Bergen, Hansiatic Quarters, Mount Floyen and laughter

Wednesday, 25th

We woke up at dawn, the sun was no where to be seen. The sky was a deep red just before sunrise. G wanted to capture this brilliant act of nature and went down and sat by the river. I think about an hour and nothing happened. Somewhere G fell asleep waiting and when finally the eyes opened the sun was so bright in the sky that the eyes fluttered. Alas, but I guess we lived that moment there. Waking up to nothingness, sitting idly on a raft by the river, watch a few birds and generally life coming to life.

The breakfast spread at this hostel will always be cherished because of its elaborate offering and probably the best that any of the hostels would have served. There were toasts fresh out of the toaster, eggs, ham, cheese, variety of spreads, pate, cereals, salad, coffee, I think just about everything. After many helpings later we walked back to the river and sat there for a while. The heavy breakfast and the warm sun was only tempting us to fall asleep. So like good children we slept off for a while as the train to Bergen was only in the afternoon.

We walked to the station through vast, empty streets lined with cottages and colorful flowers. The train passed through the river, the ocean, fishermen, houses, mountains set under a vast blue sky. We finally bid adieu to the once-upon-a-time fairy tale settings and entered the crowded, slushy, noisy, gray and dark Bergen.

We asked for directions to the YMCA from the policemen and walked past the Indian restaurants, tourist shops, book shops, coffee shops with awnings on cobbled streets and a rush of people. We were going in circles when we asked a person as to the directions. He literally held our hands and walked us to the gate of the hostel and then went back on his original mission.

We registered and got a discount because of our membership card with the international youth hostel association. We chose the noisy dormitory and I took the upper bunk and soon made way to discover the city and what better than walking.

Very near to our hostel was the fish market and boy was it noisy, slushy because of rain. But the mouth watering aroma of smoked, grilled salmon filled the air. We immediately had bites of grilled, marinated and smoked salmon with bread. Caviar and blueberries. Amidst all the fishmongers was a lone flower shop (no clue if the flowers smelt of fish or the fish of flowers)

We walked past the Hansiatic quarters (listed in the UNESCO world heritage sites). There are lovely wooden houses, which once were trader houses between the 14 and 16th century, are now residences of artists

We took the short 15 minute ride on the Urliksbanen funicular to reach Mount Floyen. Located at about 1000 ft above sea level, this place has a spectacular view of the city from above. It was still drizzling and bit of mist and fog enveloped us. The lush green ferns and a little forest added to the charm. From here, the sea looked serene and the city looked spectacular with the twinkling lights shining like jewels. We strolled around the dense forest which had a lake covered with wispy clouds. A group of joggers went by. we sat on benches and logs and wondered about the stillness in the air.

There was park nearby with life size statues of vikings. and a trinket shop, from where I picked up a much required nail cutter. We decided to walk down to the city and not take the funicular. As we climbed downhill, several cyclists passed by. We passed through neat houses and large playgrounds where youngsters were playing handball. We walked by the ice cream man on a cycle. The drizzle continued and the air had a rich fragrance of ferns and flowers. We hopped, skipped and jumped most of the route. But as the drizzle became rain, teeth chattered, smile disappeared, our rain soaked clothing made walking heavy and added to that the wind, nearly took my umbrella away. It was getting dark and we were feeling cold and we still had miles to go.

At a turn, we decided to stand under a shade of a tree for a while. All of a sudden there was a burst of loud music (trumpets and band) and the air was filled with a delicious aroma of hot waffles. A local newspaper was doing a promotion and were inviting the residents for a treat. Well the walk, the cold and the aroma made us very hungry, so quite hopefully we queued up and were served some hot waffles and syrup. We quickly hogged and hoped for a second round shamelessly. The rain had stopped and we started our walk again. We walked past a very large installation of a reindeer, evening walkers and cyclists. Soon we were crossing the Hansiatic quarters. G burnt a cd of all the pics that were clicked till now and we quickly checked our emails and wrote a few.

We were still hungry and we hogged on hot dogs and moved towards the hostel. It was still early evening and as G was relaxing in room, I went to the reception area to inquire a few things. I was pleasantly surprised because at the reception stood the two strange fellows who were now friends. They were also checking in the hostel and they invited us for dinner. Was it our lucky day or what!!

G was very glad at the invite and quickly changed into fresh and better clothes as we dreamt of hitting the night spots of Bergen with the new friends. We should have known, the dinner was at the cafeteria of the hostel and consisted of tuna and sardine sandwiches. So much for dressing up. But the evening turned out to be an interesting one. An editor of a German magazine along with her boyfriend joined our table. Conversations and tea followed. We exchanged notes from our travel and our next destinations, they shared theirs. Some silly jokes like what is the tomato festival in Spain called? well the tomato festival. and misinterpretations like plate full of kitten/kitchen (chicken). Finally few hours later we decided to call it a day.

We sneaked into our dormitory not without making noises of door slamming, giggles, supressed laughter and objects falling of the bed and waking up the inmates. And much later again by my snoring.

Stave Church, Fjords and Voss

Tuesday, 24th

I think getting up early in the morning, was becoming a habit. More so because the day ahead looked packed with activities, fun stuff and explorations. Along with today's sun shine came the fragrance of wet dew on grass and chirps of birds. It seemed all the birds at Flam had come to greet us. A quick shower and hop to the supermarket later we were ready with our breakfast spread of bread, cheese, ham, yogurt and hot tea, on the stone benches outside, facing the gigantic mountain.

We had made our reservations on the ferry to Gudvangen. The ferry was at about 12 in the afternoon and would take us through the exotic fjords to reach Gudvangen and then a bus to Voss, our next destination.

We had a few hours with us, so armed with our map and information from the counter we walked the other way to the village. We passed smart cottages with apple trees. (ok we plucked few, when no one was looking). There was a clear opening on our left, with about 7 boulders in a semi circular fashion and a huge boulder in the center. Very fascinating little place (looked like a cemetery from the stone age). We walked further, crossing the rail line which brought us here. Further down on our right was a landslide create obstruction in the middle of the river. The locals very neatly built a delicate, yet sturdy wooden rope bridge across it in the 1910's to sit, fish salmons and drink some beer. I could have sat there hanging my legs and not do anything but then we had to move on. Walking further about half a kilometer we were face to face with the Undredal Stave Church. This was built in 1147 and was called the Chapel of St. Nicholas. This was the smallest functional church in Scandinavia and seated about 40. The place was closed but we peeped through the windows and gazed at the carved deer head chandelier. It was beautifully painted from the inside and on the outside was clapboard sidings. The neighbouring looked very relaxed under the large shades of trees with a mountain for effects and a lazy river flowing. The window sills was covered with a basket of lovely pink, red and purple flowers.

We walked back slowly towards the hostel. The only other sound in this little town was I think the ruffle made by my plastic pants. On our way back we met the Spaniards. They were staying the night here (lucky bum) and going for a trek the next day. We waived our goodbyes and reached our hostel. Somewhere along the way, G lost a piece of jewel, we looked around but alas it was not meant to be. We checked out of the place and moved towards the ferry, which was about 3 minutes away.

The ferry to Gudvangen was getting ready and we were ready as ever. We boarded and climbed the deck and took really comfortable positions, after doing a little musical chair, which place would be ideal. But we were not meant to sit. The ferry set sail, with the seagulls leading the way. Everything was perfect. The seagulls, the blue sky, a very blue sea and the fjords- simply breath taking.

The ferry manouvered through really narrow spaces, passing through little hamlets clustered like flowers, churches, waterfall, hamlets on cliffs, which were accessible only by rope ladders once upon a time, when vikings were around. There were the seals basking in the sun along the way. The picturesque journey on the water came to an end at Gudvangen. The sea gulls were welcoming us with their noise. We boarded a waiting bus which would take us to Voss.

The journey to Voss was very scenic again, as we were now going uphill. The view was stunning and seemed we were on the stairway to heaven (literally) amongst clouds and leaving the world behind. The roads carved in the mountains were quite treacherous and few times we did feel, this is it. The angels just seemed inches away.

We stopped for refreshments at a pit stop. Getting our breaths back was a challenge and at an altitude the breathing is difficult. We picked up souvenirs of viking land and proceeded to Voss. The moment we stepped out of the bus, the information center greeted us. The pretty girl with a nice smile at the counter was very helpful and told us about the Youth Hostel about 2 kms away. We walked really slowly to the hostel, not because we were absorbing the beautiful city but because of our heavy backpack and day pack and me going wimp wimp (where is my passport! remember!!)

This hostel, a lovely structure is situated on the river Vosso and I do mean on it. We opted for the cheapest rooms available and they happened to be the huge attic. This place was almost touching the roof and was strewn with mattresses and all unused furniture. The windows also missed a pane or two. When on shoestring budgets, these things happen and we just had to sleep the night here, so it was okay as next day we were leaving for Bergen.

After a hot shower later we walked back to the city (2 kms away) to a neat pizzeria for a really nice ham and cheese pizza with coke. The sun was finally setting at about 9 pm and we walked back to the hostel in a light drizzle and wind. We sat for a while on the logs next to the river watching the moon come up, the twinkling of stars up there and the wispy clouds play in the wind, just like a fairy tale. Finally we made our way up to the penthouse for a peaceful sleep. We woke up a few times alternately as the pane less window was making a whoosh whoosh sound and the smiling moon had gone hiding in the clouds, making it all very eerie. I thought of encounters with ghosts, monsters or thieves, but nothing exciting happened. Maybe they ran away hearing me snore.

Melting Diamonds, Huldra, Flam

Monday,  23rd

We checked out of our cozy hostel and headed for the station to catch up our early morning train to Myrdal. It was about a five hour journey by train (far by European standards!) and then to catch a connecting train -Flamsbana to reach Flam.

At the station G disappeared and surfaced after a while carrying trinkets, water and some apples. We made ourselves comfortable and at home in the two seats assigned to us. Trying all possible levers to make the seats tilt so we could stretch our legs. Behind us were two strange fellows. As the train pulled out of the station, we got really lazy and curled up on the seats. The strange fellows like most naughty kids kept kicking us from back or generally irritated us with their antics. G for most part of the journey wanted to punch one of the strange fellows. The scenery outside was just stunning. We passed the countryside and the hills at a leisurely space. After a while I walked to the pantry car to make ourselves some tea. The pantry car was very stunning with the look and feel of a fine dining restaurant. The lady at the counter was serving hot meat balls and potatoes to her customers. Boy, was I hungry!. I proceeded back to our seats and saw G grinning and waving a large chicken sandwich. Now we dint have one in our stock, so a little surprised I was. G mentioned that after I left an old lady came by and gave the sandwich to G and another packet of food to the strange fellows. Damn of all the time in the world I choose to go to the pantry car, I miss free food.

Generous G and I shared the sandwich along with our own treasure trove of food and tea. For a while the train did seem to run at a bit leisurely pace and we worried about missing our connecting train to Flam.

The Myrdal station was a quaint picturesque setting. The Flamsbana chugged in a little later after we reached Myrdal (although that is not how it is supposed to be) We later realised that this tourist train was actually asked to wait till our train had not entered Myrdal. Very neat!

There were no fixed seating, so moment the short train came we climbed the first available compartment with a leap and took two seats. The strange fellows were also in our compartment and smiling vaguely at us. I guess we were all of the same age group and the rest of the people in the train were fairly the senior citizen categories. This route is the steepest in the world, runs through tunnels, across waterfalls, rivers and likes. The next 20 km were straight out of a picture book. A lazy sun peeping out of triangular hills. A river flowing through and triangular houses on large patches of green and a variety of colorful flowers dotting the patch. (you know what I meant? It is just magnificent)

Our first stop was at the foothills of a glacier. The sun shone bright an the glacier was sparkling like diamonds against the patches of brown mountain and a ink blue sky. There was a little lake at the foothill which had taken the color of the sky. Blue it was. There was a certain nip in the air and slightly windy.

This is where the strange fellows and we exchanged hellos. They had names. Gorka and Gonzalo from Spain.

Our next stop was right next to a waterfall. There was a man made platform where we stood and were watching and clicking the waterfall in all its beauty. We were so close that it felt like a light drizzle around us. As we were all chattering and smiling suddenly the place filled with some wonderful seductive music. And then to add to the drama a girl in red appeared from a little cave near the waterfall and started a very petite dance. As hush fell over the audience, she disappeared in that cave and re appeared (a double) from a cave high above doing the same dance to the music. A very smart marketing move by the tourist train company. They were showcasing Scandinavian folklore through this dance, music and a mysterious lady. She as folklore goes is Huldra, a wood nymph, seductive creature, feminine form with a cow tail. She entices travelers with her beauty and music to follow her into the woods and marry her, so her tail will fall off.

We continued with our descent into the valley through a series of long tunnels made in the hills, supported with rocks and wood. In a matter of time we descended about 1200 feet and reached this beautiful place called Flam, nestled in the laps of fjords.

We had no prior bookings at Flam and relied on our guide book for information and off course the information center. However our new friends from Spain were putting up at the Youth hostel, so we followed them in hope we may get accommodation there. We crossed a little wooden bridge over a clear stream of water where the colorful pebbles at the bottom looked like precious gemstones.

The old man at the counter was particularly grumpy. But he was kind enough to give us a cottage. The dorm was all full and we did not have any camping gear or else we would have camped under the starlit sky. The campus of the hostel was green and a very large space. The south side was staring into a mountain wall and that's where our lovely old fashioned wooden cottage was. The place had a functional kitchen, a bunk bed, a small table and chair. The window overlooked an open picnic area with stone benches and seats.

After some tea and exploring the facility we decided to step out in the fresh air and turn our lungs pink. As we walked towards the gate we bumped into the Spaniards, who were also going for a stroll. We exchanged notes and continued our walking. We climbed a hillock, sat on the edge, threw pebbles at the water below, came down the other way, watched a cruise ship unload people, cattle graze, and walked aimlessly. The feeling of doing nothing and absorbing the views and locale was very very interesting. They did not know much English and we didn't know any Spanish. But it was fun with the mix up of words and sign language. This place was interesting, the train station and the shipyard were adjacent to each other. We walked to the coffee shop for some coffee. This place was in the shape of a train with compartments, wheels, windows everything and the coffee was also very nice.

I think any amount of words, prose to describe this Flam will ever be enough.

It was dusk as we approached our hostel. They invited us for dinner at their cottage. We changed and carried our food for the potluck dinner. The menu was soup, spaghetti in tomato sauce, ham, cheese and bread. Though the soup was lumpy and the spaghetti lacked salt, I think we had one of those very memorable dinners with friends on foreign shores. After some humor, awkward silences, misinterpretations and some Cuban rum, we decided to call it a night. More so, because the grumpy man from the counter did not like the idea of guests mingling at that time of the night. We moved back to our cottage and slept a happy sleep.

Tomorrow is another day.

blog update

Hello people, I am back after a short nap :-). A special thanks to G for finding all the pictures from the travel and helping me remember a few things.

Soon I will make this place more interesting and colorful with pictures, maps and videos.

Scream, Munch, Vigeland and a rainbow

Sunday, 22nd

Somewhere in the middle of the night I was woken up with muffled noises and exasperated noises. Well I didn't pay too much heed to it. I lamely opened my eye and saw two girls chatting and staring at me with grumpy faces.

When I woke up in the morning, I realised these girls had joined us in the middle of the night. They were trained nurses from Sweden and had come to Oslo in search of job and had missed the last train home. And the muffled noises were that they were cursing me because of my snoring. Well can't please all the people.

After a long luxurious shower, we stepped out on the streets of Oslo. Much like Copenhagen, these roads were also empty and wide. We were tired of ham and cheese routine and G wanted some healthy breakfast. So we walked to the store next to our hostel. The vendor gave us two bananas and two apples in return of our budget for a week. I spied him grinning too.

Anyways we walked back toward the information booth to figure out our day activities. We wanted to see the much acclaimed and much stolen "The Scream" by Munch. The lady at the counter shrieked, right like the face from "The scream" and informed us that the much acclaimed and the much stolen piece of work has been stolen last night again from the Munch museum. She also calmly told us not to worry, and there happens to be one more work hanging at the National Museum. Before leaving we booked our tickets for the next day. We planned to travel to the famous fjords.

Although it was early in the day, still we quickly moved towards the National Museum to see the "Scream" lest it gets stolen again. For a while suspected the nurses from Sweden and laughed out loud in the empty streets. We walked through the sleepy marketplace seeing the window displays in leisure and reached the Museum. The place was yet to open and we queued up for tickets and hung around. There seemed to be quite a bit of enthusiastic crowd around. The museum hosted works by Munch, Gustav Vigeland and other masters. We were quite hungry after doing the museum round. Right opposite was a nice cafe from where we picked up Pizza, Spaghetti Carbonara and Pepsi. We sat down on the fence and dined on the yummy food. It started to drizzle and out came our, green and blue windcheater (we had been dying to use them). We walked around the neighboring university area and then came loud noises of hindi music. From a distance we saw huge crowds gathered and making merry in an open space. A loud banner announced Asiatic festival (obviously) The place was teeming with people and speaking in hindi dialect. It seemed like an Indian market place only with installations of Vigeland. Some lip smacking stuff were being sold but as we had just fed ourselves silly. To save ourselves from the drizzle we hopped to Oslo rådhus (the city center) across the street, where an exhibition of modern art and photography was bein held. Interesting contraptions hung from the air and bright red, blue and green shower cubicles and pots also were part of the show.

It was still afternoon and we decided to go and visit the Vigeland Sculpture park (another of my childhood dream). We walked past a 16th century Church and caught a tram to the park. After about 15 minutes we were standing at the entrance of the Frogner park of which the Vigeland park is a part of. The entire area is built on about 80 acres.There are some 212 bronze and granite sculptures spread across in six sections. These giant individually crafted by Vigeland depicting so many scenes from our daily lives and inspirations was truly amazing. the mother's love, the monolith, the children at play (various happy, giggly children), the fountain. The detailing was brilliant.

As we sat next to the monolith and discussing the immense park, the drizzle has stopped and the vast sky was now featuring a beautiful rainbow covering the breadth of the park and I am sure we were sitting on the pot of gold.

G and I exited out of the park, not before picking up a fat pencil, lighter and other mementos. We took the tram back to the city. and hopped across the Church. The service was going on and the organ was truly melodious. We loitered around the fort area and realised the sun was about to set. This was around 9 pm (thank god for long days, that we were able to pack our days with so many activities) We sat down in silence on a hillock and saw the bright red ball of fire melting into the water. The skies were still gray and shades of red, when we pushed ourselves towards the town center. We bought some bread and bacon paste for our onward journey to Flåm next day morning.

Amalienborg palace, Strøget and the train to Oslo

Saturday, 21st

We had our train to Oslo today at 1 something in the afternoon. The station was about 10 minutes away from hostel, so we had most of the morning to ourselves.

Early morning after a nice hot shower and a breakfast of hot tea, cake, ham, cheese, mustard and mayonnaise sandwiches we stepped out in the warm sunlight. We strolled down empty streets, crossing colorful walls, following our map towards the palace. We passed by a statute of err 3 ladies, I posed one for the camera too. We walked through closed shops with brilliantly decorated windows. Lovely lamps, clothes, decorative adorned the windows

Suddenly in the maze of streets, out of nowhere emerged the Amalienborg palace. A lovely example of Rococo architecture. A bright green dome, surrounded by four identical facades.

After spending some time with our mouths open and clicking some touristy pictures we proceeded towards the Strøget. This is the most happening shopping area and Europe's longest pedestrian street. I think you would get everything here from a pin to designer clothes. As we were approaching the H&M mall, we were suddenly surrounded by a group of ISKCON followers. They dressed in their traditional garb singing hare krishna which sure was music to the ears. These people had travelled from our India to sing and dance and praise the lord. There was a lovely girl named Mayapur Chandrika in the group. She shared her story from a village of India. It was interesting.

H&M mall was very interesting because on display was a pair of trousers for about 30 euros, the exact ones that I was wearing, bought from a Delhi flea market for about 2 euros.

We bought some Chinese takeaway of noodles, shrimps and chicken for our onward journey and started towards the hostel. We were now quite far from the hostel and had to take a bus back. As luck would have it, we had changed all the danish kroner in the morning for euros and had few left as mementos. A bus came and the driver, a lady (imagine!) did not have change for euros. We made the most silliest and upset faces and showed us all our change (including few Indian rupees), seeing that she just let us travel like that. God bless her.

We reached our hostel, picked our luggage and moved towards the station. The train as scheduled left at 1pm and few minutes exact. On route we entertained ourselves with tea and the Chinese takeaway. This was a long journey as we would reach Oslo only about 9 pm.

The sun had still not set in Oslo when we reached. As we were exiting the station and approaching the information booth (our lifeline) for directions to the Anker hostel, G started feeling sick. I quickly managed a sickness bag and gave it to G. As G sat at a corner of the station, I went and changed euros into swedish kroner and figure out the directions to the hostel.

By the time I came back G was a little better and we walked with our backpacks towards the hostel. We checked in this large warm & cozy room with wooden bunk beds and really comfortable bedding, with an attached washroom. G blamed the pedestrian food, had some medicine, lost and found some jewelery and we called it a night.

The little mermaid

Friday, 20th

Where is my passport (wimp)? Dude!! is a line which you will be subjected to read quite often in my posts. Well I have these frequent panic attacks about loosing my all precious passport and to be stranded in some foreign country without any resources. So about at least 3 times a day I would go crazy shouting wimp, wimp. And then I would routinely empty my day pack of its rubber Garfield, a huge camera, a notebook, a book, a pen, tissues, cellphone, cellphone charger, deodorant, apples, chips and bottle of water. Then I would religiously go through my rucksack putting my hands deep in folds of clothes, socks, pockets. Then I would go through the 6 pocketed pajama, 2 +1 pocketed jacket that I have been wearing and find my passport neatly kept in one of the pockets.

OK so today we had to catch the 7:13 am train for Osnabruck first. And from there to Puttgarden to reach Cobenhaven (Copenhagen). To achieve that, I doubt that sleep would have been on my mind. So most part of the night I was jotting down, reading, slept a few winks and finally a hot shower later, carrying my day pack, rucksack reached the checkout counter at 5am. Phew!! G came in a few minutes later and my chest swelled with a sheepish grin on my lips. The cafeteria at the hostel had kept two neat packets of ham and cheese sandwiches for us, as we were leaving early.

With all our loads we walked towards the station. As scheduled, the train left at 7:13am for Osnabruck. We had a coupe to ourselves. We took the window seat and stared at the scenery outside, for a while. We were joined by two more couples.

Our original plan was to go to Brussels from Amsterdam and then proceed to London. But G did some really good research and figured this excellent route of going to Copenhagen and then to Norway. From Norway we would then proceed to Scotland.

Most of the journey was uneventful, we kept dozing on and off and for a while I stationed myself in the washroom to charge my cellphone. As we were approaching Osnabruck, we realised that the connecting train would be from platform number 12 (imagine!!) and we just had three minutes in hand to transfer us and the load on to next train. We reached Osnabruck and looked here and there for the platform. The platform was right next to us. Phew!! We boarded and were joined by a two old men who were this and that. For most part of the journey they kept us informed about their hobbies and how they are going to meet the son of one of them and then off to Lithuania. I wish we had also launched our missive (But now that I look back, I think most people in Europe are friendly and eager to share information, not to be taken otherwise) We munched happily on our sandwiches and pringles.

We were now entering the best part of the journey. Our train slowly entered a ferry. Yes, I repeat, the train slowly entered the womb of the waiting passenger ship. We got off the train into the ship and climbed up the stairs to the deck, for a panoramic view of the ocean and the approaching mainland. It was a vast expanse of blue sky over us. White fluffy clouds drifting and a few seagulls playing. It was a huge deck (you can imagine, with a train in its belly). On board we were served hot coffee and butter cookies.

Finally we reached mainland and took our seats on the train. The train slowly whistled its way out to Copenhagen. The journey was simply brilliant.

It was late afternoon and we reached our hostel "Sleep in Heaven". The hostel was conveniently located at about 10 minutes walking distance from the station. The hostel looked friendly, a mix of international guests, and bunk beds. We buried our backpacks in the lockers assigned and moved out to explore the city. The first thing that we wanted to see was "The little mermaid" Although it was about 5 in the evening. The wide streets were empty. Very few cars passed and still fewer people on the streets. So no one to give us directions,except our map. Finally we managed to get hold a jogger who conveniently showed his place of stay, and where we were standing on the map and not the little mermaid (ridiculously funny) He had no clue what we were asking. Then as we were staring into the empty streets wondering, when a group of passerby's came over, decided to help us and show us the way (ridiculously funny). Such extremes.

We followed their directions, jumped over fences, walked through a huge public park, watched few kids on the swings and crossed some fabulous flowers and came in face with a large stuffed bear grinning at us foolishly and holding a tray of goodies. Next to it was the water. And another few meters or so away hiding behind boulders and crowded by tourists was the little mermaid waiting patiently for her visitors from India.

In this land of Hans Christian Anderson, here we were standing in front of the "mermaid" which we had read in books. It was a very nice feeling. A more of a childhood dream come true. Many more dreams coming true were in the pipeline.

After spending some time there, we walked back to the hostel through the same stretch of park, swings and flowers. It was 9 pm and the sun was finally setting and as we approached the hostel we heard strains of hindi film music coming in from a shop. The hostel now had more colorfully attired youngsters with their bottles of poison. Loud music was playing and a person at the entrance marked our hands with a little tortoise for identity.

After our dinner of cakes, apples, cheese and ham, we passed of on our bunk beds. Brr it was cold and we had not rented the blankets so I slept in my green jacket.

Flower auction, Rembrandt, diamonds and more sex

Thursday, 19th

beep beep. beep beep

The alarm went of at 4 am. Remember we had to leave the hostel by 5 !!
mental calculation in cozy bed.. if I get up at 4:15 Iwill be ready by 4:45 still 15 minutes. so I can sleep some more.mmm.

beep beep. beep beep. ring ring. ring ring. beep beep.

The entire room woke up except your truly. I heard some swear and I woke up at 530, rushed through my shower ran downstairs. No sight of G. phew maybe G also overslept. I looked around as if I have been waiting for an hour. Then no signs of G, I asked the fellow at the reception to call for G. The G came. and what an icy stare that was!! No words, no arguments just the stare, I wish I could have disappeared in the wooden chair. But I had no such luck.

In silence we walked towards the bus stop and waited patiently for the bus to come. We passed through the China town and surprise surprise the pretty ladies were all in business at that time of the day!!. The only reason why we were here so early was that we were on our way to Aalsmeer, which incidentally happens to be the worlds largest flower auction market. This place opens only for a few hours err early and closes by about 8 am. Tough luck I say and if we missed the auction today no way would have G forgiven me I am sure. Because the next day we were supposed to be off for Cobenhaven (Copenhagen).

We didn't have to wait for long at the bus stop. No conversation yet. It took us about 45 minutes to reach the place. I was all sullen, sleepy, and upset because I was sure we would miss it. But then eyes twinkled and a sheepish smile crossed when we reached the doors of this huge place. The place was to open in next few minutes. Phew!!

We bought our entry tickets ate some vanilla cake and bananas and waited along with a few other tourists, smiling and making vague conversations. We finally entered the place. Was this place huge and colorful? Every possible flowers of every shape and sizes were here packed neatly and waiting to be transported. From green roses to tulips, lotuses, lilies, orchids, sunflowers, marigolds. There were manned trolleys like a mini train. Each cart held a variety of flower and they all snaked through to reach a point where a helper picked up the desired quantity of flower and put it in their own cart. The process looked so simple from top (we were on the 3rd floor something) but we were sure a whole lot of coordination were involved. We waited to watch in case two trolleys would collide, but then no such luck. We giggled and laughed at them. There was an auction room where the global representatives sat and made their bids. A giant clock and a board kept displaying the information. A guide patiently explained to us how the things work like a stock exchange by at 7 o clock mind rarely registers anything analytical. At least not mine.

We hung around watching the flowers for a while and then we were requested to "step out" as the place would now shut down for the day. We took the bus back to our hostel. The city was waking up now. The graffiti stood out wildly.

The cafeteria was still open at the hostel. So we quickly piled our plates with ham, cheese marmalade, toast and with our mugs of tea. Soon after the place was about to close for cleaning. We decided to go towards the city again. This time we went in to the Rjiks (featuring Rembrandt) museum to soak in some art. Next to it was an open space with a fountain, a football field and lots of tourist and few trinket shops. We loitered for a while and then headed inside a diamond factory. There on display were workers who were enacting the fine art of selecting, cutting and processing diamonds.

It was still afternoon so we headed back to the hostel for a nap. Yipee. We decided to step out at 4 in the afternoon, but then I overslept (some people don't learn). Anyways we walked to the neighboring departmental store where we picked up our stock of pringles, cheese, cakes and bacon paste. We also picked up lasagna bolognese for dinner.

We heartily ate our lasagna. There was a discussion about "truth" at the cafeteria which we successfully avoided and sneaked out in the alley. We loitered some more around the sex shops where each person tried to over do with "I am the best". There was a women guard at the entrance of each shop wearing a FBI cap with a whistle (hilarious) to shoo away miscreants. After much debate G and I went back to the hostel. We had an early morning train to catch at 7:13 (please note the precise minute). And I had to wake up in time. G had already threatened about proceeding alone.

Van Gogh, windmills and sex shops

Wednesday, 18th

A relaxed breakfast always makes me happy and going for the day. We had ham, cheese, omelet, toast and juice, which was pretty much became our regular breakfast over the next few weeks, with variations and additions here and there.

Today we had a lot of places to visit. Some planned, some spontaneous.

The first place that we went visiting was the Van Gogh Museum. For a change we took a ride on the tram. The driver also doubles up as the ticket collector in Europe. When we asked him tickets for two for the Van Gogh museum he gave is such a blank stare as if he has never heard of him. After we spelled it out to him, he gave a chuckle and with a loud coughing sound mentioned.. you mean Van Kho (stress on Kho as if someone is coughing loud). It was our turn to stare and chuckle.

There was a serpentine queue outside the museum. We waited patiently for about 32 minutes before we entered the huge hall with the masters paintings hanging everywhere. Truly an art enthusiasts delight. There were benches in each display area. From his early works till about his last they were all on display. The potato eaters, the sunflower and other works were staring at us and the guide alongside was mentioning about the little nuances of most paintings and the importance. Like how a particular chair in "potato eaters" has the four legs painted at an angle and how it is difficult to portray the same otherwise.

Bonus, bonus on display was the early works of Monet by the sea.

After a few hours of art, with dizzied heads we browsed through the art shoppe and picked up few.

We were bound to be hungry and thank heavens there was a hot dog vendor right outside (happiness)

It was afternoon so we wanted to explore the city further. A quick inquiry at the information booth (our lifeline, as you would realize later, why) G figured there is the little hamlet - the windmill village about 45 minutes away from the city. The adventurers that we were we started towards that direction. We boarded this bus which took us through the city. Entire neighborhoods looked so similar with similar structured houses, canals, decorated gardens and window sills. Similar upholstery, tulips, lamps and knick knacks adorning the windows. The drive was a breeze and much jokes later we got of at McD joint from where we had to change bus for Zaanse Schaan. McD tempted us with coke, french fries and fillet o fish and the bus came along. Wham !! were we struck by the scenic beauty!! Five windmills in a row by the river. There were this beautiful hamlet with shops selling variety of cheese (smoked and yummy), wooden clogs, antique stuff, wooden tulips etc. The sun was setting and it was a bit breezy by the water. The ducks made a line towards home. It was all o picturesque.

As we chilled on the bench there was a man playing with his dog in an enclosed area. We burst out laughing at him and his dog. Just.

Two hours had passed and reluctantly we also packed our stuff and made a move towards the hostel. we took the same buses back to the hostel. It was pretty crowded at the cafeteria. We had some tea and chips while the choir assembled around the piano. The funny man who sang along with the bible and kept punctuating with O was also there.

Post our tea and shower, we walked the neighborhood. The sex shops dotted the street along the canal. Bright rooms with painted ladies against huge glass windows. A hoard of tourists were making a crowd observing them and clicking pics, although its strictly against the policy. Anyways we hung around for a while and then strolled back to the hostel for a quiet sleep.

A day well spent and tomorrow was another day. We decided to meet at 5 am in the morning to head towards Aalsmer - the world's largest flower auction place. Now waking up at 4 is tough and is another story

House of Anne Frank and more

Tuesday 17th

We had our tea, biscuits, worried about last minute packing and set out for the central station, Frankfurt. It was feeling strange because we would now come back to this station after 48-50 days, weary, tired, excited, sad and a bag full of stories.

Sil offered to take us to the station. On route we picked up some apples for the journey. Traveling by 1st class is a different experience. To be offered, pampered and off course spacious seats. We enjoyed hot steaming coffee and panini while the scenery changed. From towns by the rail tracks to the country sides and vast open spaces. It took us about few hours to reach Amsterdam.

The station at Amsterdam is located by the canal. The place was abuzz with people. We asked our way to the place we were staying in. A neat hostel called "The Shelter" run by the christian missionaries, in a locality called Zdyke. We took a brief tour of the place. It was teeming with youngsters. The cafe had a large piano and a man singing on it with great facial expressions. The rooms had bunk beds and overlooked the courtyard. The courtyard had a lovely pond which had lilies, lotuses and fishes. Overall a nice comfortable place to hang our walking shoes.

We were like people on a mission, to cram up every bit of history, culture, food, anything that came in our day. Almost immediately we moved out to explore the city. Our first destination was the house of Anne Frank. Many years ago I had read up the book and the fact that we were visiting that place gave me the shivers. We had a map of the city and armed with information from the tourist booth we started our walk towards the house which is now a museum (walking became an essential part of of our travel, now when we look back it amazes how far we walked and where all we walked). The house stands still next to a canal. The walls bare, stark, cold. The tourists all fell in line and there were hushed whispers in the silence. We climbed narrow stairs, reached the living room. There was the small wooden cabinet there. Behind which was the entry to the room where the family stayed for almost 2 years during the war. On display were her story, writings, drawings and a pot with Chinese inscriptions.

We walked around in silence and came down the staircase and out of the house.

Right next to the museum is a small statue of Anne Frank herself, covered with graffiti (strange). Opposite to it is the one meter shop (weird). They sell trinkets and the signs leading to the shop are bigger than the shop itself!

Two apples and souvenir shopping later, we started walking towards the center of the city towards the market place. Before we sat for the late lunch or early dinner as you may call, we went to visit the Temple of Venus (a lovely place with lot of naughtiness. smirk smirk).

Still laughing, we entered the nearby pizzeria and had a delicious cheesy pasta and polished it of with beer.

We started our walk back to The Shelter and crossed a network of canals that can be explored by boats. Romance was certainly not on our minds and our feet were giving away. We reached the hostel. We sipped some tea and rested in the courtyard. A group of youngsters were playing loud musical instruments and generally making merry.

Tired that we were we limped to our bed. Mine was the bunk on top which had a funny tilt and my weight was not helping it earlier. Sliding, tossing, turning and with noise filtering in through the windows (ugh!!), sleep came through.

Frankfurt, some more

Monday 16th, some month

Okay this was not what G and I had planned. Today morning we would have embarked on our real backpack travel and our first destination was Amsterdam.

Before arriving on this Continent, we had carefully chosen a convenient Eurail pass (1st class travel in a network of trains across all the countries we were wanting to visit, barring a couple) This pass is really economical and we need not have any reservations on the trains.

But then... yesterday when the family came to know that we had no train reservations, and just some stupid pass, we got an earful and I mean an earful. The family I know was concerned but along with the walkathon an earful is really not what one is looking forward too (more grumble). We were given a lecture on how unsafe Amsterdam is and how we will be quickly swindled of our passport, cash and belongings, the ignorant traveler that we are. And how the train staff will throw us off the trains as we have no reservations. And the least we can do is get the train reservation done. We had to give in, so finally our plan of Amsterdam on Monday was canceled.

We woke up to some steaming tea (I made) and a repeat of yesterdays breakfast. My sil offered to take us to the central train station to get our reservations done. After an exchange of a few paragraphs in German between sil and the person at the counter, we shelled out quite an amount from our budgeted back pack travels (which we realised later was of no use, with our passes we could have travelled anyways) I think that amount was the single most worthless expense that we incurred (besides the ones we were swindled in Paris, more on that later). Anyways like they say the fool and his moneys are soon parted, in this case the precious euros. We got the reservation for next day (well why wouldn't we, the train was empty)

After the walkathon, earful and the flying euros we settled in to eat at the McD (the only time we ate in the McD in our travels) We had some nice hot nuggets and fillet of fish. The afternoon was about to end when we headed back to the city market Zentrum, for some loitering, shopping and to meet brother. G bought a poster, I bought some trinkets and sil bought some more trinkets. We decided to wait at the Pizza Hut for brother to hop in from work. While we sipped some strong espresso, we watched the world was go by. The chatter, the noise, the fragrant air, the pigeon, all was something else. By the time brother came in it was time for dinner and we hopped to an Australian diner in the neighborhood.

The place offered some exotic Australian cuisine. While I settled in for some rubbery chewy crocodile meat, G had a hot buttered corn on the cob, brother and sil decided to have a Kangaroo steak and Emu burger respectively with some beer. Well my fork and knife did hop to everybody else plates. Grin grin.

We called in for a cab and went home. All in all the day was a relaxed speed breaker to the start of the next phase of our journey.

Next day we were travelling to Amsterdam in the wee hours of the morning :-)

Heidelberg, a walkathon

Sunday, 15th

All hopes of having a lazy sleepy Sunday and a brunch remained a dream. The family decided for an outing to Heidelberg.

After a heavy breakfast of ham and cheese sandwiches, we set of for Heidelberg. We marched towards the station about few hundred meters from home. Like good Indians we jumped the railway lines to get on the other side rather than use the subway :-) We quickly punched in for the tickets and snickers and boarded the train to Heidelberg. We crossed farms, factories, summer cottages, vineyards by the rail tracks and after many stations later we reached the sleepy town by the river Neckar.

The massive fort was staring at us and we had to walk about a km up a steep hill (the easy way to reach the top was a bus and a funicular train was only discovered a few hours later when we came down, I mean not even while we were climbing down, grumble grumble!)

The fort itself was very interesting, reminded me of the rani ka mahal from the deer park, where I had grown up. But this place had a museum for medicine (imagine) the largest beer barrel in the world (how I wish it was filled with beer and I could take a swim) and some dungeons (interesting).

While the family decided to laze on the grounds and make merry, poor G and I had to walk across what seemed like acres of land. A quick nibbles of pringles and gatorade we walked back to the university town. We strolled through the Korn market, the university area, two very
ancient churches before settling down for a hot meal of Thai crispy duck platter, rice and some beer (worth all the walking!)

Then we decided to head back home and continued our march to the station. The train was so crowded that we got no seats :-( so more standing and the repeat of the scenery passing by. Somewhere just before our station, the train gave away. We had to again wait for the
next train to chug along (remember we are still standing). The train came, surprisingly empty. The moment we sat down (the only time we sat since our walkathon began was this and the time we spent for lunch) brother announced our station has come. Naturally, we started to walk

The walkathon finally finished with my feet up the sofa (Was too tired to convert that into a bed) and I wished if there was a way by which one could unscrew the arms and legs and hide them in the cupboard....zzz

Saturday 14th

G (My friend) nudged me awake to see the magnificent rising sun. I still remember vividly the color of the sky. It was an artists palette covered with different hues of red, pink and gray and a sleepy sun smiling over the clouds. But alas however much I tried to wake up and click some pictures, laziness and sleep took the better of me (curses). Finally I managed to wake up to a stale breakfast of toast, juice and omelette.

We reached Milan (Malpensa airport) at about 8 in the morning and our connecting flight to Frankfurt was at 4 in the evening from the Lenatte airport. We had time to kill so we took a free ride from the airport to the central station (inbetween we changed some euros at premium and subjected ourselves to scrutiny to a racist immigration officer)

We always think, at least that's what we thought that English is spoken by everyone across the world as fluently as like us. But our assumptions were soon shattered and we resorted to sign language to figure where we are headed and how to proceed. We fumbled with our change and finally with Manish's gift of 2 euros we bought our underground tickets for the Duomo.

The Duomo (with huge brass doors and engravings and relief work) is in the central location of Milan. With all our 40 kilo luggage we managed to climb up the escalators and stairs to reach the vast expanse in front of the station, where the Duomo stood now covered with a facade as the restoration work was in place. The first thing that struck me was the huge blue sky and hoards of pigeons feeding off the grains from the tourists. It was hot and we were ill dressed for the occasion with our jackets and mufflers (were we out of place? off course!!) People were in there shorts and tees and what was nice was the friendly laughter and people from all walks of life, colorfully and smartly attired. Throughout the travel, we never encountered oddly dressed people, everyone seemed to have a sense of purpose and cleanliness.

After an elaborate lunch at Spizzico, consisting of salted fish pizza , coke and fries..we were tempted for the original Italian gelato but decided against it. We asked for some directions from the friendly police and took the underground to station San Bambito and the 73 bus to Lenatte (the subway ticket was all inclusive )

We were early for our flight but nevertheless we caught up on time because my shower gel leaked and made a mess of the day pack (curse). We finally boarded our twin engine small plane for Frankfurt. The aircraft was dangerously swaying against the wind and soon we left behind Milan, mountains and entered Germany above what looked like the black forests.

On route they served us ice cream and some gas water (yucky) and a second helping made the stewardess particularly angry, making her spill some water on me. (@#$%)

At the Frankfurt Airport, my brother and sil were there to receive us. It was one of those emotional moments. Brother had been insisting me to visit him over the years and finally I did it. It was drizzling and we managed ourselves in the car and chatted endlessly throughout the drive. The house was very colorful, lively and warm. The veranda overlooked a huge green area, where rabbits played. After more chatter, tea and emptying the luggage of the gifts for the family we got ready for an evening

We took the cab once again, went past vast roads and buzzing traffic and went to the town hall. There were youngsters playing on wheels towards the market area and a theater. Surprise, we had the original Italian gelato :p and more walk towards the rhine river. We went past ducks, exotic restaurants in the boats and late evening joggers towards the food street. I had some beer and some more beer later we walked past some dinner joints (tempting smells flavored the air), tattoo parlors and beer bars. We went to a nice Spanish joint and ordered some hot paella (a typical Spanish rice cooked with baby octopus, shrimps, lobsters and various meats). After a happy tummy full of hot nice meal, we called for a cab and reached home pretty late through the deserted streets and night traffic.

To tired to type now... zzzz

Friday 13th some month, some year

Manish offered us a drive to the airport. The drive was quite nice specially with the light drizzle. Waving Manish goodbye and in anticipation of the excitement we entered the check in area

After a relatively quick check-in of our luggage and we queued up for the flight. A minor argument happened at the check point with the attendant not letting my friend to carry the Swiss army knife, but we finally managed to carry the knife, yippee (but did we use that knife anywhere in the travel, I must ask!!).

There were butterflies in my stomach, head and possibly everywhere waiting for the flight to take us up, up and away. The aircraft was filled with the mindless banter and chatter of co passengers mostly Indians and particularly rowdy troupe of Italians.

The hungry me, hogged down the stale sandwiches, fruits and some particularly yucky wine.

Snuggled by the window seat, we finally bid goodbye to the crowd of tiny yellow lights set against a particularly dark sky of Delhi

some date, some year

OK I have managed my backpack (Courtesy: my friend's colleague), a sleeping bag (Courtesy: my friend and it is still unused), a Schengen visa after two rounds at the German high commission, a Swiss and a British visa (Courtesy: the travel agent), a Croat visa (Courtesy: my friend's threat letter) and the money (Courtesy: my friends and some of my savings). Oh yes! The the main ingredient -----> the passport (Courtesy: help from another friend).
With all this I am finally ready for my maiden journey abroad.
Come fly with me for a wonderful, lifetime experience :-)