It’s truly said by David Mitchell, the British writer, “Travel far enough, you meet yourself.”
I think that travel is one of the most effective and healthies addictions one should have which helps individuals in rejuvenating self, uplifting maturity and building right perceptions of many life-aspects.
Europe tops in my list of the most favourite travel destinations and our 2017 family trip to western Europe was a quick surprise plan! (Good learnings on quick or no planned trip too which I will share later.)
A part of western Europe – It’s almost everyone’s favourite travel destination and numerous valuable details available on internet and books in today’s world but this blog is a brief of what my eyes saw and translated as observations!
Our first destination was Italy.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, Fashion, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Pizza, Pasta and Gelato are just too less to describe Italy! If you want to know Italy more, read the history, the current affairs and then witness this incredible country! The word ‘Roman Empire’ heard casually since childhood adds the adverb ‘Wow and magnificent!!’ when you step in there!
As we had some free time after reaching at the hotel from Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino airport Rome, we decided to explore the city by taking local metro train. We just wanted to roam around in Rome and explore local streets, people, language, food and places before we begin our scheduled tour the other day. We faced language problems as we wanted to take our train back to our hotel but could manage it in some while. It even took longer in finding the cab in-spite of waiting at the right taxi stand!
But we were left flattered by the first view of Colosseum we saw immediately after we stepped out from Colessio train station! What a magnificent structure! The largest oval shape amphitheatre ever built with the capacity to accommodate around 80,000 spectators who were entertained mainly by Gladiators during Roman Empire. A lot of preservation work was going on to maintain the original building which is appreciable. But at the same time, it disappointed us in taking a perfect picture with whole colosseum view. Other marvellous architectures we visited the next day were Arch of Constantine, Roman Forum, Trevi Fountain, Castel Sant’Angelo, Victor Emmanuel II monument and Pizza del Popolo, Santa Maria church.
Our next destination was World’s smallest country, state and city – The Vatican City located within Rome. This 44-hector area region with 1000 people population is being governed by the Pope – the world leader of Catholic churches. Being Vatican City a neutral state, it doesn’t have its own army but for the security of The Pope and local citizens Swiss armed forces are present there in colourful striped uniform providing required protection. St. Peter’s Square is the place from where the Pope addresses on special occasions and events. We could hear more love and respect for the current
Pope from Italian people. St. Peter’s Basilica (the burial site of Saint Peter, Jesus Christ’s Apostle and the first pope) is the largest church in the world. This is an amazing place with gorgeous sculptures like Michelangelo’s Pieta, Maderno’s nave, Bronze canopy Bernini’s baldacchino and sculptures of other saints created by different sculptors that makes you speechless! Sistine chapel and Stanze di Raffaello along with the most important Vatican Museums. We felt leftover to miss them and so you make sure you make those visits! Spending a couple of days’ minimum is required to glance the massive culture, architecture and collection established over centuries.
At around 330 kilometres distance, it’s of course not to be missed The Leaning tower of Pisa or the Bell Tower, Pisa Cathedral and the Pisa Baptistery at the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of miracles) in the city of Pisa, Tuscany. The tower at the time of 1st construction (build during 3 different constructions) began tilting as was supported by just 3-meter foundation and wobbly soil. It was then on-hold almost for a century and by that time the soil around it was almost settled giving a strong base to tower. And that is how the world received the amazing structure of the leaning tower of Pisa! The leaning tower is shorter in height than I imagined but just perfect to impress me with white marble quality and artwork, history of its origin and the aura the entire place has! There are lots of street shops of local food, souvenirs and other unbranded stuffs. Try to bargain with souvenir shoppers; I did that being an Amdavadi and that worked well!
Florence (Firenze), at road travel distance of 87 kilometres, was the point where I reassured myself to travel on my own without pre-planned standard places and schedules. If the city is visited to witness Florence Cathedral, Piazza della Signoria, Piazzale Michelangelo, Santa Maria Basilica, San Marco Square, Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Repubblica and other Piazzale (meaning large square in Italian), no doubt you are going to be speechless by the work, beauty and preservation of the culture, But there are other important things also to notice. Florence was founded as a settlement for allotting lands to former soldiers and was the capital of Tuscia (historical region of Italy) in 3rd century. Florence is surrounded by Apennines mountains all around and this limits extension of the city further. It is one of the most noticeable city due to the importance in cultural, economic, political and artistic areas. You can read about Leonardo de Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, Giovanni Boccaccio, Pietro Cimabue, Enrico Fermi and others about their high contribution in making Florence What It Is Today! Especially try to visit Academia Gallery (the place where the original marble master-piece of Michelangelo’s David is placed for higher protection, the replica carved by Giuseppe Poggi in 1869 is placed at Piazzale Michelangelo), Uffizi Gallery museums and yes, there are others too to understand and fall in much deeper love with this place! There are painters painting and selling paintings on the walkway of Pizzale Michelangelo. But yes, precious things cost higher! Florence – The city where culture, art, architecture and monuments together forms incompatible greatness. The feeling is like two best friends – the more time you spend with each other, you will keep falling in deeper love!
Blend of rich heritage indulged by greatest mankind and nature’s wealthiest blessings flowing through Gondolas – This is the definition of Venice (Venezia) in my eyes.
The views coming across our way to Grand Canal through the cruise was enough hint that Venice is going to steal our hearts! Cruise dropped us and we started walking from San Polo to San Marco sestiere. It was surely a crowded place. This is because of the summer, Venice among world’s favourite tourist destinations and having lovely places like Rialto Bridge! The only thing I didn’t like was the long wait for photography at the bridge here due to overcrowd! But admiring the view of colourful streets in water behind the bridge was another dream of ours coming true so it was a great feeling! The city of 118 island with artistic bridges joining the canals, locals living their lives on water and tourists enjoying the city on water, gorgeous structures of St. Mark’s Square, St. Mark’s Basilica, glass work of Murano were worth capturing in eyes for as permanent storage!
Thought at first, we thought 80 Euros Gondolas ride cost was little higher but didn’t want to miss another most important part of Venice so decided to go for it. Parents and a child from Peru accompanied us. Interior streets, different coloured mansions with beautiful multicolour spring flowers like Petunia, Lily, Daisy were looking pretty! Not only bakeries, pizza and wine shops but it was a different experience seeing fruits and grocery shops too in water! Moments when Gondolas were flowing from water and sunshine was kissing us chasing those tall colourful buildings was just adorable! The only think out of my expectations was that the water was not that clean and fresh but why to care with all other wonderful sights we were witnessing! The perfect song that murmured during our Gondola rides was ‘Do lafzon ki hai dil ki kahaani…’
Italy – The country with so many destinations ranked as world’s most photographed places in the world; Rome, Florence and Venice (Rialto Bridge)!
Few things are so casually accepted in our daily lives – Italian furniture, Italian marble, Italian artefacts, Italian Paintings or Italian Art, Italian Fashion, Italian Cars, Italic fonts, Italian Food etc. When you visit Italy, you are super convinced that Italy is different and these demarcations are more than the word ‘deserving’! As I just mentioned ‘food’ – you should never miss Pizza, Pasta, Ravioli, Risotto, Galego, Tiramisu, Olives and Italian Coffee during your stay there!!
Another catchy point is the Italian accent! The sharpness, aggression and expressions are distinguishers than American or British accents! My son mimics Italian accents even after a month of our visit and it’s a great fun listening him!
It was time to leave Italy and travel towards Innsbruck, Austria. Another dream destinations of mine (Hazaaron khwahishen aisi…) Inns – The river Inns and Bruck – Translated as Bridge in German; The City over the river Inns. Innsbruck is a valley located between Alps (and so the city is also called ‘Alpine City’) in North and South and those views of Alps first in lifetime are again permanently stored in vision bank! The country has large number of tunnels constructed which makes travels through Alps smoother. It was a short visit and we had to miss so many place here like Tyrolean Folk Art Museum and the folk show, Ambras Castle, Seefeld in Tirol, etc. but walking around the old town and seeing the cathedral, Golden Dachl (Roof), one of the oldest hotels in the history Goldner Adler since 1390, the wedding cake style mansion, stylish outdoor cafes, artistic big hangings with pots and building details among few of them gold plated was a glorifying experience. Now could understand the other name of Innsbruck ‘City of Culture’ was very relevant. If you want to get lost in Nature and want to spend time with You; This Is The Place.
Fresh air, clean roads, freely flowing water, greeting people, alpine brown golden cows and cow-bells serving melodious music when they are grassing in green meadows, rich heritage and outstanding architecture, all sheltered by heavenly Alps – After enjoying all these in Innsbruck the question came to my mind was how come Hitler became such a dictator and an initiator of World War II when he took birth in such a beautiful country!
We left for Germany Black Forests with the wish still to be accomplished in more personalized way and explore different Austrian cities Vienna and Salzburg soon.
Journey is beautiful than the destination! The roads, symmetry in buildings across miles at both the sides that gives the perfect infrastructure look, flowering on the walls of beautiful houses and office buildings, fresh landscaping and farming, perfection in every smaller element! I enjoyed Germany roads more than any other roads of the world. Not sure if this was because the weather was gorgeous or I was more relaxed being in perfect vacation mood with family. And during this journey, it takes not more than a second to get convinced that the German engineering is the world best engineering in terms sturdiness, sharpness and perfection!
Another thing that caught my mind was the maturity of governing people. We were thinking if East Germany and West Germany formed in 1945 at the end of 2nd world war can be reunited in 1990 as a single nation Germany, why can’t North Korea-South Korea, India-Pakistan, Palestine-Israel others be united! World is not wise enough to take such one rarest examples and create bushes of love and care everywhere!
Black Forest – the widely-scattered forest mountain range in Rhine valley was at its peak greenery due to pleasanter summer. So that is one view that we could see. Two are remaining still – the colourful spring view and white Christmas view! Craftsmanship at the Cuckoo clock factory was worth appreciating. While we were taking demonstration of Cuckoo clocks manufacturing, I recalled this statement I heard somewhere: ‘So many countries have started believing in use and throw culture, while Germans believe in life time use culture!’
The only disappointment was the Black Forest Cake which a cake lover like me didn’t enjoy!
Now Swiss time was about to start. We crossed Swiss border through Sierentz and Saint-Louis for our first stay at Basel. Honesty, the surroundings on the roads completely failed to give us the feeling that we were entering in a country named Switzerland! We were on our way to Basel for our 1st night stay at Switzerland and so far, the only fact about Basel that I already knew and admired was that the Swiss legendry Roger Federer was from Basel and my eyes continued exploring. But let me quickly tell you before I face anger of readers out here that my perception got changed 180o degrees from the very next day only.
Switzerland is much more beautiful than the word ‘Beautiful’!
Out of 26 cantons (states) Switzerland has; we could visit Basel, Bern, Lucerne, Schaffhausen, Obwalden, Zürich and all of them holds heavenly beauty! The peace, neutrality, originality and quality can be felt in Swiss air. Holding the tradition of neutrality, Switzerland voted against European Union in 2001 and so currently not the part of it. Other examples of country’s values are Red Cross and Geneva peace talks. The conservativeness and discipline is also another behaviour that gets noticed. One of the reasons could be the rule of compulsory military service for every male and majority of female also undergoing this training in their young age. Somehow, I am a strong believer since my teenage that honest and up-to-the-mark military training must be a mandatory semester in every graduation stream’s curriculum in India. This has so many direct and indirect benefits and we could see reflections of this in Switzerland.
Switzerland is the place where destinations are equally beautiful as roads.
The force of water at Rhine falls in Schaffhausen wets you and your camera lenses giving a fully recharged sprinkling! And when you are back from this beautiful experience, having Mumbai vadapav and Indian masala chai doubles that freshness! Though I found 8 and 3.5 Swiss frank vadapav and tea expensive but my husband could easily convince me that with of 2.5 Euros for 700ml drinking water, vadapav and tea with Indian flavour are reasonable!
We reached Interlaken and met The Switzerland (that we have been seeing in Bollywood movies) for the 1st time. We were seeing those white and green Alps, rarely seen clean, fresh, blue water in Thun and Brienz lakes and breathing that cold (Yes! Cold in-spite of summer!) breeze! Switzerland which is very well known to us through Indian Cinema and Yash Chopra was even more beautiful in experiencing! I found Internaken dearer to Bollywood than other cities of Switzerland. Yash Chopra has been awarded as honorary ambassador of Interlaken and there is also a statue of Yash Chopra with video camera and reel on camera-stand. The Jungfrau railway has also named a train on his name. The DDLJ flower scene where Shah Rukh Khan sprinkles water through red rose spout on Kajol was filmed in one of the landscapes at Interlaken. The place was looking much more beautiful than was looking in the movie! And this was mostly true for all almost all the spots. And why not – that feeling of warmth and coolness together can only be felt when you experience that nature, that breeze, that grass, that due, that snow and that water!
After Interlaken, train ride from Grindelwald train station to Jungfraujoch was chilling, snowy and freezing! Jungfraujoch is at the height of 3454 meters which was our visit. We were talking about Kashmir while we were there and the differences we found were the planning, infrastructure, foresight and easily available food and necessities. Kashmir is not less beautiful in terms of nature’s gift to us but the infrastructure development and maintenance is what makes the huge difference. And yes, don’t want to talk about the loss due to terrorism in Kashmir here, which is one of the most unfortunate realities India is dealing with. Observation deck, ice palace, different ice games and Lindt chocolate shops are surely the assets! I was seeing snow, snow and snow all around till my eyes could see and for the first time I was seeing this much ice. With millions of reasons to appreciate God’s creations, that day I discovered one more reason.
After, Jungfraujoch, another enjoyment was Mount Titles. Due to lesser height of around 3000 meters’ higher oxygen than Jungfraujoch and so much relaxed. Cable car journey was also beautiful! It was pleasure seeing the green land at Engelberg we were leaving down as the cable car was lifting us higher towards Mount Titlis. Entire landscape with fresh green grass was looking beautiful! Alpine cows in golden-brown and white colour were grazing and walking and their movements were generating beautiful sound from cow-bells! The surroundings looked heavenly! As we approached heights, green grass gradually converted into complete white Alps! The freshness of soft snow all around and by God’s grace sunny weather on that day allowed us having a lot of fun there! We will remember Mount Titlis as one of the most amazing snow fun time for the 1st time together as family! Oh yes! And how can I forget Shah Rukh Khan – Kajol cut out of ‘Mahendi laga ke rakhna’ song! It was all India at the top and everyone wanted to click pictures there! While coming down to Engelberg I was again thinking, if Switzerland is having one of the 1st 360o degree rotating cable car and dozens of ice games, why can’t Himalayas have such? But yes, the answer has many painful reasons and I don’t want to pen-down them here now.
Lucerne – an urban city in central Switzerland on the shores of Lucerne lake is little far from snows and I would admire more for its architecture like Chapel Bridge, Crying Lion Monument and shopping streets for watches, chocolates, purses, souvenirs and many more to buy and colourful gelatos, ice creams French macarons to enjoy right there!
We spent time on Grendel strasse (road) for shopping variety of branded stuffs and souvenir shops available here. Too many good stores for watches, purses, cloths, knifes and many more. Specially I liked Casagrande for chocolates and souvenirs and Bachmann for chocolates, Ice Creams and bakery products. Branded shops just don’t like the word ‘Duplicate’! I questioned the shopkeeper at a purse store to check it was not 1st or 2nd copy of the original brand and she was unhappy with my question! Her answer was “There is everything original in Switzerland!” Bachmann also has very good quality ice creams, Gelato too! They shouldn’t be missed!
Now it was a time of long road travel to Paris. We reached Paris around 5 PM local time and the initial impression was not at all special just like Switzerland. But again, we were wrong. Paris is divided into peripheries and outer suburb peripheries are much more behind in terms of growth (which according to reports have started changing since 2016 under an initiative in action) but the main city on both sides Seine river is something I will not able to put in words. You will have to visit this place to understand grandeur of it!
If Brexit is successful in having Britain out of European Union, Paris will become 1st largest metropolitan area in EU with one-fifth of France population staying in this city. With 2 international airports, Charles de Gaulle airport is the second busiest airport in Europe after London. Public rain transport through Paris Metro Subway is also used by over 5 million passengers which is also ranked 2nd in EU after Moscow Metro! The Style, The Fashion and The Attitude are very evident at metro stations and trains too! Eiffel, Fashion, Art, Museums, Wine, Food, French Cheese, Renault, Peugeot, Citroen and Landmarks are synonyms of Paris. You can witness them much more than what you have known so far when you breath in Parisian air! I have always admired London the most with my limited travel experience but my Paris visit have created the confusion of which one to rate higher in terms of Architecture, Heritage and Fashion! Yes, in terms of opportunities and discipline London should be rated higher. But its sure-thing that I need to make another London visit to clear my views!
Hotel rooms were much smaller and that reminded me Mumbai and New York hotels. After getting fresh, we went for Paris cruise on the River Seine and Illumination Tour or Paris. The experience of Illumination tour was The Best experiences of the entire tour! The magnificent architectures Notre-Dame de Paris, Museum Louver (world’s largest and third most visited museums where Mona Lisa painting and other key 38,000 objects exhibited), Dome of Conciergerie, The Bridge The Pont de Carrousel, Musée d’Orsay and last but not the least Eiffel Tower are much beyond the word ‘Impressive’ and what we could imagine them through pictures and TV shows! The giant, sharp, quality Architecture, the Proud Heritage that is precisely protected with great care and administration, Perfect colour combination of soothing shining Light Glares with Building colours is A Life Time Experience not to be missed! Eiffel Tower Sparkling Light Show for 5 minutes at every half hour also The Unique One!
If you want to see all these buildings again by experiencing and admiring The History and The Present from a different angle that night view; walking on a sunny day on the bank of the river Seine is must! One more noticeable thing was multiple green boxes in a row on right and left bank of the Seine selling second hand books of all kinds and antiquarians, souvenirs and posters. There are 900 such bookstalls parked here before 500 years approx. They are declared as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Our next visit was on top of The Eiffel Tower – another dream came true by Almighty’s blessings. The most visited monument in the world designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel and his company in 1889. Alexandre Eiffel also contributed in building The Statue of Liberty which was constructed in France and shipped and dedicated to America. The 324 meters tall tower holds 7,300 tons of wrought iron with total weight of 10,000+ tons including lifts, shops, illumination lamps, sparkling lights etc. View from the top is undoubtedly stunning! Entire Paris view from Eiffel Tower is undoubtedly awesome! The symmetry of buildings matching with rich cultural architecture is easily noticeable and highly adorable. The only building looks odd and France also accepts as its mistake is the black coloured tall Tour Maine-Montparnasse building.
Instead of taking lifts for coming down we took stairs from 2nd level and we liked that more as could see different wonderful views from different directions. Also, could more closely observe the precision and craftsmanship in the engineering and electrical works.
An incident at The Eiffel Tower was A Life Time Experience and a Big Learning that I am quoting in few words. While walking on the road after The Eiffel visit, I realized that my camera bag was misplaced somewhere in The Tower. We were told that we would need to buy new tickets, stand in long queue again and then we will able to go and search our bag. We requested at the exit gate and the security informed us to talk at the entrance and they would allow us. This is what happened as well and we obviously had to pass through the entire airport like security again to enter the elevators going on top of The Tower. A security person scanned our old tickets which were no longer valid as the time slot was over, after listening to our concern, she was kind enough to accompany us to Level 1. She informed us that there was one bag found on Level 1 and if it’s ours only, things were all set! We were thankful for her cooperation and were waiting for the elevator to take us to Level 1 as many visitors were already waiting for the elevator. Meanwhile elevators stopped functioning due to some technical reason and they announced that visitors could get their tickets back. They were trying to have them operational within 15 minutes but couldn’t confirm. We were taken on Level 1 in a special elevator operated for the staff and to our shock when we came out on Level 1 the entire Level 1 was evacuated with the entire control taken over by the Police and security officials. They guided me and my husband in different sections of the Level, examined us and our bag minutely, checked our passports and then explained the gravity of the situation considering multiple attacks in Paris in recent past. Now we realised the reason of the elevators stopped and The Tower being evacuated!! We felt very sorry for this silly mistake that concerned security staff and also appreciated their level of alertness. They greeted us for a joyful trip when we were leaving The Tower. This was a lesson learnt that a small mistake can create big difficulties for yourself and authorities! We will never miss this experience and learning!
Another lovely day was the visit to Paris Disneyland at Marne-la-Vallée, 32 kilometres from central Paris. It’s so lovely to go back to childhood again! And Paris Disneyland was The Place for that! Those exciting rides which I considered scary became the most enjoyable ones. Disney Parade was beyond my imagination. The sweetness, charm, joy and liveliness seen on each character making the Parade was splendid! I doubt anything better than Disney Parade is to remember and cherish childhood fairy tale stories and their characters! So many expressions and feelings experienced here – excitement, laughter, screaming, laughing, unconditionally and fearlessly expressing feelings, dealing with ups and downs with the same level of excitement and positivity, teasing, distributing unconditional love with great innocent smiles on face, re-living the life of an innocent child who without hesitation expresses feeling! Just Wow! We were not very sure to visit Disneyland but so good we didn’t miss this one! So now the 2nd visit to Florida or California Disneyland is Final!
Now it was the time for some duty-free shopping with bags loaded with Swiss Chocolates and French Cheese, go home, unpack bags, get ready for routines and cherish wonderful European Delights. One more exploration comes to an end with bucket full of lovely memories, amazing experiences and beautiful learnings!
As I strongly believe that The Best way to Know Yourself, your Loved Ones, Know The World, Know Positivity and Perception In Every Land and Every People – Keep Travelling!