Road trip to the mountains: Iraqi Kurdistan

Sharing a wonderful travel blog…#Reblog

Road trip to the mountains: Iraqi Kurdistan.

Advertisements

Euro Trip Blog – Part I

It has been quite some time since I returned back from my Euro Trip & despite some nudging by friends & family, I have been reluctant (rather lazy) to pen down my experiences. However, the memories continue to be so vivid that eventually, I could not resist putting them into words. As I began to write them, I found myself getting more and more interested. Honestly, this trip was a life changer in many ways, one which allowed me to combine two of my best passions – travelling & photography. I experienced new cultures, made new friends, travelled to new countries and saw the most beautiful places in the world. I returned back, wiser & wealthier by experience than I could ever imagine. I can never forget this golden opportunity as part of an exchange program from IIMC and without any doubt, encourage the adventurers in the world to sign up for such a program.

Thanks to Giovanni, Andrew, Shalini, Anand Laskar, Abhishek, Flavio, Tanuj, Puneet, Anand Singh, Karthik, Rishi, Krati, Carol, Mona, all the free walking tour guides & the many travellers I met along the way who made my trip unforgettable and taught me the true meaning of human spirit!! I certainly wish I get a chance to reciprocate in the near future.

Special thanks to my fellow IIMC batchies Prateek & Ankit for putting me up at their places!!

Instead of following a chronological narration (which was difficult anyways given that my euro trip is nearly an year old), I decided to list down moments (not in any particular order) which will forever remain in my memory as long as I live. I split it up into two parts for ease of reading (and giving me more time to write the rest of the stuff)

1)    Atop the Eiffel

On a bright sunny day, I got the most spectacular view of Paris from atop the Eiffel – the river Seine, Sacra Couer at one end, Notre Dame at another, the boulevards and much more. The Eiffel tower itself might not be the most amazing piece of architecture but I can assure you that no other European city has any monument which can give you such a splendid view of the city and that too of the most beautiful European city!!

Smiles from the 2nd level on the Eiffel!!

2)   Snowflaked at Titlis

If Paris is the most beautiful city in Europe, Switzerland must be the most beautiful European country (PS: I am yet to visit Scandinavia). It’s natural beauty simply bedazzles you before you even realize it. I still remember my first entry into this Alpine nation on a train from Milan. The journey from Lausanne to Titlis was a long & beautiful one going through Lucerne, Engelberg & finally through the chairlift to Titlis. This was the first time I have ever been surrounded by snow-clad mountains all around me. The heavenly feeling you experience atop the Alps summit is simply exhilarating. I had gr8 fun going down the snow on a bobsled & wading my way through snowpiles!! I could not visit other summits like Zermatt but rest assured, Switzerland is a must-visit country for all those who love nature & the mountains!!

Utopia does exist in this world!!

3)   Biking through Zurich

Through a quirk of fate, I got another opportunity to visit my favourite European destination. All thanks to Anand, I headed back to Zurich from Paris & on the way, ran out of cell phone balance!! Luckily for me, Anand boarded the same train at the border just before Basel!! Zurich typifies the banking powerhouse that Switzerland is rated. However, the best part of my trip was renting out a bike for free at the Zurich train station and biking my way along tramlines and the beautiful Zurich Lake. Along the way, I met a Siberian husky who bounded away in the open grasslands which touched the lake. A boat ride on the lake (courtesy my Eurail pass) presented some fantastic scenes of Zurich!!

4)   The Champions – Ajax Amsterdam vs Real Madrid!!

I must confess that I am not one of those crazy fans of football but a visit to Europe isn’t complete without watching two premier clubs clash in the UEFA Champions League!! I and few of my IE colleagues got together to watch Real Madrid take on Ajax Amsterdam at the Santiago Bernabeu. Real came up trumps on their home turf with a 2-0 win but the sights & sounds at the stadium as the UEFA anthem was played was simply amazing. It was an unforgettable experience watching so many fans cheering for their favourite club as Christiano Ronaldo dribbled past so many Ajax defenders with Jose Mourinho shouting from the sidelines. I had purchased two football jerseys way back in 2002 – one of Manchester United & other of Real Madrid. The Man U jersey was torn to pieces when I played holi at IIT. On D-Day, I was lucky enough to wear the Real Madrid jersey to root for the home team!!

5)   Castled down south!!

It was only fitting that I started my journey to the famous Neuschwanstein castle early in the morning as it afforded some amazing sights of hills, plains, mountains & lakes all rolled into one. The castle is located along the southern border of Germany, touching Austria. Needless the say, the castle, built in the late 18th century, is said to have inspired Walt Disney and resembles the Disney logo in many ways. It seemed like a fairytale to see the wooden gates sandwiched between the two towers. One could easily let their imagination loose with the castle picturizing sights from a Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings novel. The interiors are decorated fabulously and the castle itself is sweetly perched atop a hill. For all those who love fantasy & fairytales, this place can’t be left out your European itinerary!

Neuschwanstein @ South Germany

6)   Partying in Madrid

If Europe is the place for party animals, Spain will easily top the table of European nations in that. My first party in Madrid (organized by IE) was quite an experience with everyone hitting the dance floor into the wee hours of the morning. It’s the time to let loose all inhibitions and simply enjoy the moment. Pity, I don’t drink but Europe is also a drinker’s paradise. Your European trip will be incomplete if you haven’t hit a bar or pub!! Madrid will easily give Milan the run for its money as the fashion hub of Europe. The outfits worn by one and all during the fashion week in September were a sight to behold. Thanks to my fellow IE colleagues, I had a gr8 time at bars & dinner houses!!

Giovanni (my landlord) & me

Me & Carol at Fashion Week @ Madrid

7)   Where Champions belong!!

I have always been passionate about sports. Tennis has been extra-special having followed legends like Sampras & Graf on TV. To visit Roland Garros, one of the four major grand slam destinations was a dream come true for me. The museum showcased videos of players from Chang to Federer, all winners at the French Open alongwith a brief history of how the Open began in early 19th century. I could pose like a player at the press box and also visit the players’ locker rooms. The wall inside the Centre court hall has the signatures of all players who have ever played at the Open. As I stepped out on the Centre Court, I could close my eyes and imagine the crowd watching Federer & Nadal battling it out!! For a tennis aficionado, if you don’t visit Wimbledon, this is as good as it gets!!

At the Players' Press Box @ Roland Garros, Paris

Signature from the God of Tennis!!

Centre Court (Philippe Chatrier)

8)   Remember the titans – Dachau

Inevitably, one of the first things that comes to any mind when you think of Europe is World War II. And where else but Germany can you find the most significant monuments of World War history. A visit to the Dachau concentration camp near Munich was a pretty heart-rending experience. I entered the camp through gates which carry the words “Arbeit Macht Fre” which translates to “Work Liberates”. As I walked down the road which lay beside the foundations of erstwhile bunkers, my hair stood on end with grief and horror. The gas chambers and incinerators were still there although the one at Dachau remained unused unlike Auschwitz or Sachsenhausen. The soulfully melodious music of “Schindler’s List” rang through my ears as I went from image to image at the museum. The innumerable letters written by Dachau inmates to their loved ones moved me to tears!!

 

9)   Lost in the Louvre

The Louvre unfailingly reminds me of the Da Vinci Code as the point where the chase finally unfolds. I still like to believe that there is a sarcophagus hidden beneath the glass pyramid which adorns the majestic square. The Louvre is so huge that it’s virtually impossible to see all sections in a single day. The Mona Lisa ofcourse attracts the most attention although I was particularly impressed by the Napolean coronation painting & beautiful sculptures in the gallery. The recreated Napolean’s room with its artistic chandeliers is a must watch!!

10) Salzing with the wind!!

Remember the Sound of Music. I must confess I have only heard of this musical before but not seen the movie itself but when you visit Salzburg, you will feel that the town itself is immersed in some peaceful & soulful music which is carried by the winds!! The narrow tiled streets which pass through the town & the river bridge covered by the clouds give a spectacular view of the town. I was simply thrilled to have dinner in an Indian restaurant in Salzburg. Can’t help but feel jealous that Austrian urbanites live in places like Salzburg while we live in Bombay or Delhi!!! A few miles away from this wonderful town lies Eisrenwelt, the world’s largest naturally formed ice-caves. The ride to the top of Austrian Alps was mesmerizing. Walking through the caves with a fire-lit lamp just took me back in time when the first explorer discovered this b’ful place. Quite an adventurous and unforgettable experience!!

 

Walkway to the ice-caves @ Austria

11)  A date with Tintin – Brussels

Sometimes, I wish I could be lucky enough to be a reporter like Tintin. His exploits are truly legendary and thrilling. With Snowy & Captain Haddock for company, they set sail across the world seeking adventure & fighting villains!! Visiting Brussels – the hometown of Tintin creator Herge – was a pleasant experience. It was a very cloudy morning with rain in the air as I landed in Brussels. After watching the famous Manekkin pis, I treated myself to a large piece of Waffles with ice-cream & chocolate before losing myself to the world of Tintin & Co..

Waffles covered with ice-cream & Chocolate!!

With Thompson & Thomson

12) Choco-o-holed at Bruges

I haven’t seen the movie “In Bruges” but this quintessential medieval town surely takes you a few centuries back. The markets open, the bells tong and people flock around the numerous chocolate shops along the way. After visiting the b’ful town square, I literally dived into Belgium’s medieval past on a boat ride which took us past many old artistic buildings & halls. One simply cannot leave Belgium without paying a visit to a Chocolate museum – Complete statues made of pure chocolate!! No wonder, I own my existence today to certain Incas who thought of making better use of cocoa….

Hope you enjoyed the above. Part-II to follow soon!!

The Globe trekker continues..

>Quite exactly like Ian Wright, the host of much-popular TV show “Lonely Planet” or now known as “Globe Trekker” on Discovery Channel, my tour in UAE also continued courtesy a rare 3-day weekend provided by the company. And yes, now having visited 4 cities & 3 emirates in the UAE, I am in a better position to analyse all of them.

Al-Ain is by far one of the most beautiful cities I have seen. Very very green and definitely, a place which my parents would love to stay. It’s amazing that Al-Ain has been maintained so beautiful, so green by the ruling authorities. Everywhere you would find gardens. Lots of open spaces. Not a single building allowed more than 3 floors. Just a very serene and calm place to live.

On the contrary, Abu Dhabi is a concrete jungle – a highly consumerist emirate and only buying and selling takes place here. There is lack of open space, lack of greenery and the serenity – just a like a cosmopolitan city in India. Ditto Dubai. Additionally, Dubai is a financial centre. Sharjah is very good and neatly developed – the roads are designed very well along the coast and it really is amazing to walk down the coast. Having said all that, Al-Ain is a place where children can be reared by parents and taught a lot of things – especially to fall in love with nature.

The view from the amazing Jebel Hafeetmountains are a sight to behold for the adventurers. The drive to the top was equally stunning. In between the mountains, they have constructed a green garden with lot of open spaces to play especially for children. On the rocks, they have got soil and grass from different places and constructed it on the mountains. Right at the top of the mountain, one can see the splendid view of deserts extending far and wide in every direction – In the west direction, the desert proceeds towards the Liwa Oasis and further west, you would reach the border of Saudi Arabia. If you look south-east, you would find the plains extending into Oman. And just as I was admiring this splendid view and taking a pic of my friend, a ferocious red-colour bee stung me right through my shirt. The burning sensation was terrible and despite water treatment, the burning didn’t subside. Finally, as a precautionary measure, I had to be taken to a doctor for an anti-allergic injection. Thankfully nothing much happened and the pain subsided in a few days’ time.

Al-Ain shares its border with Oman. Infact, there is place called Burayami near Al-Ain which is actually in Oman but is bordered by UAE on 3 sides. Interestingly, it’s easy for anyone to drive down into Buruyami from Al-Ain and so I can proudly claim to have visited another country itself !!!!!!!!!! A special mention here has to be made of Kartik’s parents at whose place I spent that night amidst some very good food and company and lots of discussion. Indeed, they made it memorable for me by taking me on long drives in Al-Ain.

From Al-Ain, I caught a mini bus to Sharjah. Listening to “Yuhi Chala Chal Rahi” and going again and again through the maps (which I had xeroxed courtesy my french colleague at office) at every highway indicator, my journey to Sharjah was indeed memorable. On reaching there, it was easy to see why Sharjah is so different – the crowds seemed to pour in and finally the city feeling dawned on me. I soon called up Chetan and he directed to reach their place. After a simple but delicious lunch of Puris, Subji and Dahi, we made our way to Dubai for a pravachan by one guru in India – Pandurang Athavle. Despite not being so much into spirituality as my other friends (Sachin, Namrata S and Akshat are), I still liked listening to his lecture. After about an hour, we made our way back to Sharjah in Chetan’s dad’s car.

As always and it has to be expected from me, I told Chetan that I would like to visit the Sharjah cricket stadium before other things. His dad drove us and despite initially being sceptical as to whether we would be allowed inside or not, I and Chetan managed to muster enough courage to go inside.

To our extreme surprise, the person standing outside the entrance allowed us to go inside without the slightest hitch. And then it was just – WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I couldn’t believe my eyes that all this was happening in reality. I couldn’t believe I was looking down the same pitch where once the majestic GOD danced down the track to smack Warne over the top, where he made mince-meat of Kasprowicz and where he showed Australia their rightful place under the sun !!!!!!

Soon after spreading my excitement to my parents and amidst some wonderful camera-work, video-shooting aided with excellent commentary from Chetan, we made our way to the pitch. I touched the pitch and felt like kissing it but somehow, my expression always stops short of actually doing it. Nevertheless, I looked at the sky, down the pitch, all around the stands and a feeling sunk into me – perhaps all this was meant to happen. I felt that good things and special memories (sooner or later) always happens to people who are true in their nature. I thought of all the coincidences, the unbelievable miracles and beautiful sights which I have encountered in life so far- and felt why these things happened to me? GOD is truly great and I am happy he showers his best as also the worst on true people. No in-between stuff !!!!!!

Soon, we found ourselves in the Central Souq – a marketplace in the heartland of Sharjah. Chetan was excited all the while and it is extremely nice to have such people for company when you are visiting new places. We roamed around the coast, were exposed to a mini desert-storm which forced us back to our hut. Then we attended a Ganesh puja at Chetan’s friend’s place. India truly didn’t appear too far from there !!!!

Rounding off the night with some extremely thought-provoking discussion with Chetan, I made my way back next morning, half-sleepy and most definitely tired, back to Abu Dhabi. A truly memorable trip had ended !!!

Despite the work pressure, I am looking to make things memorable for myself over the weekend. Often, I visit friends and distant relatives in Abu Dhabi. I am extremely happy to find a decent group of expatriates who are from Bombay and are living here and continuously try and engage myself in cricket and soccer on weekends.

And yes, I am excited about my impending trip to Egypt in mid-Oct. Just waiting for my leave request to be approved by my boss !!!!!!!! 🙂

And beyond that, there is my rotational trip back to India in late December. I look forward to that – hope all my friends would be there to celebrate New Year with me.