Mykonos, Greece-Our first stop.
Milan, Italy-stop 3
Lisbon, Portugal- stop 4
Arriving at the Vienna International Airport with only the street and hostel name of my destination, I found myself less than prepared. I ended up buying a ticket (I had no idea if it was the right ticket) for a tram that went to the city center, hoping that my hostel would be near by.
It wasn’t, no one knew the road it was on, I couldn’t find a map anywhere, and there appeared to be only one tourist information stop. Extremely frustrated, I found much relief walking through the revolving doors of the information center a few hours later. Exhausted, but able to set my bags down, the lady handed me a map, circled my location and told me which metro to take.
I got on and off the metro, finally walking to my hostel, checking in, showering, and setting out. I went back to the city center where I was greeted by men dressed in white wigs and mozart-esque clothes asking if I would like to go see the Opera. Masses of people walking in and out of stores, sitting in the grass and the plazas, drinking coffee, or eating food. I was startled by the shopping, it seemed the center was made up of stores and restaurants only. This could be alright, if the stores were of great variety and affordable (for me) costs, but instead each block was dominated by Zaras, H&M, Palmers, McCafe, and all sorts of exactly identical souvenir shops.
I watched people. I sat in the grass with my delicious bread bought at Spars, cheese, and tomatoes and watched people pass. I would do this only until people would start approaching me or watching me, before I would relocate. Today- I wanted to watch.
This went on for most of the day and I went back to the hostel pretty early on, making conversation with my roommates as I made my bed. I went out for coffee late into the night, and went to bed ready to check out in the morning to find my new host.
Ruth picked me up at the metro station and we went to her dorm room. Most of the students have single rooms and their own bathrooms, not to mention an incredible location. We spent the next few days walking through town, going out for coffee, drinks, and dinner, and such. One night, her friend who was hosting another couchsurfer from Hawaii, made us all dinner before we went out to a pub quiz which brutally slayed us.
The next night we went to a school function where each different Scandinavian language class had to get up and sing a song or two, before everyone was provided with free drinks and snacks. We stood in the courtyard talking for a long time, and I was lucky enough to have some really great conversation with a few of Ruth’s friends before we went out to a club to dance. We sat outside while a friend played guitar and sang, and met up with many more students, before 5am somehow arrived, and I found myself without my host. Fortunately, I was with one of her friends who continued calling her until she returned, and the two of us walked home to while watching the sun rise on the city.
The next day we visited a huge flea market with a friend of hers before I headed-AGAIN-to the airport for my evening for the final flight of my three-week-mostly-eastern-europe-solo-backpacking-trip.
I had never felt so unsafe until I arrived in Budapest. The bus station was fine, for I made friends on the bus and went with them to their hostel. It happened to be right down the street from the house I would be staying in, but I felt better walking with a group of girls down the unknown roads in the dark. The next few days I explored the city. I walked around a lot on my own, and was startled by the fact that you could find yourself alone on a long road in the middle of the day-although I was not right in the city center. The buildings looked like they were falling apart and many windows were broken.
It wasn’t until I walked inside one of these run down buildings, and into the beautiful apartment of Orsi-my host-that I began to really see Budapest from a different angle. She walks the streets alone at all hours of night-it’s actually an extremely safe city, and the buildings that look unkept and sometimes abandoned, are simply old-like the city. The doors and the buildings go right up to the sidewalk, but once you walk inside an apartment building, you are greeted with a large courtyard. Sometimes green and vegetated, sometimes mostly concrete where people are hanging clothes to dry, but a courtyard which allows the people within the building to see each other and watch what is going on inside. While walking on the sometimes extremely empty roads, I soon noticed that there was constant activity above the streets. From the windows and balconies above the streets of the city, people stirred. I loved this, but getting used to the idea that people could see you even if you thought no one else was on the road was extremely interesting, and a bit reassuring.
My host, Orsi, was much quieter than the last few. She lived alone in a beautiful apartment consisting of a huge bathroom, lovely kitchen, bedroom with two beds and a library, and a main room with closets, a table, and two futons. All the windows were large, and I slept in a bed! I found myself constantly locked out of her house, however, and her wild neighbors would watch me for twenty minutes, attempting to unlock her door, before they would come and try to help-mostly unsuccessfully. This led me back to the depressing hostel I stayed in the first night, until she would come and retrieve me there.
At this hostel I met and spoke with someone who worked at a feedlot in the United States, which was interesting. I had never met anyone, only read books, about these places, so we spoke one evening, and I flipped through his poultry and dairy magazines filled with products to make your animals bigger and advice on how to maintain your “dead bird pit”. When I finally ventured to the city center, or towards it, I was blown away. Every turn you made revealed incredible sights, and the river and bridges were spectacular. I walked all the way up and over to Margrit Island, where everyone goes to jog and relax. I sat and drank tea for a few hours while I caught up with my journal and watched people pass. Orsi was right, the Buda side of the river was very hilly and the Pest side, flat. Orsi took me out to a wonderful vegan restaurant and a few really nice bars which were made from old schools or abandoned buildings. We also cooked a bit, and would sit at her table with dinner and a glass of wine-or breakfast and a cup of coffee, talking before we would either go our own ways or head out the door together.
Invited to a vegetarian dinner, the two of us ventured across a southern bridge to the Pest side where we were greeted by a girl throwing the party. Expecting to be with a group of people our own age, we were thoroughly surprised to find our dinner party made up of a high school girl, her father, and her 52 year old friend. We ate off their china dishes and had a five course meal that was of Indian origin. Interesting evening, to say the least.
I left Budapest at 4 in the morning, taking a bus to the airport tram and the tram to the airport where I was pushed to the very end of a huge mass of people, angry and stressed out, trying to get checked in and onto their flight which was about to leave. After waiting for about an hour, I was sent downstairs, where I was told the news. The news that the airplane ticket which I bought, had somehow morphed into an airport shuttle ticket, instead of boarding a plane to Vienna, I would be boarding a van.
One man drove me to Vienna. I was super upset for a long time, until I laid across the backseat and slept for a few hours. When I awoke, I was surrounded by green fields hosting massive windmills. Looking out the window on my right, the sky was sunny with white billowy clouds, but to the left it truly looked like doomsday. We drove drove drove until we pulled up to the Austrian International Airport and I stood on the curb and waved goodbye.
In the freezing drizzle of an early summer morning, I was greeted by Idly and Emu, two girls who would show me around Prague! During the day, they worked, and I went out to explore Old town on my own.
It was grey and rained all day, but the place was incredible. I found a market and I found the astronomical clock, where tourists gathered in masses every hour, to watch a skeleton ring a bell, and a man play a horn. I wandered for many hours, just staring at the incredible buildings, and finally finding a place to sit down for a few hours and drink some coffee. The coffee is very expensive here, 55 crowns for a cappuccino, (beer starts at 27 crowns).I found the Charles Bridge, which was also packed with tourists, producing a stream of brightly colored umbrellas.
In the evening, Idly and went out to a huge club that was five stories tall. It had five different kind of clubs-one floor was playing oldies, another was playing popular beyonce, rhianna, etc, there was a techno floor, and I don’t know the others! It was packed, and everyone spoke a different language. I have never heard so many languages in one place. We were there till about three in the morning and then wandered around the city until sunrise in search of our metro home. It was great, and we slept in till 1pm the next day.
The next day we went out to explore some more. We went walking, and explored the castle-which was incredible. The view of the city with the red roofs and amazing steeples, was breathtaking, and the church is an enormous gothic style structure with gargoyles all over. We had all day to explore, and found ourselves at an italian place for dinner-where we met Ola (in the picture below). The three of us took the metro to the beer fest.
Now, I have never been to a beer fest, but this was hilarious. People were dancing wildly on the dance floor and on nearby tables, there were a lot of men falling down, and women dressed as beer maids, serving everyone. Conveniently right out side, there were carnival rides like the zipper and lots of spinning tides that would definitely make one sick after consuming all sorts of beer inside the tents.
We stayed just for an hour or so and ventured onwards to a smaller cocktail bar to sit and talk for a while longer before heading for the metro, and home. We spent last day, again wandering the city and going out for dinner.
Every where I went in Prague, I was amazed. The stone roads, and gigantic buildings, the red roofs, and the seven bridges, the well dressed people. and the tram lines, everything (except the gray weather), has been incredible. People are out all night long, literally all times of the day and night, the metro is bustling, and people are out. The smell of sausage lingers near tram stations, where small fast food like joints are placed selling meat and beer.
(they had fruit and vegetables-it was great)
I have to keep it short- I have a bus leaving in an hour for Olomouc, where I stay until the 20th. May 20th- I take a bus to Brno, then to Budapest, where I will be until I fly to vienna on the 25th until the 28th, then to Athens!
Greeted with colorful banners and Netherland-themed drawings, I was welcomed by Janette and her family on May 7th-morning. I had spent my last night in India with friends and finished it off the way I had welcomed it-Java City, Temptations, and Pebbles-style (not to mention the coffee, idlies, masala dosas, coconuts, juices, and on and on).
I waved goodbye to Mahima and Kris through the glass windows of the airport, and went to check in. Ten hours of flying and almost no security or customs waiting and hassle, I reached Amsterdam around 12am, and we all introduced ourselves, and chatted as we walked to the car.
We drove-past solar panels-in oh so cloudy Amsterdam… and pastures-HUGE green fields with hows and canals. The traffic moved fast and the roads were empty-of everything except cars. No vendors, no cows, no dogs, no pani puri, just highway followed by greenery. ( I liked the movement of traffic, I missed the street life)
We drove over rivers- big and small, and boats. We wove through their neighborhood streets housing tall brick buildings, churches, and people. Lots of people on bikes and on foot, and very strange looking trees. Trees that grew straight up and then in two directions, reached out horizontally, as if the branches were arms of a scarecrow. Only, it didn’t stop here, with greater heights, another pair of “arms” would appear, and this would continue for some while.
The house was amazing. It had been described to me as small, but I would say it was-efficient- with regards to space. Exploring the house, brought me back to ADP 3(?) with Nick Tobier, we covered Dutch design and architecture just a bit.
In the few days I spent with their Janette, Andre, Maud, and Iera, we did a lot! We ate traditional dutch food- bread, butter, and sprinkles-amazing combination, for starters. We had stroopwaffles-which were another amazing treat, and pancakes with raisins! We had other things too, but theses were a few highlights.
We went downtown to the main area of the village, and found ourselves highly amused by the sort of life museum that was taking place. There were WWII camp sites set up everywhere, and soldiers from the war wandering around the streets, eating ice cream and chatting on their cell phones. There were flags everywhere, and army vehicles parked through the streets.
We roamed, past the HUGE river, and we biked through some really nice trails. I was able to take a really nice hot shower, and-in all honesty-they definitely pampered me! I even got to sleep in Iera’s bunk bed. Both Iera and Maud can ride a unicycle. I am still amazed by this.
I said goodbye for a few days and went to Rotterdam and Amsterdam. Rotterdam, was quiet-it was sunday and everything was closed, but I walked all day long and made some friends who I spent time talking to in the park. I also visited the Cube houses, which were incredible. I could never live in one, but to look at, these structures were intriguing. (I will add pictures when I can!)
I also found a market where they were selling my poofy pants I love dearly and wore every day in India for 75 euros! (three usd in India). I later found my masala dosa for an astounding 12 euros (usually 24 rs/50 cents-usd), and had to run away from the South Indian restaurant before reading further! I saw the bridge, and went to a Museum where I saw lots of design, Dali, Degas, Rembrandt, and on.
I spent the evening drinking coffee at my hostel and the guys who worked there, plus some other guests, and the hostel dog-beautiful cocker spaniel!
Two nights, I then spent in Amsterdam. The first night I was at the Stayokay, the second-at the travellers hostel. Similar to Rotterdam, I just walked around all day long-both days. There were glimpses of sunlight now and then, but in the shade and in the wind, it was cool. The garbage collectors were on strike, so trash lined the curbs and piled up in front of the beautiful monuments. Every time I went walking, I found new things, new places, new markets, and I was very startled when I wound up in the Red Light District. It always happened while my eyes were attached to the massive church up in the sky, while my feet continued down an unknown ally- and when I would continue my window shopping, the baguettes, and coffee shops had transformed into glass doors framing women in lingerie and red, drawn curtains.
I got over it fast, for I found myself there unexpected- very often. I walked very far in all directions, and would sometimes sit down for a coffee, a Heineken, or a baguette. The last night there, I stayed up most of the night in a small shop drinking coffee while it rained outside. It was cozy and I had the best seat in the house, the one against the window, where people watching was prime. I spoke for many hours with people as they came and left, people either “passing through” or “taking a few days off”.
In the morning I returned to Janettes house, and we had another really mellow day, while I made further arrangements for travel-with their help.
We all piled in the car and drove me to the bus stand, where a huge yellow bus picked me up. Student Agency, a bus line, cost 70 euros from Utrecht to Prague, and would arrive at 5 am in the night! The bus stopped nearly every hour (if that) and I am not sure it was always to pick people up. I am more convinced, the stopping was for the unfortunate addiction of all the passengers; smoking. Every hour, the passengers would pile off the bus, stand in the cold and smoke, then pile back on, only to repeat this action within the hour.
Goodbye to the Netherlands-just for now. I would love to go back. It was incredible. The place where Janette lives is unbelieveable-brick buildings and roads, canals and very old boats. The architecture of different neighborhoods, the friendly people. Bikes EVERYWHERE, and people are outside. The houses were tall, and the windows HUGE, so the house was full of natural light and you could watch the neighbors go by. The canals that cut through the grassy fields held motor boats. On my tram ride, there were grasslands, and a canal where all sorts of big boats were parked-not up against a boardwalk, up against the grassy field… it was amazing. Windmills- old and new, draw your attention with almost no hope of returning it. The tall, skinny, homes that would twist around the bend and go on for as far as one could see, drew out a cityscape I have never experienced in real life, and the contrast between old and new (especially in Rotterdam where most of the old buildings were destroyed) was beautiful.
Strange, to be looking at baby pictures in the Netherlands with a woman I haven’t seen in 20 years! To see pictures of my parents in the East Lansing house, raising three small kids, and big smiles-was a treat!
Strange to not be in India.
Already- I am leaving Chennai!
I have spent the last ten days with Rima in Chennai. We stayed at her house for most of the break, but took a small trip of our own to pondie and Auroville. Pondicherry was amazing. The two of us woke up early and jumped on a bus. We fell in and out of sleep, while we watched the ocean pass us by. Upon arrival, we found out that the hotel we had booked for a 225 rs room, had given that room away and now we were stuck with no room or a 450 rs room. We ended up taking the room after hearing there was and that everything was closed. We only partially believed it.
They showed us the room, white, and clean. We set down our things and went out to see where exactly we were and what we could find. Turned out-the man at the hotel was right, EVERYthing was shut-and we were hungry. We made a few stops before returning to the hotel where I filled up on my four baby bananas, and Rima, her four baby bags of chips. We sat and chatted for a few hours, until we fell asleep for a bit. In the evening, we were up and out the door. We shopped around a bit and while walking down the street, they heard drums. Alyssa ran out the door of the store they were looking in, and found an elephant leading a procession through the street. Elephants really do roam the streets-accompanied-but they roam none the less 🙂
We planned to leave the following day, just look around Auroville, and head out, however when we decided just to ask-about accommodations, we were shown amazing photos and agreed to spend another night…which turned into two nights. Our new guest house was incredible in and of itself. THe location was extremely peaceful and laid back, and we were in heaven.
We spent the night writing, reading, and chatting. In the night, after falling asleep, I watched the fan turn off, and then all of a sudden the heat was unbareable and that was the end of sleep for the night. This was the only downside-everything else was incredible! We just happened to pick the worst-weather-time of year to come.
After two days of peace and quiet, relaxation, wandering, and sleep, we returned to chennai.
Rima’s sister, Megha had arrived and the three of us went out to a Spanish Tapas restaurant. Over the last few days, we saw, “how to train your dragon”, went to a place called “ID” short of Idly-dosa-which was incredible, we went out for fancy dessert afterwards, as well. They dressed me in a saree and we all went out for food. I bought my own saree, and their mom taught me how to wear it. We stood in the living room while I practiced wrapping this incredibly long material around myself before looking to her for approval. I watched and learned how to cook a number of dishes, which I will surely forget before my return home, and talked with her grandmother about her life.
Today, I get BACK on the train (which I am really excited about) to Yelahanka (slightly less exciting). I get in at 10 and will hopefully see some people, repack my bag and box, ship something off with fedex, and be off by tomorrow night! Crazy, that this is coming to an end. As sad as I am to leave India, knowing I will come back coupled with the my excitement for the following weeks in Europe, help numb it. A new adventure now!
By 11am, I had already had an amazing day.
4 am-wake-up call-I waited and waited for the cab to arrive, and did so about 40 minutes late. In the dark, I walked down the road to meet him, got in, and we were on our way to the railway station. As of today I had not taken a train in India, and was extremely excited to do so. We pulled up to a huge mass of people. People with bags walking in, walking out, and people asleep all over the floor. I asked how to get to platform seven, and found it with ease. I double checked that this was the right train, found my boggie/compartment, and was pleased with how many shops were nearby. I bought a coffee as the train slowly crept up to meet us. 6 am on the dot. We all got on to a compartment with AC. The isles were huge, a person would not even need to move his or her legs for someone to slide by. I sat down and closed my eyes.
When I opened my eyes, I found a cup of steaming coffee, biscuits, carmel candies, a huge water bottle, and today’s newspaper. I looked out the window, and found that we were already moving, and the sun was rising above the clouds in a beautiful orange, pink sunrise. Next to me, a young woman with a baby girl atop her lap. This young girl wore a small pink dress, and had a purple barbie clip holding her hair back. One seat over, was the young girls brother, and across the isle from him, their father.
I stared out the window and fell in and out of sleep. I was constantly being handed things. After coffee, came breakfast-I could recognize what all the food was supposed to be based on the breakfasts I have eaten here. All our tickets told the man what kind of meal, veg, non veg, etc. After breakfast, more coffee, and an hour or so later, juice. I love the train here.
When we pulled into the station, the intense humidity greeted me immediately. With greater speed than Rima running towards me, even. She and her dad came to pick me up and we walked through the station out to the car, and drove back to their place. I met her mother, grandmother, and her home.
From there, we had a relaxing day. Dosas!! shopping, and lunch! I took a beautiful nap and we made aloo parathas with her mom. (Chipati-esque with potatoes inside).
This is relaxing. To have no deadlines, no work…
and a coconut brought home for me by rima- only good things over here
Today is my last day in Bangalore-as I know it.
We went to dinner together, to the market, and had a small gathering atop the kitchen counters. The strangest part, my first goodbye. Goodbye to someone I won’t see for at least a year and a half. It feels like any other day, we will hang out tomorrow, get juice, chaat, coffee. We will walk down the street while I talk nonsense using lots of body motions, and things will be normal. How strange.
Tomorrow, the cab comes at 4:30 am in time for my 6 am train. This will be the first time on a train! Excited, yet fairly confident I will be sleeping for the entirety of the trip, I spent the evening packing and procrastinating packing-with juice, chaat, jalebi-the works.
I never tried jalebi at home. (The orange spiral candy). It concerned me, the color, the fact that I had no idea WHAT it could be made of… but in the market of Yelahanka, Bangalore, a man sets up every evening, two huge vats of unknown liquids of a thick consistency. He uses a rag with batter inside it and a slit in the corner to draw the spirals in the vat of liquid that sits above an angry flame. The batter hardens, and he flips them. The first one he picks out of the liquid, he circles around the flam before feeding it to the fire. With that done, he begins his evening routine, while an impatient crowd forms.
Tomorrow, I go to Chennai. I have been invited to stay with Rima for a few days before heading on to Pondicherry. Rima will say goodbyes from here, and I will have almost a week to relax there on my own. From there, I head to Amsterdam and who knows where for a period of three weeks before meeting mike in Greece for the last two weeks of traveling before returning home.
The last few days, there has been incredible rain. Wild wind followed by rainstorms and thunder. It cools the whole place down, and creates excitement in the people and animals. I have been able to play in the water for the last few days, I love my warm rain.
Yesterday morning, as I walked out the door on my way to the mess, I heard an unfamiliar noise. It began to sound like an instrument and as I looked down the road, I saw two men and two cows. The cows were decorated in all sorts of fabrics, bells and such. The two men blowing into long tube like instruments. What a lovely way to start ones day.
No words yet-
it still feels like another school night in Bangalore. Which has become “normal”. When-at home-would, “just another day of school” be one in yelahanka, Bangalore, where I pass cows roaming the streets, men ironing clothes on carts parked on the side of the road, coconut water being consumed through straws, and aggressive autos flying by-be normal?
Weird how quickly we adapt.