Croatia, stirring thy soul

Language is a powerful paradox. On the face of it, it just has functional utility of communication. But as you peel off the layers, you unravel an intricate art spun from words. Deep in this web are some words that are special, having the potential to stir souls as no one can. If there was one word to describe these words, it would be exquisite. Countries pose a similar paradox, with the layers indicating only the usage of countries for habitation but as these layers are peeled off, you see some countries that stand out from others. For their nature, for their gifts and for their beauty. Croatia is one such exquisite country.

The Adriatic Sea coast enroute Dubrovnik, from Split

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Love with Prague

I had high expectations of Prague even before I went there. That was mostly because all my female friends who have been there recommended it vehemently to me. “Prague ki feel hi kuch alag hai!” was what I had heard. I didn’t realise that soon enough, but when I did, I knew just the word to qualify Prague. If Budapest is wild, Prague is romantic.

Yes, Prague is as romantic as romance can get. If Budapest is a prostitute, Prague is the lover. If Chain Bridge is about sex, Charles Bridge is about love. The narrow alleys of Prague, with the cobbled stones and bright-coloured houses, hesitatingly invite you to explore the city, just like a lover seduces you to explore her deepest secrets, while holding back simultaneously. But you truly have to be patient to realise this true beauty of Prague, for there are many tourists trying to woo her simultaneously. “A city is not a concrete jungle, but a human zoo”, said by our walking tour guide, kept resonating as I went through this town.

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The wild wild Budapest

Money is a strange thing. It changes not only its color but also its worth as it changes hands and places. And money is truly powerful when things come cheap. For then, it injects shots of greed into your blood and makes you crave for new experiences. And Hungary is an embodiment of that greed. But Hungary is one temptation you should not resist. After all, as Gekko said, “Greed is good.”

Hungary wants you to taste it, lick it, devour it and throw it as if it were a chocolate bar, leaving a sweet after-taste. Hungary has been bedded by a lot of colonial powers, from Romans to the Soviets. Her compromised virginity has now made her like a prostitute, who seduces you into her brothel, wants you to make rough sex to her and forget her, but not the amazing time you had. And that makes Hungary wild.

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Austria

Austria is in many ways a close kin of Germany, emulating its language as well as rudeness. But it still has its own distinct character. And continuing with my previous articles, if Netherlands is trippy, Austria is musical. And a lot of the accolade goes to arguably the greatest composer of all time, Mozart. There is also this Sound of Music connection with Salzburg, as the entire classic was shot there. Again, musical!

Salzburg breathes Mozart, visibly and otherwise. There is the Mozart birth-house, Mozart living-house, umpteen Mozart cafes and hotels. Even while the extent of commercialization is pitiful, it pains me when an entity tries to owe its entire identity to a single person. As Saral da says, “A system is greater than the sum of its parts” and so is a city. And the soul of an entire city/town is ruined in one shot if a single person is the only towering influence. This over-exploitation of Mozart ultimately led to Salzburg being just another nudnik town, quite different from what I had expected.

There are two good destinations quite near Salzburg — Werfen Ice caves and Hallstat Salt mines. Mountains give me immense joy (and that in a way signifies the quantum of pain as I am not doing Iceland this year). And the Austrian Alps were no exception to that, as we had a brush with them during the Werfen trip. It was quite early and foggy (and even snowed a bit) when we had started and the fog hid the alluring snow-clad Alps, just as a veil hides a beautiful bride. It’s not really cold until a strong gush of wind greets you at the entrance of the caves. After that, you enter a 42 km (read that again) ice cave, the largest in the world. There are steep glaciers, long icicles, natural sculptures created by the wind and limestone ceilings. It doesn’t actually feel like 0 degrees in there, may be because the limestone absorbs all the cold in the winter season. Nevertheless, only the 1st km of this cave is open to the tourists. And truth be told, it was not that great. The icicles should have been longer and denser, the wind stronger and the cave colder.

The guide inside Werfen Ice Caves (Clicked by a friend)

Nonetheless, when we exited the cave, we were greeted with a view spectacular as any, as the bride had lifted its veil by then. The curvy waist of that bride, the Salzach river, in its pale blue water flowed in between the cave mountain and the majestic Hohenwerfen castle, overlooking the snowy mountains, created the picture that any second-grader draws when asked to describe scenery.

The next day we hopped on a train to Vienna and went to Vienna’s most famous destination — The Schonbrunn Palace. I particularly liked this one because of its bright colors and mammoth size. Palaces are usually dull from the outside, with greyish tones and reddish bricks. But this one isn’t. The Palace and its gardens, spread over 435 acres, make you forget the city buildings, as you walk calmly alternating between arrays of lush green trees, orange autumn leaves and creepers.

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Iceland

A different kind of heaven on Earth

Iceland is not a big country. It is about 500 km wide coast to coast and harbors a population downwards of 350,000. It is not a world power or a major influencer of global geopolitics. But the beauty of Iceland is not in its size or inhabitancy or clout; it lies in sheer natural landscape and terrain.

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The never -ending road

A car and a road is the way to explore the island. Public transportation is minimal and the infrastructure is built for vehicles to ply on empty, smooth roads at high speeds though the law limits the speed to 90 km/hr. Straight paths covered with tar stretch for scores of kilometers without obstruction, occasionally ornamented by narrow bridges over shallow streams. When in the city, roundabouts ensure that one possibly cannot accelerate to one’s heart’s content, and for good measure. Wind speeds easily touching 35 km/hr make cars drift. The danger of doors getting blown away is real. Dense fogs reduce visibility to a few meters. It is a norm to drive with your headlights on. Halting without blinking parking lights is a sin. In the outskirts, the darkness makes the driver grateful for the one vehicle in front of him that he can follow. Continue reading →

Netherlands

In my earlier article, I described how the gaeity is best associated with festivals (particularly Oktoberfest). Continuing the combination of my love for literature and travel, Netherlands can be described at best — trippy. Trippy is an often abused word, just like Netherlands.

Netherlands is often associated with sex and drugs. And it seems to be designed to please admirers of these. No wonder, trippy. Rotterdam has some of the most weirdly designed buildings — be it the central station in shape of a boomerang, a half-suspended bridge, a distinct maroon-colored skyscraper or another red building with white frames.

Rotterdam bridge and other buildings

And when you are walking through these streets, glancing at these imperfect art forms, after a rendezvous with ‘space cake’, the gaps slowly ebb out to make the picture perfect. Gaps of space and gaps of time!

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Living travel through Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing, or CS as it is commonly known, as defined by the Urban Dictionary:

  • A cheap form of lodging used mainly by college-students or recent college-grads, where one stays on acquaintance’s couches rather than a hotel
  • What someone who can’t afford rent on their own and/or can’t find roommates quick enough does when they are “between” places

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