Italy – Part 3 – Verona

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“There is no world for me outside the walls of Verona, except purgatory, torture, and hell itself. So to be banished from Verona is like being banished from the world, and being banished from the world is death.”

– Shakespeare, Rome and Juliet, Act III, Scene III.

This is a quote engraved on one of the walls in Verona. And this is also the first significant thing I remember seeing, as I walked through the streets of Verona with a map and a suitcase in hand, trying to find the hostel I was booked at. The memories of this city are now fading with time, and I must write them down to preserve them better.

This was February 2015. I have already written the first two parts about Rome and Venice, but somehow completely missed out on Verona.. Maybe I was lazy to pen down all my feelings about Verona, or maybe I thought I shouldn’t ruin the feelings by penning them down, because really, Verona enchanted me and no blogpost can do justice to that enchantment. But let me still try, because I want my favourite city in Europe (till date) to be a part of my travel diaries.

Verona.. Oh Verona! (Shakespeare much!) .. The only reason why I ever wanted to visit Italy was Verona.. and though it sounds stupid to me today, it was because of the movie “Letters to Juliet” that I had watched years ago when I was naive. I do now understand that there is a major difference between movies and real life (actually I still sometimes unbelieve it and slip into dreamland). Of course I didn’t end up finding the love of my life in Verona, like the actress does, but well, I did fall in love with the city!

Verona was different from Rome and Venice. Quite different. The latter being majorly hyped and for that reason, loses its charm when compared to Verona. Though Venice too enchanted me, for the same reason that Verona did.. the “slipping back in time” vibe that it gives. There is something about Italy and its narrow streets, its houses, its architecture, its food, and its people!

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So.. On our 8th day in Italy, we reached Verona via train from Venice. Smooth journey. Bought a map at the train stations, figured out where the hostel was, and started walking towards it. By the time we reached the hostel, we had already seen half of Verona – It was that far! And why we didn’t take a taxi or bus? Because duh! Save money!

After checking in at the hostel, we headed straight to where I had been dying to go ! Juliet’s house ! Even though its not Juliet’s house for real, it looks like something close to what it could have been. And so it has been converted into a monument for Juliet. Apparently, it also has links to the Capulet family. Well, I don’t know how true that is, but thats what they say ! Okay, now I had no idea that the Juliet’s house wasn’t just about Juliet’s balcony, but there was also a museum inside, which had paintings, antiques, and quotes from Romeo & Juliet on display. That was quite a treat for a history buff like me ! And coming to the main point – Yes, people do write their letters to Juliet, and there is a post box where you can put them in. There also a million notes stuck on the wall and of course love locks ! The ghost of Paris is everywhere in Europe ! I am pretty sure they can build an iron bridge with all the love locks hanging everywhere in Europe.

I wouldn’t say I was disappointed with Juliet’s house.. it did have quite a lot of tourists and wasn’t quite like that in the movie, but I was pretty satisfied with the experience – the credits for which go to the museum. I wondered if the letters were answered back though ? The answer to which I found later, when I met a Swedish girl at the hostel who had lived in Verona for quite sometime. She told me that there is indeed a group that writes back, and she herself had worked there. If I had a little more time in Verona, I would definitely have wanted to do it !

That evening, we treated ourselves to a lavish dinner (treat to ourselves for saving the taxi money) at a restaurant in front of the famous arena (which btw is the place where the beginning of Rockstar was shot). That evening, I tasted my favorite wine in the world for the first time – Prosecco – magical Italian white wine. That, and Lasagna. Life was at its best in that moment.

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The Arena where Rockstar (2011) was shot.

The sun in Verona was a breath of fresh air. The next day, we walked around the city and looked for things to do. We knew there was a castle somewhere on a hill, so we just ended up randomly walking towards it. We ended up walking up a hill with a forest full of ruins, and when we reached the top, the view was breathtaking. Verona from above looked gorgeous !

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Hey thats my back!

It was a chill two days in Verona. Went out for drinks with the Swedish girl and her local friends, walking around the city, contemplating by the river, and the like..

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At the end of it all, I was quite happy. I would have liked to stay longer in Verona, but I knew I would come back to this city someday. I had decided. I would come back to Venice and Verona, so I didn’t let disappointment set in, and said see you soon to one of my favourite cities !

Belgium!

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Belgium, a small country to the north of France. Every one who lives in Paris for a study abroad and wishes to travel Europe would 110% visit Belgium, for more than one reasons. The most important ones : Cheap trains/buses from Paris to Brussels. And one million (maybe I’m exaggerating) varieties of beers! Maybe not a million.. but thousand? For sure! Belgian beers are known world wide, and Belgians do love their beers, just like the French do their wine. If not anything else, I’ve definitely learnt a thing or two about wines and beers in Europe. You know, general knowledge that seems to be important when you’re studying abroad in Europe. So, let me not stray from the topic, and get straight back to talking about Belgium, and the two cities I’ve visited till now.. followed by some quick photographs.

It might sound insane, but I’ve taken a train from Paris to Brussels a couple of times already, but I’ve never been outside in the city of Brussels. I mean, yeah technically I have, the metro and a climbing place I recently went to.. But never really the town center. I know thats insane, but I’ll do that soon 😛

So, after getting down from the “izy” Thalys (read Thalys for cheap travels and for people who are lost between France and Belgium and wanting to call both of them their home), I’ve been to two cities till now : Gent and Leuven.
[Quick note, if you don’t know about izy thalys – its the affordable version of Thalys train, takes a little longer than the Thalys, but its a blessing for its extremely affordable!]

About the cities – I absolutely love how cute, tiny (compared to my home country in Europe) and pretty they are. I know these are such dreamy adjectives, but its true! I think Belgian cities have a very relaxed aura to them. For some reason, the air in Belgium is different from that in France. Definitely there are more bars than cafes – well, thats what I’ve noticed. Of course you find bars everywhere in Paris too, but somehow you find more bars than cafes if you walk around in Belgium. Not to forget your nose would be on alert all the time, because DUH! WAFFLES and FRIES! Let me not say French fries, as we know it. But Belgian fries- the original fries.. and ummm, my mouth is watering! THEY ARE DELICIOUS. You have to come and try them. But let me just mention on thing about them, and thats the major point of difference from French fries as we know them.. Belgian fries are not like the thin almost dead McDonalds fries, which are competing with a size zero girl.. Belgian fries are thick and and and and… DELICIOUS!!!!

And what goes best with them? A drink in a beautiful bar, with friendly waiters who happily speak English if you ask them to (unlike in France). Shit, I seem to compare France and Belgium a lot. But I’m stating facts. Belgian waiters > French waiters. Not just the waiters, but everyone there seems to have a decent level of English. Okay I’m not criticizing the French or anything, they have great qualities in their own way, but when it comes to being multilingual, the Belgians win! (I think I need to write a post about three years of my life in France too –  maybe then I could put down in writing my real views about the French culture.)

Well, since I was talking about bars, here is one I would recommend for sure. This one is in Leuven, a small student city, 45 minutes by train from Brussels. The bar is called “De Blauwe Schuit” and is not exactly in the center but very close to it. And, why is it amazing? They have a pet PEACOCK!!! Now thats something different. A bar/restaurant with a pet peacock on their terrace. It absolutely looks like a summer paradise!!! With all the greenery, and the peacock quite literally doing a free show! He is such a show off bird, really. He isn’t scared of so many people sitting around. In fact he knows that everybody loves looking at him, so he’ll show off his feathers happily!!!

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And here’s a photograph for you!

As far as architecture and scenic beauty is concerned, I don’t think I need to compare France and Belgium here.. Both are equally rich in scenic beauty, history, and architecture. But there’s something about Belgium.. something unique.. The few times I’ve visited, I always tried to understand what it was.. In fact, every time I visit a new city, I always try to notice difference from the ones I’ve been to. Almost all the European cities might seem to be rich in culture, history, architecture and scenic beauty, but there is something different about the cities of each country. Maybe I need to walk around Brussels to figure out what it really is.. the capital is of course a must visit. But from what I’ve felt till now, I think its the happy faces and the difference in the lifestyle that makes it different. There’s a relaxing feeling, a happier feeling, a feeling that I never got while walking around in Paris.

 

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Watermael-Boitsfort.

 

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Gent city center.

 

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Me and my friend Yoko who lives in Gent.

 

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On the train from Brussels to Gent.. Probably the most famous coffee shop in Brussels?

 

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Paris is not all that Befikre!

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I’ve been dying to write this review ever since I started watching this movie. Just 10 minutes into the movie, and I knew this was another typical Bollywood movie set to destroy the brains of an easily influenced audience (read teenagers who are learning the language and dreaming about love).

Only a few weeks back I had written a blogpost about how Bollywood movies ruined my life, since I was a huge fan of this genre of movies when I was a teenager. And I’m not surprised that they’re still making bullshit movies like these in 2016, alongside some sensible ones like Queen, The Lunchbox and the like. And here I’m going to make a comparison with Queen the film as well, because they’ve shown Paris too. But not like in Befikre!

First of all, let me tell you that Paris is not all that ‘Befikre’ : ‘Carefree’. No, you don’t see people kissing like that everywhere! The movie starts with a song which is about the lips and people are kissing everywhere. People kiss in public, yes, but not like they’re horny and they don’t have a room. Then, hellooooooooooo? You think you can get away with slapping a cop in public, stealing a mannequin’s underwear, sleeping in a hotel room that’s not yours et crap? If it wasn’t a bollywood movie, Dharam would have paid well for slapping a cop and next time Shyra had said ‘I dare you’, he would have begged her not to. But well, it’s a bollywood movie, and anything can happen in Bollywood movies.

Next : I don’t understand how he managed to get an appartment in a beautiful neighbourhood in Paris when he is only a standup comedian? Do these people have any idea how difficult it is to find an appartment in Paris? Go read the desperate posts on the facebook group of Indians in Paris and you’ll understand how difficult it is to manage roti, kapda aur makaan in this ‘city of love’. So either Dharam is rich as fuck, or the filmmakers are joking with us.

Also, isn’t Shyra born and brought up in Paris? How can her Hindi be better than French then? Her French sounds like she just heard the sentence from someone and babbered it in the next shot, without appropriate expressions or tone. I honestly think she could have done a better job with the French. Ofcourse the Indians wouldn’t notice that because it would sound so exotic, but for those who really know the language and live in France, then hellooooo – they don’t talk like that! Trust me, I’ve heard little Sikh kids in the Gurudwara in Paris (who are actually born and brought up here), and their accent really is French. So that was such a failed attempt by Vaani Kapoor.

Another important thing : It gets cold as fuck in Paris. But for our Bollywood actors, its always sun and bikinis and shorts weather! So either the actors in this film are sleeping through the winter months (because they don’t show that) or the year long skirt weather is a lie. Ofcourse you know the truth!

Apart from that, as I read in another review of the movie, I totally agree that there is no chemistry between the two lead actors. There was no point where you could feel the love between them. Because guess what? There was none. It would have been a better end if they just decided to be friends, because that’s what they were better at. But the whole haath thaamna for shaadi and all in the end just ruined the whole movie. Umm, which is already quite ruined? And not to forget, Dharam doesn’t know how to swin and he jumps with her from a cliff in the end? I am pretty sure he’s dead by now. Tsk tsk. R.I.P Dharam.

If you are an easily influenced teenager (as I was some years ago) and you’re excited about Paris and the beautiful language that is French – then let me tell you that this movie is not what Paris is all about. It may be the city of love and beautiful sights, but unless you’re Ambani’s son, your life isn’t going to be like this here. Nor is mine. This movie is faaaaaar faaaaaar away from the reality of the lives of Indians living here. Sure, there must be some who can afford paying fines to the police, owning expensive cars, and getting married in the countryside, but that must be the reality of only one in hundred of them. So please, if you watch this movie, consider it to be a nightmare and forget it. And if you really wanna watch a movie about Paris, then watch Queen, which gives a more real picture of the whole Indian in Paris scene. You know what I mean. And here I’d also like to mention that Lisa Haydon had done a much better job with the French in Queen than Vaani in Befikre.
Phew, there is still some hope till we have some sensible filmmakers like that of Queen.

When Paris scared the shit out of me .

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Paris sounds all beautiful and dreamy, yes. But it can also be a scary place. As I had not imagined it to be. In India, I’m always asked to be careful with my belongings and also the men who stare. But it was quite stupid of me to think that Paris would be different. I was under the impression that it would be safe, and their won’t be thiefs and rapists walking around in the crowd. But well, somethings about the world you only understand when you’ve been there and done that.

So this incident occoured a few weeks ago, when I was going to a friend’s place around 9 pm. Me and my friend got off La Chapelle station, and as soon as we got out, there were men crowding at the entrance of the station, selling packs of cigarettes. I found that quite wierd actually. People selling cigarettes on the road!
Anyway, I wasn’t really paying attention to much around me since I was kinda low and lost in my head. We were walking towards our friend’s place and apparently these two guys were following us (as my friend later told me). He said that they had been pointing to your legs and passing some comments, but he ignored it, thinking that they must be just checking me out. Well, no, they were not interested in the legs, but the phone that I was carrying in my hand. I wasn’t carrying a bag that day, and my coat didn’t have a big enough pocket and I was wearing a dress, so no pockets, and thus I was carrying my iPhone 6s in my hand. Later I would regret using an expensive phones. Its literally like carrying 800 euros in your hand instead of a small device. Dangerous, dangerous I tell you!

So, well, this is what happened next – We crossed the road and my friend pushed me to the left, since he knew that the guys were behind us. But unfortunately the signal on the left was green, so we couldn’t cross the road and we stood their waiting. Within two second, one of the guys pushed my friend from the left, and said ‘pardon’, and I too looked towards him, trying to listen to what he was saying. Ofcourse all my concentration was on them, and within that moment, that weak moment, when my attention was to something else, the other guy on my right snatched my phone and ran.

It was dark and not many people were there, so nobody really paid attention to what had happened. I didn’t even waste a second in waiting their or telling my friend as to what had happened. I just ran after the guy on that dark empty street. My friend was still standing there, with the stuff he was carrying, not knowing what had happened.

I was running for sometime, not knowing what I was running for. Ofcourse I wouldn’t be able to catch him, I thought to myself. I was no runner. And I wasn’t wearing sports shoes either. I was dressed  up for a party, and I was running behind a thief. And I was shouting in English. Well, when your mind is blank and someone stole your phone, you even forget which country you’re in. But then I saw my friend running after him, and since he’s better at running, he quickly ran past me. Luckily enough, it wasn’t a straight road anymore. It was kind of a perimeter of a garden that we were running along, and suddenly when we got to the other side of the street, it was all lit up. There were people, bars, and lights, and everybody saw that three people were running after each other. And thankfully my friend was in his senses enough to shout in French. ‘Monsieur, s’il vous plait’, ‘Monsieur s’il vous plait’ (Sir, please! Sir, please!). I was quite pissed as to why he was saying please to a thief! But well, that worked!

After running non-stop for quite sometime, the guy stopped, turned back and handed the phone to him, saying ‘C’est bon c’est bon’, ‘its okay, its okay’. That when we realized that there was another crossing ahead. If he ran any longer, a car would have hit him, so he had to stop, otherwise we would have caught him anyway.

I was literally dead after all that running, but when I got back my phone, well, that feeling is inexplicable. Though, I couldn’t get this incident out of my head for daaaays, but I was really proud of myself for not becoming weak in that moment and atleast trying for it. You never know, sometimes the effort is worth it! As they say – God helps those who help themselves!

Well, now I am much more careful when I’m going out in Paris. Always carry a sling bag even if I just have a phone to carry. Always paying attention to who is walking behind me. Not taking out my phone in public if not urgent. Phew, quite a lesson learnt!

Brittany, France

I’m becoming slow in keeping the travel part of my blog updated. And now I already have two trips to write about! Starting with the first one – Brittany (Bretagne in French). This is a region in the West of France, famous for its beaches. I happened to be on this trip because of one of my really good friends (Jason) in Paris, whose mum was staying in this part of France. He was kind enough to invite us to go visit his place for a week, with his sister, who was going to drive us there from Paris. So thats how me and best friend, Shilpa, decided to hop on, with Anais, to Brittany! Girls roadtrip!

Its about a four hour drive from Paris, and its a beautiful drive through the countryside, as in any region of France. Countryside drives are always beautiful anywhere in the world no? All that greenery, fresh air, clouds, blue sky, loud music and stops for coffee on the highway. I love roadtrips! Well, who doesn’t?

So we got to Brittany late Sunday afternoon and had a wonderful lunch at their first house in a small town in the region, I dont remember the name of. Lasagna, with bread and cheese. And some wonderful cakes from a patisserie in town to follow. Very, very French delicious! It was a nice cozy house; very quiet and calm, with two adorable doggies – Framboise and Jippy.

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The first house we stayed at.

In the evening we went out for a walk around the place. Green fields and narrow lanes. Kind of reminded me of Punjab, my ancestor’s hometown in India, where we go almost every year to visit relatives in the villages. Kind of made me think that life away from the city is kind of the same everywhere. Its all about being ‘en pleine nature’ – In the lap of nature. It was so quiet there, we could listen to the wind and the birds. That is one of my favourite kind of moments in life. When you can listen to even your own heart beating inside you, and the air so fresh, you cant help but breathe deep.

The next morning we moved to the main house, which was the one my friend in Paris had wanted us to see. He was really excited to know about our reactions to that place. And indeed, it was something that would have amazed us! A huge house right in the middle of a forest! For a nature lover like me, that was a heaven. That was my dream house! No doubts about that! I could have stayed their forever.

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The second house.

A white cat joined the family now, and we spent the evening cuddling the cat and dogs, while sitting close to the fire and sipping tea, since it was pretty cold. These few days felt like we were back in time, living away from the new age world. As soon as we stepped out, all we could see were green fields and huge trees. Everywhere.

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Fancy tea party by the fire.

We also went out for walks around the forest, learning about different kinds of flowers and trees. Aunty was really fond of picking and smelling the flowers. And I did the same! We discovered a lot of bluebell flowers, which smelled as good as pretty they looked! We also saw a deer running through the forest!!!! That was the first time I had seen something like that in real life, and it was indeed enchanting!

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In the forest with the cat and dogs!

During the day time, we drove into the city to visit the beaches. We went to around 3-4 beaches. And happily it was quite sunny for the first few days! All the beaches were really pretty, my favourite being the first one, which was completely stranded at that time of the day, and where we also climed a hill for a breathtaking view! The colour of the water was absolutely gorgeous! It always looks prettier under the sun!

 

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Me with Framboise and Jippy at the beach.

On our last day there, we went to the most hyped touristy place around that region. The Mont-Saint Michel. Which isnt really in the Brittany region, but in Normandy, which isnt that far. This is an abbey on the top of an island, which looks like a disney castle. I had actually read about it in one of the posts describing “must-visit-fairtytale-places-in-the-world”. And I wouldnt deny the fact that it actually looked like it had come straight out of a fairtytale. We went all the way up, walking through the narrow streets inside, which used to be a village where the monks lived. This was yet another delight for a history lover like me. But not to forget, the climb all the way up was really, really tiring!


We also went to visit one of their family friends in Dinard, which is apparently called the Monaco of Brittany, being an expensive town, and the beach looking similar to the ones there. No doubt the beach was pretty, with a view of Saint-Malo, where we had been right before getting to this town.

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The beach at Dinard.

Saint-Malo is another famous tourist destination. Its a city inside a fortress! Now really, I hadn’t heard about anything like this before. It was quite different and another good dose history. It was drizzling too, so the town looked even prettier, as we walked along the fortress wall. This area was quite touritsty with too many shops and tourists. I dont really like these kind of places, but you do have to tick off the famous places and see what the hype is all about! The town was also full of ice-cream and waffle shops and we had a dose of that in one of the most famous shops there. Chocolate ice-cream + Real hot chococate + Chocolate waffle = Chocogasm and no chocolate for a week atleast! Haha! It was delicious though! 😀

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Saint-Malo : The city inside a fortress, from the top of the fortress wall.

On the last day, we drove around the capital of the region- Rennes, since thats where our bus back to Paris was from! And that was one chilled out spring break vaction!! 😀

Italy – Part Two – Venice

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”I’m in Venice right now, sitting by the water in the sun, And oh Lord, could there be a more magical sight? This is absolutely one of the best places I’ve been to in my life.” , Reads my journal, dated 3rd March 2015.

Our train journey from Rome to Venice was quite an adventure in itself. Apparently, the train fares for Rome to Venice are quite expensive, given that Rome is in the South and Venice in the North. But to save as much as we could, we decided to take the early morning train which had a change in between, and hence costed us less. But not knowing Italian and hence not being able to read the ticket properly, we ended up boarding the wrong train , which was to Venice, but apparently  was a costlier one. So we had to pay a fine which costed us more than what we were trying to save. So with sad and irritated faces, we reached Venice that noon. But as we started walking into the city, the unfortunate event was forgotten and Venice got to us!

We started by figuring out the way to the hostel. I’d always prefer walking to the place so we could make the most of the city on foot and also try to memorize the way on foot, which isn’t such a bad thing to do!

The hostel was pretty cool. Its called the Venice Fish. When I had booked it, I kept wondering why it was called that. But it was only when I checked in and saw the map of Venice on the wall there, I figured out that Venice was infact in the shape of a fish!
This hostel was an abandoned palace turned into a living space. The guy who worked there was an Italian-American and quite a great person to talk to. He showed us around and then we went on our way around Venice, just walking into random streets and admiring the beauty of it

The entrance to the hostel.

The entrance to the hostel.

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There are so many narrow streets with a very different kind of aura to it. Venice was love at first sight for me. It was nothing like any other city I had been to in Europe. But I was having a hard time figuring out what that difference was. And to figure out how, I had to explore it. Every street, every corner. We walked and walked. Sometimes ending up in a church, sometimes in a small garden, sometimes by a lonely corner on one of the million streets, sometimes in a bakery, sometimes on a bridge and more often than not in shops that sold masquerades. Yes, Venice is filled with shops like these. From masks that cost 500 euros to the cheapest ones that cost two euros. And ball gowns and handmade dolls which are again dressed up for masquerade balls.

A Masquerade store.

A Masquerade store.

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A Gondola. Photograph by Melissa.

A Gondola.
Photograph by Melissa.

Every street seems like it’ll lead you to something you’d have never seen before. As if you’ll just turn around and you’ll end up in a different century. You sit by the corner of a street, and you’ll see a boat coming around. A man steps out of it, parks the boat and unlocks the door to his house. A building with a parking lot for boats next to it. Every ten steps you take, and voila, there’s a pretty little bridge.

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Me and Priyanka on a random little bridge.

Me and Priyanka on a random little bridge.

As you keep walking around Venice, you’ll wonder if you’ve seen this part of the city before. Its all kind of similar, and yet so distinct. Every bridge, every street. I couldn’t seem to get enough of it, and we were losing track of time. But soon the sun was about to set, and we had to rush back to the hostel for dinner. These guys there, they arrange for a meal for everyone at a very affordable price. Lots of pasta, lasagna, and Italian wine fresh from the vineyard. As much as you’d want! Ofcourse, I wouldn’t miss that for anything!
After a lovely dinner, the guy at the hostel invited all of us to a pub , and that was one of the craziest pubs ever! There was a live band performing and the place was so full . It seemed like all of Venice had come to that pub that night! It was absolutely out of this world. The feel of the place, the energy, and how it was packed like crazy! And everyone dancing like no tomorrow! You absolutely couldn’t help but dance. The music was that incredible! Even Melissa, my housemate, who doesn’t like dancing at all, was dancing to it! And I, ofcourse, who loves dancing, couldn’t help but reach the heights of madness 😀

After we were tired enough, we headed to another bar, this one exactly the opposite. Less crowded and peaceful. Right by the river, next to a bridge, the night getting colder, and a group of strangers with drinks in their hands, chose to stand outside under the pretty clouded sky, and talk about their countries and lives. Random introductions were made, email ids shared, and cheers! I couldn’t believe I was in Venice, living that moment. It had always been hyped as a ‘honeymoon’ destination back home. But I felt like this was the way to live it. With a group of strangers. Young, wild and free. People who were meant to cross paths in life, in this magical city, on a cold night. Life was definitely at its best then, on that particular night.

The next day we started early, even though we had a late night. We had to make the most of the time we had, now that we were spending approximately not more than two days in each city, unlike Rome. So we started off by visiting Place Saint Marco, which is one of the most beautiful squares in the world. And luckily, it was a very sunny day , unlike the previous one. So we could make the most of it .
I chose to skip away again and spend alone time by the river, writing as usual.

Quoting from my journal :

Venice, 3rd March 2015

”I’m in Venice right now, sitting by the water in the sun, And oh Lord, could there be a more magical sight? This is absolutely one of the best places I’ve been to in my life.
The water looks beautiful. The colour is a mix of green and blue, and the sun is sparkling in it. Its as if the stars have down in the day time. And there are so many birds here, and funnily enough, they are not scared at all! They come flying right in your face. Haha!
Well, its just so beautiful out here by the river!”

By the coast , when I was writing.

By the coast , when I was writing.

Me and a girl I met at the Hostel.

Me and a girl I met at the Hostel.

A cafe in Venice.

A cafe in Venice.

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And again, we walked by the sunny coast, into the pretty streets and shopped for souvenirs. Lost on the way sometimes, but reached back the hostel well in time for dinner.
There were less people in the hostel that night, but it was still memorable. Some of the guys were playing the guitar in the tiny balcony, and we joined in to sing. Did I mention – The hostel balcony looked up a tiny stream and the bridge to the hostel was so pretty that it was kind of tourist attraction in itself. and to top it all, a bunch of crazy young people singing out there, we did become a tourist attraction too, for people stood down there listening to us and clicking photos! And in that moment, as I realized I’d be leaving for Verona tomorrow, it struck me why I was so in love with Venice.

Photograph by Melissa.

Photograph by Melissa.

I had fallen in love with Venice because it seemed so untouched by the 21st century. In every other city, you’d find cars and trucks and bikes blocking your way wherever you’d go. But here, there’s a minimum amount of technology on the streets. You’ll find boats for travelling. You walk in the streets, and you ‘d only come across birds and people. You enter a masquerade store, and you’d feel like you’ve come shopping in a Shakespeare’s play. You sit by the streams, and poetry would come to you, for your mind would be at peace.
When the sun sets, the streets are quiet , and yet the people are making merry in their own little corners. As if in another century, untouched by the hustle bustle of the new age life, making music in a balcony, and singing Riptide.

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PS. All photos taken by me, unless stated otherwise.

Italy – Part One – Rome

Italian and European Union flags. Clicked while exploring the streets.

Italian and European Union flags. Clicked while exploring the streets.

I must have been 19 when I saw the movie ‘Letters to Juliet’ , and since then , I wanted to visit Verona! The way this town has been shown in that movie, I wonder how anyone would have not wanted to visit Verona. Or anywhere in Italy for that matter! And thats exactly how I decided on Italy when I had a two week long winter break in February 2015 while in France for a teaching assistant programme. I was with my British housemate, who was equally keen on Italy.

We found cheap flights for Italy (lucky us!) and thats how we fixed the deal, not knowing where exactly we would be going apart from Rome (thats where our flight was to) and Bergamo (thats where our flight was for going back to Paris) . I knew I HAD to visit Verona if I was in Italy – Thanks to the movie Letters to Juliet. And then, if you’re in Italy, why wouldn’t you go to Venice?  So thats how we decided on it. Rome-Venice-Verona-Bergamo. Four Italian cities in 11 days. One big adventure.

Not knowing Italian was a huge drawback. But I was up for anything. That came as quite a shock to me, because I wouldn’t have expected myself to get into something like this a few years ago. But I knew one thing – I love travelling. So of course, I had to be courageous enough. Maybe thats what gave me the confidence from within.
And this trip was supposed to be my first real adventure (among many others to come, I hope!). I was living in France since a few months already, so I see it more like home, than a travelling trip. But this was supposed to be it! From booking flights to booking hostels and to actually surviving in a country where you don’t know the language.

We had our flight around 8 pm from Paris to Rome, and we reached Rome quite late at night. Thankfully, we had booked a bnb close to the airport and we were also getting a pick up from the airport. (Safest bet when you’re reaching a foreign city late at night) .
It was a huge relief to finally be dropped off safely and reach the bnb room, which was oh so perfect! And then, the next day the real adventure had to start off. Now, not having an internet connection on your phone in a foreign country and hence not having google maps is quite a shitty situation. I know we could have got an Italian number and an internet pack, but who would want to experiment with the language and spend extra money? So ofcourse we decided against it. Moreover, why not try and survive without google maps, like technology deprived human beings from a different era? I was totally up for doing that! And hence , this was the first problem we faced : Third world problems – How to read a map?!
Surprisingly, even though I’d never done that before, I turned out to be quite good at it. (I’d say I must have been a real traveler in my previous lifetime) .. So I was the official map reader for the trip and we started off by walking around, trying to reach the famous monuments on foot.
It all seemed walk-able. So we started off by exploring one part at a time.

My housemate Melissa, in our bnb.

My housemate Melissa, in our bnb.

Day One, we visited a few churches, a garden and walked around random streets. I was completely in love with Italian architecture and garden on the very first day itself. The gardens seemed to be from a different era altogether, specially with those small fountains. Every time I drank from a fountain, I wanted to have been wearing a plain white gown and have my hair done in the old school style with flowers and stuff. (Yes, I’m that much of a romantic, always imagining myself in these historical settings! Hehe .. )

Me, drinking from a fountain in a garden.

Me, drinking from a fountain in a garden.

A Roman Church.

A Roman Church.

Roman architecture .

Roman architecture .

View from the top of somewhere I don't exactly remember the name of.

View from the top of somewhere I don’t exactly remember the name of.

Birds in Rome don't give a shit as to what you're doing. They just pose. Like seriously.

Birds in Rome don’t give a shit as to what you’re doing. They just pose. Like seriously.

Just some Roman steps.

Just some Roman steps.

Roman architecture.

Roman architecture.

Breakfast.

Breakfast.

Rome, classy Rome!

Rome, classy Rome!

Just a another street.

Just a another street.

A garden.

A garden.

It was a nice day, but it ended quite badly because we got on the totally wrong bus and then lost our way back to the bnb. It took us time to figure out the way, but we totally made it, and then treated ourselves to some great Italian Pizza! 😉

First bite of Italian pizza.

First bite of Italian pizza.

Day Two, we started a bit late, but managed to see some amazing things. Rather, I should say, we were at the right place at the right time. We went to an amazing garden. Gardens are always amazing though. But its a different kind of feel everytime. So we walked around these amazing locations, and I wrote a lot of poetry on the way, also writing about how I was feeling exactly at that place.

Me, writing in a garden.

Me, writing in a garden.

I absolutely love gardens and trees!

I absolutely love gardens and trees!

Me, somewhere near Piazza di Spagna.

Me, somewhere near Piazza di Spagna.

The best part about day number two was the sunset. Apparently, we didnt even know that the place we were at was famous for sunset viewing. We were just starting to walk back to the metro station. when we found groups of people nearby, and there was in making, the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen in my life. It would be hard to explain how exactly amazing it was. The feel of that place . . All the happy faces .. The beautiful colours in the sky, as if God himself was sitting up there with a palette, painting the sky, along with the faces of his own children. And then there was an old man right there, playing his piano for everyone, which was kind of very ‘filmy’. It actually feels like being in a movie sometimes – all these European towns – with this amazing music playing in the background.

The enchanting sunset, without filters. And you'd notice the man playing the piano on the left.

The enchanting sunset, without filters. And you’d notice the man playing the piano on the left.

No filters. Sunset.

No filters. Sunset.

And with that, we went back to our bnb, quite content with the day, and excited for the next, for we were to shift to a hostel, right in the center of Rome, close to the Colosseum. And also because one of my Indian friends was going to join us on this trip hereonwards.

Day Three – I was quite excited about the dorm we had booked for the next three days in Rome. This was going to be my first dorm experience. After watching the Bollywood hit ‘Queen’ , anyone would be! Haha 😀
Now this was one heck of a place. I had never experienced a hostel before, so this was quite a good first experience, though there were better ones in store. The owners of this hostel were very kind and welcoming, which made it quite relaxing. They offered some fantastic Italian wine as a welcome drink, and showed us to our dorm.

Dorm room.

Dorm room.

Next, we ventured out again into the city. The mission of the day was to have dinner in a chic Italian restaurant, in that great weather. The weather in Rome came as such a relief because I was literally dying in the cold of Northern France. But here in Rome, the sun was shining, and the evenings were warm too. .. So in search of our ‘chic’ Italian restaurant, we went around walking near the river that passes through the city, and the narrow lanes again, were the restaurants were. We found quite a nice place to have an early dinner at, and the evening passed away with lots of laughter, some great Italian white wine, and pizzas and pastas! Ah the good life!

The original Italian Gelato - Ice cream!

The original Italian Gelato – Ice cream!

Loved this little window-balcony.

Loved this little window-balcony.

The River.

The River.

River Tiber in Rome.

River Tiber in Rome.

Day Four – was all touristy and historical. We started the day with the Colosseum, which is the most famous monument in Rome. It ofcourse amazed me, to see all those ruins, being such a history enthusiast. But I’m sure it isn’t something that would amaze everyone. Given that its just ruins and half a part of the Colosseum was bombed, which gives it a unique look from the outside. But it sure wasn’t worth the expensive ticket we bought for entering it. Except for the exposition of roman ruins which was interesting. Apart from that, the inside of the Colosseum saw nothing but tourists taking n number of ‘selfies’ with their selfie sticks, which is quite a trend everywhere these days.

Inside the Colosseum.

Inside the Colosseum.

The Colosseum bathing in the sun.

The Colosseum bathing in the sun.

Taken from the Colosseum.

Outside view from inside the Colosseum.

Roman Ruins.

Roman Ruins.

Next, we went to the Vatican City, which is in the other part of the town, across the river. It was an architectural masterpiece. All the detailed things, and the huge statues and pillars .. Absolutely amazing. Even though I didn’t go inside the famous church – which seems so famous that there was a never ending queue to go inside. But I spent some really good ‘me’ time, sitting right in the middle under the bright warm sun, reading and writing and listening to music.

Vatican City.

Vatican City.

Vatican City. From where I was sitting, sunbathing and enjoying my alone time.

Vatican City. From where I was sitting, sunbathing and enjoying my alone time.

Next, we went to the place where I’m always up for going, no matter how expensive! A Castle! And oh, it was just as beautiful as you’d imagine a Roman Castle to be!
There is something absolutely amazing about castles. Personally, whenever I visit a fort or something, my mind starts envisioning how it must have been like when it was actually a functioning place. Something so grand and mighty. This was Castle St. Angelo. And its location was so perfect. Even if you don’t like going inside castles, you sure would want to go up there for the view that it provides. There’s a river and bridge right in front of the castle, and when seen from inside the castle top, it looks absolutely amazing. Specially around sunset. I’ve been quite lucky to see Roman sunsets from the best of locations, and that too, by chance! And that, was the end to another beautiful day out there in Rome.

View from inside the Castle St. Angelo.

View from inside the Castle St. Angelo.

View from the top of Castle St. Angelo.

View from the top of Castle St. Angelo.

Me (left), with a friend, looking out from Castle St. Angelo.

Me (left), with a friend, looking out from Castle St. Angelo.

Me, gazing at the Castle St. Angelo.

Me, gazing at the Castle St. Angelo.

Day Five – This was our last day in Rome. We’d had quite a chill time in Rome since we had so many days there. We managed to see a lot of things, and explore the city on foot. So we mostly spent our last day here relaxing and sunbathing in gardens, and the Spanish Steps, where there were a million other people!

Breathtaking skies.

Breathtaking skies.

La vie en Rose!

La vie en Rose!

Lying down on the grass. Favorite kinda thing!

Lying down on the grass. Favorite kinda thing!

Lunching in chic restaurants. I absolutely love the seating outside in European restaurants.

Lunching in chic restaurants. I absolutely love the seating outside in European restaurants.

Piazza di Spagna - Spanish steps. No idea why they're called that!

Piazza di Spagna – Spanish steps. No idea why they’re called that!

People chilling in the sun at the Spanish steps.

People chilling in the sun at the Spanish steps.

We really had a good time in the hostel as well. The hosts were extremely kind, and they offered free pizzas to everyone that night. Huge boxes of huge Italian pizzas and a room full of people from all over the world. It has been great meeting people from so many different backgrounds, and sharing stories about life and stuff. And thats how I spent my last night in Rome, talking to a complete stranger about life, and setting my alarm for the early morning train to Venice the next day.

PS. All photos taken by me using iPhone 4, and edited using VSCO.