typical Parisian life and their obsession with their cuisine just made me long for the country more. I started searching for more French movies I could watch just to keep up with the language and I stumbled upon L’Auberge Espagnole (released in 2002), starring Kelly Reilly and Audrey Tautou. It was about a French student who moves into an apartment in Barcelona with six other students who all speak different languages and it was apparently very popular with teenagers. Although I loved the movie, I had to use subtitles for most parts.

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In 2014, when I had finally decided to move abroad for my MBA, I was torn between the only two good offers of acceptance I had received. One was in the U.S. (D.C.) and one was in Lyon. This kept me awake for a few nights. In the end, even though I have always wanted to move to the U.S., I decided to choose France. I told myself that the U.S. might be relatively easier to survive, given the Indian diaspora and usage of English as the main language. If I really wanted to pick up a new language from where I had left it years ago, sort of a challenge, I should go with the French school. I can now happily reflect back to that time and say I made the right choice.

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The Louvre museum

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From the day I entered France, everything was new. Hardly anyone spoke English – every road sign, every food label, every person at the local market, every transport official, and even the caretaker of the residence where I stay – literally everything needed French. Thank God I paid attention all those years back in school. It’s been seven months now and I am having conversations with the girls at the checkout counter at Carrefour. I constantly keep practicing, with anyone and everyone, and I think I might be losing my English in the process. Apparently, and my French friends insist on this, women here really like people who can speak English and find them attractive (lies, I tell you!)

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View of Champs-Élysées from l’Arc de Triomphe

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When I finally travelled to Paris for the first time, I was amazed and a bit disappointed at the same time. The disappointment was only due to the weather, as I was there in December. There was no sunlight for days in a row and the clouds and the incessant rain made all the touristy places look dull. Nevertheless, I found Paris to be a beautiful, beautiful city. You can step out of any metro station and there will be something that catches your eye. On the public transport, even though I had a map and everything, I started practising my French with the locals, and surprise surprise, they replied back to me in English (I refuse to be treated like a tourist).

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Les Invalides, with the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte

I think I covered almost all the must-see places in 2-3 days and kept one full day for the Louvre museum (huge!) People told me it cannot be covered entirely in one day, but I am pretty sure my friend and I covered its entirety in around 5 hours (take that, you regular tourists). Although I was enjoying every minute in the city, all the happiness was kind of draining out by night. First, the guy who made my Subway sandwich went on to ask me whether the franchise was even present in India, with a tone that suggested that maybe it was the first time I had entered a fast food joint. Outrageous! What kind of impression do people have about India? The only reason I didn’t pick up an argument with this guy was because he was handling my food. I was also supposed to meet someone, which was something I was looking forward to for a month, and even ditched a live David Guetta concert for. She bailed out on me at the last moment and I’ve never been angrier. Mental note to self: David Guetta first, always!

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Sacre-coeur cathdral

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Lyon has been an entirely different chapter. Small and quiet when compared to Paris, the city is as beautiful and exciting as any of the other famous European ones. I have still not explored it in its entirety but every time I step out, I find something really interesting. From the famous central Bellecour square, to the old, pebbled streets of Vieux Lyon and Fourvière, to Place des Terreaux, Croix-Rousse, Confluence, Parc de la tête d’Or – every locale is so charming and full of energy. I feel Lyon has a more French feeling to it than Paris. We even have our own ‘Eiffel Tower’ next to the Fourvière basilica (in picture).

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Place Bellecour

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Place des Terreaux

Lyon is also considered to be the gastronomical capital and boasts of famous and numerous eateries, bouchons, places for apéros and cuisines from all around the world. The famous chef, Paul Bocuse, has his own restaurant-cum-training school here and high-end French dining establishments all around the city.

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View of Lyon from Fourvière church

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I recently had a few interviews in French, over the phone and in person. I think I did quite well, and whether I get the part or not, I still count being conversational in a new language as an achievement. My MBA is almost over and I would hate to have to move out of this beautiful city, or country, where I’ve met amazing people and learnt something at every step of the way. No matter what happens tomorrow, looking back, this year would always be fondly remembered.

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One of the many sites in Parc de la Tête d’Or

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Mur des Canuts

I guess I should’ve written about France first, and then went on the other countries. France is the first country I have lived in outside India, and hopefully won’t be the last.

Adi

Finland

Country Counter: 3                  Cities Visited: Oulu, Helsinki              Timeframe: Feb 2016

While going through my MBA brochure, I saw something new, something most B-schools can’t, or don’t, boast of – a learning trip to Finland! Finland, I thought to myself. Why Finland? Why not those other ‘popular’ choices for a B-school learning trip. I almost forgot about it, as it was in February this year and last year was packed with work.

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Iron statues in front of Oulu City Hall – the first immigrants

As we finally packed our bags, I didn’t perform my ritualistic “things to do in” Google search. In my mind, Finland was still this faraway snow-land nobody knows much about, except for Nokia (which seems dead now). I wondered what we could possibly learn there. As soon as our flight landed at Oulu, I told myself I’ll at least return with some survival skills. Snow, knee-deep snow everywhere! The place looked like it was Elsa’s personal playground. I can’t believe I just used a Frozen reference (let it go!) but everything, and I mean everything, was pure white all around. Little did I realise that I was about to go back home with a very different mind-set about the place.

We spent the first three mornings at Oulu Business School. Seminars and lectures on the Finnish and/or the Scandinavian way of life kept us hooked from day one. For example, there is only one word for the male and the female in Finnish – Hän. No he/she, il/elle, just Hän. Issues like gender pay disparity and the like are unheard of in Finland and that says much about them as a society. Oh, and saunas everywhere. For a country with a population of 5 million, they have around 2 million saunas. Even business is conducted in a steamy fashion with members of the discussion semi-nude. Everything is also a tad bit expensive, especially drinking water. The Finns are a quiet bunch. They keep to themselves, and the less you talk in a given environment, the more polite and civilised you are considered. No wonder our rowdy bunch got the looks from everyone and everywhere.

One of the most memorable events was the ice diving, which is something Oulu is known for. Finland recently held one of its entrepreneurial fairs in Oulu with an ice diving format. Teams had an unlimited amount of time to pitch their ideas, provided they had to pitch while inside the ice pool. Sounds fun, no?! We had been briefed in school beforehand and by the time we actually came down to it, it was just a small group who went for it. It was minus nine degrees outside (yes -9 Celsius), and the water was close to freezing point. We had planned to compete amongst us as to who can stay in the water the longest. It turns out no one was in the water for more than 30 seconds, except the Finnish instructor, who was swimming as though he was at a beach in Florida. It takes a brave heart to take the plunge and I’m glad I did it. One for the books!

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On the way to the ice diving spot

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Post ice-diving selfie

It was also the first time I tried reindeer meat, which was part of a traditional Finnish dinner. I didn’t like it, although everyone else was enjoying the game meat. Savages!

The visit to the headquarters of Nokia was an insightful excursion. Sure, everyone knows Nokia is dead, but there was a time when they were unbeatable. My first phone was a Nokia, and I’m proud of it. And the company hasn’t stopped innovating yet. Their spectrum service is still way ahead of others (5G technologies) and they were the ones who made possible virtually everything we take for granted today.

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The next evening was a trip to a (frozen) lake for snowmobile activities. We all took turns to drive a snowmobile, cook sausages on an open fire and play other snow-related games. All this while covered head to toe in a baggy suit which looked like those used by NASA and which took half an hour to get in to. The last afternoon was spent on a small guided city tour. The small iron statues near Oulu City Hall (see picture) represent the first arrivals to the country and their journey from being mere immigrants to today’s nationals with their own history, heritage and legacy. The last stop was the local police station, which had a cute statue of a pot-bellied police officer outside (in picture), symbolising him as the guardian of the place. Once you enter the police station, you are also served with an entire supermarket, selling the entire range from food to souvenirs.

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Next stop, Helsinki. We had a two-day workshop at Aalto Design Factory, so I figured if I had to explore the city, I could only do it at night. Hence I do not have any pictures of Helsinki during daylight, when the city looks amazing as evident from the pictures of my friends. The Aalto Design University is located close to the headquarters of Rovio, creators of Angry Birds (go Finland!) Again, we were quite amazed to discover that innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit runs deep within the Finns. The factory is responsible for coming up with alternative sources of protein for situations where food is not easily available or accessible (deserts, space) and future scenarios where all current sources of protein are exhausted. Solution – crickets! Yes, millions of crickets reared in a shipping container farm, and apparently they’ve already delivered their first orders. Maybe this is the sad (read: disgusting) future we are headed into. Apparently, the solution is WHO approved.

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Statues outside Helsinki Central railway station

But bugs aside, the two days at the Design Factory were an absolute delight. We had an entrepreneurial task to accomplish in a team, but it didn’t feel like we were working at all. From drawing giraffes to choose teams, to using anything and everything available on the floor to present our ideas, it was definitely one of the best workshops we ever had. By the time we finished, I finally realised why our school chose Finland. It resonated with the entrepreneurial spirit that my MBA program is well known for and the way the Finns worked, lived and had fun is something which makes them far ahead of traditional societies we come across every day.

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Kiitos, Finland!

Adi

Switzerland

Country Counter: 2        Cities Visited: Geneva      Timeframe: Nov 2015 to June 2016

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Road-trip from Lyon

Although I do not have great pictures for this entry, partly because I didn’t carry my DSLR and partly because I didn’t have time to explore much, the time I spent here was truly memorable. The first opportunity to visit Geneva came to us when companies arrived on our campus to present their projects and the work that needed to be done. A group of like-minded individuals from my cohort immediately resonated with the idea of working with a Swiss luxury watchmaker, and thus was formed team Roger Dubuis. What started out with occasional video-conference calls soon matured into our first invitation to visit the Manufacture itself. We couldn’t have been more excited!

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Located in Meyrin, near the France-Switzerland border, their headquarters are ideally and strategically located in a city which boasts of loads of other luxury brands. Some consider Geneva to be a part of the European luxury triangle (Lyon-Geneva-Milan). On the way to the HQ, we also passed by CERN, and although we didn’t have time to stop by and quote lines from The Big Bang Theory, we made a mental note to keep it on top of our agenda (someday). My good friend Bryan was kind enough to offer to drive us for the visit in his Fiat 500 (excellent and cute). This was in November 2015. Our second invitation came in April 2016 when we had to present our findings to the company. Strangely enough, the last time we drove, it was winter and Bryan mentioned he needed to put on winter tyres. This time, it was summer and he casually reminded himself out loud that he needed to change back to summer tyres. I’m almost certain he’s trying to get back at me for something or he has lost the will to live and wants to take me down with him as well.

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But, apart from the lighter moments we made of the situation, something really struck me from this experience. There is a lot of snow here and it just makes me happy. I can say the same about my family back home, and the millions of others who reside on the plains. The first time I witnessed snowfall was in December 2012 when we were traveling to Germany, so yeah, it is a big deal! In a country where temperatures have already crossed 40 degrees Celsius (April 1st, 2016, Delhi), with the everlasting traffic jams making it worst, no wonder people are happy to see some cold weather, snow and relief. The average winter in India lasts from December to February, that too if we’re lucky. The only exceptions are the top states, which see the bulk of domestic tourism during summer, and have the highest number of hill resorts in the country.

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Lake Geneva

The second time we were in Geneva, our cohort was participating in a workshop on business and regulatory environments. We also had around twenty participants from the University of Connecticut joining us on the trip. Their brief stint at our school turned out to be one of the best times I’ve ever had connecting with people. Our study trip to Geneva took us to the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, followed by a walking tour of Geneva (see picture) and ending with a traditional dinner at a restaurant.

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United Nations Class 1

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All these trips have mostly been for academic purposes. Bryan keeps mentioning about all the amazing places he’s been to in Switzerland. He has been traveling a lot around the country and knows the known and the off-beat places quite well (still doesn’t change his tyres on time though). There are a lot of chalets that have excellent stays and Chamonix is definitely on the cards next. He’s been kind enough to invite me for ski sessions and camping trips, and I hope I’ll get to visit more of Switzerland in the coming months.

Time to start learning how to ski I guess!

Adi

Globetrotter Goals

 

Growing up in an average, middle class family in India is not easy, especially for millennials. On one hand, you have to live up to (all) the expectations of your family and society, AND on the other hand, the rapid growth of the country forces you to think out of the box to beat out competition in every nook and corner. Being in the ‘general’ category is the worst!

My family and I have been very fortunate to have close ties with the aviation industry for a very long time. My father retired from India’s national airline in 2014 as an AGM after 36 years of praiseworthy service. Although we didn’t start out financially well off, we still got those envious concessions on airline tickets. My father’s work took him to numerous continents, near and far, and my mother was bitten by the travel bug while she was still young. I think it is safe to say that the passion for traveling runs deep in our blood now and my sister and I try to keep up the tradition and explore as much as we can.

Our first international trip was to Hong Kong, while my father was returning from Australia. It was in 1995, I was 7 years old and Hong Kong had yet not come under the administration of China. Since that moment, my family would strive to explore as much as we could, saving as much as possible so that we could make that one international trip every two years, when my father would receive those discounted tickets. Domestic trips were still averaging about 2-3 per year.

I couldn’t help but be fascinated about how much there is to see on this planet. Although the saying goes ‘It’s a small world’, it definitely isn’t. My mother used to say never visit the same place twice. There are so many things to see! Why waste time, money and energy visiting the same place twice! As time went by, I became a fan of websites which had articles on exotic destinations, one of them being the Travel section on Business Insider. What would really put me off a bit was when I would (regularly) come across articles (commonly) titled “How one person quit his 9-to-5 job and went traveling the world for a year” and the sort. Yeah, great! I did not earn in Dollars, Euros or Pounds and the Indian Passport gets you practically nowhere. That means that every year, the millions of outbound tourists from India still need to apply for and obtain a tourist visa for each and every country they want to visit (except the Schengen zone, thank God). So even if I wanted to, I couldn’t leave my job and family behind and go exploring the world (I’m pretty sure I’ll never get a job again if I do so).

I am really grateful for the opportunity to come abroad and study at one of Europe’s best B-schools. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family. But ever since I’ve been here, that thought still bothers me a bit. So one fine day, I decided to have a new goal in life. It had to be a meaningful purpose, something I would strive for no matter what, something I would really put time and effort into while I could, and I would stick to it. It had to motivate me to get up early in the morning and work till late. And I came up with this – to visit each and every country in the world, as soon as I can, at the least possible cost.

Sounds like a mouthful, and a bit improbable. So I decided not to give myself a time limit. Instead of focusing on reaching the goal, I decided to enjoy every moment of the journey. A lot of people have already accomplished this, although they were in a very different situation than mine, so I truly believe it is not impossible. If, in the end, it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out!

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But how to document it? Surely I could write, even though I’m not an excellent writer. After reading the excellent blog of my MBA colleague Stephanie, I decided to go with a travel journal. Et voila! Every post of this journal will highlight a country I’ve been to, the cities visited, and any special mentions. And it definitely is a better blog than the one I use to vent out my stupid feelings!

A few things to note. I generally count those countries where I have spent at least two days or nights. Couchsurfing has proved to be completely useless, or at least the people on it have. Although I quite like the concept, I am yet to receive one affirmative response. Airbnb is the best thing ever (highly recommended)! Also, to keep to my goal of traveling on the lowest budget possible, I usually take the bus whenever and wherever I can. I see quite a difference between the lifestyles of travellers in Western nations and of those back home. My friends and I are quite okay using the roadways for travel and an eight hour journey is the norm for most inter-state destinations. Here, I’ve raised quite a lot of eyebrows whenever I’ve mentioned the fact that I prefer the bus. Flights are the preferred mode here (damn you, rich countries!)

So here you are! Let’s start with India, my home. The country where I’ve transitioned from innocence to maturity, witnessed how relationships evolve and deteriorate over time, loved, lost, ran, fell and learnt to get back up! Even though I now plan to get some international experience (keyword here being plan), the best things I’ve learnt and experienced are and will always be the ones from India.

I hope this journal resonates with the traveller in you and brings out the same spirit my parents have imbibed in me. If it can inspire even one more person to travel more and see what the world holds, instead of just slogging through their 9-to-5s, I’d be extremely grateful.

P.S. Couchsurfing offers are now accepted! 🙂

Adi

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Country Counter: 1                    Cities Visited: Too many to count                     Timeframe: NA

Pictures (from left to right): (Top row) India Gate from Rashtrapati Bhavan, Mumbai coastline, Humayun’s tomb. (Middle row) Lotus Temple, the Taj Mahal, the Sunderbans. (Bottom row) McLeodganj, Goa, Haripurdhar.

India