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Monthly Archives: May 2012

Cycling, Couchsurfing & Copenhagen

The idea was to discover a cheap way to get to Berlin and return en route Prague or Munich if possible. But while tinkering on the Easyjet site, I stumbled upon an inexpensive fare from Basel (the airport nearest to Strasbourg) to Copenhagen and an even cheaper fare from there to Berlin! So was just that an incentive to go to Copenhagen? Nope. It also gave me an opportunity to finally meet my Danish e-friend, Bitten!

So tickets are booked and I am revelling at the amazing deal and how I’d get to see a Scandinavian country that wasn’t even on my travel plan. And then I start looking at hostels.

Mild cardiac arrest. ‘Penny wise Pound foolish’, as the saying goes.

Guilt of having done business and economic studies and not  realised that Denmark is a country with one of the highest standards of living. Which means everything is freakin’ expensive. Which simply put in monetary terms mean 1 Danish Krona = 7 Euros = 450 Indian Rupees.

Good heavenly mother of God, to borrow a wise-mans phrase.

2 days to go before the trip begins and not yet found a place to stay. But why fear when Couchsurfing’s here! And thus, I had my second experience of staying with a local, once again awesome!

I stayed with a Polish-Danish couple for 3 days in Copenhagen. While I slept on a make-shift bed in their living room and showered in the tiniest bathroom ever – it just about fit me in (the couple were much thinner) – it was a refreshing experience nevertheless and one I couldn’t have possibly had in a hostel or in a 5-star hotel. Agniezka (make sure you pronounce that ‘Ag-nee-edge-kah’) the Polish girl warmly welcomed me, chattered non-stop and her Danish boyfriend William who was travelling when I arrived, joined us a day later and together, they gave a complete insight on Danish & Polish culture – both of which I knew nothing about. Ag even lent me her ‘cycle’ (bike as they all call it) and what an experience it was being part of Copenhagen’s much touted eco-friendly transport system! Never in my life would I have imagined cycling in Copenhagen at 11.30 pm and returning home. Completely safe!

On the afternoon of Day 2, we set out to meet Bitten and her family. I had exchanged a few mails earlier with her and all of a sudden I was about to have lunch at her place – and what a lunch it was! She whipped up an impressive meal combining Indian and Danish cuisine. Raw banana fritters, spinach cheese pie, aubergine tomato pie, brown rice and  black lentils (dal) flavoured with mango-chutney – and all of them washed with red wine! She and her husband then took us to the city centre and showed us some of Copenhangen’s landmarks including the beautiful harbour and the next day, we went to a grand park that was later marred by a heavy bout of rainfall. Unfortunate, but gave us the opportunity to devour a nice dessert at a nearby café!

Mange tak, Bitten & Agniezka – truly loved every moment spent with you & your family!

My 2 cents:

Copenhagen may not be on top of my ‘must-travel’ list. But there’s so much about the city and its way of living that I admire. And the two wheeled wonders ofcourse. Forget Amsterdam, if you want the pleasure of cycling side-by-side with an executive head of a Danish company on his/her way to work, you are in the right place.

 
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Posted by on May 14, 2012 in Denmark

 

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Dankeschön Deutschland!

The surprise package of my travel experience has been Germany. And Germans in general.

We all grow with certain perceptions of people, places and things. And stereotype them. So one such stereotype I had was Germans being a cold and unfriendly race and German, a ‘harsh’ language – quite an extreme from French, Spanish and Italian – the romance languages I am more aware of. Another one was a Germany that had only meat and potato stalls for food!

With the germans

And then I met Christina. My first German friend who broke the first myth. Who proved that you can eat a lot and exercise, thereby keeping the stomach and the body happy. But I digress. While I still think German is not the best sounding language, she got me curious and amused. I used to love listening to her and Nils, my other german friend talk though I understood nothing. However, it is interesting to note that it has words similar to English and might not be so hard to learn, after all. Oh, and I expanded my German vocabulary, not all of them decent of course 🙂

Nils, who looked as german as a German possibly could, turned out to be a lot of fun and more importantly, a great cook. The the mouth-watering sans-meat Spätzle he made for a group of us is personally one of the highlights in our weekly Tuesday dinners.

Strasbourg is just a couple of kilometres away from Kehl – the little German town across the river Rhine. While it is almost non-existential, it means a great deal for the Strasbourgeois who do a lot of shopping (groceries and otherwise) since they are much much cheaper there! I too, saved a few precious euros there.

The potent Gluhwein (Mulled wine) to get by cold german winters

Gegenbach– a little village in which reside the ‘young’ grandparents of Chris. The first visit was a tour of the village early November, where I had some yummy wine and cake at their beautiful home. The second one was later in February to see the ‘acclaimed’ yearly carnival where all of a sudden, the quiet village suddenly sprung to life!

Then came Weisbaden, the historic spa-town close to Frankfurt. This was the base for New Year’s day for the husband and I, thanks to his hospitable (ex)boss. A home-made gourmet lunch made by Pedra, his charming wife, and later a long walk across the city centre with a free tour of the historic spots.

This was followed by a rainy day in Heidelberg visiting its famous castle and walking through the streets filled with university students. Walking always leads to hunger and soon I was in a small Döner kebab joint that served an amazingly yummilicious falafel. The best of the many falafels I ate later on. Yes, vegetarian. That broke the second myth.

When the sun shone

Stuttgart was a bit of a disappointment, a dull city on a rainy day also hampered by a severe winter flu! And looking at tons of Mercedes Benz’ whizzing past us (like they were Maruti 800’s) only made matters worse!

Mannheim had to be visited. Arch – an old school friend I met after years, which obviously meant good moments relived and some great indian home-cooked food. A long drive along the River Rhine dotted with tons of castles and Lorelei, a place where the sun showed some mercy and gave 10 minutes of a much-appreciated panoramic view of the river and the row of sun-washed coloured houses alongside.

East side gallery

Lastly, a city I wanted to go just because it was called Berlin. Nain, I had no valid interest to go there, but how could you stay so close to Germany and return without seeing Berlin and its inglorious past. And so Berlin, I went – the last city in my European voyage. Did I like it? Lets just say that if I were asked to pick one big city to work and settle in Europe, it just might be Berlin. I really cant find a logic to that answer. I tried. No, please don’t blame it on the beer.

And so here’s a toast to Germany and my German friends – PROST!

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Germany

 

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