In the summer of 2007, still a graduate student, I came to CERN for a summer school. That was my first glimpse of Europe, and after the school was over, I did a solo Geneva-Zurich-Rome-Pisa-Florence-Venice-Paris-Geneva trip, walking all day, spending nights at cheap hotels or taking night trains. A lot has happened since then, I graduated and moved to this side of the Atlantic. I have visited many exciting places, but most have been in tandem with academic trips, or weekend trips someplace with or to someone I know. While these have been great fun, nothing beats the sheer excitement of multi-destination semi-backpacking trips. So when this long-lost friend, proposed this trip, I was thrilled, and we spent days and weeks planning every detail. It certainly lived upto all the expectations, and I got to relive that first Euro-trip again, with someone who has never been to Europe before.
Some of my lasting memories from the trip, in no particular order.
Cinematic connections: First part of the trip took me to two cities associated with two of my favorite movies. Salzburg was of course the setting for "Sound of Music", and Jesse and Celine walked the streets of Vienna in "Before Sunrise". We did accidentally find the bridge they so memorably crossed.
Train on a ferry: The train from Rome to Sicily crosses Strait of Messina on a ferry. At Villa San Giovanni station, the train is split into 3 parts, and each is pushed into the ferry, the lowest deck of which has 4 set of tracks. At the other end in Messina, the tracks are aligned to the ground tracks again, the coaches are retrieved by an engine coming in and joined together, and the train rolls out.
Czech obscenities: Not their fault really, but the Czech word for exit is remarkably similar to the word for copulation in Bengali, my native language. Oh well.
Small pleasures of life: Walking all day through the charming streets of Prague on a hot sultry day, we were thrilled when we found people enjoying the water spray from this sprinkler in a little garden. Finding our way back to it at the end of the day, it was still on, and as people passing by giggled, we literally drenched ourselves. Pure bliss.
Sushi-coma in Vienna: After having a fill of Schnitzels, we stumbled upon this place advertising running Sushi. With a double-decker conveyor belt running by the tables carrying everything from cold sushi to warm dishes to fruits in small colorful bowls, in endless loop, it certainly felt like heaven. After two hours and countably infinite number of empty bowls in front of us, we walked out of the place in a trance like state.
Horse-steak in Sicily: for only three bucks, nonetheless. While I loved it, my friend completely freaked out and ended up having a large chunk of watermelon for dinner. For the bravehearted, the next item in the menu was lamb guts.
Freezing point is, really freezing: We ended up visiting ice caves near Salzburg in our summer clothing. Climbing up and down 700 steps inside the cave, often with icy winds made us sweat and freeze at the same time!
Train amenities: The Czech night train from Prague to Vienna had a shower. Never before I showered on a train. And the Hungarian train taking us back the same way had an outlet for electric shavers. Evidently shaving is a big deal for some men.
Music tourism in Vienna: In every street corner, people dressed in strange costumes would try to sell you concert tickets, and they simply would not take no for an answer, rather keep asking insisting that in the city of music, you must be at these highly acclaimed concerts in the royal palace. Incidentally, these "popular" concerts never seemed to sell out. Amusing at first, major irritant soon after.
World in black and white: It could as well have been the surface of the moon. At Mount Etna, everything has been devoured by lava, and the landscape is starkly black with white smoke coming out from live craters. A surreal feeling.
Nothing beats Florida beaches: Heard a lot about Sicily beaches, and while they are nice, most of them are strips of gravel. Not the alluring soft sands of Florida.
Seacaves in Syracusa: A boatride in Syracusa took us to these amazing little seacaves. Very local, very pretty.
Catastrophe in Catania: While walking on the cobbled streets, my friend ended up with a twisted ankle, and a bizarre sequence of events followed, culminating in me pushing a wheelchair around in Munich airport. Found out that German emergency healthcare is order of magnitude cheaper than US, and I now have a new-found sympathy for the mobility impaired people.