Sunday, March 27, 2005

My trip toEurope - Part 3

We reached Paris at around 9:30 PM and things were fine till we came out of the metro station. The place was totally deserted and we were the only ones walking (running!) with baggage. To make matters worse, a hotel employee (of a hotel which we entered incorrectly) warned us to be very careful with our baggage and mentioned that "pick-pockets" are very common. Without any adventurous moments (like in Brussels!) , we reached our hotel safely only to find that our room was really small. We were forewarned that rooms will be very small in Paris but I guess I wasn't prepared!

The next morning we went to Notre Dame and climbed through its winding narrow staircase (huffing and puffing, of course) to reach the roof. The views from the top were spectacular. Our next stop was the world famous Louvre museum. Like most tourists to Louvre, we went straight to see Da Vinci's Mona Lisa. After that, it was just mostly sculptures (without heads) and paintings. So after 2 hours of trying to spend some time in Louvre (for the uninitiated, it normally takes a couple of days to just visit all the galleries, much less appreciate it), we left for Arch-de-Triomphe, a tower ordered to be built by Napoleon in honor of the victories of the French army. We climbed some 50 meters (stairs again :-(), to get glimpses of Paris by night and it was worth the climb.

Eiffel tower was our first stop the next morning. Though it is an imposing structure, I did not find it attractive and I could understand why Parisians hated it so much initially. The view from the top was very similar to the ones we had just a day earlier (after all, we were seeing the same city!) but from a much higher elevation.

We then went to Palace of Versailles, a good 60 minutes away from Paris. It is from this palace that the queen of France, Marie Antoinette was forced out during the French revolution. Later the same day, we did some window shopping (again!) on Champ-de-Elysses, one of the famous shopping districts in Paris.

Before we knew, it was 27th Feb and guess what that means... time to pack our bags and bid adieu to Paris and Europe. The only interesting piece on my journey back was the security over kill at Charles-de-Gaulle. I had to answer more questions about my job than I had to when I got my Visa in Chennai!! After an uneventful 10 hour flight, we landed in Chicago and I felt safe for the first time in days. That essentially sums up my trip to Europe.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

My trip to Europe - Part 2

We arrived in Brussels at around 10:30 PM and I was searching for my friend (who lives in Antwerp, Belgium) when a person spat on my back and tried to forcefully remove my bag. It was quite a welcome to mainland Europe! Thankfully we managed to keep ourselves and our belongings safe till my friend arrived.

The next morning, well afternoon, we went to Amsterdam. It's a quaint little place with canals running through the entire city. We were struggling to find directions to Van Gogh museum and when we thought we were totally lost, I just looked outside my window exasperated and there it was! We also visited the famous red light district but were pretty scared (the place was shady, to say the least). We then just walked around the city centre and that was pretty much it.

Our next stop was Brussels and I would say it is one of the worst tourist spots. There is not much to see in Brussels except for the tons of mouth watering chocolates displayed at every street corner. After some chocolate purchases, it was time to catch our over night train to Zurich.

Zurich is a small town with a well connected tram system. Like most tourists, we window shopped in Bahnof Strasse (probably the most famous street for high end shopping in the world) and took an hour long lake cruise. The scenery was beautiful at first but I got tired of seeing snow covered mountains every where. From what I have read and heard about Zurich, it'll probably be much more beautiful in spring and summer.

We went to Mt. Titlis the next morning. To reach the top (10,000 ft), we had to take 3 different cable cars and the last segment was on a revolving cable car. The views were breath-taking! But the place I enjoyed most was the ice cave. It is very similar to underground caverns but covered with ice. The lighting and music created a truly memorable experience!

We then visited Luzern and Bern the same day and the only notable experience was a walk on an 11th century wooden bridge with paintings. We also had some wonderful Indian food at Bern! Food (any cuisine) is really expensive in Europe, more so in Swiss. So I was very happy to get some Indian food at a comparatively inexpensive place.

The next day, we took the Golden Pass line (a scenic mountain railway route) from Interlaken to Geneva. By now, I was really bored of seeing snow clad mountains! When we arrived at Geneva, it was already 2 PM and we decided to go to UN Headquarters only to find that we would miss our train to Paris if we take the UN tour. We took some photos outside the UN building and went straight to Jet d'Eau, a fountain on Lake Geneva that soars in to the sky to some 425 ft! It was astounding to see a stream of water reach that high.

That concluded our trip to Switzerland and on we went to our last leg of the trip, Paris.

To be contd...


Sunday, March 06, 2005

My trip to Europe - Part 1

This post is totally unrelated to the theme of this blog but I wanted to share with you my experiences in Europe. This is the first of 3 parts. Here we go…

On the morning of Feb 18th, we landed in London and rented a car to visit Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Oxford. Initially it was very difficult for my friend to drive on the left side of the road and the directions were absolutely confusing (for us). We visited Windsor castle first and arrived just in time to see the changing of the guard. It was to put it mildly, a damp squib. The parades we have for Independence day in Chennai by school children are far more synchronized than what I saw there. The castle as such was very good. We saw a large collection of Tipu Sultan's armaments and the state room was magnificent.

We then tried to find our way out of Windsor but just went round and round and ended up at the entrance to the castle every single time. So confusing were the signs! We at last (after nearly 45 mins) found our way out and drove to Stonehenge. I was truly amazed at the sight of this wonderful monument. We were warned that it will be disappointing and probably that lowered our expectations I guess. But to just stand there and think why this structure was ever built was a truly amazing experience. The structure stands amidst rolling green hills and it was a picture perfect sight.

It was already close to 5 PM when we left Stonehenge. Our next stop was the University of Oxford. It was a quaint little town with very narrow roads. Bicycle seemed to be the best form of transportation but we decided to walk. We went around the university trying to find a sign that said Oxford University, ESTD ... but couldn't find one. If you do not know much about Oxford, like me before I visited, Oxford University consists of a group of colleges and that was why we couldn't find any sign board that had Oxford University engraved.

The next day was our planned London city trip. The London metro (Underground as they call it there) took us where ever we wanted to go. It was nice to see signs that had directions to all the important tourist attractions served by that station. I was wondering what a Londoner will do in Chennai!! Probably he'll be smart and take an arranged tour or he'll be just lost!

With due respect to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, the highlight of the day was my visit to Lords. The guard would not allow us to enter the stadium but we peeked inside to catch a glimpse of the green and the pitch from every vantage point and I have to admit that we were not very successful. But being there was in itself very exciting.

We also tried to go to Wimbledon but got down in the wrong station, named Wimbledon! To see AELTC, we should have got down two stops earlier. We didn't have time to go there. In fact, only after much huffing and puffing (we ran!), were we able to catch the last Eurostar train to Brussels. That brought to end our short and exciting 2 day stay in UK.

To be contd...