Chapter 3 – Hola Barcelona

Hey guys,

It’s been a month since I last posted and I’m sorry about that. I’ve been held up with work and didn’t get much time to sit down and write. I don’t want to delay this anymore so I decided to publish whatever is complete. Hope you enjoy it.

Day 1:

I landed at El Prat, Barcelona around 11 am.  The first thing I did was get a SIM card since my mother was getting worried about my whereabouts (after only 3 days).  I took a shuttle from the airport to Plaça de Catalunya. Once there, I would rely on my phone to get me to my hostel. Not so surprisingly, my phone died. Fortunately, I walked into a small shop where the owner was kind enough to let me sit down and charge it.

I had booked accommodation at the Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia hostel. Based on the directions provided, I was to take the metro to a particular station which was a minute away from the hostel but that route had been closed off for maintenance. I asked an old and  friendly looking man to point me in the right direction. Instead he grabbed me by the hand and took me in the opposite direction of which he was walking before I approached him. I was at the receiving end of two random acts of kindness in a span of less than 30 minutes. I’d always heard how friendly and generous people were but I finally experienced it.

It was past noon by the time I reached the hostel. I decided to sleep for a couple of hours before heading out in the evening.

As usual, I had no fixed itinerary. The great thing about hostels is that most of them provide you with free maps and also recommend places to visit. That way you don’t have to be a destination expert to see the good stuff.

The first thing I did was go to Barceloneta beach. I spent a couple of hours taking in the fresh air. The best part was that I ran into a group of people swing dancing. It was one of those rare times I wished that I’d known to dance. You can see the video here.

On the way back I stopped for dinner at a Mediterranean restaurant. As a vegetarian, my options were very limited but I had to make do. On the bright side, I ended up consuming more than a couple of glasses of Moscato wine (not a big fan of wine but this was REALLY good).

I spent the remaining part of the day walking through narrow streets until it was time to head back to the hostel.

More to come.

Cheers

P.S. I’m trying out the slideshow option for displaying photographs. Do you suggest I display each of them as tiles separately? Let me know what you guys think.

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Chapter 2 – Au Revoir, Paris!

Hi guys,

I’m back with the next part of the series. If you missed the first one, here it is.

Day 3

I arrived at the Louvre museum at half past ten in the morning. The museum is located in the Louvre Palace on the bank of the river Seine. I wanted to visit the Palace of Versailles but had to scrap that due to lack of time. So here I was. For someone who’s not big on art or museums, this place could be an overload! Having said that, I must admit that it really is something. The collection is massive and it’s incredibly easy to get lost, although they do have one person in every other room to help you find your way. If you’re an art lover, this is the place to be. I did get a selfie with my buddy Mona, so nothing to complain about 🙂

Louvre

A painting within a painting within a photo

I made my way out and walked along the palace walls overlooking the river. I passed by a friendly guy making candies on the street. He let me try some and we had a nice little chat. While I didn’t have a fixed itinerary for the day, I wanted to see Notre Dame. I spent most of the day walking within a three mile radius of the place. On the way, I stopped by the Pantheon (modeled on the one in Rome). When I got there, it started pouring. It now serves as a mausoleum. From the Pantheon, you also get a direct view of the Eiffel Tower.

Louvre Palace walls Seine Pantheon Pantheon Pantheon facing Eiffel Tower Universite de Paris

During my walk, I found myself in a street filled with restaurants, bakeries, you name it. I entered one bakery and tasted macaroons for the first time. Yum!

Rue de la harpe

Just another cafe Unknown

It was time to resume my quest and I took a turn at some corner nearby and there it was, right in front of me. What a sight. Breathtaking was an understatement. It is a ‘must see’. I would write more but it deserves a post of its own.

What a beauty! Notre Dame de Paris

I was now a content man and went back to the hostel for the evening. That night, I met a couple of friends at an underground bar ‘Le Caveau des Oubliettes’ which translates to ‘The Dungeon Vault’. It is neatly tucked away in an alley and has live blues/jazz/funk music. You should definitely check this place out if you’re in Paris.

The band

The next morning, I left Paris with a heavy heart. I wish I’d had more time to take in this city. But now I have a reason to come back. I shall leave you with a quote from one of my favorite movies (Midnight in Paris).

“That Paris exists and anyone could choose to live anywhere else in the world will always be a mystery to me.”

Chapter 1 – Love at First Sight

Hi guys,

I know it’s been a while since my last post but I was finally able to sit down and complete the first installment of ‘An Affair with Europe’

Day 1

IMG_2769After landing at Charles de Gaulle airport on the evening of 8th August, I had to take a train to the heart of the city. The train ride was about an hour long but with the singing busker and his accordion time flew. I felt like I was in one of those movies set in France with beautiful French music playing in the background. I was so engrossed in his performance that I forgot to capture it.

After finding my way to the hostel and doing a quick check-in, I grabbed some dinner at a nearby pizzeria and headed back. The effects of multiple flights and long layovers had caught up to me. Time to sleep.

Day 2

IMG_2760Since I hadn’t planned what to see, I approached the front desk at the hostel for suggestions. I came to know that the Eiffel Tower was only a 30 minute walk away.  Armed with a map I set out for the day. Of course it didn’t strike me to ask where I was on the map. I walked up to an elderly lady with a ‘Bonjour’ and asked her for directions. Although she didn’t speak English, I was able to get a general idea as to the direction in which I had to proceed. After walking down four or five blocks, I caught a glimpse of the Tower and things got easier from there.

I approached from Champ-de-Mars, a park like area sandwiched between Ecole Militaire (Military Academy) and the Eiffel Tower. Standing tall at 324 meters, it’s no wonder that the Tower is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world. As I made my way through the lawns I became certain that I was one of the very few people to come there alone. Majority of the visitors were couples, young and old. It is the city of love after all. I would have loved to climb up but the queues were so long that it would have taken me a couple of hours to get to the front of the line. Hours I did not have considering I’d be in Paris only for 2 full days.

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My next destination was the Arc de Triomphe. Not really paying too much attention to the map, What should have been a 10 minute walk took a lot longer. I took turns trusting my ‘inner compass’. I eventually found myself on a really fancy road with several luxury stores and cafes, trees on either side. I pulled out my camera to film the road as I walked, for the folks back home. Only later did I realize that I was walking down the famous Avenue des ChampsÉlysées. The Arc stands in the center of the l’Étoile roundabout, a junction where 12 different roads meet. Navigating your way through without crashing is worth some praise. The Arc was erected to honor the people who had died in Napoleonic and French Revolutionary Wars. Although I did not personally go to the top, I hear that you get a pretty great view of the city. Below the Arc lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier which has an eternal flame that burns in memory of those who died fighting in the world wars and were not identified.

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I traced my path back to the Eiffel Tower in order to try my hand at the Shell game played by the tricksters on the Pont d’Iéna bridge. I’ll save the details for another post.

Having set myself a strict backpacker’s budget, I stopped at a nearby cafe and had a fairly priced but filling meal.

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I resumed my walk  and eventually found myself in front of a large building with a huge dome in gold, Musée de l’Armée. When I went into buy a ticket, I was warned that most of the display areas had already closed. I decided to restrict myself to the external areas which were free. I took out my map to find out if there were any other places worth seeing. I noticed the cathedral Notre Dame and it reminded me of a story from my childhood, the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I remember the gargoyles perched at the top. I knew I had to see it.

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I was told that the cathedral was a sight to behold and that one should make the climb to the top. I followed the directions in the map and found myself at the Palais du Luxembourg and the attached gardens. The palace currently houses the French Senate and is not open to the public.
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The gardens, however, are accessible. It was the perfect place to spend evenings reading a book or go for a stroll. I spent an hour there enjoying the peace and quiet.

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I continued my search for the cathedral, but found myself on the same bunch of streets repeatedly. After a while, I knew these roads like the back of my hand. By then it was already late and I was exhausted from all the walking. With the help of a ‘Good Samaritan, I was able to get back to my hostel at the other end of the city.

Thank you. Stay tuned for the next chapter of my journey 🙂

CheefHobo

An Affair with Europe – From Paris to Prague

Last month, when I set foot on European soil for the first time, I experienced something which I had not felt in a long time. That feeling as a child when something as insignificant as a bell or mug could grab your attention.That childlike wonder. I prepared myself to go with a completely open mind. The next couple of weeks gave me a sense of total freedom and tons of memories that will last a lifetime. Would you care to join me as I attempt to live those moments once again?

Hope you guys enjoy it. Stay tuned 🙂

Cheers

Alternative Travel?

I spend way too much time dreaming about exploring new places and I’m certainly not the only one. Unfortunately, it might not always be possible for us to convert these dreams into reality. But what if we could?

It was not until recently that I came to know what Google StreetView could do. I was going to visit Europe in less than a month and had to make hostel reservations. While checking out images on Google, I noticed the ‘StreetView’ feature and decided to click on it. I was amazed to discover that I could navigate through the streets. I spent the next hour roaming the ‘virtual’ streets of Prague with the result that when I physically went there I was able to recognize quite a few streets!

With the rate at which technology is progressing, I wonder if someday, virtual travel might become a reality – where physical presence is not required to explore a place. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that this is a real substitute for what we know as travel, it would merely be an ‘aid’ of sorts allowing you to partially quench the thirst for adventure or maybe even serve as inspiration to get you out on the road. As the saying goes, “Half a loaf is better than none”. Lack of time and money, poor health, old age or any other commitment could no longer be a deterrent.

Personally, I think this has great potential. If you’ve never tried it out, just pick a random street in any place you’d like to visit and let your cursor do the driving.

What do you guys think? Is this something you might consider as an option if available? I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Cheers

P.S. I came across this interesting project called HYPERLAPSE Check out the video below.

Inspiring Wanderlust

It seemed a bit odd to publish an introduction a day after I made an actual blog entry. Nevertheless, better late than never.

To be honest, I have always been a bit reserved when it comes to posting publicly on social networking sites. I never felt the need to put myself out there, I suppose that is attributable to the fact that I was indifferent to most topics. But it’s time I kicked myself out of my comfort zone.

I’m a 20 something guy with a passion for travel. The uncertainty of it all – getting lost in an unfamiliar place, missing a connection, lost baggage and having to survive with just one or no change of clothes, meeting people from different backgrounds- is what really gets me going. 

The travel bug is common but deadly. Bitten once, hooked for life. There’s absolutely no turning back. Everything you’ve known up till this point just fades away leaving you with all the freedom in the world to expand your horizons.

My goal is simple. It is to make you experience the joy of traveling, to help you see the world through my eyes.

If I have managed to instil the sense of wanderlust even in ONE person, I would consider this venture a grand success.

 

Happy travels,

CheefHobo

You know how the French are rude, right?

I don’t.

Recently, I spent a couple of days in Paris. This also happened to be my maiden visit to Europe. Before leaving, I had heard several horror stories about the rudeness of the French.. They told me the terror would start at the French Consulate itself while applying for a Visa. I had people telling me how their applications were either rejected or unnecessarily delayed. The normal processing time is around 2 weeks and based on what other people had to say, I was prepared for 4.

And 4 was right. Days.

On my first day in France, after walking around the city the entire day, I’m far too exhausted to manage a walk back and I just want to crash. It’s 10 P.M and the sun is just about setting and my hostel is 3 miles away. I decide to take the metro instead This being my first time on the metro, I can’t seem to figure out which line to take and where to. There’s nobody around and I’m wondering if, not when, I’ll get back tonight. Enter French guy in his mid 40s. With no other option but to approach him, I do so. He spends the next few minutes explaining how to navigate the metro system. He also adds that I cannot buy a ticket at this particular station. He pulls one out and thrusts it in my hand.

‘Combien?’ (‘How much?’), I ask. He smiles and walks away.

 

It so happened that a friend of mine was also in the city for the weekend along with her brother. We planned to meet at a certain underground jazz club at 10:15 P.M. I was there on time and waited for nearly 45 minutes with no sign of the two. I was unable to call them since I did not have a local mobile connection at the time and there weren’t any payphones around. I spot a guy at the cafe across the street. I walk over, explain my situation and tell him I’d be more than happy to pay him if I could make just one call. He agreed to let me use his phone but refused to take money. 

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Lovers in paradise.

This one is very special. While trying to find my way to the Pantheon, I happened to spot two lovebirds on a bike. The girl was seated on the handlebar facing him. This was the kind of thing I’d probably never see back home and being the hopeless romantic that I was, I ran and stopped them at the nearest traffic light, half prepared to add a couple of French swear words to my vocabulary. I pointed to my camera. They seemed more excited than I was.

 

The following incident is what convinced me to write this. On my last day, I’d bought a shuttle ticket to Orly airport for €11. I flashed the ticket to cross the turnstile simultaneously wondering whether I should write about the most common French stereotype. In the process, I didn’t pay attention to the sign board and entered the wrong gate. I exited and tried to get to the other side hoping the ticket would still work. It didn’t. I went back to the Information Desk and spoke to the lady there (she had earlier helped me operate the ticketing kiosk). When I explained how I ended up taking the wrong gate, she laughed and issued a new ticket, which I didn’t have to pay for.

Things could have gone a lot differently, especially in the cases where money (or money’s worth) was involved. But they didn’t. In my personal view, accusing the French of being rude is a massive generalization. Come on, if you had foreigners walk up to you all the time, asking for directions to the Eiffel tower or what not, without making even an attempt to speak the local language, would you still be as polite and patient as you imagine yourself to be? Granted, there’s always going to be a bunch of people around, but hey! Isn’t that true for every place?

What do you guys think? Do let me know in the comments below.

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