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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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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 crêperies.

We visited the Louvre (Bless the french education ministry for little benefits like free entry), the Sacré-Cœur and the colourful and bustling Montmartre market (note to self: repeat visit next time). We walked down Champs-Élysée 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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The final countdown

3 days to go as I write this!

And what a ‘last 3 weeks’ it has been! Making sure everything is in order – getting the visa, translated birth certificates, insurance, forex card and what-not on time especially being the last-minute latifa that I am. Going by past history of ‘packing-stress cum phobia’, this time I am almost done with it a week in advance – and I don’t believe it!!

In normal circumstances I consider myself a smart packer  if I may say so, i.e. I can make do with minimal clothes, avoid the usual pickles, masalas and ready-to-eat mixes so famously carried by indians overseas. But REALLY TELL ME HOW one fits 7 months of living in a foreign country, into a 23+12 kg baggage??

Ok, so even if you cant tell me, fine. Luckily for me, my cousin sis is coming to France for Toussaint vacation next month and the third black bag you see, is going to be passed on to her through the husband. Yoohoo!

So thats that. Super excited about the next 7 months and all that I will learn and discover. Oh, and teach ofcourse 😉

Au revoir, till we meet again en France!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in Reawakening

 

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