Euro Trip

This has been pending for a long long time. I did this trip last year. I have been meaning to write about this for a long time, but just couldnt get the right inspiration - Something happened the other day that reminded me of that trip, of Europe in general and I thought, I have to write about this. So here goes....

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The Euro rail screeched to a halt. I was sleepy. I had this brainwave of saving money on hotels by travelling in the night and roaming around the cities in the day. Traveller tip: Don't think you can save money by sacrificing sleep. I peered through the window. I saw a dimly lit platform, the Indian equivalent of Bhusaval. Something was wrong. This didnt look like Europe. Had we unknowningly slipped into a diffferent dimension? I thought about Tarantino's only good movie - Hostel 1.

Police entered the bogey. We were the only brown guys in that bogey, maybe in the entire train. An overfed sniffer dog entered, brown, hairy, his eyes the blue of merciless Siberian winter. His master looked very much the same, only, he had more hair. He looked at us suspiciously and then moved on. I repented my decision to do an Euro trip across Eastern Europe. I had chosen to visit areas where even my adventure crazy white friends had not been. Right then, we were somewhere between Slovenia and Croatia. My mind had now drifted to the more gruesome Hostel 2.

Then entered a police woman. Light blue shirt, dark blue pants, which seemed to fit her so well. Ah, so well. Tall, dark brown hair, light brown eyes, curves in the right places, with her right hand on the compartment door and the left hand on her hip, she said - Hi boys.... And smiled. Her smile lit up the compartment. In 2 mins, we had gone from the "Hostel" series to "That-movie-in-the-system32 folder" series.

I looked at JD, he smiled. We had both seen movies which started with women in uniform saying - Hi boys. But nothing of that sort happened. She asked for our passports, wished us happy journey and we were on our way.

Every morning we were greeted with beautiful landscapes whizzing past our compartment window. Had I clicked all those pictures, that I decided to keep engraved in my memories, I would have a mini-desktop wallpaper company by now.

It would be tiresome to share everything that happened during the trip, and anyway, that is not a point of a trip or a blog for that matter. I will share with you all the awesome things that happened on the trip.

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So this one morning, we reached Zagreb. We decided to live in the outskirts, which I realised, unlike Mumbai which stretches for like 40 kms, is like 3 kms from the city centre. So, we were super hungry because all the travel and everything. Actually, we are almost always super hungry. So we entered this small cafe. There was a caring middle aged lady and a cute girl in her early 20s serving us. So, since they were so nice, and we were so hungry, we ordered almost everything veggie on the menu. After a hearty meal, I took out two 10 Euro notes and placed them in front of them. The following dialogue followed.

"No, no. Not Euro. Croatia currency please"
Our research was so extensive that we didnt even know Croatia didnt have Euro.
"But I dont have Croatian currency. I only have Euros"
"No. No Euros."
Seriously?! You are saying no to the most powerful currency in the world!!
"Umm... I am sorry, but we dont have any Croatian currency." I said.
The 20 year old who was quiet till now, said -
"That's okay. You dont give money."
And she said that with a smile, which meant she wasnt being sarcastic.
"I will exchange Euros, and give you money" I said.
"Okay." she said. Her smile still intact. JD and I however, had a worried look. How could they trust us? What if we never came back?
The first thing that we did was exchange money at the hostel and pay those ladies.
"What do you suggest we do here" I asked the pretty one as I paid her in croatian currency.
"Spend lots of money in Croatia," she laughed.
I made sure I leave behind a huge tip. Croatians are the most patriotic people I met on the trip. They have a beautiful country, ravaged by years of war, they have put together a rather optimistic folk.

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We stayed at the awesomest places. So in Slovakia we stayed at a hostel that was once a prison. Then in Bratislava, we stayed at a hostel that was actually filmed in The Hostel. There was a bar downstairs which was constructed on that exact theme, with severed head and legs and everything.

In this particular hostel, the bathroom wasnt attached. So basically it was a common bathroom. What we didnt realise that it was common to boys and girls. So, this is what happened, the bathroom was occupied, so I thought I shave my 2 day old stubble. I was shaving, when the bathroom door opened, a girl, must be from southern Europe guessing from her hair colour, walked out, dripping, and picked up the towel that she must have placed there before the shower, wraped it around herself and walked away. I just stood there, foam on my face and water running.

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There is one more incident I have been trying to forget, but it is etched in my memory. So there is a hot water spring in Budapest, which of all the cities is my favourite city to live in Europe, apart from Berlin obviously. Budapest feels a lot like Mumbai, as in, it is really vibrant. So, after a soak, we decided to just lay in the sun, coz you know, we arent tanned already or something. So we came to the locker area and this German guy started talking to JD in German. I say, how did he know that we knew the language? It is not like we look German or anything!

The discussion moved from Budapest to Berlin, and suddenly, the middle aged man dropped his towel. Right in front of us! And there were more guys around! Nobody seemed to notice or mind. We were astonished, scarred for life, rather. And he kept talking. Like that thing hanging there didnt matter, discussing politics with two brown guys he had just met in the locker room! And while that wasnt weird enough, there was a japanese boy with his father and they undressed and dressed up right in front of each other. Like nobody used a towel to hide anything and stuff! And this shock came after living in Germany for 1 year. It is still there stuck in my head, just doesnt go away. :P

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Once we were cycling through Slovenia, I think it was, really, it is a blur. We came across a party in a garden. How can you be so chilled out to have a private party in a public garden? Only then, we realised it wasnt a private party. Everybody who passed by was invited.

This bunch of guys welcomed us and gave us a shot of something to drink. It was alcohol for sure, but they didnt tell us what it was. Imagine Vodka, if it was compressed to somehow increases the alcohol content, that was it. It burnt my inside.

What is this? - I asked
This is Serb drink. Very strong, no?
Yes. Very strong, I said, shaking my head sideways to get my orientation right.
Good. Here one more.

Then a few more.

Come come, you dance with us. - They said. We danced around in circles. With men, children, middle aged ladies, young ladies, grandmas, the priest. All this even before knowing our names or knowing where we were from!

I am Volkovich (or something like that), he is Buskovich, and so on. We told them our names, which I am sure sounded gibberish to them.

After the frolicking was done, in a serious voice and broken English they told us that they were Serb farmers who had lost land when Yugoslavia fell into several pieces. But before the atmosphere could die out, another round of drinks was served and everything was merry again.

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Though I love India and Mumbai esp, every time I pass an open drain, or an encroached footpath, I do miss Europe. I no longer find solace in the fact that we arent a rich country, coz you dont need to be a Germany to have beautiful road and wide sidewalks, even countries like Croatia can be beautiful if they want to. We just need people who believe in this country as much as they believe in theirs. A friend asked me if I missed Europe. Well, sometimes, I do. Very much.

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2 letters to the editor:

    On December 10, 2012 at 2:10 PM     
    Sumit said...

    Loved the post and the writing, Arshat. And if you find time, do visit Ladakh. I have not been to Eastern Europe, but Ladakh comes closest to what you described to places I have visited. My blog has a post with some pictures of the place but they can't capture beauty of the people and how the place feels so non-Indian.

    On December 12, 2012 at 6:03 PM     
    Chetan said...

    I remember one of my close friend who recently visited Europe had a real bad experience. His bag was stolen which had all his documents like passport, Id cards and euro rail tickets. After making some frantic calls to the Indian Embassy he was told to collect a letter from the office which described his situation and was suppose to help him get into Germany.
    With very limited money he decided to board a bus and traveled to some country where he was not allowed to enter without his passport. The letter from the Embassy apparently did not work.
    Even after explaining his situation to the police and making calls to the Embassy they din't allow him. He was stranded at some station for hours without a penny. This made him really depressed by now with no one to help him and nothing to eat. Seeing him, a local Pakistani guy approached and heard his story, who fortunately offered his help.
    My friend called up his professor in Germany who transferred some money into that persons account. The guy then bought some rail tickets and sent him to Germany somehow. This didn't end here, during his entire rail trip back to Germany he had to remain locked inside a bathroom to avoid checks.

    -CtS