There was a boy, about 12 years old, traveling by himself on the scenic train ride we took in Switzerland. He was seated two seats away from me but the car was relatively empty so the few of us who were in there kept switching seats to get a better view of the beautiful landscape. There is so much natural beauty in the Swiss Alpine region it’s hard to choose which side of the the train to look out from. When there was a particularly awe-inspiring sight, we’d poked our heads out of the windows.
“Achtung!” the boy warned me. The train was going through a tunnel and, bewitched by the gorgeous vista, I didn’t realize it then. “Danke” I thanked him, effectively using 25% of my total German vocabulary. [The other 75% consisting of the words "bitte"- please; "auf wiedersehen"- goodbye (thanks to Heidi Klum and Project Runway) and "würste" - German sausage (which wasn't very useful since I don't eat sausages). I don't know even know if I can construct a coherent sentence with those words: "Please! Sausage? Goodbye." See what I mean?]
Anyway, language proved not a problem for us and the boy and I continued communicating throughout the journey using a series of gestures and sound effects.
At one point, the train stopped close to a herd of cowbell-wearing cows. Hearing the bells jingle softly as the cows lumbered across the field was a surreal experience. I knew what cowbells sounded like, but this was in real-life stereo. So authentic. And soothing. I pictured myself living in the mountains doing nothing but painting landscapes and eating fine Swiss Chocolates for breakfast when the kid gave a loud “Moo!”, interrupting my daydream. The train started moving again and the crowd continued their seat-shuffling routine. The boy did a little monkey dance and pointed at everyone, himself included, suggesting that we all looked like monkeys. I looked around and nodded in agreement. We both giggled quietly and put our fingers on our lips, not wanting to share this silly little observation with anyone else.
The boy suddenly turned to a man in front of him and with much excitement, pointed to something in the distance while saying something in German. The guy replied, “Sorry kid, I don’t speak your language,” unaware of the fact that for the past hour I had been talking to the boy without the need to utter a single word.
Thought I’d start sharing selected accounts of my European trip in May.
The day before we (hubby and I) did the standard Paris thing – Eiffel Tower, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe. There wasn’t an actual itinerary for the second day – get to Montmartre and we’ll see what that leads us to.
We got to Montmartre by metro. Tip: if you are going to use the public transport more than 8 times (or 4 times each if you’re with a partner), it’s cheaper to get a carnet of 10 tickets (11.60 Euros) than a single ticket (1.60E).
Once there, we browsed through the shops selling souvenirs and then continued in the direction of the Sacre Couer Basilica. Along the way, we paused to take in the view of Paris from the hill. Ah, how blessed to be able to do this. Sat down to do a bit of people watching. There were a couple of guys hawking goods near the foot of the basilica. Some guys were forcibly tying friendship bands on tourists’ wrists and then demanding money afterwards. Here’s another tip: if you’re visiting a place, it helps to learn about the type of scams prevalent in that area.
After that we continued exploring the little alleys of Montmartre. I thought I’d have the feeling of stepping into set of one of my all-time favorite movies, Amélie(Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain starring Audrey Tatou), but no — this was real life so the scenes unfolding before us were not color-processed towards the warm tones characteristic of the movie. Ha ha. The area is very pleasant and charming nevertheless. We just need to walk one block away from the main tourist track to find ourselves completely alone.
We chanced upon a grocery store called Au Marche de la Butte that looked remarkably familiar.
It was the store from Amelie (where Lucien and his evil boss, Collignon, worked). The real owner’s name is Ali and he has become a mini celebrity because of the movie. One of his shop windows was covered with newspaper clippings mentioning his store. Apart from that, the store front looked exactly as I remembered it from the movie. The Two Windmill Cafe (Café des 2 Moulins) looked totally different though. It has been painted pink all over. There was a garden gnome sitting on the counter.
“I’m thinking of going to *insert-country-here* in September/Winter/next year. Any good advice?”
Here are some I received from well-meaning friends as I packed my bags for the trip in May:
“London?! Why? It’s so… dull! Skip London, go Paris instead”
“I didn’t like Paris. Highly overrated! Rude people. Go to Prague, you’ll enjoy it better!”
“No! Don’t. go. anywhere. There this Swine Flu thing going around!”
(Well, okay, the last advice was from my Ma)
London for me was vibrant and full of life; I encountered many helpful and friendly French people (et non, in my eyes, Paris is not overrated at all!) and although I find Prague a beautiful city, I can’t say if I enjoyed it “better” than Paris.
Travel is such a personal thing. Whether or not your experience is a good or not-so-good one depends on so many factors — the weather, the people you happen to meet (or who you’re travelling with), your interests, age and expectations. If I were to take any of the advice seriously, I would end up avoiding most of places I had planned to visit. So my advice is this: if you are keen on a place, do your own research and just go. Don’t let others dictate what your personal experience will be for you.
Hey everyone, I’m back from my month-long vacation. It’s been one hell of an interesting ride. Highlights of my journey include:
My feet are covered with blisters and my body is aching. It’s been a great experience. But oh, does it feel good to be back home. :)