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Monthly Archives: November 2011

“In Bruges”

Undoubtedly the most well-maintained city I have seen until now!

On an icy-cold misty night, we (me and a friend) landed at the Bruges railway station. Contemplating whether to take a bus or walk, we decided on the latter, a) to see Bruges at night and b) to save a few euros, being perpetually on a budget. First impressions are forgotten – it being colder than Strasbourg, and the hostel a very long walk away with not a single soul on the road to ask directions for.

Eventually we reached, only to find that the hostel cafeteria had closed and no restaurants around were open after 8pm (being a public holiday). Now that can definitely mar the impression of 2 hungry travellers. We walked more with some hope and lucked out in finding a small store with a “who-else-but-an-Indian owner” (or so I thought, but later read about Hindoestanen) and bought some gauffres/waffles (one of Belgium ‘s specialties) and juice.

Next morning, a quick breakfast over, we took a walk to the centre-ville. The scene was stunning, to say the least. A combination of the cold air, mist and sunlight, horse carriages and cobbled streets, ancient but pretty castle-like buildings, autumn leaves and water bodies, friteries of course and people aimlessly walking. I swear I could have been transported to the medieval ages, except I’m not sure that they had the much-loved Andalousie sauce for the frites (fries) then!

Everyone says this and it is true – Bruges is a city best seen by foot. Or a cycle, if you dont have too much time. Having had more than a normal proportion of fries and beer, we decided that walking was the best option and did an entire circle of the city during the day. Moreover, I must add that we were lucky that the rain gods had spared us, especially with the city having a reputation for lousy weather.

Bruges is a must-visit for any traveller coming to Belgium. We spent a night at Brussels as well, charming in its own way but like any other big european city. Ghent, somewhere between the above two cities is another little university town not as beautiful as Bruges but definitely with more life and a character of its own.

Overall, the interesting graffiti and comic strips bande-dessinĂ©e as they are popularly known – on walls makes one realise how ‘seriously’ the Belgians take their animation industry! This is afterall, the land of Tintin & Asterix.

Belgium: RECOMMENDED 🙂

And unlike France, you can find your way with English especially in the northern dutch-speaking Flemish region

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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Belgium

 

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An evening on top of a cathedral

We were looking forward to a gospel rock concert (free!) at the Notre dame Cathedral this evening.

Turns out that it happened last evening. Disappointed, we decided to climb the steep spiral staircase that goes right to the top of the cathedral. Normally, one has to pay 5 euros to enter but clearly the Lord wanted to make amends, and so we paid nothing, it being the first Sunday of the month!

We huffed and puffed and huffed and puffed and after 15 minutes that seemed like 60, we reached the top.

And got a lovely view of Strasbourg, and a bonus of watching the sun set!

On our way down the cathedral I did the counting act, and figured I had lost a few calories climbing more than 600 steps (both ways). Its a different story that I made up for it by eating a cheesified home-made italian dinner afterwards.

 
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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in France, Strasbourg

 

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Around France in 10 days

I kicked off my first European travel with a mini tour of France. Knowing that I’d have only a temporary visa initially (that confined me to stay within borders till I got the ‘visa de sejour long’) I planned my first trip 3 months in advance – the only vacation done with so much foresight!

French school kids are wonderfully lucky – they have 2 months of summer vacation in July & August, 10 days of Toussaint starting end October, 2 weeks for Christmas, 2 more for winter (which is in February!) and yet another 2 weeks for spring end of April. Needless to say, as an English teacher, I am not complaining!

Having commenced work on October 1st, I had just 3 weeks before Toussaint (All saints) started. As the trip was planned in advance, I got some super cheap fares on the TGV, the speed-rail network. Moreover, my cousin sis was making a small trip during the same time so we were all set to have a blast together.

 

 

 

 

 

2 days in Paris

We did everything a tourist would do in Paris. Pored over the metro maps and filled our stomach at local crĂŞperies.

We visited the Louvre (Bless the french education ministry for little benefits like free entry), the SacrĂ©-CĹ“ur and the colourful and bustling Montmartre market (note to self: repeat visit next time). We walked down Champs-ÉlysĂ©e treating ourselves to a Häagen-Dazs just for the Parisian effect while we posed stylishly in front of Louis Vuitton and the likes. We saw the Eiffel Tower shimmering on a full moon night – magnificient and overwhelming, in short. AND, we also saw Paris from an Audi – thanks to Remy, brother of Lucie and gracious host who kindly chauffered us around for a day.

But are 2 measly touristy days enough for Paris? Ofcourse not!         Soon, very soon….

5 days in and around Bordeaux

What better way to travel than stay with a french family and have them take you around? And what a better way to start the Euro experience!

Château Pichon-Baron

I admit that I got super lucky. Lucie was one of my first french forum‘ friends whom I got in touch with to write emails, improve my french and in turn let her know that there was more to India than snake charmers, slumdogs and cows. She was 60, retired in profession but not in her quest to travel more (and she had already traveled half the world). So we got mailing till I told her of my proposed 7-month stay in France and my first vacation. The next thing I know, I was booking tickets to go to her little town, south-west of France close to the famed city of Bordeaux to the for the holidays. And there she was, excited and preparing my itinerary and making plans on what we could do and see in those few days.

Lucie and Christian’s (her husband) enthusiasm for the road clearly showcased a few truths:

  • Ya never too old to travel
  • Ya always should be eager to visit the same place like ya visiting it for the first time bcos ya see it from a different perspective each time
  • Ya always maintain a travel photo book with select ones from every trip – yes, a hard copy, not one of those e-books

For 4 days we woke up at 8, got ready and hit the road by 9. Christian did all the driving – the good ol’ fella! We passed through towns, stopped in little villages for lunch and returned home for dinner. We did the château-visits and the red-wine tasting. Got invited to a ‘grand’ lunch by Thierry, a meat-eating friend who had spend hours fretting on what to cook and ended up with a varied spread of chopped vegetables! We visited Lucie’s sisters house and greedily pocketed fallen walnuts off a tree (yes, we behaved like citizens of a third-world country). We gorged on sugar-crepes made by Lucie’s charming cousin and charmed her into giving us more by highly appreciating her culinary skills. We stared awestruck at some of the most exquisite houses along Pays Basque (Basque Country) and even made an illegal (for me) drive into San Sebastian in Spain.

In short, this is what our road trip looked like (with Cestas being the home base)

  • Day 1: Cestas – Bordeaux – Cestas
  • Day 2: Cestas – Archachon – Lanton – La Teste de Buch – Cestas
  • Day 3: Cestas – Saint Sebastian – Saint Jean de Luz – Bayonne/Biarritz – Cestas
  • Day 4: Cestas – Saint Emilion – Sarlat – Perigueux – Cestas
  • Day 5: Cestas – Pauillac – Andernos les bains – Cap ferret – Cestas

Merci encore Lucie & Christian et votre famille. You gave us the first positive glimpse of french hospitality and an interesting insight into french family life!

2 days in Montpellier

In hindsight, Montpellier could have been better than we made it out to be. Having had such a brilliant 5 days at Cestas coupled with all the hype of moving towards the Mediterranean Coast – the place ‘to be’ – this little town dampened our spirits in the first afternoon we were there. Lack of vegetarian food worsened it. We starved and sulked for a while and when dusk arrived, a couple of drinks followed by dining at a nice inexpensive tapas bistro with a customised menu just for us, ended the evening on a high note.

After a hectic week, two lazy sisters decided to go the lazy way out, bought a day-pass for the tram and spent most of the next day moving from Point A to B across the lines till we got tired of the city and its graffiti-laced walls. In a last desperate attempt to do something more meaningful, we took a bus to the beach (we were here to see the Mediterranean coast after all, weren’t we?) and spent a couple of hours looking at blue waters and sun-tanned women with their Chihuahuas.

Till it was time to head back, get on to the TGV and return to good ol’ Stras.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2011 in France

 

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