Monday, July 20, 2015

Europe Trip and a Short Reflection on Life

"If I had grown up on a farm, and was retarded, then Bruges might impress me. But, I didn't, so, it doesn't!"

No, that is not my view of Bruges. In fact, I thought Bruges was a beautiful small little town. That is just a quote from the Hollywood movie, In Bruges. I came across that quote on a travel brochure/map of Bruges. I was intrigued that the creators of that brochure thought it would be appropriate to add a distinctively derogatory statement on their town to promote it. It made me realize that they could perhaps do it, because they were fully confident about the beauty of their town. If they had actually thought poorly about their town, they would probably have never used it on their brochure.

Anyway, I visited many beautiful places during my trip to Europe this May. The places included large cities like Brussels, Amsterdam, Rome and Napes, couple of medium-sized cities like Innsbruck and Trento, small towns like Bruges and Bolzano, and some small Italian villages like St. Christina, Urtijei and Selva. I found all these places beautiful in their own unique way. I also met some really fascinating people during my journey. I had described a few of those people in the previous post that I had made on my travels. But as I traveled more, I met some even more extreme people. For example, I met this guy from Israel who has been traveling all over the world for the past 18 years. Then, I met a French photographer who also had traveled all across the world spending at least three to four months in each city to be able to capture the essence of those cities on his camera. Then there was this Italian middle aged man in Naples who swum everyday over 1 kilometer in the sea. Another person who was really fascinating was a singer from Senegal who seemed to have watched all the Hindi movies made in India; he also sang a few Bollywood numbers for me. Apart from these people, I also got to meet my friend, Elisabeth, who was kind enough to spare some time for me to take me around Innsbruck and join me on a long hike up one of the mountains of Austria. So all in all, I had a wonderful trip.

That said, not everything was smooth and rosy. Did I experience something terrible during this trip? No, thankfully no, but I did experience a few difficulties, such as having to walk through the streets of Milan until 4 in the morning in search for any vacant hotel (as luck would have it, I arrived in Milan past midnight due to a flight delay, and my hostel reservation had been given to somebody else. Since there was some World Expo going on in the city at that time, finding another hostel/hotel at those unearthly hours became extra difficult). Or being forced out of the Dolomites because of bad weather (my original plan was to hike those mountains for one full week). Or having to spend one cold night at a small and crowded airport in Italy. But none of these experiences were hellish. They were just some endurable difficulties and disappointments, which are inevitable in travel (and life), especially if you dare to venture out of your comfort zone. Plus, I'm grateful for these experiences, because they helped me see and experience some unique things that I would have otherwise missed. For example, my night walk-marathon in search of a hotel in Milan led me to see the night life of prostitutes. The streets were deserted at that hour, but at every street corner there was a prostitute trying to solicit customers from the occasional passing cars. Similarly, the cold night at the Bergano airport helped me share that experience with many other fellow travelers. Even my not being able to hike the Dolomites for longer period might have been some blessing in disguise, or at least that's what I'm telling myself. First, the hiking season hadn't begun in the Dolomites when I reached there, which meant that the trails were completely deserted, and meant high risk for me if any untoward incident happened. Also, I may not have been able to hike the Dolomites sufficiently, but I did get to see the ancient cities of Rome and Naples, which were not part of my plan earlier. Sure cities don't appeal me as much as nature does, but it was nonetheless interesting for me to visit these cities, because they were so different from the other European cities I have visited so far.

Life is like travel in many ways. It is probably because of this reason that many poets and philosophers have used travel as a metaphor for life. We may never reach the heights of great travelers such as Xuanzang, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Sir Richard Burton or Captain Cook, but all of us have traveled some sort of short or long distance in our life. These travels may have been uneventful, difficult, or exciting for us, but the best part of our travels (according to me) are those moments during which our bodies and spirits were sagged of energy, and yet we somehow found the strength and courage to push through and complete our journey. And it is in this context that I'm reminded of a quote from Swami Vivekananda from his treatise on Karma Yoga. He says, " some instances misery is a greater teacher than happiness. In studying the great characters the world has produced, I dare say, in the vast majority of cases, it would be found that it was misery that taught more than happiness, it was poverty that taught more than wealth, it was blows that brought out their inner fire more than praise." So while I don't deliberately wish for hazards and hardships, I am also grateful for the plentiful of bummers and blows that I have received so far on the journey of life. I am no great person, but whatever strength of character I have within me is definitely because of these difficulties and disappointments on my life's journey. Thank you, life!

Below are a few selected pictures from my trip:
Outside the grand railway station of Antwerp

Tulips near Amsterdam
Tulips near Amsterdam

On one of the bridges in Amsterdam.
Thankfully, Paris took a recent step in cutting and removing all those lovers' locks from their bridges.
Tulips near Amsterdam
Tulips near Amsterdam
Tulips near Amsterdam
Tulips near Amsterdam
Tulips near Amsterdam
Flower garden near Amsterdam
Large cheese slabs in a cheese shop in Amsterdam
View from my hotel room in Innsbruck
One of the mountains near Innsbruck, Austria
While hiking in Austria

A wooden bridge in Innsbruck
Hiking in Austria
I'm on the top of the world! :) 
I'm on the top of the world! :) 
Quite a large amount of glacier ice still on the top of mountains in Austria
My picture taken by my friend Elisabeth
The ice was still about 14-15 feet high

Enjoying a traditional Austrian dish with my friend in Innsbruck

Streets of Trento

The crater of Mount Vesuvius

Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius in the background. How do people live so close to a volcano?

A fort in Naples

Fort in Naples

It's not clearly visible in the photograph (I didn't have zoom) but there is a man swimming in the sea, the same swimmer I referred to in my post.

A lot of streets in Naples (and Rome) were small congested lanes like this

Dolomites/Alps in Italy


One of the few pictures I could get of the heights of Dolomites, because I was almost always covered by clouds.

Some beautiful wild flower in the Dolomites, Italy

My hosts at the St. Christina village in Italy

Ruins of Rome

Ruins of Rome

The famous Colosseum

Under a bridge in Rome
Some World Fair going on in Milan. Very beautiful city! But I didn't like that the Indian flag is upside down here.

At the bottom of the Art Museum in Philadelphia (I had a long stopover in Philly on my way back from Europe).
I ran up all those steps in spirit of the Rocky, I believe in 22 seconds.

Finally, a picture with the Rocky.

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